Achievement Unlocked! I AM a Pilot!

John HurlbutFlying, Personal Growth2 Comments

(Author’s Note: I originally started this post on May 11th, 2 days after I passed my check ride. Life got in the way and it took me a month to get it completed. I’ve got a few more posts coming! Sorry for the delay!)  Well it’s been over a month since my last post “Why I’m Not a Pilot Yet…Or What Went Wrong” so I guess I should catch everyone up. (Both of you) After failing to pass my check ride on March 27th, it took me a few days to get back in the airplane. There was a lot that lead up to that day and it was a HUGE emotional letdown knowing I hadn’t passed. I think my recounting of the events was pretty accurate as to what I did, what went wrong and what I could have done differently. The only question after that was “Do I have what it takes to finish it up?” By now I guess you know the answer to that, I did and I am a pilot. How did we get from there to here?

So on April 4th, I went back up with my instructor, but we didn’t have the weather to do the “high show”, meaning the ability to get to the altitude we needed to do slow flight and stalls.  You really don’t want to do stalls a thousand feet above the ground in case you have a hard time recovering you’d end up splatting. No bueno. So we just did some S-turns and turns around a point and landed back at Thun.

The weather was crap for the next couple of weeks and my schedule just did not align with hers. She went out of town for a week for the Sun N Fun expo in Florida and I was away with some friends for a weekend. So the next time I got to fly was April 24th! And that was with a different instructor because mine was at the aforementioned Sun N Fun. But it was good to fly with someone new to get used to it and we DID have the high show that day, so we got slow flight, stalls, emergency descents and some landings in. It was a good day and it was good to get a different perspective from another instructor as well. The skies literally opened up after that flight and it poured! We just snuck it in!

I started counting the days. From the date of my last exam, I only had 60 days to complete my check ride or I’d have to start all over from the oral exam on. I knew if I missed this 60 day window my chances of ever finishing would diminish greatly.

The first weekend of May, Teri and I were out of town on Wine Weekend in Walla Walla, which ironically I wanted to fly to this year. Oh well there’s always next year. The weather was GORGEOUS that weekend and it would have been a GREAT time to get some flying in, but I was out of town. Tick Tock, Tick Tock.  I had three weeks left to get it done.

I contacted my FAA Examiner to see what her schedule was like the 13th – 20th of May and it turns out she was flying her corporate job that week and was unavailable. CRAP! So of the three weeks I had left to get it done, she wasn’t available one of those. It was now the 3rd of May and I was seriously feeling the crunch.  I scheduled flights for the 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of May.  The 6th was Teri and I’s anniversary so no way I was flying that day!

The 4th came and the weather sucked. No flight.

The 5th came and the weather sucked. No flight.

The 7th came and the weather was nice so my instructor and I were able to get about an hour of flying in and did slow flight and a landing.  We also had tentatively scheduled the FAA Examiner for Saturday. But if I wasn’t able to get some more flying in before Saturday, I wouldn’t feel super comfortable flying with her. I had literally about 4 hours since my failed attempt and was just getting my mojo back.

Friday the 8th came and the weather was GORGEOUS! My instructor came in on her day off specifically to fly with me. I REALLY appreciated that gesture! I booked the plane from 2PM to 7PM and our goal was to do all the things that I needed to do on Saturday and at the end of the day determine if I was good to go for Saturday or not.

We jumped in the plane and did a Short Field takeoff and headed over to the SE practice area over Enumclaw/Black Diamond area. We started out with Slow Flight and I gotta say . . . NAILED IT! The Practical Test Standards say you need to hold altitude +/- 100 feet and heading to +/- 10°, well I held my altitude +/- 40 feet and my heading +/- 5°. According to my instructor, it was to COMMERCIAL standards. It’s nice to know I’m not completely dense and can actually fly a plane slowly without stalling it. Which brings us to the next set of maneuvers.

Next up, Stalls. Never got to this in my check ride, so I needed to show that I could do them. First up was a power off stall in the landing configuration. Basically you’re simulating coming in on final approach to land, flaps down, slow. If you pull up in that configuration you’re likely to stall and fall hard to the runway if you don’t recover quickly enough. So out of slow flight I trimmed up the airplane for 65 Knots and pulled back on the yoke until the stall warning horn started to go off, the air was buffeting over the wings and the plane started to fall out of the sky. I maintained my heading and recovered quickly enough to consider it at or better than practical test standards.

Then we did Ground Reference Maneuvers, first up S-Turns.  Basically you find a long Road and you fly perpendicular to that road, as you cross it, you turn to the left or the right and do a 180° turn going wings level just as you cross over the road again. Then you turn the opposite direction and do another 180° turn and you continue doing that until either the examiner barfs or tells you to call off the maneuver.  (Just seeing if you were paying attention)  Again you need to maintain altitude +/- 100 feet.  Passed that as well.  Next up turns about a point. Just as you would think it is, find a landmark and fly 360° around it maintaining the same relative distance from the object while maintaining +/-100 feet of altitude. These are not my best maneuver, but they’re passable as they were on Saturday.

Then it was time to head back to the airport. There was a “Flights Above the Pacific Northwest” fly-in at Cawleys in Buckley and as we flew over it looked like it was a great turnout! I modified my course slightly so as to avoid traffic taking off. We headed over the Orting Valley and my plan was to overfly the airport and set up for the 45° to land on runway 34.  Just after I got over the airport, my examiner reached over, pulled the power out and said “Oh darn! Your engine just quit, what will we do now?”  So I turned us toward the field and entered in a modified downwind approach.  She announced that we were doing a simulated engine out.

I probably extended my downwind a little too far, but we did get nice and set up for a landing and just as we were coming in she announced “Go Around”.  So Pitch Up, Power Up, Clean Up, Fess Up . .  nose up, full power, flaps to 20° announce “Pierce Traffic, Cessna 823 is going around” . . . flaps to 0° and back into the pattern.

This time coming in she had me slip to a landing. I wasn’t really prepared for this because I was told “As far as I know she’s never had anyone do a slip”.  Well there’s a first time for everything I guess.  And maybe it was because this was check ride #2 that I was being thrown everything, but I set up for it and had us a nice stable approach.  We went around again and this time she had me do a soft field landing.  It wasn’t my best, but it was passable and that’s all that counts!  Finally on our last landing of the day, she had me do a Short Field landing.  It was DEFINITELY short!! I actually locked up the left tire and skidded it a little bit, but that just made it shorter.  In all my training, I never once locked up the brakes.  Even when Meg gave me the Mom arm.  I guess I was still a bit nervous.

My examiner told me to head for Spencer Aircraft.  This was the moment of truth.  Did I pass? As I cleaned up the airplane (Flaps up, carb heat cold, elevator trim set for take off) she casually mentioned “Well, you passed, congratulations.”  I was certainly relieved!  I was finally a PILOT!  She went on to talk about things she wanted me to work on as I went forward this summer on flying adventures.  

From Left to Right:  Summer Martell (My examiner), Me, and Meg Godlewski (My Instructor).  Happy day!

From Left to Right:  Summer Martell (My examiner), Me, and Meg Godlewski (My Instructor).  Happy day!

After we got out of the airplane we took some pictures with my examiner and my instructor.  Finished up the final paperwork and I got my temporary airman’s certificate.  I was happy that my wife was there to see me finish.  It really was a special day and one I’ll never forget!  Am I bummed I didn’t pass the first time?  Certainly.  But I learned a whole lot through the process about flying, and especially about myself.

Temporary License to Learn! It's official!

Temporary License to Learn! It’s official!

This blog started out with me trying to get my FAA medical.  On this journey there were a number of obstacles to overcome.  My medical, getting back on my CPAP machine, soloing, re-soloing, check ride fail, after my check ride fail, I also had to renew my medical since I have to do mine each year due to my CPAP machine.  Which I got without issue. To finally check ride pass.    I’m not going to rename the blog now that I’m officially a pilot, because really I’m still trying to fly in a number of ways.  I’m just now able to do it legally for fun!!

Thanks everyone that’s supported me through this. Far too many of you to name here, but in particular my Wife, Teri. You’ve been amazing throughout this and I couldn’t imagine having a better partner.  So looking forward to our flying adventures! My parents were incredibly supportive even if it was just a “love you” on my post the days I went flying, it was appreciated and noted.  The Facebook group that I’ve been a part of since February of 2014, Flights Above the Pacific Northwest.  What an amazing, supportive group of pilots!! Regardless of the challenges I faced, there were a dozen folks there that faced the same or similar challenges. If you have any interest in flying AT ALL, I highly recommend joining this group of fabulous individuals!

My Sporty's Private Pilot Trophy ... I'm all about the awards, even if I have to buy them myself! Click on this to read the quote by Leonardo Da Vinci, well worth it.

My Sporty’s Private Pilot Trophy … I’m all about the awards, even if I have to buy them myself! Click on this to read the quote by Leonardo Da Vinci, well worth it.

Sorry it took so long to post this, but I have a number of other flying adventure posts to catch up on now too!

Let’s fly!

2 Comments on “Achievement Unlocked! I AM a Pilot!”

  1. Congratulations on passing your checkride! I recently had a 2 month long CFI checkride and know exactly how you feel! Have fun flying this summer, stay safe, and keep learning! 🙂

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