You Mean I Passed?

2007 Award of Excellence from the First Canadian Chapter of the Ninety-Nines

Woohoo!! My nephew, Alex passed his flight test yesterday afternoon, April 17. I’m so proud!

He messaged me on Facebook yesterday morning to let me know that his test was booked for 1300. I asked him which aircraft he would be flying and when he told me he would be flying F-SCG, I told him that was the luckiest airplane at the airport. The real reason that I wanted the aircraft ID, was that I planned to listen in on

Sure enough, later in the afternoon, I heard through my computer speakers “Buttonville Tower, Cessna 172, Foxtrot Sierra Charlie Golf, 15 miles north, inbound landing, full stop” and the subsequent exchange. I phoned my sister and we listened together until after he landed on runway 15 and was instructed to exit and contact the ground controller. Very exciting! About a half hour later, we received the good news!

I have not had a chance to talk to Alex about his test, so I’ll take advantage of the inspiration that his success has given me and I’ll write about my own flight test.

After the aircraft maintenance setback that I described in ‘Oops, Wrong Rudder’, GMWI was back in commission at the end of February and I got back into the air. A month without flying, however, meant that I needed to brush up! After a few more lessons and solo flights and delays due to weather, I finally had my ‘pre flight test’ at the end of March. That went fine and my actual flight test was booked for a couple of days later, which was two days before we had planned to leave for our annual trip to Florida.

Preparing for a flight test is nerve-racking! In addition to the flying part, there is a ground portion, where you show the examiner all of the planning that you have done for the flight. Also, the examiner watches as you conduct the pre-flight inspection and asks lots of questions. They can ask whatever they wish, so it’s like preparing again for the Transport Canada written exam, which I had already passed several months previously. Most of the planning can be done ahead of time, but as with the cross country flight planning, some of it has to wait until the day of the flight because of the weather.

Then, after hours of planning and studying, the flight test was cancelled due to poor weather. We rescheduled the test for three weeks hence – to a date after our return from our trip to Florida.

Then a few weeks later, I went through the entire thing again, but this time, the weather was perfect! I finished off my planning on the morning of the test and drove to the airport. Then I waited. The examiner did not turn up. Several agonizing hours later, we found out that there had been a mix-up in the scheduling. We rescheduled once again, for a few more weeks hence.

By the time May 2 rolled around, I was a wreck! Jeff was out of town that day, so I was on my own. Once again, the weather was perfect and after finishing off the planning, I drove to the airport. I had never been so nervous in my life, neither before nor since that day. As I drove up Thickson Road, I said to myself (out loud, even though I was alone in the car) “I’d better pass, because I never want to go through this again!”

This time, the examiner did turn up at the airport. He made me feel very much at ease and complimented me on the thoroughness of my planning, asking very few questions before suggesting that he head over to the airplane (Teresa told me that if that happened, it meant that he was very impressed and felt that he didn’t need to go in lots of detail).

At the hangar, we went through the pre-flight inspection and the examiner asked me a few more questions. I got most of them right, but one partially wrong (I knew why the fuel tanks needed to be vented, but did not know that the fuel caps offered a secondary method of venting the tanks – darn!). But I was really glad that I had created and studied the chart on the impacts of various systems failures on instrument readings. I was able to tell him what the airspeed indicator would show if the pitot tube became blocked after take-off.

Then came the part that I was terrified about – the flight itself. I was most nervous about the precautionary and forced approaches. The examiner coached me, much as my instructor and pilot friends had done, to take it one step at a time and once one part was over, forget about it and move on to the next. I knew that even if I failed a particular maneuver, it was advantageous to still try my best for the rest of the maneuvers, as a ‘partial fail’ means that only the failed parts need to be redone. He also surprised me by suggesting that if I make a mistake that I should not tell him, because perhaps he did not notice!

While we waited for the engine to warm up, we went through the plan for the flight. Since two take-offs and landings (one normal and one ‘specialty’ of each) need to be demonstrated, he suggested that we start off with the specialty take-off, conduct a normal landing, a touch-and-go and then do the specialty landing when we returned at the end of the test. That presented me with my first dilemma. I had never done a touch-and-go – all my circuits had been ‘full-stop’. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I then I remembered that I was Pilot In Command and I told him that I was not comfortable doing touch-and-goes and that I would prefer to do a ‘full-stop’ landing. He didn’t even blink.

I conducted a perfect simulated short field take-off, turned crosswind, then downwind and made my first mistake! I forgot my downwind check. I did not realize it until I had exited the runway and went to push in the carburetor heat knob. It was already pushed in, meaning that I had not pulled it out (which is part of the downwind check). I said to the examiner “I know you said not to say anything if I made a mistake, but there is no way that you did not notice that I forgot my downwind check”. He smiled and nodded, but in a very nice way. So, I thought I had partially failed right there and that I would have to fly everything perfectly for the rest of the test to even get a ‘partial’!

But I didn’t fly perfectly. I was a high on my forced approach and he instructed me to break off the maneuver at a higher altitude than I expected (it’s a simulation, so you don’t actually land in the field, you break off when the examiner says). I took that to mean that I had failed that part, too and I was disappointed that he had not given me the opportunity to demonstrate how I would have bled off the excess altitude by conducting a slip. Then he asked me what I would have done to make the field, so I was able to tell him.

Arriving back at the airport, I did an admirable simulated soft field landing and we taxied to the hangar. After I turned off the engine, he turned to me and stuck out his hand. I took it automatically, while he said “Congratulations”. With a dazed expression, I said “You mean, I passed?”. “Of course”, he laughed!

I was so excited! I got out of the airplane and did a little victory dance as the examiner laughed delightedly. I guessed that he had seen that before!

In the debrief, I discovered that I had flown a very good test! The forgotten downwind check simply reduced that circuit’s performance to ‘satisfactory’. And when I questioned him about being high on the forced approach, his response was “You would have made the second half of the field”.

In fact, I had done so well on the flight test, as well as on the Transport Canada written exam, that I won the 2007 Award of Excellence from the First Canadian Chapter of the Ninety-Nines. The award is presented annually to a female pilot who has achieved academic excellence and flight proficiency in her Private Pilot or Commercial License, in the region of the First Canadian Chapter of the Ninety-Nines.

Now I can’t wait to hear Alex’s story of his flight test!

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