I am not by nature suited to the rigor and attention to detail that is part and parcel of scooting about the sky without a chaperone. I am just not the detail guy. Big picture, fact bank, rapid extrapolation from known situation, sure, but always remembering to turn on the carburetor heat before landing in a Cessna 152 but not in a Piper Cherokee? Not my thing. So, I am a checklist guy. I mumble the checklist aloud to myself for each situation. Usually I have to have the damn thing in my hand. My big transition was leaving it the plane during the walk around. This cavalier attitude makes me nervous since I have already flown off into the wild blue with the key to the plane stuck in the cargo door. How do you miss that?More than ¾ of my lessons have been with my brother in the plane. Though I soloed and finished the private pilot with the nation average number of hours, I far exceed the averages when you consider that I have fifty hours sitting watching Colin make mistakes. Much to my chagrin he really stopped making them about fifteen hours ago. We flew our night cross country together and I was made very nervous by how closely he followed the VOR course. How would I come close to that? My usual attempts to balance the needle and up looking like a game of Pong. As I feared, on the way back from Paso Robles I was forced to tell the instructor that my diversion from course by nearly four miles was an attempt to see if the coast had as thick ground fog as the inland areas. It did not.
In the photo I am flying up to take my check ride. Just getting from Santa Monica to Paso Robles is a testament to my being ready for the cross country part of the test. I landed about three hours early and started studying madly. When the examiner arrived he could not have been nicer. He spent a long time chatting with me to put me at ease and then we started the knowledge part of the exam. I was pretty happy with things, but then he asked about oxygen. I knew it was a good idea to have some for breathing, but not much else. Then he asked about distances from clouds in class G airspace. As far as I am concerned the whole distance from clouds thing should be simplified. Why have more than two sets of rules. I have not been flying long but it seems to me that everyone flies pretty damn close to clouds and it does not matter what airspace they are in. In any case, we moved on to the flight part of the exam without closing out knowledge. The flying was a blast. There were a couple of bad moments, like when I drifted a little low on the steep bank turn after completing the 360, but I was happy with life as we returned to the airport for the short and soft landings.
Happiness during an exam should be a source of worry. It almost always means you are about to get poked in the eye. As I was lining up for my short landing a fellow in a Texan was holding short. He asked if he could leave before I arrived and like an idiot I told him , “Okay.” I should have told him to keep his lovely warbird behind the line until I had a license thank you very much. But no. Now I am trying to line up a short field landing with the distraction of a very pretty plane firing off the runway like it was being chased by the Germans. All set up and settling towards my appointed spot. Just ten feet off the ground I decide I might go long. Maybe by a few feet. No point in taking chances. Throttle in and we are going around. Pinched in on the cross wind since the Texan was coming around for its own shot at a landing. Again I got to watching and worrying about that other plane and had to make a hell of a steep bank turn to final right from the downwind. That left me too high. Nothing for it but to firewall the throttle and try yet again. I apologized to the examiner and headed around. Pinched myself short again, mostly from impatience, by god I wanted that plane on the ground. Another quite-downwind final and I was left too high again. Full flaps, hard slip, no engine, still looking too high. Ground rushing up though. Chickened out, though we might have survived the landing, and commenced my third go around. I turned to the examiner and asked if he had anything important to do that afternoon or if I was free to keep at this as long as I could stand the embarrassment. He allowed that going around was never a bad thing.
Somehow he seemed sincere enough that I calmed down and flew my first decent pattern since landing that morning. A little enthusiasm with the yoke dropped the plane about ten feet long from a height of five feet. Nothing like a little jar before starting your soft field work. That was uneventful and as we left the plane and walked back to the FBO, in response to my outright asking him, the examiner admitted that I had passed. A bit of paperwork and I am a private pilot. Excellent. Now to learn how to fly…