Friday, January 22, 2010

The CFI Ride That Wasn't

The phone by my head rings at 5:57am, but I'm already awake. "This is Kyle at Capital City Jet Center. We have you on the schedule here from 6am to 4pm, just wanted to see when you are coming in. We were going to run and get breakfast and didn't want to miss you." And thus my day began. I told him I wouldn't need the plane until about noon - after the oral portion of my checkride was over. He thanked me, apologized if I had been asleep, and hung up. I rolled over and was still awake when my alarm went off 45 minutes later, at quarter till 7. I got out of bed and went to shower and get dressed. I went back in the bedroom and got the pins Meg made me for good luck. They all had aviation quotes on them, including one of my favorites by Ernest Gann.

I wasn't even sure I would be able to take the ride today at all. There has been a fairly strong low pressure center about 200nm south for several days. It has been bringing MVFR ceilings (2000 to 5000 feet above the ground, or thereabouts) and rain, but surface temps have been in the 40s. I spoke with my inspector yesterday, and was advised that they really dislike doing oral exams when the weather is bad because it can be hard to get the schedules aligned in order to finish. He was optimistic enough about the forecast to tell me we would go ahead with it.

I ate about half a muffin, a small glass of OJ, and some yogurt, then walked the door. The 40 minute drive to the Columbus, OH Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) turned into a 50 minute drive after I was led into a knot of exit ramps by some vague directions, but I finally found Airport Drive, building 2480 (I discovered 2460, 2440, 2410, a Marriot Hotel, and a Chiropractor's office along the way). Went up 1 floor from the main floor, which turned out to be the third (rather than the second) floor of the building which also houses a Lockheed Martin office, among others.

I was buzzed into the entryway, ID checked, signed the visitor's log, was issued a visitor's pass, and the inspector paged to come get me. He had me open up my bag and show him the contents of the various pockets. It is a Federal Installation after all...whatever. They were nice enough about it. We went to an interview room with 4 chairs, a white board, a small round table, and no windows in sight. This room was the only place I was allowed to go, and to leave the inspector had to escort my back to the entryway, which he did about once an hour for our breaks.

We started with standard checkride stuff, about 45 minutes to get oriented, look over the 8710 application, knowledge test reports, logbook endorsements, and pilot and medical certificates. We had a little confusion over the endorsements needed. I had the spin endorsement and the instructor's recommendation, and they confirmed what I had heard previously - that the endorsement on the bottom of the knowledge test report is acceptable as the endorsement testifying that incorrect answers have been reviewed. He said I was lacking the 60 day endorsement. I said that I see where the various sub-parts of part 61 require that for the pilot certificates, but it is not in the subpart goverving flight instructors, and I had reviewed Advisory Circular 61-65 (the AC governing pilot certification, including sample endorsements for all FAA certificates) to be sure I had them all. He took my log book to go consult with some others, I dug out my copy of the regulations to begin finding evidence to support my case. He came back and said "no problem, you are good to go." They said that the 60 day requirement wasn't in fact in the CFI subpart of part 61, or in 61-65, and it would be silly to ask for other things since the regs, and especially the Advisory Circular, is produced by the FAA so that pilot applicants can get everything right. Since these products contsitute the official guidance on the matter, we were OK.

Started out talking about the special emphasis areas of the PTS and how to, well, emphasize them in flight training. We then moved on to the aircraft's Pilot Operating Handbook for the 172 RG. I was still a little nervous I suppose, because I somehow switched Vx and Vy, and was a little off on Vno. Still, I had the stalling, maneuvering, never exceed, flap and gear operating speeds correct, as well as max gross weight and the fuel numbers, so it was a relative success. He said that I really should know the numbers from the actual plane I will train in by heart, and I agree. Good thing I'm not training people in the RG I guess.

Then came the fundamentals of instruction. I told him the basic definition of "learning," what the laws of learning are, the characteristics of learning, some defense mechanisms I may see, the levels of understanding, characteristics of good tests, how to tell if your student is nervous or stressed, and a few other random things. We talked about some practical examples of instructor professionalism, and I heard a few ancedotes about guys the inspector has known who did stupid things. This type of story telling has been a feature of every checkride I have ever taken, and I suppose it always will be.

After stumbling my way through the airplane numbers and the learning process, we took a break. Escorted out of the office to the hallway/bathroom/snack machine area. He told me to come back when I was ready, about 10 minutes, and he would go check the weather. Unfortunately, I was not allowed in any area that had a computer, so I had no real input on the weather decision making process. All I could do was look at METARs (a French acronym for routine aviation weather reports) on my phone and look out the window. Still, the ceiling was up to about 4500 or 5500 feet with a few small clouds around 1700. Out the window, I could see pretty high, up through a hole, and blue sky above. When I went back in, the inspector was saying that Columbus' weather looked ok for now, but it was probably going to get worse and that Wilmington, Dayton, Mansfield, etc. were all reporting a 900 to 500 foot overcast layer.

We elected to continue the oral and reserve weather decisions for later in the day.

We went back in and I taught him about stalling aerodynamics, we discussed aeromedical factors, and I taught a 35 minute lesson on airspace. Luckily, I just taught this to Kat a few weeks ago, so I knew that I knew what I was doing here. The only thing I got wrong was my answer that a Piper Cub could not operate to an airport under Bravo airspace. Turns out there is a blanket exemption from the transponder requirement for airplanes certificated without electrical systems. Who knew? We went on to discuss general endorsements for pilots, the requirements for a private pilot's license, and endorsements for student pilots as well as consideration when giving a pre-solo written test. Then it was time for a break much like the first.

After the break he told me the good news that as long as I kept doing as well as I had been for the remaining hour or so, I would pass the oral no problem. He also told me the bad news that the weather didn't look so good, and we wouldn't be doing the flight portion of the test today. I guess it was one of those situations where if we had been sitting at the airport waiting, we could have squeezed the flight in for the time the ceiling was up, but it wasn't to be for us today (the airport with the plane to be used is about a 45 minute drive from the FSDO, clear across the city). I toyed with the idea of suggesting we take off on an IFR flight plan, punch through the clouds on top, and do the test in bright sun under a sunny blue sky, then descend into the grey murk when we were done, but I sort of sensed that would be bad suggestion. We had just had a conversation on not pushing the limits or skirting the rules with students the same way we might if we were on our own, and I thought it important to show him the better side of my judgement.

Anyway, we got back to it. I was to teach him a ground lesson as I would to a private pilot wanting an endorsement for complex airplanes. We talked about landing gear and propellor systems including how they work, the various types, how they are used, why they are used, how they can break in flight, what will happen if they do break, and how to handle the problem. Then I taught a simulated pre-flight lesson on a maneuver, in this case rectangular patterns. That is pretty straight forward and includes the reason we learn the maneuver, the procedure for doing the maneuver, some common errors and their remedies, and the completion criteria. With that, my oral testing, as well as today's ride, was complete at noon.

He returned my papers and application, and gave me a letter of discontinuance. This lettel basically says that the test could not be completed, even though I did everything right, and I can bring it back and resume the test where I left off any time in the next 60 days.

His evaluation was good. I did above average on the fundamentals of instructing (which I thought I had sort of stumbled through), my lesson on airspace was very good, as was my understanding of regulations, student pilot requirements, and pilot endorsements. With the cancellation of the flight though, sort of a bittersweet satisfaction.

All in all a decent day. Even thought I wanted to be a flight instructor by now, the oral part is done, so when I do the flight test I can start frest rather than having just had a 4 hour grilling in a windowless interview room. We will keep in touch, keep an eye on the weather, and the next time there is a day with a solidly good forecast, I will fly up here, bang out the flight test, and head home the same afternoon. I almost asked, as I returned my visitor pass and signed out of the visitor log, if I could have a ground instructor certificate today. Instead, I shook the man's hand and walked out of there knowing I had done a good job. Now its 3pm, about the time we would have been landing, and the Columbus airports are reporting (and have been for an hour) a 1500 foot overcast, and looking out the window, I have to say that I agree. Sometimes its better to leave the weather decisions to someone who doesn't have as big a stake in the successful outcome of a particular flight.

The animal rescue flight tomorrow has also been canceled because of weather, but I'm hoping that I still get the job flying a plane from Huntington, WV to Madison, WI on a ferry flight. That would be fun, and my first commercial flight.

No comments:

Post a Comment