I passed!

I passed my checkride! I'm walking on air - I'm so psyched! I'm now a genuine, certificated, ink-still-wet-on-the-temporary private pilot! Now, who will be my first passenger?

I thought I'd contribute by writing up the stats and my experience during the training. Hopefully this info can help someone else with their plans to get their own license. There's a lot of detail here, but I really liked reading stories like this when I was in training, so perhaps someone will like this one. I put in place names so people who are in the SF bay area can know exactly what I did.

Stats

I provide these in the hope that these data points will help others in their quest for their private pilot's license. I suspect I'm mostly near the average in hours, but my cost was probably high, because I had to train in a 172.

Background

I'm not doing this for a career, I just thought it seemed like something fun to do and learn. Someday, when I'm rich and famous, I'll buy a plane, and fly it myself, but I figured I'd get the license now. I wasn't on a particular budget, because the cost of the license is not really an issue for me. And, I was in no particular hurry.

I started about a year ago, with the goal of flying twice a week. Of course, I didn't come anywhere near twice a week, and had several month-long hiatuses, but with the help of a nagging instructor, I finally made it. I actually had two different instructors, and got it with just under 70 hours total time.

I live and work near San Carlos airport, so that's where I decided to fly out of. There's a couple of FBOs there, but a friend of mine was a member at TransAir, so I went there first. Checking the rental prices, I found that they're all pretty similar (this was before West Valley had a place at SQL), so I walked into TransAir and talked to the first person I saw, who happened to be an instructor. He seemed like a nice guy, so we scheduled an intro ride.

Well, I'm 6'7" tall, and he was about 6'1", so when we headed out to a 152, we couldn't even get in. We got in a 172 instead, and I really enjoyed the ride. Unfortunately, the 172 is quite a bit more expensive ($61/hr wet) but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I did all my training in the two 172s that TransAir had (now they're down to one - time to check out in another plane!).

I borrowed a friend's headset for the duration of my training, because my instructor did not have an extra one. I'll probably buy my own eventually, but I didn't want to purchase one right away. I also borrowed a kneeboard and E6B, but they are relatively cheap. These costs are not included in my total above, by the way.

After about 10 hours of instruction, my instructor got a full-time job at another airport, so he transferred me to another guy, who wasn't available when I needed to fly. Anyway, I just went in and found another young guy who was available when I was, and started up again. Unfortunately, we had to redo a bunch of stuff, because the first guy had a different style, but I think I'm a better pilot for the extra training.

The new instructor was also much better about calling me and getting me back in the air. A couple of times, like over the holidays, I simply wouldn't be able to schedule a flight for 3-4 weeks. But he'd still call me every week, and eventually I'd get back to it.

I soloed at 26 hours, after we had started dual x-country's. I didn't do much solo practice (only 5 hours) before I started doing solo x-country flights, but I felt pretty confident in the plane, because we had done a lot of dual.

We did a bunch of night flight, and some relatively long x-country flights dual, and we had a few adventures. My instructor is instrument rated, of course, so a few times, when the weather was IFR, we'd do IFR flight, and a couple of times had to do instrument approaches to get down under the cloud layer to get back to SQL. Once we couldn't get in at all, and ended up landing at San Jose at minimums, in the pouring rain, after midnight (the tower closes at midnight, so it was uncontrolled!).

During this time I had been listening to the FlightTech private pilot written cassette course in my car. The course was designed to reference a book while listening, but I just used my imagination. I passed the written right after I finished the cassettes, with a few hours of review with one of the study guides.

Then it was time to bone up for the checkride. We began doing stalls, steep turns, MCA flight, emergency procedures, etc, etc. All the stuff we hadn't done since we started x-country. My instructor got me up 4 times in the last week, and we met other nights to go over FARs and weather and other oral exam-type topics. Then, the day before the checkride, I went up solo for 3 hours and did 18 landings, as well as a bunch of the maneuvers.

Checkride

I tossed and turned all night, and finally got up at 6am, and headed down to the airport for my 9am checkride. I double-checked the maintenance logs, and preflighted the plane carefully, to make sure nothing would go wrong. I filled out my application form, and prepared a weight and balance for myself and the examiner. Then I just hauled out my FARs and began reviewing (again).

The examiner showed up a little early, and we went over my application and logbook. He also asked for his payment, which was a little steep at $250, but my instructor recommended him, so I paid. Then we looked at the aircraft logs, and he quizzed me on FARs, using very practical scenarios.

For example: you get to the plane, throw your bag in the back, and when you get around to startup you hear the ELT going off. What do you do? My answer was: you call the tower and tell them there's no emergency, sorry. Then, you replace the battery if you think it's been going for more than an hour. Then he reminded me that even if it's only been 20 mins, somebody else might have done the same thing, so the battery might need replacing anyway. So the correct answer is to check the logbooks for other times when the ELT may have been activated, and make your own entry for the fact that you activated it accidentally for approximately a certain amount of time.

The other question he asked was: Is a private pilot is allowed to fly to a business meeting, and if so, is he was allowed to take a bunch of co-workers to the business meeting, and is the company able to pay for it. My answer was that if the flying was incidental to the business, then it was OK, but if I wasn't needed at the meeting, then it wasn't OK. He said that it was a gray area, and that he'd be careful flying co-workers to meetings when the business paid for the flight.

Then he asked me for a weight and balance, which I had already prepared, and he checked it briefly. Finally, he asked me to plan a cross-country to Calaveras Co (0O2), a non-towered airport about 90nm to the east, and started his timer, and left me alone. I called weather, making sure to ask about Class II Notams and if there was anything else unusual I should know about, and planned the flight in about 30 mins.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the bay area often gets morning fog that burns off about noon. Well, the east was socked in from 1000-3000 until the central valley, so if we'd gone that way we'd have had some trouble finding an appropriate spot to do our other maneuvers. Anyway, he decided in the interest of time that we'd take off and do pattern work first, and then see if it cleared up a bit to start the cross-country.

I did the preflight, and then we loaded up for the takeoff. He asked for a soft-field takeoff, and we got in the air. Then he asked me what kind of landing I wanted to do, so I suggested a short-field over an obstacle. The air was getting a little choppy, so I bounced it in a little, but I got it almost stopped pretty quickly, when he told me to "go" and I turned it into a touch&go. Then he told me that because the cloud layer was still there to the east, we'd bail on the x-country and head out west towards Crystal Springs reservoir, to do maneuvers, so I departed the pattern and headed that way.

During the flight there, he asked me to find out what radial I was on from the Woodside VOR, and pointed me towards the San Francisco class B until I suggested that we turn around as we were within 2 miles of the class B boundary. Once we turned around, he had me set up for a power-off stall, and when I recovered, had me go directly into a power-on stall, and recover from that. Then he asked for steep turns, and when I was done with that, told me to go the Woodside VOR without using the radio, only pilotage. Well, I thought it was south of me, so I headed south, but it turns out we had just passed it, so it took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to turn around.

Once we got there, he had me do turns around it, and I did pretty well. Then he pulled the engine on me, and I glided down towards a field. Finally, he told me to head back to San Carlos, and do a soft field landing to a full stop.

I set up for the landing poorly, approaching too fast and chopping power over the numbers, and I bounced it. Since it was supposed to be a soft field, this one was bad enough that I just went around. But I handled the go around well! We set up for the same thing, and this time I approached perfectly, and the gods smiled on me, because the gusts stopped just as I crossed the threshold, and I kissed the runway gently with the best landing I've ever done. He was impressed, and kiddingly asked "Who was that guy who did the go around?"

Once we stopped, and I cleaned the plane up, he said "Good job." I asked if that meant I passed, and he said yes. Hooray! Then he gave me my temporary, shook my hand, and headed out. And I headed into the FBO, with a huge smile on my face. It was only .9 of Hobbs time, but I proudly logged it as "Pilot in Command."

Whew, it was longer than I thought, but I hope somebody finds this long treatise useful. See you in the skies!

Tom Shields, May 18, 1995

Originally posted on Usenet rec.aviation.student May 19, 1995

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