Flight test

Admittedly I should have written this some time ago.

I am in the heart of the big city, and although there is an airport with general aviation nearby its not really a good use of my time to fly.

And so I will see if I can describe the highlights of my flight test, for your amusement, and to get my own thoughts away from coding and my brave new world for a little while.

In late April last year I found myself in a bit of a pickle. A simulated pickle, but one of some consequence nonetheless. I was pilot-in-command of a single-engine light plane, and my passenger was feeling ill.

“Divert back to Ottawa” he said, “I need to get some medical attention.”

It was a long road leading up to this pickle. First, I had to wait a long time to even get an examiner. The usual examiner was away, and for some reason my instructor was dragging his feet on booking my exam with other one. Later I discovered that I didn’t have to go through the instructor to book one, to my chagrin.

Even when I had my examiner booked it was still delayed several times. Most times the weather just wouldn’t work out as the local atmosphere sorted out the differences between the last of winter and the approaching summer with a messy tangle of clouds and rain. Once time I arrived for for the test and the clouds were just a few hundred feet too low. (That time I wasn’t even sure I was ready.) Another time the school pleaded with me to cede my spot to another test candidate who was working in northern Quebec or something and needed to do his multi-IFR test. (Handling an airplane with more than one engine in conditions where the horizon is not visible.) Against my girlfriend’s complaints I ceded my spot, on the basis that I was a recreational flyer and he needed it for income.

With all the delays I ended up spending more money keeping current with practice and buying several versions of current charts and books as the old ones expired. I did find that everyone’s tests get delayed but I can’t help but think I got the worst of it.

But finally – I got my date. The night before I laid out my fresh charts on the floor along with my books, and plotted my route, did my flight planning, inserted sticky tabs, and got everything prepared. My girlfriend had given me an encouraging greeting card. On the wall I printed out a quotation from St Exupery’s book “Wind Sand and Stars.” It describes the scene where the veteran pilot is encouraging the then-novice St Exupery. It reads:

“You’ll be bothered from time to time by storms, fog, snow. When you are, think of those who went through it before you, and say to yourself, ‘What they could do, I can do.’ “

After a while sleep was more important than perfect planning and I went to bed.

The next morning I arrived early at the school to check the airplane’s paperwork. I expected everything to be fine, but it was my (bureaucrat’s) luck that there was some omission in the maintenance logs that somehow everyone, including previous students, maintenance, and Transport Canada had missed. I finished my pre-flight math with an eye on the clock as things were due to start at 9. Not knowing how strict the examiner would be with time, at 9 I resignedly stood up, and walked out to the dispatch area.

I shouldn’t have worried as the examiner was engaged in some friendly banter with the instructors about the cost of flying vs the cost of putting his daughter in equestrian schools. (It’s also pricey) He was tall and middle-aged, maybe 40, and had a warm, friendly demeanour that could have only helped to set his exam candidates at ease.

We began with a meet and greet chat, found out we’re from the same area of the province, and basically bantered about flying and flight training. The oral test portion couldn’t have lasted 90 minutes while he quizzed me on my flight plan, the airplane’s paperwork, and bits of trivia from the Canada Flight Supplement. Apart from the quiz parts there were some judgment questions based on variations from the plan. For example, my math showed that I needed around 1200 feet to take off. I had a 3000 foot runway. Would I take off if I had less runway? Would I backtrack? For these questions I chose to be as conservative as I could, recognizing my newbie status. Plus my instructor had said something like “runway behind you is like fuel on the ground.”

I was then assured that I’d passed the ground portion and then sent off for about two hours to do as I please. I got some lunch, and gathered my thoughts to prepare for the flight portion in the afternoon.

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