Checkride: a drama in two parts

Executive summary: I am now a certificated private pilot, airplane, single-engine land (what the FAA refers to as the PP-ASEL rating). 

I’d originally planned to take my checkride on 11 December, just a few days after my previous checkride post. The DPE, Sherry Diamond, met me at Palo Alto right at 9; I had arrived earlier to preflight the airplane and pull the maintenance records to verify that the airplane was airworthy.

Sherry did a great job of concisely explaining the process: we had a few minutes of get-acquainted time, then we reviewed the paperwork necessary for the checkride (including the IACRA application), and she explained that we’d do the oral portion of the exam then proceed to the flight test portion. At any time, she told me, I could discontinue the test without penalty– yeah, right, I thought.

Briefing done, we started the oral portion of the exam. There were no surprises here: she asked me questions about weather, night operations, aircraft systems (example: “does this airplane have any deicing equipment?” “Not really; just a heater and defroster, but it’s not approved for flight into known icing anyway.”), and other topics specified in the PTS. I reviewed the maintenance records with her, then we discussed the planned route of flight: from KPAO east across the Bay to the east side of I-880, then south to pick up US 101, then continuing on along a route I carefully plotted with checkpoints. As I briefed her on the route, I explained why I’d chosen that particular route, what the weather briefers had told me about enroute and destination weather, and so on. She asked a few additional follow-up questions and then asked me if I was ready to go to the plane. Was I ever!

We went to the plane, where I gave her a quick passenger brief ( a required element of the PTS). After that, we strapped in and I started the plane, completed my pre-taxi checklist, called Palo Alto ground to get taxi instructors, and taxied out for takeoff. After the runup, Sherry asked for a short-field takeoff and I gave her a good one, then I demonstrated power-off and soft-field landings.

On my next takeoff, I started flying the planned route… but not for long; Sherry told me that the weather at our destination was below minimums and that I should divert to Hayward. I planned the diversion without incident, then it was off to the practice area for airwork.

My airwork was a little raggedy; in fact, I muffed the power-on stall, a maneuver that’s supposed to simulate an accidental stall during takeoff. I didn’t take off enough power at stall entry, so my pitch angle was too high. I knew right then that I’d failed, which was aggravating for two reasons– the obvious one, plus the fact that I hadn’t failed on the recovery from the stall but on the entry. The whole point of that maneuver is to test whether you can safely get out of a situation that you should never get into in the first place.

We headed back toward Palo Alto and she gave me a simulated engine failure over Fremont. I was rattled from my previous failure, so I put the flaps down too early and failed to maintain the correct airspeed (a topic on which I’ll have a lot to say in my next aviation post, in fact). I wasn’t too upset about that, since I’d already failed the ride. We headed back to the airport for a debrief; Sherry and Andy were both encouraging, but I was crushed.

It’s fair to say that I went through the standard mourning process over the next couple of days, but it didn’t take me long to realize that it was no one’s fault but mine: I had failed to meet the practical test standards, so I determined to redouble my efforts and fix the deficiencies.. and that’s exactly what I did! We rescheduled the checkride for 21 December, but the weather was terrible; with the intervening holidays, 8 January was the first date that Sherry had open.

In the interim, I practiced a whole bunch. As promised, I’ll cover that in another post later.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear; I packed my flight gear and went to work until it was time to meet Sherry at the airport. This ride promised to be shorter since we didn’t need to repeat the oral exam or any of the other stuff I’d previously practiced. After reviewing the paperwork again, a process made more challenging by a balky computer, we headed out to the airplane. After a normal takeoff, I took us to the practice area, avoiding conflicting traffic twice, demonstrated recovery from both power-on and power-off stalls, and headed back across the Bay towards Palo Alto, whereupon Sherry promptly gave me a simulated engine failure. I handled this one much more gracefully, maintaining the right airspeed throughout. With that done, she had me fly back to Palo Alto, whereupon I stuck a very nice short-field landing– one of my best ever, in fact.

We taxied back to the parking area in silence; after I shut down the airplane, Sherry extended her hand and said, simply, “Congratulations.”

We had a short debrief that covered her impressions of my performance, then we used the computer to print out my Temporary Airman Certificate. This is exactly like a temporary driver’s license; I’ll use it until I get the nice laminated plastic one from the FAA in Oklahoma City. In the meantime, though… I’m a pilot!

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Filed under Aviation

2 responses to “Checkride: a drama in two parts

  1. Congratulations! I know how long you’ve been working on this.

  2. Bryan

    Congratulations, Well done!! No stopping now, get working on your Instrument Cert!

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