October 25th, 2004


private pilot checkride

This year has been an especially disappointing year for soaring. Between uncooperative weather, my summer vacation to Spain, occasional lack of instructor, a tow plane accident (bent propeller), and other little details, I have been able to do very little flying. My original plan was to get my private pilot license this spring, but I wasn't able to fly at all until may. I had pretty much decided to wait until next year to get my license.

Two weeks ago I flew with Rich and he said that if I wanted, he would sign me off for my checkride. Getting my license wasn't really on my mind at the time, but his saying that that sort of kicked me back into gear and I decided to go for it. Two other students (Scott and Roy) had already taken their written exams and scheduled their checkride with an FAA examiner. So, as soon as I got home that day I hit the books and studied for my written exam (which is 60 multiple choice questions). I took the exam on the 15th and passed.

That same day I called the FAA examiner to schedule the oral and practical portions of the exam. She was already coming out to the glider field for the two other students, so I just scheduled myself in for the same day.

I did my oral exam three days ago on friday evening, which went well. Since officially the oral portion is part of the checkride, there was no indication of pass or fail for that portion.

On friday night, a line of thunderstorms came through and dumped about two inches of rain on the glider field. This wasn't good, because rain makes the field too soft and muddy. Soaring was cancelled on saturday due to low cloud cover (I had hoped to get another practice flight or two in there). The weather forecast was marginally better for sunday, but it was still questionable.

Scott did his checkride first, and passed successfully. While he was doing his followup paperwork, it started to rain! The visibility was dropping too. Roy was next, he decided to go ahead and do his preflight inspection while it was still raining, hoping that it would clear up. Since it was still raining a bit when he was done, I did my preflight inspection immediately after his. Finally the rain let up a bit so it was only barely drizzling, and Roy made the call to go. We looked at the weather radar and it didn't look very promising for another flight. By this time I had resigned to postponing my checkride until another day. Roy disappeared into haze not long after taking off.

Surprisingly, and contrary to the weather radar indications, the low clouds cleared up a bit more and the conditions improved. Roy completed his flights, and I was up next! My flights went very well, except I was a bit too high on landing and exceeded the spot landing target by about 10 feet. On my second flight I was much better though. I was pleased to find that I wasn't nervous at all about having an examiner in the back seat; flying the plane is much more important than worrying about somebody looking over your shoulder.

All three of us were successful and now have a Private Pilot license with a Glider rating. In practical terms, this means that I can fly whenever I want without needing instructor signoff, and I can carry passengers (or a passenger, since gliders with more than two seats are rare).

That was the good news. The bad news is that I got a speeding ticket on the way home, for 41 in a 30 zone. Oops. Fortunately I can just take a driver safety course to dismiss that.