Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Private Pilot: PASS!

Well, 37 months after my first flight, 4 months after getting my instructor rating, 9 weeks after getting employed at a flight school, 6 weeks of hard work for my client and I, and 45 hours in his logbook (40 is the minimum number required), my first Private Pilot applicant, Francis, passed his checkride (interview and flight test) on his first attempt.

(click for larger, higher quality photo)

We met at the airport Friday morning, about 8:30am. The sky was overcast at 1500 feet, not visual flying weather. It was OK though, the cloud layer was just the result of very moist air and the high pressure system dominating our weather. I knew it would rise, thin out, and eventually disappear as the day warmed up. We went over last-minute details, he got a flight briefing and updated the flight plan to be used for the test with the most current wind forecasts and made sure no flight restrictions had been issued over night. Another CFI from the school was taking an instrument student to the examiner, and was to call us when that person's flight test began. That should have given us plenty of time to fly to where we were going to meet the FAA third-party examiner, about 45 nautical (50 road) miles away.

After making sure everything was in order, we loaded the plane, and launched about 10:00 am. By this time, the clouds were up to about 2,500 feet. At least a 3,000 foot ceiling is needed to fly all the required maneuvers, so we were still a bit concerned. Still, there was plenty of clearance for our short hop.

Upon arrival, we congratulated the new instrument pilot, and my client's test got underway. I had arranged with my student and the examiner to sit in for as much of the test as possible, I wanted to have a good idea about what I need to improve upon as an instructor. First, the three of us gathered around a computer and filed the applications digitally via IACRA, the FAA's new system for such paperwork. That all went smoothly, and there were no problems, so we found an empty conference room and began the test.

The oral portion was straight by the book, and covered many topics. My guy was doing really well, and the examiner was impressed. It only lasted about an hour. In that time, they covered all of the special emphasis areas of checklist usage, including collision avoidance, positive aircraft control, and wake turbulence. They discussed regulations (a couple of which I need to emphasize more during training.), which went well. The main ones covered were 91.103, 91.205, and 61.113 (required preflight action, day VFR required equipment, and private pilot privileges and limitations). When they discussed airplane systems, I realized that I need to review this stuff before the test despite having covered it very early in training. My student did very well, but I could make the process better than it is. He was asked how center of gravity location effects stability of the airplane, which he talked about perfectly. That is part of my personal emphasis areas: aerodynamics.

All in all, the oral went very well. Francis was less nervous for the coming flight, the examiner was impressed, and everything was looking good. The clouds had risen to 4,000 feet or better, so they took off for the test, and I caught a ride over to the passenger terminal to grab a bite to eat. It was about 1 o'clock.

I was much more nervous than Francis though, because I noticed after the oral test that the maintenance logs for the plane were not in the conference room, not in the plane, not in his bag - no where. These logs, for those that don't know, are tremendously important. They also have to go with the airplane to a flight test. Without them, the plane loses about 50% of its value, it becomes unairworthy (because it is no longer possible to prove that all required inspections have been done), and its generally a very bad thing. I thought that if the logs were gone, the best thing I could hope for is to get yelled at, fired, and told never to come back.

Back in the FBO, I watched a world cup game and tried not to think too much about the logs. I had already looked in every corner and every room of the building, looked in the plane, and asked the staff if anything had been turned in or put behind the counter. No luck. I figured I'd wait until the new private pilot came back, then confer with him again before calling my chief pilot and seeing what he wanted me to do.

I saw the school's little Cessna taxi in and shut down on a far corner of the ramp, and I went over to find out how it went. The test was a solid pass. They hit all the practical test requirements including a simulated cross-country flight, navigation, diversion, flight by reference to instruments, simulated emergency, steep turns, slow flight and stalls, ground reference maneuvers, and various takeoff and landing techniques.

The three of us sat down to de-brief, and the examiner later told me in private that this was one of the best applicants he has seen in quite some time. He was well prepared, flew safely and accurately, and was generally very good. I tried to make a joke about not wanting any of my students to have as bad a flight test as mine had been (I didn't pass my test on the first attempt with this same examiner several years ago). He didn't seem amused, but thats OK. I felt good at having produced a safe, competent pilot in a short time. I was also happy that I didn't make him over-prepared. Often times, a CFI's first student or two is way over prepared in terms of hours logged, but we finished in only 45 or so hours.

When we called home, the other CFI, Russ, told us that the maintenance books had been found - the instrument pilot had accidentally grabbed the logs for our plane and his! Russ wasn't initially going to tell us, and let me sweat it out a little more, but since we asked about it he let us in on the joke. He apologized later when I told him I spent 2 hours looking for them, and had the entire FBO staff helping me. No harm, no foul, but I was certainly stressed for a while there.

All in all, it was a good day. Francis passed, we have another pilot in the world, I seem to be doing very good work (well, at least the examiner, the other CFIs I work with, and my students all think so), and it was a fun day for the most part. I have another guy ready to solo, and a pre-solo flier who I'm working with, and things are moving right along.

There is really only one major problem with the whole deal - I need to find another client!

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