Friday, June 12, 2015

N162HG SP-ASEL Checkride Attempt 1.6

I took my checkride today. To make a long story short, I failed:
Below is a narrative of what happened.

Preparation the afternoon / evening before

I completed the IACRA form paperwork, and collated all my forms in one place. I also went through my logbook, totaled all my hours, then wrote up a document describing item by item how my logged training meets the 61.311 and 61.313 requirements.

I completed an XC flight plan from KPAO to KMER as requested, writing up very detailed top-of-climb and top-of-descent calculations based on the aircraft performance, estimating gph based on forecast temperature, etc. I got an outlook briefing and filed a VFR flight plan at I computed a W&B -- it was tight because the DPE is a big guy and the Flycatcher is tiny, but we were able to squeeze in, barely.

I made sure I knew the PAVE and IMSAFE acronyms.

My CFI gave me only two assignments for that night: (a) get a good night's sleep; and (b) avoid stress. Things were going really well until there was a family crisis which required me being on the phone and lots of angst; my wife and I had insomnia as a result; and the upstairs neighbors were clomping around until very late.

Preparation in the morning

My wife made me a hearty breakfast and made extra, and I packed some scrambled egg sandwiches.

Paperwork with DPE

My middle name is "Abd el-Hamid" (عبد الحميد), a common Muslim name meaning, basically, "servant of Allah". My driver license spells it as "ABD ELHAMID" which is fairly reasonable. My student pilot certificate spells it "ABDELHAMID" because apparently the US government doesn't do names with spaces in them. The DPE had to call around to make sure the relevant discrepancies would not scupper the whole effort. I actually had a rather entertaining time at my FSDO earlier, for that same reason. Yeesh.

I got a full briefing for my XC flight plan on

My CFI and the DPE then went over more paperwork, got the IACRA forms filled out, and my CFI left.

Oral exam

The DPE gave me hints when he felt like I was almost at an answer but didn't quite get it. Overall, things were very friendly and congenial. I would assure anyone taking a checkride to not be worried about this part -- if you have been trained, and assuming your DPE is like mine, you will do fine. The following were the major areas of questions:

* Choose between a set of questions by color code -- I chose the "middle of the road" set.

* A middle of the road METAR to decipher; I had to look up one little bit of it but was able to figure it out.

* Inoperative equipment and how they affect the airworthiness of the aircraft. My advice here is be sure you know the "TOMATO FLAMES" FAR 91.205 and its limitations, and how equipment is marked inoperative and by whom and under what circumstances, and how that relates to regulations about maintenance in FAR Part 43, but do not waste your time memorizing what TOMATO FLAMES stands for. :) Much better to spend the time talking through all the various ramifications with your CFI for 10 minutes, which is what I did and it worked out for me!

* Point out locations on the chart with particular airspace visibility, and digging into my answers and making sure I knew the set of possible other correct answers.

* Show in the airplane Mx logs where important work was done. Basically, I had already filled out my club's maintenance checklist, and the DPE seemed mostly interested to know that I could point to actual log entries for the checklist items -- in other words, that I had filled it out myself and was aware of why these items were all in order.

* Questions about engine performance and aerodynamics, where the "right" answer sort of had to be teased out of me even though I knew the theory. On the other hand, this is one of the things where I know the theory very well and the answers still had to be teased out of me, so I guess the moral is, if you know your stuff, and can discuss it, you'll do fine.

* He asked me about how to recover from a spin. This, he said, was the one question where there was no leeway -- I had to know this, no hints or help. Fortunately, I did.

Discussion of XC preparation

Asked to see my route and asked why I had chosen it. I had chosen KPAO VPSUN VPALT O15 KMER. I explained that I wanted to stay away from "Desolation Wilderness" -- the hills to the East of San Jose -- since they are high and forested and do not afford good emergency landing locations. I also described how I was using small airports as waypoints but also "grazing" a larger Class D airport (KMOD) and setting a waypoint when abeam.

He seemed pleased with my choice to optimize for emergency landing locations, and said how much he hated it when people just draw a straight line from origin to destination.


I preflighted and verified fuel load. I was worried about running out of fuel, but the DPE said don't worry, we'll look at the fuel as we go. I indicated our likely practice area and used my chart ruler to show how much fuel we'd need to get back to KPAO, and I noted I would like to call Bingo at 1/4 tanks. With the DPE on board and with less than 1/2 tanks, we were at max gross.

I went inside, checked the METARs again just to be sure, drank some water, and ate one of my egg sandwiches for strength. My watch strap was broken so I failed to check what time it was; had I done so, I might have known it was getting late and anticipated I'd be more tired and hungry.

The actual checkride

It was a wicked hot day.

I started to enter my route into the GPS. He said we will not be using it since the PTS requires I use charts and pilotage. I was relieved -- I hate spending time being examined on the menus of arcane Garmin software. I flipped the knob so the right-hand MFD screen had the engine info on it, and kept it there for the rest of the flight. There, now we're a Piper Cub!

During taxi, he kept reminding me to taxi SLOWLY. This is a bad habit of mine -- being too heavy on the throttle while taxiing.

In my runup, he suggested I make a habit of (also) testing the engine idle with the carb heat on -- since that is a configuration I actually use and I want to make sure the engine does not cut out.

We departed Right Dumbarton without event, and I started timing my XC segments. At one point, I forgot to restart the stopwatch in my transponder, and he asked me, "how much time till VPSUN?" I did some quick mental math, adding up all my planned times so far and comparing to total flight time, and said "5 minutes". He was happy with that answer.

As we approached VPSUN, he asked me to plan a diversion to KSNS! That was way further than I expected a diversion to be, and I sputtered thinking, Salinas Salinas, where in the frack is Salinas? He was like, "It's not on your chart!" (I had my KSFO Bravo chart with me.) Ah, that Salinas. I've flown there before! I got out my sectional and with the chart ruler plotted the route -- surprisingly, it was pretty much a straight shot to Salinas from the vicinity of Fremont. Who knew? I gave him the numbers (fuel, heading) and he was satisfied with that.

Over VPSUN, he asked me to -- for-real now -- go to KLVK. I got the ATIS and entered the pattern for Rwy 25L without event. While on the way, he warned me to stay as high as possible over areas without good emergency landing spots, even if that meant dropping to pattern altitude a little bit late. No wonder he was so happy I routed around Desolation Wilderness! :)

He also kept asking me to fly slowly due to turbulence. He said he was worried the tail would snap off.

He called for a normal landing, but then on short final noted to me that there was a fire truck on the runway. I verbalized "Go around, go around!" and went around.

He called for another normal landing, and I did one -- but it was a BIG BUMP! I was rather frazzled by that but kept on keeping on. This was, it turns out, the beginning of the sadness.

He called for a soft-field takeoff and landing. I executed a good soft-field takeoff -- just the right amount of nose-up, no tail scrapes, accelerating just fine, remembering to establish climb and accelerate then ditch flaps, everything. Peachy keen.

On downwind, he asked me to pull to idle and pretend I had an engine failure. I verified with him that he was handling the radio for a short approach, which he did. I then started a slow turn towards final, which actually was a bit too early so I ended up rather high. I slipped like a mad devil to burn energy, keeping my speed down around 60-65 kias or thereabouts so I would not exceed flap speed and also so as not to be overspeeding once I got out of the slip. I must have exited the slip early, because I was floating quite a bit high over the runway and losing runway length fast.

I put the nose down a little to drop, but I must have done too much. (Later, he told me I should have just kept the nose where it was and been patient.) I ended up doing a bounce, then another, then ... he grabbed the controls and stabilized my bounce, just as I was saying "go around" and pushing full throttle. I ended up in a climb, but of course he had had to take the controls to save me from disaster. The damage was done. My shame was complete.

I did a run around the pattern and another landing, which actually turned out really nicely -- a greaser this time, perfect flare, chirp, rollout. He then suggested we go to the fuel island and fuel up.

I fueled up, feeling dismal and defeated. The fuel pump display was so hard to read, and the fuel nozzle seemed so heavy. The ramp at KLVK was baking hot. I went in and used the bathroom and drank a sip of water.

The DPE advised me to attach the grounding clip to the exhaust, not to the nose gear, for a more reliable ground connection, which was good to know. He also told me that, if you ever add 80 octane to 100LL, the result is transparent, at almost any mixture ratio! This ensures that mixing any gasoline in your tanks leads to a transparent "not right" color. Cool!

I noted this was the first time since 2014 that any CFI has had to grab the controls from me. I then said, let's go. He asked me if this officially meant I wanted to press on, and I said yes. He said this was good, to get back into the saddle.

At that time, I noted I was getting hungry, but the KLVK buildings didn't seem to have any food, and I'd failed to bring my second egg sandwich with me.... Bummer. But oh well.

He asked me to do a short field takeoff to a left crosswind departure, and we'd do a short field landing at KPAO, and air work in between. I called in and was given Rwy 25R. It seemed strange to get a left crosswind from the right runway, so I asked them to confirm. They were like, "You can get any departure you want!" :)

I turned to use maximum runway length, held brakes, and off we went. He called the "over the obstacle" point during my short field takeoff; I pushed over, accelerated, raised flaps and then established normal climb. I then turned crosswind at 1100' MSL, 300' below pattern altitude per the AIM, and we were off.

On the way, he again kept reminding me to fly slowly through the turbulence. He said he'd give me vectors, and we flew to VPSUN then turned out towards the Sunol pass and over Fremont.

He said, once we're over the hills, slow down a little. I did. A little more. I did. After a few rounds of this, I asked, is this slow flight? He said yes, I'm doing it bit by bit. At some slow speed -- nowhere near stall -- he asked me to do a turn, and using throttle to maintain altitude, I did it. He seemed happy. All that slow flight practice mad this "slow flite lite" exercise seem easy!

He then asked me to keep slowing down at constant altitude until stall, then recover. The resulting stall was very gentle, and I recovered fine.

He then asked me to go to KNUQ for ground reference maneuvers. He was handling the radio from that point on. Tower asked us to go North of the airport, where he pointed out a point and asked me to do a turn around it. Again, he wanted me to keep my altitude up till I was very close, in case the engine failed while we were over the Bay.

The point he chose was really close, so he suggested a power pole that was further away. I opened up from it a bit, picked my 4 reference points, and flew around it once without event. He then asked me to fly to the Shoreline Amphitheatre then do a short field landing at KPAO.

While I was approaching, he was pretty chatty. Throughout the checkride, I did not hesitate to merely smile and nod, but be quiet, whenever he was chatting and I needed to concentrate. This time I said something like, "Cool, maybe we can talk later and do the landing now," or something. I think (hope?) I convinced him that I was capable of maintaining a sterile cockpit.

He selected the landing point to be the end of the KPAO Rwy 31 displaced threshold. That threw me a bit since I usually put my short field touchdown point a bit more forward, but I tried for that anyway. As we came in, at 50 kias short field approach speed, I noted that we were amazingly close to stall! As I rounded out, my stall horn came on surprisingly early, and we bumped in rather violently. I was not happy with it.

We taxied back, with him again reminding me to taxi slowly.

When we shut down, he asked me what I thought of the soft field landing. I told him the aircraft was heavier than I've ever been used to it, and that although it's my responsibility as a pilot to account for that and adjust my speeds, I had failed to do that due to being unfamiliar and surprised with the feel of the aircraft. He said, "That works for me."

We finished the paperwork with him being on the whole encouraging.

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