The day is finally here! When this was scheduled a few weeks ago it seemed so far away… It was hard to believe as I was driving to the airport that by this afternoon I was very likely going to have my Private Pilot Certificate (unless something completely unexpected happened). I was a little nervous, but I felt prepared. As long as I made it through the oral portion I felt good about my flying.
The weather was terrible on the way there. When I got to the intersection at the south-west corner of the airport the visibility was less than a 1/4 mile because of the fog. As I drove by the end of the runways I could barely make out the Control Tower and the beacon on top. However this was all completely expected. I normally schedule my flights later in the afternoon to give the morning mist/haze time to dissipate and I had been watching the TAF’s (Terminal Area Forecast) for KONT (Ontario) 5 miles to the north of Chino over the last few days as well as the actual conditions. Every morning it was IFR conditions and by about 1pm everything cleared up and it was good VFR weather. The TAF for today said that by 1pm it would be cleared up.
I got to the airport at 8am, an hour before my 9am appointment to go over the logbooks for the plane and do a walk-around, just to make sure everything looked good. The owner of the school sat down with my CFI and myself. We went through the logs to make sure I knew where all the different inspections had been recorded so that I could show the Examiner that the plane was air worthy.
I went out and did a quick visual inspection of the plane. Everything looked great, except I had a question about the right main tire. The nose and left main had been replaced very recently and looked almost new. The right main had just a little tread on the outside but the inside was bald. I have flown with it like that for a long time and knew my CFI had said it was fine, but I wanted to make sure that the Examiner wouldn’t have any concerns about it so we went in to ask the owner of the school what he thought. He asked if there were any cords showing on the tire and we informed him there weren’t. He said that as long as there weren’t any cords showing, and actually as long as there wasn’t more than two cords showing it was fine. He said that the Examiner is very familiar with the school’s planes and that he wouldn’t have any problems with it, but if the Examiner did have a concern to just come find him.
With all of that last minute stuff done there was nothing to do except sit around and chat with my CFI and the owner of the flight school while we waited for the Examiner. A few minutes before 9am he arrived and I was introduced to him. We went back to the owner’s office and began to get to know each other. He did his best to put me at ease. He let me know that he wasn’t there to trick me on anything, but that it was the ‘Practical Test’ and that we would go through a lot of different scenarios. He also went through the briefing that the FAA has him do prior to starting the test so that I know what is expected. He told me that for the oral portion of the exam, it isn’t perfection that he is looking for, but 70% like on the knowledge test. Once we were flying then all I had to do was stay within the parameters set by the ACS (Airmen Certification Standards). He also said that if it was one of the maneuvers that allows for +/- 100′ and I am 105′ off as long as I know what I did and correct it then that would be fine.
The plan would be to take our time with the oral portion of the exam, take a break for lunch around noon, and then come back and fly when the weather should be cleared up. When he told me that he only had one person not make it through the oral portion I relaxed a little more. That person had planned their flights with charts that had expired years ago, and then the exam went downhill from there. He said that we would now begin the exam and I gave him the cash which he placed in his bag without counting it.
He went through my logbook to make sure I had met all the requirements and had the necessary endorsements. Next we took a look at the logbooks for the plane to make sure I knew how to determine if it was current on all of the required inspections and AD’s (Airworthiness Directives which are like mandatory recalls on a car) and that the plane was airworthy.
We started out by going over the results of my Knowledge (written) test. I had made notes of the seven questions that I missed, what I had answered, why I had answered the way I did, and what the correct answers should have been. I think that because I had scored well, 88%, that perhaps it made the oral portion a little easier than had I squeaked by with a 70%.
After that he started with his plan and we began working our way through the ACS. It really seemed more like a discussion and less of an exam. He would frame different scenarios to see how I would handle them. We would discuss a subject and then he would give me some real life scenarios and how they were handled. Scenarios where the pilot handled it correctly and everyone was okay, and others where the pilot unfortunately made a series of incorrect decisions which ended with the loss of life. He has been flying for airlines for 30 years and with that experience, plus all of his time flying General Aviation planes, plus his experiences as an Examiner, he had plenty of scenarios to draw from as he tested my understanding of both flying and the rules and regulations that govern flying.
The oral portion of the exam lasted just under four hours. I was actually surprised at how long it had gone because it went by very fast. We spent probably about 30 minutes of him going over my logbook and getting all the paperwork in order. There was probably about 1 1/2-2 hours of time that I spent actually answering questions and responding to the different scenarios that he brought up. The balance of 1 1/2-2 hours was spent with either him telling me stories and experiences that he had, or myself telling him of different experiences that I had growing up around planes in the Air Force and then as I went through my pilot training.
For example, after I explained the rules regarding the use of safety belts, he told me of his son who had to make an emergency landing in a plane a few years ago. He said that he was at the airport when his son left. Some time later he received a call from a friend that asked if his son was flying a Luscombe. When he responded that he was, his friend told him that one had just gone down nearby. The plane did not have shoulder harnesses and when he was trying to land it in a field it caught a berm it came to a sudden stop and he smashed into the instrument panel causing sever injuries. If he had shoulder harnesses it would have only resulted in minor injuries. By putting real world examples to the rules and regulations it really helps stuff to sink in.
Just before 1pm he said we were at the end and that we could take a break to get some lunch and meet back at the plane. I asked what there was around there to eat (not my part of town and I have never gone to eat around there). He offered to let me ride with him to get some lunch and I took him up on the offer. However before we went to lunch he gave me the pre-flight briefing so I would know what to expect. We would start out doing all my take offs and landings here at Chino where I was familiar with everything. Once those were done we would make a full stop and taxi back to get set and start my cross country. We would need to arrive at each checkpoint within 5 minutes of the time I had planned for. Once we passed the first two check points he would have me put on the foggles and he would give me vectors and altitudes to fly around Ontario’s Charlie airspace to the practice area at the base of the Cajon Pass. There we would perform all the maneuvers that are done at altitude after which there would be a situation that would require an emergency descent. Once we lost the altitude we would do a ground reference maneuver, followed by a diversion to another airport before returning to Chino.
As we came out of the office my CFI was sitting in the lobby area and asked how everything went. I told him that it must have gone well because we were going to get some lunch and then go flying. They told me that my wife had stopped by, she thought I was going to be done at 11am, they let her know it would be much later. (I found a sweet note on my windshield from her when I was finished, it has been 7 years to the day since our first date). I also had a friend who follows the blog that had stopped by as well to wish me good luck.
We ended up at Subway and enjoyed some nice conversation during lunch. With some food in our bellies we headed back to the airport. By this time I was feeling very relaxed around the Examiner, like I was going to just go on a flight with my CFI.
We headed outside and I went to the plane while the Examiner went over to talk with the school’s mechanic and another CFI. I began the pre-flight and got to the point of checking the fuel in the right wing and saw that there was less than half a tank. I walked around and took a look in the left tank and it was almost empty. That just wouldn’t do, so I walked over to where the Examiner was talking to the mechanic and asked him if someone could come put some fuel in the plane.
As the ground crew was finishing up fueling the plane to the tabs the Examiner came over to join me on the pre-flight. I was expecting to be asked all kinds of questions about the plane as we did the pre-flight, the way that my CFI had quizzed me the last time we flew together. This was nothing like that at all. In fact the only things he really said about the plane during the pre-flight was to comment on the odd wear on the right main tire, followed by a “but there aren’t any cords showing so you’re good.” He told me to just not lock up the brakes and blow out the tires. I told him I hadn’t locked up the brakes yet and I wasn’t going to start today.
With the pre-flight done we climbed into the cabin and got situated with seat belts and the remainder of the engine start checklist. The engine fired right up and we started our taxi down to the end of the hangar row at about 2pm. I switched to the ATIS and made notes of the current weather. The winds were 230° at 7 knots. That would be great, not directly down the runways, but it would help to reduce my ground speed on final which would make it easier to hit the numbers on my short field landings.
I switched over to the frequency for Ground in time for a little pre-flight entertainment.
Ground: “Where did you want to go?” (Asking a plane that had just cleared the runway where he was trying to taxi to)
Pilot: “I private pilot.” (I’m not kidding, that was exactly what he said, with an accent, although I won’t say what kind of accent it was…)
Ground: “Yes, but where do you want to go?”
Pilot: “No, I private pilot.” (He seriously said that)
Ground: “I know you’re a pilot, but what is your destination on the ground?”
At this point I looked over at the Examiner and said “This could take a little while,” to which he responded “It sounds like it.”
The Ground controller finally got the destination from the pilot and then was nice enough to give him the phone number for the place he was trying to get to. I won’t name it to protect the innocent/guilty, you decide which. At last I had my chance to jump on the radio.
Me: “Chino Ground, Cherokee 5800Uniform, at DuBois, request taxi runway 26R with information Charlie.”
Ground: “Cherokee 5800Uniform, taxi 26R via Papa cross 21, Charlie is the current information.”
Me: “Taxi 26R via Papa, cross 21, 00Uniform.”
I started to roll forward, but Ground wasn’t done with me yet.
Ground: “Cherokee 00Uniform, please advise that you have information Charlie.”
I glanced over at the Examiner and said “I told him that the first time.” He just responded with a smile and “I heard you tell him.” I think that the interchange that he just went through with the pilot who had minimal English skills maybe had him a little off his game.
Me: (Talking to Ground) “Yes, I have information Charlie.”
As we were taxiing to the run-up area we heard the Ground controller refer to Denver Approach and then quickly corrected to SoCal Approach which brought a chuckle and a “He’s a little far from home” comment from the Examiner. Even the guys in the tower can have a rough day sometimes…
I finished the run-up and everything looked good. I told him that if he was a regular passenger I would give him the following briefing. I told him how important it is that when we are departing the airport and on our way back from the time I contact the tower until we are off the runway that there was to be no random conversations, only necessary comments. I told him that I expected him to help me watch for other airplanes and to point any out to me that he saw. I then went through the abort plans if we still had enough runway left to stop on it or settle back down on it (CNO has long runways), if we were under 600′ AGL and out of runway we would be landing in the fields off the end of the runway, or if we had already started our crosswind and had problems we would try to make a turn back to runway 3 or end up landing in the fields to the South of the runway. I made sure he knew how to work the door and told him that if we were going to make an emergency landing he would need to open the door before we were on the ground so it wouldn’t get jammed shut, trapping us inside.
With the briefing done he told me to request right closed traffic and we would get started on my takeoffs and landings. I told him the tower likes to put you in left traffic for 26L when you are doing pattern work and keep 26R for departures and full stop landings. He said to ask for whichever I wanted.
Me: “Chino Tower, Cherokee 5800Uniform, holding short 26R at Papa, requesting left closed traffic.”
Tower: “Cherokee 5800Uniform, make right closed traffic, runway 26R, cleared for takeoff.”
DPE: (To me) “I’d take it.”
Me: “Make right closed traffic, 26R, cleared for takeoff, 00Uniform.”
The benefit of right traffic on 26R is that it is a shorter runway than 26L which means that it doesn’t take as long to get around the pattern. He told me to just perform a regular takeoff and then a short field landing. I made sure that I was set up perfectly on short final and was coming in nicely to put it down right on the numbers. I had just pulled the power and was beginning my flare when he said “Go around.” I immediately went full power and took out the first notch of flaps. Once I had positive rate of climb the next notch of flaps came out, followed shortly by the last notch and we were climbing out.
DPE: “You were set up perfect and I liked what I saw, but I had to see you do a go around. On this one just give me a normal landing.”
As we were on the downwind I heard him quietly try to contact the tower, but the tower hadn’t heard him clearly and so he had to repeat what was a request for a short final. The tower gave the clearance and as we were abeam the numbers he looked over at me and said “You know what’s about to happen.” I replied “Yes” and he said, “You just lost your engine” as he reached over and pulled the power. I told him that I was pitching for best glide speed of 83mph and would be turning straight for the numbers. It still requires a conscious effort on my part to not pull back and instead keep the plane with the nose slightly down to keep my speed up. With no engine your mind wants you to pull back more and more to try and stay in the air, but that would only end in disaster. So, I kept the nose down enough to maintain 83mph and didn’t put in any flaps because that just adds drag. I crossed over the numbers with plenty of speed and enough altitude that I set it down nicely just short of the 1000′ markers.
He had previously told me to configure for a short field takeoff after that landing so I added in two notches of flaps, went full power, and kept the yoke forward to stay on the ground past the normal rotation speed and instead rotated at Vx (74mph) and then climbed out.
DPE: “Ok, this time we really will do a short field landing followed by a soft field take off.”
Me: “You want me to taxi back for the soft field take off?”
DPE: “No, he (the tower) gave you the option and it’s a long runway, just stop on the runway and then do the soft field take off.”
As we came around on final he asked what my touchdown point would be. I told him I was aiming for the numbers. I watched my speed and descent rate and was able to put it down gently right on the numbers. It was soft enough it could have even been a soft field landing. There was another plane behind us so he told me not to stop, just slow down and get configured before performing the soft field take off. As we slowed down I took out one notch of flaps and then went full power while holding the yoke back. We rotated off the ground just above stall speed, I pushed the yoke forward to stay in ground effect before climbing out at about 75mph.
The last landing needed to be a soft field landing and I was feeling pretty good at this point. With the winds still coming in a little from the left of the runway I set it down gently and you could feel the left main touch, followed by the right main, and then the nose wheel, nice and smooth. We exited at the first taxiway exit and I contacted ground to taxi back.
He told me to pick a way to keep track of the time that we departed so that I could see if we arrived at the checkpoints on time. I told him I was using the timer on the panel to keep track of flight time so that I remembered to switch fuel tanks an hour into our flying. I contacted the tower for a southeast departure and when I received clearance I looked over and the clock said 23 minutes. I told him we would use that as the start time.
We took off and I made my crosswind turn followed by a turn to the heading I had on my flight plan. We arrived at my first checkpoint, the 91/15 interchange 1 minute past my planned time. I told the Examiner I knew what I had done wrong. I planned it from the time I made my crosswind and did not allow time for the actual takeoff. He said that I was well within the 5 minute margin of error. We arrived at my second checkpoint still the one minute off. At that point I put on the foggles and he gave me headings and altitudes to fly which took us around Ontario’s airspace and then intercept a radial from the Pamona VOR on the way to the practice area at the base of the Cajon Pass.
Since I already had the foggles on the first maneuver was unusual attitudes. I gave him the plane and looked down at my lap while he twisted and turned the plane to confuse me. When he gave me the plane back we were in a climbing turn so I immediately added power, while leveling the wings and pushing the yoke forward. He took the plane again and and gave it back to me in a banked dive. I pulled the power, leveled the wings and pulled back the yoke to level off. Then as the speed bled off I added back in the power.
With those out of the way I took off the foggle and we started flight maneuvers. My steep turns were not my best, I lost about 90′ during the turns that I picked back up as I rolled out. (The ACS is +/- 100′) Next was a power off stall. I got set up in a stabilized descent, full flaps, at 80mph to simulate landing approach. Once I was at 80mph I pulled the power and then pulled back on the yoke. The plane stalled quickly and I added full power, pushed the yoke forward, removed the 1st notch of flaps and then removed the other two as the speed built back up.
We climbed back up to altitude and I did a power on stall followed by slow flight. As I finished each maneuver he would say, “That takes care of that one” and we would move on to the next. With those completed he gave me the scenario that would bring us down to do the ground reference maneuvers.
DPE: “Ok, here’s the situation. You’re flying along when you notice that your oil pressure is dropping and the oil temperature is climbing. You need to get on the ground before you lose your engine.
I started looking around for someplace to land.
DPE: “Take a good look everywhere. Maybe over to the south.”
Through the haze it looked like an airport out there.
Me: “Is that Cable out there?”
DPE: “No, that’s the old Rialto airport that they closed. Can you use it?”
Me: “Yeah, it’s an emergency.”
DPE: “Good, remember that declaring an emergency is a tool that you can use when you need it.”
I turned toward Rialto and pushed the nose over to get there faster. Just then out in front I saw a small twin coming towards us. I pointed it out to him and said that I was going to turn to the right until he passed. As soon as he was past us I turned back toward Rialto and continued my emergency descent. As we got closer we could see that they had already torn up the runways and all that was left was gravel which still would have been better to land on than the fields or stream bed that were my other choices. He didn’t let me descend all the way before telling me that it was good enough and to pick something to use for turns around a point. As it was a closed airport I did the turns around the old segmented circle next to the runways where there was once a windsock.
As I was doing my turns he was tuning the radio to the ATIS from Ontario.
DPE: “Those looked good, you know where I’m going to divert you to?”
Me: “Sounds like Ontario.”
DPE: “Yes, and that will give us a chance to talk about wake turbulence. Get out your map, how far away are we?”
I took out my TAC and a handy little card-stock ruler I had made.
Me: “Looks like about 12 miles”
DPE: “How long is that going to take us?”
Me: “Maybe 7-8 minutes.”
DPE: “How much fuel will it take?”
Me: “About a gallon.”
DPE: “Good. Ask them for a touch and go followed by a left turn out to Chino.”
I looked up the tower frequency and called them up. They must have been slow because even though I was still about 10 miles out the assigned me my squawk and cleared me to make straight for 26L, cleared for the touch and go with a left turn approved. A couple minutes went by and the tower called back.
Tower: “Cherokee 5800Uniform, make your best speed, I have a 737 coming in behind you.”
Me: “I’ll make best speed, 00Uniform.”
DPE: “You have some altitude to lose so go ahead and push the nose over. If it’s a Continental (who he flies for) they come in fast and we won’t have time. If it’s Southwest they fly slower and we may make it.”
In a descent with full power the best speed I could make was 140mph and soon I had to back off the power a little to keep the engine from the red line. All we had to do was get across the approach for 26R where the 737 would be heading. We were successful as the tower didn’t vector us to come around. Just then the tower called up the approaching 737 and sure enough, it was a Southwest plane.
DPE: “I don’t know what went wrong, maybe a bolt must have come loose but your flaps won’t work for this landing.”
Me: “Ok.” (No flap landings are not a problem, I just carry more speed on the approach and it’s a 10,000′ runway so I could land 4-5 times before running out of length)
DPE: “This would be a good chance to show me a forward slip to a landing.”
I came in high so I could slip the plane down, brought it out of the slip just before flaring out and touched down, followed by full power and climbing out. I made my turn towards Chino, was given a frequency change and tuned in the ATIS.
DPE: “Take us back for a normal landing and we’ll fill out your paperwork.”
Me: “Sounds good.” (Trying not to break out into a huge grin)
DPE: “Your flaps are fixed now so you can use them.”
Me: “Wow, you’re pretty good getting out there and fixing them in flight.”
DPE: “Well, I brought my Snap-On tools with me and I can fix anything with them.”
I contacted Chino tower asking for a full stop and was told to enter right base for 26R.
DPE: “Looks like a bug must have flown into your PITOT mast because your airspeed indicator isn’t working.” (As he put a sticky on the airspeed indicator covering it up)
I brought us in for a nice landing without the airspeed indicator. I floated it a little as I was carrying a little extra speed, better too much than too little, but was still able to make the first turn off at the 2000′ mark. As I went through my post landing checklist and contacted ground to taxi back the Examiner congratulated me.
We got back to the school, I shut the plane down and we went inside for a short post flight briefing and paperwork. My CFI was sitting at his desk with another student when I came walking in. I went over to him with a straight face and just looked at him until he asked “Well?” I said “I Passed!” The nervous look immediately left his face.
While the Examiner was entering everything in the computer I sent my wife a quick text to let her know I had passed. I signed my temporary certificate and thanked the Examiner. I told him that I really did enjoy the whole process and that it was a pleasure to have him as my Examiner. This morning I thought it would just be something I had to work through, but it really was a lot of fun. We went out and took a picture, I thanked everyone at the school, and then got in the car to head home while making my post flight call to my Dad to fill him in on everything.
I received an email from the school later congratulating me and telling me that the Examiner had said that was one of the more enjoyable check rides he had done and that I should be proud. As I sat having a celebratory dinner with my wife I told her I couldn’t decide if I wanted to jump up and down shouting for joy or just sit there and cry for joy. What a strange mix of emotions. It took 40 years for this dream to come true, I am a pilot.
Final numbers before the check ride:
Total Flights: 27
Total Hours: 46.7
Dual Instruction hours: 32.4
Solo Flight hours: 14.3
Night hours: 4.2
Cross Country hours: 17.9
Landings: 136 (126 Day / 10 Night)