This is going to be a flight test like none other I have ever done. In every other case, I have trained to fly the specific airplane in the specific manoeuvres that will be required for the flight test and in the area where the flight test will take place. In every other case the examiner has had some relationship with the company that owns the aircraft. But this examiner knows as much about me and us as I know about her. That would be ... each other's telephone numbers.
She examines my documents, asks me when my medical and IFR is valid until, when my last PPC expired. She confuses me by saying that this won't change the expiry date of my IFR, because it should reset the two-year period, presuming I pass. If I fail it will void the rating. I spell the name of the company for her, including the accent, but she ignores that. I don't know the official number of the company for Transport Canada purposes, but presumably she finds it in the documentation. She's pleased that I have brought the aircraft documents, but needs my training records. Of course, for other PPCs I have either done the training right there and still had custody of my own documents, or company has set up the meeting and provided the examiner with all the documents. Company sort of set up this meeting, but apparently proof of my training has not been included in the communications. I get the examiner's e-mail address then call company and have my records sent. Next, the examiner wants to see the Ops Manual, to confirm that the training I have received conforms to the training required. I remember the training requirements in the ops manual and I remember being a tiny bit amused by how rigourously we stuck to them. The manual specified time to be spent on each aspect of the ground training and we really spent that long on them, possibly a first in I don't know how many companies. We got a little creative in that inventorying the aircraft survival kit counted towards the survival training, but seeing as it included us discussing each item and how we would use it, it was probably more useful than watching another video about people staying calm and remaining with a downed aircraft. The ops manual specified three hours of aircraft training, most of which was directed towards the specific task of playing connect the dots in cooperation with the camera operator. But she's not willing to take my word for it.
I don't believe I'm required to have an ops manual on board for this operation. More importantly I don't believe I have one on board. It might be in the airplane. I go out to the airplane to look for a copy, but I can't find one. I find the camera operator in the flying club and ask if he knows anything about it. He provides me with a copy on a USB stick. I return to the office with this, and the examiner is about as displeased as an examiner could possibly be to see this thing. She wants something she can leaf through. It's not a really extensive document but it's wordy Transport Canada boilerplate, too much to print. She puts verifying my training off until later and asks me about the airplane. She wants to know the procedure if the landing gear fails to extend. Okay, here we go, something I am responsible for and can answer.
"The landing gear safety systems are quite interesting on this aircraft," I begin, because they are, and because I was taught to answer systems questions in essay form, not point form. My first flight instructor insisted. I guess it sounds more prepared, less like someone grasping at any knowledge they happen to remember, the way it might in point form. She interrupts to tell me that she doesn't need me to tell me it is interesting, just what the procedure is. "Using the checklist I would verify that the airspeed is below 150 miles per hour and the gear handle is selected down. Next I would activate the STCed electric gear extension assist ..." I'm a fast talker, and the command I've been given implies that I should get this over with but I follow advice and slow down. If the electric assist fails there is a hydraulic hand pump. If the hydraulic hand pump fails there is a CO2 cartridge, and if the CO2 cartridge fails to extend the gear there is yet another step to saving the aircraft. The examiner has herself landed one of these airplanes with the gear retracted, without damage. I don't remember other systems questions. If they were asked they were also things I knew well and she moved on.
I'm asked the minimum visibility for departure from a particular airport. I look it up and it's marked "not assessed," but the terrain around is flat, and I could safely climb to an en route altitude without a published departure, so I say "one half mile," the legal minimum for an airplane where there is no specified visibility requirement and the company does not have the op spec for low visibility departures. She asks me what is the minimum required visibility for an approach at this aerodrome. I note that approaches are predicates on ceiling but that low visibility can trigger the approach ban, and recite the litany surrounding that. She indicates the advisory visibility on the plate--three-quarters of a mile, in this case--and I explain that while it is not limiting, it is a good predictor of whether the pilot will have the required visual reference at minima. She wants to know what visibility I would really take off in. I tell her the truth, probably not less than a mile. I'm thinking single pilot, unfamiliar aerodrome, only one set of eyes for both runway and instruments, no one wants pictures of fog anyway. She tells me there isn't any point in having an IFR rating if I'm going to be that conservative. I refrain from telling her that the point of the IFR rating in this operation is so I can fly above FL180 on sky clear days, and I just nod and say yes. She already knows the nature of the operation. She asks me what "Not assessed" means. I stare at it again, leaf through the CAP GEN a little. Is there some visibility requirement implied by not assessed? Not that I can think of. What have I missed here? I tell her, "It's the pilot's responsibility to ensure a safe departure ..." She's obviously not happy, but she moves on.
The theme is consistent with me squirming to answer things I can't articulate to her satisfaction. There's so much to know. I feel I know it, but even in an open book unlimited time exam it's impossible to put the right answers in the right spaces to satisfy every examiner. I seem to be particularly bad at this, rarely not knowing but frequently not satisfying. I explain my weight and balance, fuel on board and that I won't be switching tanks during the exam because the selected tanks contain more fuel than the other tanks will on landing.
Fortunately she spends no time on my pathetic nav log, except to suggest I use a pencil another time. She must have asked me more questions than that, but there's no crazy "how many vortex generators?" type questions. I identify the airplane for her through the window and am sent out to it. I see some of the flight instructors who have been in and out during the day and tell them we're going fly. If you fail any item on the ground you don't go flying, so the comfort here is that she hasn't failed me yet.
I'm almost at the door when I think of something. A performance enhancing drug that I don't usually take in this environment, because it's also a diuretic. But this is only an hour to an hour and a half flight, and my alertness could be enhanced. I ask the instructors, "Is there by chance some coffee around here?" There is, but it's not a pot of hours old coffee, but instead a really fancy high tech brewing station. I explain that there's an examiner coming down the stairs right behind me and I jut need to insert caffeine and go. This is not for pleasure. There's a jar of instant on the counter and a rounded teaspoon of that combined with some water from the kettle gives me half a cup of surprisingly palatable lukewarm double-strength coffee, which I down, just as the examiner appears. I start guiltily, "Sorry, stopped for a coffee," and lead the way to the airplane.