As I was being vectored for an instrument approach into Thomaston, Georgia, the airplane suddenly lurched to the right. An engine had failed, as I’d suspected it might. I was rusty on my instrument flying skills, but I was flying only by reference to instruments. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.
I vocalized the chant Dan had drilled into my head. “Engine Failure! Gear up. Identify. Verify. Feather. Blue Line. Checklist.” My right hand flailed as if disconnected from my head, but eventually it landed on the correct levers. Whew.
But the altimeter slowly unwound as the plane struggled to maintain altitude.
“What else?” Asked the voice through the headset. Rusty gears clinked inside my overheating head.
“25/25, duh,” I said, as I pushed the prop and throttle levers forward. I chided myself for not remembering to increase power on the operating engine. But, I was catching up, I thought.
“You were assigned a heading and altitude.”
Dammit. The heading bug was ninety degrees off to the left, and the altitude hundreds of feet low. A commercial pilot, indeed, I sighed to myself as I began correcting my distractions.
The rest of the approach was equally sloppy, as I struggled to hold the approach course, and let the only operating engine get almost too far behind the power curve more than once.
My checkride was a week away. My upcoming bicycle ride seemed to exist only in another universe, although it was to begin in only a week and a half.
“Just think, Dan: you could be on your bike, without a care in the world. Instead, you have chosen to sit in this airplane and be tortured.”
Dan Gryder, one of the most astute teachers I’ve ever known, had read my mind. We finally broke out of the clouds, and a runway was more or less in front of us. Three green landing gear lights glowed in the console. I landed.
After we pulled off of the runway and stopped, Dan pointed at the levers, which were not pushed forward. Sh*t. I hadn’t finished the before-landing checklist.
“At least you put the gear down,” he said. “And we’ve got to get those hands under control. Remember, they don’t have brains and will do the wrong thing unless you tell them exactly what to do.”
I had rarely been so frustrated with myself. My brain could simply not keep up with this airplane.
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
I did worry during the next few days, but I didn’t fixate on it. I got better. Sometimes I got worse. On my last flight with Dan, I felt that I just barely flew to his standards. He assured me that I would be fine.
When I flew with the examiner the next day, I flew that airplane to commercial standards. Heading and altitude stayed pegged no matter what engines failed.
On a single engine landing, as I turned final, I saw I was a little high. The dead engine was on the upward wing. Instinctively, I added a touch of top rudder and slipped the plane down a bit. The examiner, who was a glider instructor, howled with delight. “Beautiful! No one does that anymore! That’s Luscombe flying!”
I knew then that I was an instrument-rated, commercial multi-engine pilot, and I was even more determined to fly like one. Accordingly, the rest of the checkride went as well.
As I pulled off of the runway at Griffin, and completed the after-landing checklist, the examiner said, “Fantastic. If you can get this plane parked and shut down, we’re going to make you a multi-engine commercial pilot.”
Note to Air Facts readers: Dan Schmiedt has embarked on a cross-country solo bicycle trip, from South Carolina up the Atlantic Coast and then west to Oregon. He promises us, “I suspect I’ll stumble into an airplane experience or two and if so will likely write about it.” You can follow Dan’s progress at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/transam2016.