License to Learn, part 3: forty hours and final

Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in a series by 18-year old pilot Kyle Libby, where he shares the ups and downs of earning a pilot’s license in high school. For more young pilot stories, read our Summer Writing Challenge series

I stood outside the bowling alley, deciding what to do with my friends. We had just finished our last finals of the semester and wanted to relax. I felt my phone vibrate and looked down to see who it was.

It was Gary, my CFI.

I knew why he was calling. I answered the phone and walked away from the group, excusing myself.

“Hey Gary, what’s up?”

“Hey Kyle. You have one more final.”

Flying to Chino

Heading to Chino for the check ride – would an unfamiliar airport affect the outcome?

Gary had scheduled my checkride for December 23, 2012, at Chino Airport (KCNO). The three weeks or so after that phone call were spent studying and practicing when I could. It had been 355 days since my first lesson, and it was now all coming to a head. The journey for my Private license that started with free ground school with a friend was about to end.

If I passed that is.

The preflight was slightly surreal, but nothing special. After we pulled the plane out of the hangar we had put it in to avoid early morning frost, I stopped for a second to think. KAPV was and still is one of my favorite places, with how quiet and peaceful it can be.

N6525P: the plane that I had soloed in, trained in, flown the most, and was soon to take my checkride in. Gary and I left Apple Valley early, climbing up to 8500 or so to clear the San Bernardino Mountains. As we came over the top, I could see the Los Angeles Basin and the Inland Empire laid out before us. We descended between scattered clouds, picked up SoCal Approach, and navigated toward Chino. I had come down here the day before for practice, so the area wasn’t totally new.

We were directed to overfly Ontario (KONT) midfield and lost our radio for a few seconds; other than that it was uneventful. KCNO came into view through the mist. I smelled it first though, due to the agricultural fields nearby, what Gary called Chino’s “Smell-o-Vision.” I landed and taxied near the Designated Pilot Examiner’s office. I hopped out, tied down, and grabbed my small library of books, certificates, and papers.

The room where the DPE was located was sparse, with a table, some chairs, and a desk with a laptop on it. I walked in and saw the lady who would be administering the exam.

“Hi!” she said standing up, “I’m Andrea.”

I shook her hand and introduced myself. She and Gary were meeting for the first time, although he had sent an instrument student down to her once before. Gary then left to wait at the restaurant as I sat down, after straightening the paperwork and money, to take the oral portion of the checkride.

The oral is an interesting part of the test. In my case, I learned just as much as I had to deliver. For those who will take it soon, don’t panic if you don’t know the answer. For example, Andrea pointed at KCNO on the chart and asked what the CTAF and UNICOM were. I told her that they were to announce positions. She followed up with, “Well… the CTAF is yes, but what about the UNICOM?” I had no clue. I told her that too, that at Apple Valley I thought they were the same thing, and that I didn’t know.

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Kyle stands by the airplane after passing his check ride, and the smile says it all.

As I fought back that twisting feeling of knowing I had messed up a question, I though, “Way to go Kyle, you blew it.” She then explained to me how and when the UNICOM is used. That is just one example of the learning that took place along with the testing. When we first started, I remember her saying as much, something like, “Hopefully you will walk away from this with more knowledge than what you came with, that you’ll learn from this test as well as pass it.” It’s something that has stood out from that checkride and stuck with me as one of my favorite parts about it.

The oral passed and preflight completed, we set off into the Southern California sky, which now had lower, broken ceilings. I struggled with a steep turn and with a stall, both of which I executed to PTS standards, but Andrea helped me touch up and improve my flying overall. It was interesting to see the different teaching style of someone, especially after technically having only one teacher for my entire private ticket training.

I was still flying the plane, so I hadn’t failed yet, which is important to remember when you take your checkride. Don’t focus on your mistakes, get over them and move on. Like I’ve said before, fly the plane.

We then headed back to CNO for some landings. I was feeling confident in my abilities, yet I was anxious about the short and soft field procedures.

Short and soft field landings, and the correct carrying out of said landings, are another requirement for an aspiring pilot. It was a bit strange to change up what had become routine procedure for landings or takeoffs. They were probably the subjects I had the most issues with in preparation for my check ride. Short fields weren’t too big of a deal, since there was a bit less finesse required in the maneuver. As long as the approach was clean and you got the plane low and slow, slapping it down on the numbers wasn’t too crazy of an idea.

I would come in for a soft field, however, and flare too early, bleeding airspeed and turning what was supposed to be a softer landing than normal into a harder one. I’d then correct on the next approach by leaving in too much power, so that the plane would float down half the runway. It took a few lessons and understanding the concept of a happy medium to comprehend how to ease the plane down and just kiss the pavement.

These went much better than I expected. The short field was within standards and was the last landing I made. As I taxied off the runway and contacted ground, Andrea said, “Well, provided you can taxi us back safely, you passed.”

Kyle with brother

Kyle takes his older brother, Keith, for a celebratory flight.

I laughed, smiled, shook her hand, and released a lot of the tensed nervousness that I had left over from the flight. I tied the aircraft down and she took photos of me by the plane. We walked over to her office and took care of the paperwork, ending with my signing the temporary airman certificate. Gary bought me lunch at the airport café. (And honestly Gary always does this. Gary, I do not intentionally leave my wallet in the plane!) I could now walk around, knowing that I was a pilot. As cheesy as it sounds, I looked up at the sky, this time a certified pilot. Gary saw me and said, “You’ll never look at it the same again.”

I heartily agreed.

Looking back, flight training elicits many memories. It was an awesome experience, just getting my foot into the GA door. Now, I have experienced more trips, airports, and planes. However I will always remember the firsts.

Throughout this series I’ve been able to reflect on my training, learn from lessons I may have missed, and hopefully entertained and informed those who would listen. From talking about personal responsibility, egos, and being responsible, to aviating, navigating, and communicating, I had a blast writing these.

Thank you Air Facts for all the incredible help you’ve provided in my writing. Thank you, Gary, for being an awesome CFI and helping me on the way with cost and tutoring, and for still dealing with the random questions I always have. Of course, thank you to my family for all the support, financial and otherwise. Thanks to Air Facts, John, Pat and Richard for giving me the chance to write and let other young pilots know that there are more of us out there. I hope to write many more articles in the future!

We congratulate Kyle on passing his check ride. What do you remember about yours?

5 Comments

  1. Vinnie Pasho says:

    Congrats! I really enjoyed reading the series.

    Your DPE sounded a lot like mine. Very easy going, and easy to talk to. They both weren’t about drilling the pilot with questions as much as helping them learn, but also making sure they are safe and competent pilots.

    Everybody reads all of the horror stories about strict and uptight examiners so they are psyched out before the test starts (myself included), but it is a good preparation to know what may come up. We do the same by reading accident reports. We read the worst so we can, hopefully, produce the best in the future.

    Tailwinds!

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Thanks for reading Vinnie! I appreciate it. Yes, she was easy to talk to. Admittedly, I got flustered a few times and panicked during the oral, but it was no biggie. Accident reports, and the fact that they’re public, are important to review, in my opinion. A motto of mine is prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

      Cheers!

  2. Jim Sheehan says:

    As a student pilot getting close to taking my check ride, it was great to read about yours. Thanks!

    • Kyle Libby says:

      No problem Jim, glad to help! Good luck, and remember, your CFI wouldn’t have signed off if he/she didn’t think you were ready!

  3. Michael DeBerry says:

    Congratulations Kyle. I know it was hard work but you did it!!

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