DANGER!!! WARNING!!! CAUTION!!!
The story you are about to read is true, but it is long and may take some time to get through.
So this experience started on a Sunday when I was signed off for my pilot exam. I have been waiting for this day for about six months. I called the 'designated pilot examiner' (dpe) Steve on Monday since I did not wish to disturb him on Sunday. I asked if he was available the next weekend. He said no, but that he could do it Thursday. Fantastic, I thought. Wonderful, I presumed. Thursday it is, nine am. Right after I hung up the phone my mouth went dry, my palms got sweaty, and my stomach tied itself in knots, as I stammered to think: I have a test Thursday, and I am not ready for it!
I started to study that afternoon, evening and well into the night. Monday night was not a good night to get sleep as I kept thinking, “I have a test that I am not even close to being ready for.” Tuesday was a normal work day, and I decided after work I needed to go fly and get some info on the plane. Needless to say I did not study near as much as I should have, but I did have a good flight with some nice landings.
Wednesday I was able to work a half day. When I got home I hit the books and continued planning my cross country. About 3 P.M., I headed into town, thinking that I would spend the night at the airport so that I could spend the three-hour round trip studying instead of driving. I finished up my cross country, did more studying and was able to fly for about an hour. It was after midnight when I finally went to bed but did not sleep. It was another sleepless night at the airport. I kept thinking of all the things I still needed to study for the morning.
Thursday morning found me getting out of bed at a quarter to seven and back at the books. So much to do and now only minutes left to do them in. To say I was a little stress is an understatement. Steve had called me on Wednesday to ask if I was ready. My answer was “'No, my stomach is in knots. I am pulling my hair out and chewing on my fingers!” His response to that was, “Perfect, you are ready then.” Who was he kidding?
I kept studying up until Steve arrived at the airport. The first order of business was to make sure I qualified to take the test. As he was going through the paper work, my instructor had not filled things out correctly, which would have been very bad if I had gone to Boise to take the test. Luckily my instructor lives near the airport and is retired so he was able to hustle his butt down to the airport and in about an hour we had all the paper work filled out and signed.
Now the fun began. I gave Steve his money. This is a cash up-front scheme. If I pass great, but if I fail he has my money, nice. Then Steve said, “You have about an eight percent chance of passing.” Oh, that is nice. A little bit later he informed me, “I am the last DPE people call because I am the toughest one to pass with.” What, you are telling me this now? A little sooner would have been nice, like Monday, so I could have gotten another examiner that I would have had something like a hundred percent chance of passing with. It only got better. A few minutes later he confessed to me, “I will have to be very tough on you. Since I have not given the exam to anyone from Buhl, I have to make sure that they do not think I am a push over.” Really. Now that you have my money, I find out that I am the sacrificial student pilot? As if I was not stressed enough by this point, NOW I find all this out!
We started with the oral portion of the exam, which is strange because I have already taken a written exam on this material, but now I have to talk about it. I did not do badly. I did not know everything, but did know most of it. I did make Steve laugh once or twice, which was pretty good considering how serious he was. I had to do a weight and balance for the plane to show that it was below gross weight and that the load was within a specified area of the plane. With just him and me and some luggage, we were well below the gross weight, so he asked me to recalculate with one other person, a dog and 25 pounds of dog food in the plane. This put us over gross weight by about forty pounds, so I commented that even though we were within the balance of the plane, we were overloaded, but not to worry because HE could stay at the airport, which would bring the plane back below gross weight.
But, the grilling went on. I think he took about three hours for the oral part of the test. He was very nice and would help me if I could not think of the correct word or phrase as long as I was headed in the right direction. He has done lots of these so he knows when students know stuff and when they do not. Finally, he said the five words I had been hoping to hear, “You passed the oral part.” Whew, I was very glad to be done with that, but I was only half way through. Now we had to go fly. I had to go into the office to get the keys for the airplane. While I was in there, I asked the secretary if she could slip me or Steve a “roofie?” She commented that I had to fly the plane, so it might not be a good idea for me to have the roofie. No problem, I am good with Steve having it.
I did my preflight and passenger brief, which Steve said was one of the better ones he had heard. We climbed in, strapped in, and headed to the skies. When I flew, I did not remember how stressed I was because I was concentrating on flying the plane and staying with in the standards. I forgot to get my map out of my bag before the flight, so I asked Steve if he could please get it out for me. The look I got was PRICELESS! I did think for a moment that he was going to say “Let’s just head back to the airport now”, but he did not. He got into my bag and handed me the map.
The point of the flying portion of the test was to make sure I can control the plane and be safe. He knew I would not be perfect, but as long as I was making the right corrections, that was more important. He asked me how far and when we would arrive in Boise at our current pace. It took me a few minutes to answer him because the air was a bit bouncy, so I was fumbling with my paperwork while still trying to maintain control of the plane. Once I gave him my answer, he showed me on his electronic flight computer that I was only two miles off and about a minute off on my time, pretty good.
Then we started doing the flight maneuvers. Piece of cake, I got this, this is what I have been studying for. First, a steep turn. This was a forty-five degree turn while maintaining the same altitude and airspeed. I nailed it. It was not my best steep turn, but it was in the top five at least. We did some slow flight, climbing and descending turns to heading and stalls. He asked me to do a climbing turning stall and then recover. Not a problem, I entered the turn and started to climb, then the engine quit. Steve commented that this was a power maneuver; I commented that I was at full power. I leveled the wings and flew the plane while Steve applied carburetor heat. The engine started, so he said to continue the maneuver. We started to climb, and the engine quit again. I leveled out, and he applied carburetor heat. The engine started running again. This time he left the carb heat on, and I did the maneuver just fine.
Steve said to head back towards Buhl since the plane was acting up, so I set a course back to the airport. No sooner had I got on course than he pulled the throttle to idle and said I had a simulated engine failure. No problem, I just had two real ones moments ago. I flew the plane to see if I could get the engine to restart. He said, “Nope, you’re going to land without power.” Okay, I gave a quick brief in case something should go wrong. I flew the plane and picked a landing spot, which hey, we were right over Glenns Ferry airport, perfect spot to land. I let Steve know we would land at the airport, so hang on and enjoy the ride. We got within fifty feet of the ground and he said to go ahead and go around. It looked like we would have made a good landing.
While at Glenns Ferry airport we did a few more landings and take offs, all of which were pretty decent. As I climbed out, I made a radio call that I was going to stay in the pattern. Steve said, “No, we will head back to Buhl.” Oops! I amended my call, and we climbed out on a course back to Buhl. We chatted some, but I was still very conscious about flying the plane; I was still in a check ride.
When we were about five miles from the airport Steve said to me, “If you can land the plane without killing me, then you will pass.” What? Really? Like no pressure now!!! I have to land, AND not kill you, not one or the other? I came in on a straight in approach, which is uncommon. I was lined up on the runway, nice gentle decent, good airspeed and smooth until about fifty feet off the ground. Wind shear! I went this way, recover back that way, but try as I might, it would not be a pretty landing, so I go around. I flew the pattern, set up for another landing, knowing about the wind shear. It was not a graceful landing, but it was not a crash, and Steve was still alive and, better yet, UNINJURED!
I taxied to parking. Steve shook my hand and congratulated me. We got out, and my instructor came over and shook my hand, relieved, I think, that I made it back in one piece. The three of us went to the pilots’ lounge to debrief about the flight. Steve said, “This stuff will sound nit-picky, well, because it is. You flew very well.” Wow, did I wake up in an alternate world? One comment he had was about having to get the map out for me, not that I had forgot it, but that I asked him to get it out. I explained that because the FAA has a whole section on 'Cockpit Resource Management', having my passenger do non-flight duty things will allow me to keep my concentration on flying. He liked the answer,
I still cannot believe that I passed. It has been a pretty long road, with several setbacks, several disappointments and lots of doubt, but it seems that all the hard work and long hours did pay off.
WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER, you might want to keep an eye towards the sky. You never know where I might be flying now that they have turned me loose!
I hope you have a wonderful day!