Hi, my name is Dale, and… I’m a pilot.

My check ride was scheduled for 0800 this morning.  I was up at 6, ready to go at 7… and saw I had missed a call on my cell from the DPE.  I called him back and he told me we’d have an extra passenger, an FAA guy would be doing his review of the DPE today.  No problem, he says, don’t worry, it won’t make any difference in what we do (yeah, right) but I should plan for an additional 190 pounds in the rear seats.  AWOS said 67 degrees, winds calm, it was absolutely perfect weather for flying.  I knew that would change by the time we flew, and I was right.

Ha.  Not bloody likely.  With Mr. DPE and I and 38 gallons of the finest blue Avgas available, we’re not going to squeeze an FAA guy in the back seat unless everyone can shed about 25 pounds each.  Now, I could stand to lose it all, but given the circumstances I told the DPE that the FAA guy was going to have to find another ride, we couldn’t take him.  No problem.  But why does the FAA seem to have this irresistible attraction to me anyway?  I bloody well got ramp checked a couple of weeks ago!  Pretty soon I’m going to start taking this personally.

The oral exam went pretty well.  Me, DPE and FAA Guy.  Airspace, medicals, currency, electrical systems, fuel, preflight, radios, charts, nav, on and on.  No big problems. I was shaky on spin recovery (having never done one) but muddled through. Eventually everyone was satisfied, so we went out to fly.

I’d done an incredibly detailed flight plan from MLE to ONL — O’Neill, NE, about 138nm away.  We flew to my second visual checkpoint, by which time he said it was quite obvious I knew how to navigate.  He told me I was allowed to use anything in the airplane… I didn’t even bother with the panel mounted Garmin 396 (though I did later on, when we headed home after I got disoriented “in the clouds”).  I’d left my flippin’ foggles in my flight bag, so a sectional chart was my simulated cloud for instrument flight.  Turns, descending turns, etc – no problem, drifting off heading a little more than usual for me but not bad enough to bust the ride.  I recovered quickly from the unusual attitudes.  When we “left the cloud” I did slow flight, finally ending up with a turn into an approach stall.  Then it was a power-on stall… probably my least favorite thing, about neck and neck with a root canal.  But, it worked.  My steep turn was the best I’d ever done — so good, in fact, spot on 45 degrees all the way around, altitude within 25 feet or less, and rolling out dead on heading — he said I didn’t need to bother with the other direction.

Next he wanted to see an emergency descent.  I put the plane in a full slip and a pretty good descent with the throttle at idle.  He showed me a faster way down… 60 degree bank, steep dive, we went down like a safe dropped by Wile E. Coyote.  Neat.  Maybe if there actually WERE an engine fire I’d try that.  That put us at a suitable altitude for ground reference maneuvers.  There wasn’t enough wind to make them a challenge, not that I complained about it.  Then we headed back in; I climbed to 2000 AGL until we were close to the airport, where he wanted to see short and soft field landings and takeoffs.

By now there was significant thermal turbulence and about a 7-8 knot crosswind nearly straight across the runway.  I did the short field first, and it was not pretty by any means.  My first approach was high enough that I did a go-around.  He said, “Oh, just chop the throttle and use full flaps”.  Well, that wasn’t going to be enough for me… I went around.  I wasn’t going to try to salvage an approach that crappy, DPE or no.  On the second pass I was set up a lot better and did a better job accounting for the wind.  The landing was not as smooth as I’d have liked, especially with the crosswind blowing us around, but he commented that on a short field there wasn’t a lot of time and runway for a smooth flare (and did I mention? He said there was a 50′ obstacle at the threshold.)  The touchdown attitude was good, but it was a little firmer touchdown that I had hoped for with a pax.  From there I taxied back and did a soft field takeoff, followed by what astonishingly enough was the prettiest soft field landing I think I’ve ever done.

At that point he told me to taxi back and park it.  I’d passed.  Half an hour of paperwork and logbook and debrief and all that… and I am, finally, officially, a pilot.

Oh, this thing on my face? I think they call it “perma-grin”.