6) Private Pilot Checkride: Did I Pass?
As the wheels of my Cessna 152 smoothly touch just right of the center line, all I can think of is the mistakes I made during my Check-ride. I must have said “say again” to ATC at least once, did one go-around, I was sure I fluctuated from my given altitude and I think I oscillated on my steep turn. As I begun taxiing off the runway no words were spoken inside the claustrophobic flight deck of my Cessna 152. Was this it? Was this the moment I’d been waiting for? At this point I was just happy to be on the ground. I opened the window, let all that hot California air gush out and concentrated on not messing up my parking.
As I took the headset off my ears my examiner looked at me and said, “you’re now ready to rule the skies, congrats you passed.” Just like that I’d done it. It was a weird moment. I was filled with elation but I couldn't express it, rather a moment of relief in combination with a weight off my shoulders. After the countless hours spent working on simulated engine failures, fires, stalls, diversions and other manoeuvres it had all come down to 1.7 hours of flying. 1.7 hours of stress riddled with nerves. 1.7 hours that I’d never forget.
As we proceeded to debrief, my examiner started listing the areas in which he thought I performed well in. From memory, during the emergency situations he liked that I remained calm and thought before I acted. The manoeuvres and stalls were within those prescribed in the ACS. He then went on to state what I should look to improve in going forward, especially if I want a career as a Pilot (which I do). One aspect that he concentrated on more than anything else was technology. I had a Garmin 430 installed with an Altitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS). He stated that as soon as I am assigned a vector or altitude by ATC I should immediately ‘bug’ it. I should make use of all available resources in the aircraft to reduce my workload and increase my situational awareness. Techniques such as ‘bugging’ your assigned altitude and heading can reduce your mental workload.
Another important lesson I learnt was to ‘know when to speak,’ for example during my Check-ride I asked for 'flight following' to our intended destination. However, the frequency was congested so I found it tough to make my initial call. When I did get around to making it I said way too much. The initial call, especially when the frequency is congested should be short. For example, “Cessna XXXXX 4000ft.” They will then get back to you when they can. Apart from these mishaps the Check-ride was fairly ordinary, my engine failure was near an airport that in all honestly looked like a strip of tarmac but nevertheless I made it. The Garmain G430 came in useful here as it provided the distance to the nearest airport, I quickly calculated that it was within gliding distance so I proceeded to land.
Everyone is so focused on the actual Check-ride that no-one mentions the sleepless, anxiety-filled days prior. The fact that the exam is an all day event doesn't help either, a 4-5 hour oral exam coupled with a 1.5-2 hour flight. It’s mentally and physically draining. I’ve been told that the private pilot Check-ride is the hardest purely because you have no idea what to expect.
After the paperwork had been filed, I was congratulated by fellow pilots at my flight school and I was on my way home. The enormity of what I had just accomplished still hadn’t sunk in immediately.
It was when I stepped out of the car upon arriving where I reside. I saw a British Airways aircraft. As I gazed upon the aircraft, for a brief moment I realised I was one step closer to achieving my dream. I’d dreamt of this day. I’d done it. I was a Private Pilot.