Will I ever be ready for the checkride?

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.

Twin throttle quadrant
Pulling the right levers at the right time takes continual training.

“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.

5 Comments

  • Thanks Dan. Your post illustrates one of the primary reasons the pilot population will always be a very limited slice of the folks.

    Few people are willing to spend a lot of time and money learning to do something that is complicated and not easy to do, and at the same time subject themselves to the cold hard eye of judgement of others … be they hired CFIs or designated pilot examiners. Most folks dislike tests, and most folks certainly hate to be judged … and will only go through such a process if they basically have no other choice to get what they want (to pass a class in school, get a diploma, get into college, earn a degree, get a drivers license, pass a college course, take and pass a professional licensing exam, whatever).

    It’s just a fact of human nature.

    It’s even a far smaller slice of the human population who are willing to subject themselves to strict judgment and demanding standards of performance in order to participate in a recreational or personal transport activity that is not a necessity, but rather is purely a matter of personal choice, whether it be hobby flying, or to get a low paying job at the bottom of the aerospace pile of apprentice pilots.

    Hunters, fishermen, club racers, golfers, tennis players, boaters, etc. don’t subject themselves at all to any equivalent of a “check ride” or even certification. And there are a few other hobbies like diving, skydiving, and such where there is a need to pass a course and get a private certification, but doing so usually just involves a handful of dive classes or jumps and, basically, if you survive the training events, you get a private certification, not a government-issued license.

    That’s not meant to disparage any other hobbies or their enthusiasts – it’s just to compare and contrast what is involved in getting a signoff on a pilot check ride as compared to most other hobbies.

    Passing any FAA-required check ride is a real big deal. Few will ever do it, or be capable or willing to do what’s necessary to do it. The cost of flying is high, but the personal non-financial at-risk investment in flying is much higher than mere dollars.

  • Thanks, Duane for your very insightful comments! You are exactly right and I thought about that while studying and practicing: very few people would put themselves through that.

    But, I know very few things that give such a sense of accomplishment. I did something that was hard and that I didn’t have to do.

    Take care,
    -Dan

  • Congratulations! I’ll bet your taildragger skills directly translated into making you a better multi pilot!
    I was taught push ‘em up, (push all 6 levers up at once) clean it up, identify, verify, feather. Might help.
    But…Take a breath, take a moment and be deliberate. Look at what’s happening.
    I’ve had two engine failures (statistically kinda high, I’ve flown a lot of old stuff) and neither fit it into that formula though. One was in a Cessna 340, the engine suddenly ran really rough but smoothed out when I pulled the power back. I decided to let it run a bit if it could help, the plane was heavy and I had a ways to get to an airport. Eventually I decided there was no help there and feathered it. The exhaust rocker bosses had broken off one cylinder and that slammed that valve shut, fighting the other 5 cylinders.
    The other time the Garrett turboprop in the 690 Commander I was flying failed to a HIGH power over torque situation. Pulling the power lever to verify that would have resulted in a wrong decision. Flight Safety correctly taught to verify with the gauges.
    It seems like people get a little hair trigger to feather an engine right after going through training eg: the King Air that went into Flight Safety? Anyone else think that?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *