A checkride turns smoky

After a lot of time and effort, I came to the date of my checkride. I was certainly well prepared. As usual the first step was the oral exam. The examiner was a gracious man from an old line flying business based at Cleveland Hopkins. He accommodated me by driving clear over to the field where I trained, CGF in Richmond Heights.

He checked my paperwork and we began. We were in a large conference room. I answered a number of questions about FARs and then we broke out the Cleveland sectional. This involved cross country flight planning to the limit of the 152’s range while the examiner excused himself, leaving me to do this on my own. I finished within the allotted time and he pronounced himself satisfied.

Decision time. It was kind of a lousy morning, blustery with erratic gusts of wind.

The examiner said it was my call, since I was pilot in command for the flight, but he said if it was up to him he would reschedule the flight test due to the wind conditions. He was offering me a graceful way out, and I took it. That was the direction I was leaning and the suggestion came as an affirmation. I hated to drag him back for a second day but the decision seemed best. He assured me that it wasn’t a problem and praised my good judgment.

We reconvened the following morning. It was worth the wait: the weather was nearly perfect, and nowhere near as distracting as it had been the previous day.

We began, starting with a short field take off. The examiner was competent and fair, and he really put me through my paces. I remember particularly unusual attitudes and an unplanned diversion to an unfamiliar airport. The flight was going well, and I was confident.

Smoke in cockpit
Smoke in the cockpit is almost always an emergency.

He asked me to set a course for Lost Nation Airport (LNN) in order to do some pattern work. The flight suddenly become far more interesting. I thought I noticed an odd smell in the cockpit, something unfamiliar in the context of the trusty 152.

Suddenly there was smoke on the cockpit. The examiner directed me to proceed direct to LNN and expedite the landing. He began pulling circuit breakers in an effort to trouble shoot the the source of the smoke.

I put the airplane on the ground and cleared the active runway. A process of elimination had located the correct circuit breaker and the smoke was gone. The examiner laughed and said that there was no need to create an artificial cockpit distraction on the grounds that I handled the real one capably.

We took off and returned to CGF, where the adventure had begun two and half  hours earlier.

I parked the airplane and the examiner asked me how I thought I did. I started off on a tangent. He stopped me, and said, “You did fine! Let’s go in the office so I can type up your temporary certificate.”

It was a very expensive autograph, and the realization of a goal extending back to childhood. Back at the flight school office I found myself in a receiving line, accepting the warm congratulations of my peers. It was a proud moment and I drove home with the usual cautions ringing in my ears: don’t be complacent; recognize this as a license to learn, a proposition that will never end.

The next morning I was on the phone signing up for a ground school leading to a tailwheel endorsement, the point where I really learned to fly.

The whole thing was a lesson in perseverance, and it’s important to recognize how your success might benefit others. Shortly after this I took a child up for his first ride. Many years later that wide-eyed little boy went to a lot of trouble to look me up. He isn’t a little boy anymore. When he found me he was US Air Force captain, flying hurricane relief in a C – 17. Earlier this year he was promoted to the rank of major and he’s instructing in Texas.

We never know how far our influence might extend.

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