Note: for the first half of my checkride story, see post #4, "The Checkride That Wasn't"
The weather has been poor, with snow and low clouds, for 3 weeks. The forecast for Friday was not supposed to be too good, but looked good enough that I was hopeful I would be able to finish my flight test. I woke up with the alarm at 9:00 am. The inspector hadn't called to cancel at 8, which I thought was a good sign. The assumption was that if we didn't cancel, I'd meet him in Columbus at noon.
Then I looked out the window. It looked like spring - brilliantly sunny, blue sky from horizon to horizon. I checked the weather and conditions were supposed to be stable all day. I realized that my test was actually going to happen after 3 weeks and about 8 scheduled attempts.
Shower, clothes, some left over spaghetti for breakfast, and I was off to the airport. The plane I wanted to take was at the back of the maintenance hangar, staying warm. I helped do the airplane shuffle to get it out, fueled up, and was on my way to Columbus for the test.
I picked up flight following from Air Traffic Control and steered a course for Bolton Field, hoping not to be late. There was a little bit of a headwind at 4500', and it only got worse on up. I leaned the engine for fuel efficiency and powered ahead. My checkpoints passed under the nose, and I was switched from approach control to center, then to Columbus Approach, and finally was told to contact Bolton Tower. I called in and landed uneventfully, 5 minutes till 12.
I sat down with the inspector and we looked at the maintenance logs for the two airplanes I was to use for the test. Both were OK, so he took my application, written test results, looked at my pilot certificate, medical, and logbook, and we went out to the plane.
First up was pattern work in the retractable gear plane, a 172RG. I hadn't flown anything like this for 2.5 months so I was really trying hard not to forget anything. I talked through the startup, taxi, and engine run up procedures, trying to show the inspector that I could teach it as well as do it. My spiel must have been acceptable, because I shortly found myself cleared for takeoff, runway 22.
With just the two of us, and the tanks only filled to the tabs, the plane leaped off the runway pretty quickly. Accelerate to best rate of climb speed, positive rate of climb, gear up, 500' up pull the power back to normal climb - everything was moving quickly, and with the higher workload of the complex plane I felt just a touch behind the airplane. I leveled off, slowed things down a bit, and brought the plane back to the runway. It was acceptable, but not perfect. I was told to go around the pattern again. He could see that I was just settling in to the plane. We continued for a total of 15 minutes, and included a short field takeoff and 180 degree accuracy approach and landing. My accuracy on that particular approach was not very good, and I told him I was going around. He told me to just go ahead and land it and then while taxiing in I explained what I could have done better. Fair enough, we were done with that plane and moved on to the regular Cessna 172.
Startup, taxi clearance, run up, cleared for takeoff, demo soft field technique - almost an exact repeat of 20 minutes earlier. We took off and departed the airspace to the west, using my handheld GPS to make sure we stayed out of the controlled airspace around Columbus. The maneuvers I had to 'teach' him included S-turns along a road (in this case an old rail-bed), power off stalls, an elevator trim stall, straight and level flight and turns, a chandelle and steep turns left and right, and eights-on-pylons. I have had to recover from unusual attitudes before, but this examiner was very good at getting us there. I had the foggles on, my head down, and I felt like were were sliding backwards! Well, in reality we weren't, and the recoveries were easy enough. Soon enough it was over - I had passed the flight test, and was officially an instructor.
Back in the FBO, we filled out the final papers, I signed my name to my temporary certificate, and we proceeded to the debrief. My steep turns were not perfect, but not too sloppy at all. Overall he told me it was a very good flight and really didn't have anything negative or critical to say. The only thing I didn't know was the formula to calculate pivotal altitude for the eights-on-pylons, but by admitting that I didn't know and telling him we would look it up on the ground (and by knowing about what the pivotal altitude should be), I had done the correct thing. This is the way you can turn negative points into positive points on this type of test. He also called my attention to the special emphasis areas in the Practical Test Standards. They are in there because these few items contribute to so many accidents, and he told me to be sure I cover all of them with every student.
I had never met Chris, my inspector before, but after about 5 minutes I felt very comfortable with him. Throughout our flight were were chatting and cracking jokes with one another. This was definitely the most approachable flight examiner I've ever flown with, and I certainly appreciate his demeanour and professionalism.
As we were getting ready to leave he offered to give me one last bit of advice. I always appreciate it when pilots with much more experience than I offer to tell stories. He said not to do anything stupid, and to teach pilots the same thing. There are video and still cameras everywhere these days, and if the FAA gets images of a person in an airplane doing something stupid they have to follow up on it. When taking accident investigation training for his job at the FAA, Chris said the watched footage that a newly minted private pilot's girlfriend had filmed. The pilot was flying a Cessna 150 (a 2-seat plane), and made a low pass down the runway for the camera. Then he came around again, this time very slowly, with the flaps fully extended. Showing off about 100' in the air, he got too slow. The camera on the ground could hear the stall warning horn in the airplane. All of a sudden the wings shuddered, the plane went into a spin, and crashed in front of everyone watching. After telling me this story, Chris looked at me and said "you are responsible for their safety. Teach them well."
Teach them well indeed.