Saturday, July 02, 2011

The PPC Ride

The examiner holds up to ask someone to let a student know she is going to be late for the lesson following my flight test, so I have a chance to go ahead and verify that no one has run into the airplane while it sat there, and that nothing is leaking out of it. Hour eleven of my duty day is beginning as I climb into the pilot seat. I welcome the examiner on board and quickly brief her on the location of emergency equipment. I set my prefolded charts where I can reach them and get myself buckled into my seat. The airplane starts nicely and I record the time then start working through checklists, explaining what I am doing. I made a list of which frequencies to put on which nav aids to get going, and I pre-identify what I can. I have an ADF not an RMI so I do what I always do with these and set north to the top, explaining that is to prevent me from mistaking it for an RMI and thinking it shows the correct heading. I also note to her that the GPS database is expired, hence the prominent NOT FOR IFR USE label across the bottom of the screen. I tell her she's welcome to use it for situational awareness if she wishes. I love it when the examiner has something interesting to look at so I don't freak out from the scrutiny while doing basic preflight checks.

I copy the ATIS and then call for clearance. Someone should tell them to speak slowly. I had to ask for two parts of the clearance to be repeated before I could write it down and read it back correctly. The clearance, from my notes, appears to be B △ eva 1/B M70 Rrr 'u 4616 7600 on caus followed by A 2Z91 X25 125.42. This apparently all meant something to me at the time, because I taxied out. The examiner tolerated my careful pauses at each intersection while I consulted the taxi diagram for the airport she knew her way around perfectly. After I was clear of the parking area and established en route to the runway I made some small turns and rattled off "turning left, wings, er stick left, decreasing, decreasing, steady, steady," for the various instruments that should and should not respond to directional change on the ground. I told her that as this was the airplane's fourth flight today I would not be doing a run-up, if she was comfortable with that, and she was. The examiner had much better handwriting than me, because I remember seeing something akin to "confident and comfortable in the cockpit" written on her clipboard. I can read pretty much any way up. I didn't realize that was a thing everyone couldn't do until I saw it posited as a trick. I have a moment of "got her fooled" but that's washed away by a realization that I've lived in this cockpit for the last few days, and I do know how to fly, even if I don't have the recent specific experience common to students who have trained here.

I switch to tower frequency when I'm ready to go and they clear me for takeoff. Roll, straight, rotate, going up, going up, gear up, fly straight, climb speed, trimmed, after takeoff checks. I switch to terminal and they radar identify me and clear me direct the NDB. Level off, call level (even though I don't have to, and I'm not hinting for anything). Now concentrate on tracking to the NDB. I get two sets of marks for this, one for en route procedures and one for ADF tracking. And I'm doing it nice and straight. I'm as proud of this as a kid who can tie her own shoes. A basic skill done well. Now I have to keep doing it while doing something else: copy a hold clearance.

It looks like + U D> M70 HN IB 160 <FC 0045. That makes way more sense than the previous clearance, so I must be improving. If inbound is 160 then outbound is 340. With no explicit instruction on the direction of the turns, they must be to the right. I look at the ADF, by which I'm tracking to the NDB, and see that it falls just to the left of the top of the instrument, which according your basic flying school rules indicates a parallel entry, an initial left turn to 340, followed by a left turn to intercept the inbound track and then subsequent right turns on crossing the station. And I'm still tracking like a pro. I tell the examiner my intentions and she asks how it can left turn. Because on a parallel entry you start by going the wrong way ... and I'm an idiot. I'm looking at an instrument that is set to north and not to my course. Three forty is almost directly behind me. They have given me the easiest hold in the world, and I should have anticipated it, because it's the logical hold to give me, and because a sensible pilot would have been thinking about holding at the NDB the easiest way instead of being all proud she could tie her shoes. I know I would have caught that when I looked at the actual heading indicator to make the turn, but jeeeeez, HOLDS, why do I always find a new and exciting way to screw up my holds?!

I enter the insanely simple direct hold. I start the timer in the right place, I turn at the correct second, I have to bank a little more intercept, I time inbound, I declare the required outbound timing and outbound heading and both the intercept and time to station are to the degree and to the second. Not that it matters, as she has only the choice between "major error" and "fail" for my inability to state the correct entry without prompting. They don't have to tell you you've failed or stop the test on the first one. I should put a post it on the ADF: 'this is not an RMI.'

Crossing the NDB, the examiner asks for a block of airspace and now I'm visual to do the manouevring part of the test. A steep turn, which only passes because they don't fail you if you promptly correct excursions from tolerances, and a stall recovery, executed correctly, including the flaps first, then gear order peculiar to this airplane. What else is in the airwork? Maybe that's it. Slow flight included in the stall demonstration, I guess. Back to IFR. They clear me for the VFR-only full procedure approach at the NDB. It's direct the NDB, hockey stick, outbound, timer, don't forget to reset the DG, monitor the morse code for the NDB, turn 45 degrees, see the terrain on the GPS, yikes, no wonder this is not for IFR use. Fly out the time, hold altitude, turn inbound, established within 5 degrees of the inbound track I can start descent to the first stepdown. Reset the DG again. It drifts fast during turns at low power. Man, how is it even legal to do IFR NDB approaches with out a slaved gyro? It's never set to within two degrees. The examiner has set the correct radial on the GPS but I focus on the DG and ADF to track as well as I can, step down, step down, MDA. Should be visual, no contact. The examiner shows me the aerodrome off to the side and makes a note for herself that the track she gave me was not ideal. Unlike the VOR radials I discussed earlier, tracks to an NDB depend on magnetic fields, so they shift when the magnetic poles do, thus a long-outdated IFR approach based on an NDB no longer leads to the runway.

I fly the missed. There must have been a simulated engine failure in all that, as she gave me back my engine after the missed, and then cancels IFR then gets me a clearance for a simulated straight in ILS back to the airport we came from. I tuned the localizer before I left, and set the inbound track, because there weren't any VORs en route, so now all I have to do is slow to approach speed, double check the identifier and follow the vectors to intercept it. I'm cleared to do so. "Loc alive!" Set the DG again and intercept. I overcorrect for a moment, then settle down. Staring at the instrument, I see that it's one of the kind with dots on them. Most of them have dots, but now I'm laughing inside myself at the dots. MORE DOTS! This is what I do all day. I put that needle right in the middle of the dots and pin it there. "Glideslope alive!" It's one of the glideslope indicators that hinges at the side like a drawbridge. I put the gear down as it swings just before level and then put the nose down and descend on the glideslope. I need to pull the power back a bit more, otherwise the turbocharged engines give me more power as I descend and I'll get above the glideslope. Despite the fact that I'm descending on the glideslope, I am given a "not below" clearance, and I reach that altitude while still on the glideslope. I hold altitude and watch the needle drop away below me, until the restriction is lifted then I ask the examiner what she wants me to do. She tells me to recapture the glideslope. I tell her I would normally conduct a missed, not dive for a glideslope, but I do manage to get it back just before reaching the circling altitude. I circle out, mentally choosing points that represent my circling limits, but just as I put down my gear to start turning in, the tower asks me to extend my downwind, they'll call my base. I should have taken the gear up again, but instead I let my speed decay and make the examiner nervous before I'm finally cleared to turn in and do my touch and go. I grin to myself, glad I did one this morning. As I turn crosswind, the examiner says she wants the next landing to be flapless. Ha ha. I admit straight out that I haven't landed this airplane flapless before, that there's no checklist, but that I'll have a shallower approach angle, higher approach speed, more runway... While I'm babbling the examiner grabs the left throttle and pulls it to idle. "This should help you get down." I simulate feathering the propeller and securing that engine and it so happens that as her simulation has taken out my hydraulics, this would be a flapless landing anyway. I simulate activating the gear electrically, and wouldn't have chosen to pump down the flaps with a runway of this length. She tells me I can have the power if I need it, but I entirely forget in the flare that the "zero thrust" simulation that the examiner has set is actually not zero thrust and the residual power, afternoon warmth and lack of flaps prolongs my touchdown so far it's funny. I stop and turn off at the end.

After landing checks done, I ask the examiner for suggestions on where to park and she gets the taxi clearance for me and gives directions. There's a whole back lot full of interchangeably anonymous hangars. It's like the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. If I park the airplane back here I'll never find it again. The examiner knows that there is no airplane in this hangar and that the owner won't be here for a while, so it's okay to park in front of it. She's now late for her next lesson, so the debriefing will be in the morning, at 7 a.m.

"Can you please at least tell me if I can tell my company I passed?"

"You passed."

If she had made me wait, you had better believe I would have made you wait. Most of them do. I really wonder how bad some pilots must be, that they are worse than me and actually fail these things. Is my expectation of the world just too high? Like the fact that my customer today said he thought I was the most punctual pilot he had ever worked with. I mean what? How can you be more punctual than on time? And how can your job be to file a flight plan saying you will take off at 1430, and not be sitting at the hold short line waiting for a take-off clearance at 1429? Most of the job that isn't memorizing and practicing emergency procedures is calculating how long things take, and writing that down in four places.

The examiner takes her paperwork and leaves while ponder these things, fill out the journey log and gather my belongings.

There's a young man sitting in a C172 parked on the apron without the engine running. I say hi and ask him if he's practicing emergency procedures. He says no, he's just waiting for his instructor. I apologize, explaining I'm the reason she's late, and hoping I haven't got her in a bad mood for him. He's relaxed about it. He's working on his initial private pilot licence, trying to get landings right. The instructor in me makes me ask what the hardest part is. Not that he doesn't have a very competent instructor, but sometimes even the same words from someone new trigger something. He says just getting everything done, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't.

The operator has gone to meet with a client, and left me with the name of a hotel where we have reservations, and instructions to get a cab there. I go and find a phone at the flying club and call one. They say I'm first in line for a cab in the area and when I ask how long that might take the dispatcher repeats You're first in line for a cab in your area! I should have hung up and called another company. I'd rather be treated with respect than have an uncracked windshield. But I say whatever and wait. There's another pilot at the club and I express some of my "phew, flight test over" relief to him and he recognizes which airplane I must have been in, from the examiner's voice getting my clearance. He was in the airplane that interrupted my ILS approach, and apologizes for that. I tell him that really it helped me out, because the closer to the airfield I get, the harder it is to keep the needles centres, so breaking me off early made me look better. I go out to wait for the cab. I wait a while. Rude and slow.

The driver is a lot nicer than the dispatcher. He turns out to be an IT guy taking a break from his career. I have supper and should be ready to collapse, but I'm still kind of wired. Maybe that was especially potent coffee. I call the front desk. "Do you guys have a swimming pool or something?" She doesn't even say 'yes,' just gives me directions. The pool has a bunch of kids in it, and I join them on the waterslide, making sure it's all clear below before I launch myself down it. It's a good one! They compliment me on my happy shrieking. One of the 'kids' turns out to be the mom. I tell her I'm decompressing from a flight test, which leads to the usual conversation about what airline I don't fly for. I tell her about taking pictures at Slave Lake and get a blank look.

"Oh, what province are you from?"

"Alberta. But we've been away."

They've been away for six months. The parents have jobs that allow them to work via the internet for a good portion of the year, and the kids are homeschooled, so they've just been travelling. "Oh where?" I ask.

"Everywhere. The whole world."

Wow. I ask about some countries I'm interested in. Cambodia? She doesn't know where it is. I tell her. No, they haven't been to Asia. Or Africa. Or South America. Or Central America including Mexico. She hasn't heard of Estonia. Hasn't been east of Germany. They have been only been to countries dominantly populated by white people who speak germanic or romance languages. I wouldn't challenge your right to call a vacation covering the UK, Australia and Western Europe a world tour, but if you're home schooling your kids, they have to know that that is not "everywhere - the whole world." She has a reason, though, but a kind of weird one, for not wanting to go to 'those places.' Her partner, not currently in the pool area, is from the Caribbean, and dark skinned, so her kids look like 'their kids.' She's afraid that they will be mistaken for locals in one of those places and taken for slaves, because that happens there. I don't know where to start. I'm not going to touch the paranoia that goes with a mother's love, or her subscription to "all brown people look alike," so I tell her that in Cambodia, children in slavery are usually sold by their own parents to feed the others in the family, or by luring runaways, not by snatching the children of the wealthy. I'm pretty sure that's the way slavery works most places these days, because capturing people that the authorities would come looking for is bad for business. I try to express that just because a country doesn't have the same standards or the same traditions as Canada, that it isn't a place you can travel safely. I've never travelled with children, but if they'll eat what's available, sleep where you tell them to and have the basic sit stay and recall training of a pet dog, I think they could enjoy travel, to the whole world.

And at the end of the day-- and it really is the end of the day--it makes me wonder how fundamentally broken my world view is. I need to see more of it, and look harder at the places I already am. I spend a few minutes in the really hot hot tub, then go to bed.


D.B. said...

Good job! I just did the 2 check-rides for CFI-A and CFI-I, and I found it most annoying that examiner wouldn't tell me that I'd passed until we were already out of a parked, shut down airplane and heading into the office. My normal DE, who couldn't fly because he fell and hurt his back, would tell me the result in the air - something like: "Congratulations! You passed, as long as you don't mess up the landing!" I liked that much better.

Bill said...

Well done. So pleased for you!
Bill. Tasmania.

Scote1992 said...

Hey congrats, I just passed my PPL checkride last tuesday and started instrument lessons yesterday. I'm overhwhelmed already, but I'm hoping it gets easier to multitask the more you do it.

Cedarglen said...

Hike up your drawers Aviatrix and be prowd of the pass! It was a tough challenge, mostly because the examination is intended to be tough. You flew the plan and the incidentals properly, so you passed. Duh? I note a couple of variances, but you made the right choices and modified your own plan to accommodate them, safely. That is the real difference between a book flyer and a knowing flyer and the changes are damn sure not short cuts; they are smart demonstrations of knowledge and skill. You passed! There were a couple of errors - I guess - but you knew your situation and made good choices. Those are damn sure not 'failure' choices, but smart, reasonable and very professional ones. Again, you passed! The pass was not an exceptional thing, but a thorough demonstration of your ability and skill. Get over the the simple errors and enjoy the new certification with pride; you EARNED it. In a perverse way, I sort of like that examiner: She took you to limits a bit beyond the exam, but rewarded you for an excellent, professional performance. Congratulations!! Ha-ha. You may have had a few doubts, but I did not. After reading your reports for ages, I already knew that you had the moxy to fly this exam and I've won my nickle bet. Happy and safe flying, friend. Your tickets are EARNED!

DataPilot said...

First and foremost, congrats for a successful ride!

And at the end of the day-- and it really is the end of the day--it makes me wonder how fundamentally broken my world view is.

This reminds me of my multi-engine checkride. It was September 1981, a week before I had to return for Fall term at the university. My boss (the local FBO owner) had made a deal with an FBO in another town, swapping one of his C337 Skymasters for a PA30 Twin Comanche. The idea was for me to fly the Twin Comanche a few times, then take my check ride and get a MEI rating without a centerline thrust limitation.

I'd already logged some Skymaster time, so learning to manage the PA30's two engines wasn't difficult. But I just couldn't get the knack of the Piper's handling characteristics. It flew flat and landed flat. (It spun flat, too, but that's a different story.) I would struggle through the most basic training exercises, then go in and pancake the plane onto the runway every time. I hated that Twin Comanche.

Three days before my scheduled ride, I tore the palm of my left hand open in a bicycle-versus-barbed-wire fence accident. But I couldn't reschedule. The Piper had to be returned to its owner and school was about to start, so I showed up for the checkride with my left hand in a huge bandage. Then I met my examiner, an older man with a longstanding reputation of overtly sexist behavior. He took one look at me -- a teen-aged girl with one hand wrapped up like a mummy -- and muttered something to the effect of, "Well, this should be quick". I knew I was doomed.

All I could do was my best, so that's what I did. And despite my awful training experiences in the PA30, the ride went pretty well. It ended with me setting up to land in a huge, gusty crosswind at an unfamiliar airport. Just as I approached the runway threshhold, the examiner told me to land by the second taxiway turnoff -- a good 1500 feet further down the runway than where I was aiming. But I made adjustments, and somehow managed to squeak the plane onto the runway, straight and smack on the center line at the selected location. It was the only good landing I ever made in that plane.

We went back to the examiner's office, where he scribbled out my temporary rating certificate in silence. I couldn't stand it anymore, so I asked him, "How did I do?" He said, "Not bad for a girl. But that would have been a damned fine ride if you were a guy."

I doubt it occurred to the examiner how fundamentally broken his perception of women was. At least he was willing to objectively acknowledge good flying when he saw it.

Aviatrix said...

Wait, if it was not bad for a girl, but damned fine for a guy, that means he expects girls to be better than guys. So he's flat out admitting either that he's harder on girls, or that girls are better. Either way, good for you, and I hope neither the flight test nor the bicycle accident left permanent scars.

GPS_Direct said...

Congrats on the PPC! And here I was, sure that the diuretic coffee red herring was going to play in the checkride...

[quote]"confident and comfortable in the cockpit" [/quote]

I'm convinced that's 90% of the battle, right there. Unless you *really* do something to screw the pooch, those two items will carry you through.

This "temporary" gig certainly seems to have become more permanent. Or, perhaps, the secret gig is so secret that we're following a fictional you... I'm not sure I could spot the difference, heh. Credit your writing skills.

Aviatrix said...

And here I was, sure that the diuretic coffee red herring was going to play in the checkride...

Grin. That's the thing with real life. You never know which details will count.

DataPilot said...

I was wondering about the coffee, too. :)

Aviatrix, I have no better idea how to interpret the examiner's comment. And while my hand still bears a scar from the accident, it's 100% functional, so no biggie there. I'm not so sure about the psychic scars, though. Hmm, I don't think anyone has ever asked about that before.

And lest anyone reads my earlier (lengthy) comment and thinks I was trashing the PA30 Twin Comanche, I wasn't! I was just expressing my discomfort with my own inexperience, which was exacerbated by an injury and an abbreviated training schedule. In fact, the familiar Skymasters seemed unduly noisy and lumbering after I'd flown the nimble little Piper. I actually missed it when it was gone. But I didn't miss the bumpy landings.

rw2 said...

Our kids didn't see the whole world, but they did see mexico/japan/ireland/poland/czech republic/alaska before we lost control of their calendar. They climbed mountains on three continents. Travel is a very good thing for kids, hopefully the home schoolers will take even more advantage of their circumstances in the future.

grant said...

A friend who immigrated from the Phillipines won't take his young kids back there to visit family because of the risk they will be kidnapped. "If you are living and working in Canada, the locals think you must be rich, and can afford a good ransom."

Or so he says. fwiw.

Congrats on the flight test pass!

Aviatrix said...

Grant, I would have bought that concern, from any parent. I still would have told them it was a pretty remote chance, compared to the opportunity. It was the "they all look alike" implication from the kids' own parent that startled me. And the geography. I mean, I'll forgive you if you can't place (or spell?) Nauru, but Cambodia and Estonia? They have both had significant news events in the last century. If you don't know those, then you don't know world history and politics, either. And I think you should, before you take on the responsibility of a child's education.