I trained for my Private Pilot certificate at Spurling Aviation on Seattle’s Boeing Field (KBFI). When it was time for my checkride, I had to fly a Cessna 150 from KBFI, over to the examiner’s office at Renton Airport (KRNT), a whopping straight line distance of four nautical miles.
My CFI prepared me well for the oral; it went smoothly. All my paperwork was in order, including the aircraft maintenance documentation and requisite solo and checkride endorsements. Since this was during the pre-iPad era, everything was still paper-only, and I had brand new, current charts and pubs.
I was directed to plan a cross country flight from KRNT to First Air (W16), an airstrip near Monroe, WA, a small town 25nm northeast as the crow flies. It has a single, 2100 ft. runway, 7/25, with a right-hand pattern directed for Runway 7.
The preflight inspection, ground ops and initial takeoff were all fine. I got established on course, performed a ground speed check, and gave the examiner an updated ETA and fuel remaining at W16. He then gave me a diversion scenario, and once satisfied with that, had me demonstrate a series of the private pilot maneuvers. I held heading, altitude, airspeed and bank angles better than I ever had!
He then cleared me to resume the flight to W16. I dialed up the CTAF at 15 miles out; there was no Unicom operator on the field, no planes in the pattern, and no ASOS/AWOS.
I told the examiner my plan was to overfly the field 500 ft. above the pattern altitude, visually check the wind, traffic and airport surface conditions, then head back south of the airport to set up for a 45-degree entry to the downwind for whichever runway proved appropriate. Since the runway was relatively short and narrow, I’d do a short field landing.
It was easy to find the airport using pilotage and dead reckoning, and we arrived overhead at 1,500 ft. MSL. I spotted the windsock quickly: the winds appeared to be calm. The sock itself was hanging straight down, as was an American flag on a hangar at the far east end of the runway. Perfect! There was no recommended “calm wind” runway published, so I opted to land to the east on Runway 7. There were several visually significant landmarks southeast of the airport in Monroe that I could use to help set up for a 45-degree entry to a right downwind for Runway 7.
It all went as advertised: I made the appropriate radio calls; I nailed the downwind leg entry heading, altitude, and runway spacing. I had completed the descent/approach and landing checklists about half a dozen times, and I was very cognizant of any wind effects on my pattern spacing. The windsock continued to hang absolutely limp as I turned from base to final.
It was almost too easy. I rolled out on final at about 300 ft. AGL, was fully configured, on centerline and “on-speed” for a short field landing. There was no imaginary 50 ft. obstacle in the way; I had my aim point wired to touch down right on the numbers. I sensed no lateral drift; there were no bumps or turbulence, and the windsock was still hanging straight down.
On short final, with landing assured, just as I pulled off the last few RPM, the examiner abruptly directed “go around!” I executed the procedure per the POH: full throttle, carb heat off, flaps to 20, pitch to maintain airspeed. To be expected, I thought… he knew I had the landing made… he’s just saving time.
I assumed we’d stay and do some more pattern work, so I was a bit surprised when he announced, “let’s go home.” Awesome… I must be really rocking it!
We departed the pattern and headed south towards KRNT. After several awkward minutes of silence, during which he scribbled a lot of stuff on his notepad, he finally looked over at me and asked, “Why were you going to land downwind?”
“I didn’t realize I was… the wind was calm.”
“Was it?” He’s just messing with me, I thought.
“OK, I was just curious. We’ll talk about it on the ground.”
At this point, I was a bit confused.
The Examiner had me put on the hood and perform climbs, turns, descents and unusual attitude recoveries. I was still reliving the “downwind landing” piece… all I could hear was my CFI’s voice saying “Fly the plane…”
When we got back to KRNT, I assumed he’d have me complete the rest of the required takeoffs and landings, so I was a bit alarmed when he directed me to make one normal landing to a full stop.
My one normal landing was perfect; we taxied back to the ramp, shutdown and got out.
“I’ll see you inside.”
I finished securing the plane and went inside his office; his debrief was short and to the point: “Everything was excellent, except your attempted downwind landing at Monroe.”
I was very confused now and getting just a bit annoyed. “It looked calm to me; all the indications available to me confirmed it was calm,” I said.
He then proceeded to explain his logic on my attempted downwind landing:
“Was the windsock hanging straight down? Yes. But, which way was it oriented?”
He even drew it on the whiteboard for me: “You should have noted it was hanging off to the side that indicated the wind direction the LAST TIME the wind blew. And the last time it blew, it WOULD HAVE FAVORED the other runway…”
He then debriefed everything else; I have no idea what he said, I was so angry, my arms hurt and my ears were ringing.
“You’ll have to get some additional training and come back to finish it. I won’t charge you again for a complete checkride,” he told me.
As I sat outside his office, nursing my ego and doing some cursory flight planning for my return hop home, I heard him call my instructor over at KBFI, who undoubtedly was waiting to hear a glowing review of what an outstanding job I had done. As soon as the examiner started detailing the reason for my bust, however, I could hear my CFI’s shrill voice over the phone and through the examiner’s closed door. I don’t remember his exact words, but they were something akin to, “You’ve got to be freaking (not his real word) kidding me!!!!”
The return flight took six minutes. The Chief Instructor—not my CFI—was waiting on the ramp for me. As soon as I shut down, he opened the door and asked “How much gas do you have?”
“Plenty,” I replied.
He then climbed in, put his seat belt on and said: “Take me to Auburn.”
Auburn is another local, non-towered airport, 13 miles south of KBFI. We took off, headed south, and did all the proper steps for entering the traffic pattern. I did one short field landing and headed back to KBFI. He didn’t say a word the whole flight, which took 22 minutes. When we parked back on the ramp, he finally said, “Your re-check is tomorrow at 0900,” and walked away, mumbling.
I arrived at the examiner’s office promptly at 8:57 the next morning. He tried to be polite and gracious, but I could tell he was still a bit heated from the tongue lashing my CFI had delivered the day before. Great, I thought, I’m doomed. Since I only had the one task to repeat, I didn’t expect to do an entire cross country flight planning exercise; but, I was really surprised when he simply asked, “Where do you want to go?” I thought long and hard for about 30 seconds and then figured I have nothing to lose… “Back to Monroe.”
An hour and a half later, as he was filling out my Temporary Airman Certificate, he offered up, “I knew you knew what you were doing all along; I just had to make sure.”
Epilogue to the Epilogue:
Yes, I was the last student my flight school ever sent to that examiner for a checkride…