So, it’s been a busy week. I started off by taking the written test. I had been studying for this thing for months at it was just depressing. It was affecting my attitude about the whole damn thing.
So Nicole says, “Screw it, take the test.”
You know what, she was right (as she frequently is) so I said, good enough is good enough and left the pursuit of perfection at the bar and just took the damn test. Much ado about nothing. The Dauntless Software was money. Get it. It works. The test was pretty damn easy except for one question that had a phrase in it that I had never heard or seen before in 14 years of aviation experience. It highlighted the fact that I still have a lot to learn. But I passed, so it also highlighted that I know enough to move on.
The weather was good and we had a three day weekend. I was determined to maximize my flying. I scheduled the aircraft for as many open slots as I could. I figured that my problem was that I wasn’t retaining enough skill because the time between my flight was too long. I needed to get that repetition down to a better timeline, but my work schedule and the weather would not cooperate. Here’s the perfect storm. Three full days of good weather.
First day was great. Super calm winds, and gentle air. Not a single bump. My landings were good but my maneuvers were admittedly sloppy. My old nemesis, the level turn, showed his face again as I struggled with altitude control all day. What is the damn trick for doing a steep turn in this damn airplane. After the sortie, we talked for a good two hours about oral exam prep.
Second day was also solid. I treated it like a flight evaluation and had the instructor act like it was an evaluation. He ran me though all the maneuvers, I repeated several that were marginal on the standards. But the fault was all on me, the air was calm, the airplane was good. We sat down again for a good two hours and talked about the subject matter for the oral exam. At the end I mentioned that my performance was within standards but still sloppy, I just need to tighten it up. He says to me, “You’ll do fine tomorrow.”
In my head I thought, “What’s happening tomorrow?”
Then he grabs my log book and endorses me to take the flight evaluation. What the hell just happened? He calls an examiner and tells me that I’m scheduled for an FAA evaluation at 9am tomorrow morning. 18 hours from right the eff now. I am not ready. I say again… I. Am. Not. Ready.
But then Nicole says, “Screw it, take the test.”
So I take the test. I get all the books together, all the equipment, all the paperwork, everything I need to do this thing. The examiner gives me a cross country to plan from Chesapeake Regional (CPK) to Front Royal (FRR). After about ten seconds of looking at the chart I see that the damn airport is in a National Park, and close enough to the SFRA around Washington DC to make this flight a total pain in the ass. To fly in this airspace there is a separate online course that I have to take, with a test. For real? I don’t have time for this.
Nicole says, “Screw it, take the test.”
So I do. And it turns out the FAA sucks at making online material and it was pretty damn easy. Flight planning is now in full effect. I am a navigator. Flight planning is what I do. Level turns, that’s a challenge. Flight planning is easy. I go into full up navigator mode and pull out all the stops on the flight plan. I hope to dazzle him so he thinks I know what I’m doing. This plan has worked before. My first checkride as a Navigator was all about distracting the examiner so he did not notice how much I sucked. I will use this same tactic.
The examiner shows. This guy is a stone cold Carolina country boy. His accent is something out of the civil war. I think he’s going to hate my ass since I’m a damn Yankee. He says, “we’re going to talk for about an hour or so to see if you know what hell your talkin’ ’bout. If it takes more than 2 hours than it’s your fault, not mine.”
We go though all kinds of subject matter. He grills me on airspace, weather, communications, medical factors, why having your paper work squared away will save your bacon when “those gov’ment types in the suits come fo your ass.” And then all of a sudden he just gets up and says, “get your shit together, I’ll see you at the airplane.”
I go through all the pre-flight in the cold (he watched from the building) and then we start and go. He wants a soft field takeoff to start so we can “just get that damn thing outta the way early.” I do the takeoff pretty damn good and at 300 feet he pulls the throttle to idle. “You just lost your engine. Fix it.” I figuratively shit my pants. The nose comes down to get my glide speed (I’m looking at a lot of trees) and I burn through the immediate actions. As soon as I finish, he puts the throttle back to full. I was at 150 feet. I start a climb while sitting in a puddle of sweat.
He says, “Aw, you got this shit. You’ll be fine. Let’s have some fun, take me to Richmond.” Then he puts me under the hood (meaning that all I can see are the instruments and I can’t look outside). I’m still climbing at not quite 1000 feet.
Richmond? That was not part of the plan. Under the hood, with no prior planning, I try to find Richmond on the chart while at the same time trying to fly. It’s like texting and driving at the same time except you will never look at the road. This plane has an autopilot, and I just so happen to know how to work it. I hit the autopilot. He disengages it. “It looks like that damn autopilot ain’t working today. Too bad.” I find Richmond and dial in the VOR, center the needle and level off at 4500 feet. He asks for slow flight. He gives me vectors. He takes the airplane and puts in some unusual attitudes and makes me recover. All of this under the hood. I am getting sick.
The hood comes off. He says, “Okay, look around, do whatever you gotta do, then point on the chart to where we are.” Wait a sec…All of that was designed to disorient me? Dude? I’m an eff-in’ Navigator. We’re right over the James River, it’s pretty damn hard to miss. Point. Nailed it.
He asks for steep turns. I screw them all up, because I think we all know I suck at steep turns. He doesn’t even notice. He’s looking outside and pointing out every crash site from the past thirty years. Oh well. He asks for a power off stall. Nailed it. Power on stall. Nailed it. He says (and I’m not making this up) “That’s Williamsburg down there. They got a pretty good restaurant at the field. Let’s get some lunch.”
What the hell is going on here? In the back of my head I hear Nicole, “Screw it, take the test.”
Williamsburg, an airport that I had never ever looked at, never checked NOTAMs for, had absolutely no knowledge of, lay in front of me. He wants a short field landing. There is a pond on short final and it is literally covered with ducks and geese and the skies above it are filled with circling hawks and crows. Yeah, this is great idea (insert sarcasm).
I stay high. Way to damn high to do a short field landing. He keeps telling me, “you better get down, too high.” Can you not see the birds? That was in my head. Screw this guy, I say it, “Can’t you see those birds?”
He says, “See, you got this shit.”
Mofo was just testing me. I get over the birds and do some crazy pilot shit worthy of Vicky on short final with Swami screaming in his ear. I touch down on brick one and stop in less than 400 feet. How the hell did I do that? I’m through sweating this thing. I earned this lunch.
First I call back to Chesapeake to let them know where I’ve taken their airplane (completely against what I was dispatched to do).
Me: I’m at Williamsburg.
CPK: You’re supposed to doing a examination.
Me: The examiner wanted lunch.
CPK: (pause) well… okay.
We get back to Chesapeake (after a pretty damn good pulled pork sandwich) and I enter the downwind for a normal landing. As I pass abeam the runway at 1000 feet, he pulls the engine again. This time, I was ready. I work the descent and the turn, do some magic on a forward slip right down to the runway and land it on the numbers. As I roll out, I reflect that this forward slip to landing was the first actual forward slip that I’ve actually landed. Well, I’d rather be lucky than good.
He says, “Clear the runway, brother. You’re a pilot.”