1st Practice Practical Exam

This past week’s lesson was a challenge, I left a bit down and disappointed. I had hoped for better and I felt I let myself down, probably disappointed the instructor?
Let me back up. If you have read the past posts you’ll know that the last two weeks the lessons involved preparation for the oral exam, we went page by page through the ACS Airman Certification Standards, the book that details exactly everything you must show competency in during the practical test oral/flight test. That and an hour of crosswind landings. I have a couple of areas to brush up on but I did real well on the oral prep, so I was hoping for the same on my first practice practical flight test. 

Last week I started a DIY house project, it was to be a bathroom refresh; some new tile in the shower, new fixtures, all superficial aesthetics. As is the case with any project in a hundred year old house things are often not what they appear to be. When I pulled up the old tile and stripped the wallpaper I found serious water damage. Turns out a new patio two years ago and a blocked down spout was funneling water under the 30 year old addition to the house, a sunroom and the bathroom I intended to refresh. The insulation in the floor was wicking the water upwards rotting out the floor and walls; thankfully I caught it in time and spent two full days gutting the bathroom, stripping the walls to studs, and removing the subfloor and wet insulation. then I began replumbing the shower drain since they had used undersized pipe and it has never drained properly, why not take care of that while I have access to the floor.

After two full days of working in the bathroom I intended to stop early the day before my lesson but I just couldn’t help myself. I’m not making an excuse, maybe I would have performed no better had I not been sore and exhausted from my HGTV like efforts in the preceding two days, but it certainly didn’t help. I half though based on the weather forecast that my lesson would be cancelled so I told myself to keep working!

So the morning of my lesson I woke early to gather all required aviation weather and finish my flight plan accounting for the winds aloft: heading, fuel, and time are affected by the winds. The route was from Westminster, Md KDMW to Pittsburg, PA KPIT. We would be facing at 37 kt headwind. Also there were SIGMETs (weather warnings) for Low Level Wind Shear LLWS and Instrument Conditions IFR aka low visibility. Getting everything together and downing a few cups of coffee and some Tylenol for my aches I headed to the flight school. 

Since this was to be a practice test we went over my planning and my interpretation of the weather, risks, and decision making and concluded that I would not make the trip to KPIT; however, my instructor said we could go out and fly to my first couple of checkpoints prior to the mountains and he would act the role of the Designated Pilot Examiner DPE. He would give me scenarios and have me work through them; inflight fire, engine out, electrical failure, a diversion. He would also have me do all the required maneuvers such as instrument flying, steep turns, short field landing, and so forth. 

As we took off we could see the sheets of rain dropping out of the clouds in the distance and we were prepared for a rough ride, the 37 kt winds could easily be felt and soon after rain began hitting the windshield. After my second checkpoint he had me divert to York, PA KTHV. I didn’t see that coming as it was in the opposite direction of my flight plan. I quickly whipped out my diversion protractor and calculated 78 degrees and 22 miles from our current location. Adding 10 degrees for magnetic variation and assuming 110 kts speed or 12 minutes. Remember that headwind that is now a tailwind; neither did I! I quickly turned to my heading and and started my timer while looking out for visual landmarks that I could compare to my chart to confirm that I was on course for York, PA. Once I knew my heading was working out I began to look for the frequency for the airport since I didn’t have to in advance; I had several others but York wasn’t one that I had thought he would divert me to. Meanwhile the rain continues and if you have ever driven a car at night or in low visibility while its raining or snowing you can imagine what it looks like out the aircraft windshield. That headwind turned tailwind was now translating into 170 kt ground speed. 

My aging eyes require a little help in lower light situations and while I can pass eye exams and function, I have trouble reading fine text while glancing down at the chart in my lap. Due to the rain and clouds I didn’t have my sunglasses with readers on and quickly regretted that. In my efforts to maintain my heading and altitude while trying to spot the airport, follow my progress on the chart, and look up the frequencies needed I evidently flew right by York Airport! I looked up and saw two of the rock mine pits that I could see on the chart as well as the city of York in the distance. Hummmm the airport should be….. behind me? Yes, I must have passed it while looking down and since I hadn’t accounted for the extra speed my timer still said I had 3 minutes to fly. However, with the landmarks I can see in front of me and on the chart I know I missed it; therefore, I slowly circle back around and fly the heading opposite. Sure enough there it was right where it should be. 

As I approach my instructor calls a simulated engine out! I run through my checklists, establish best glide speed to give myself as much time as possible and barely make it to the runway. I visually though I was too high and gave up some altitude without first verifying what I saw visually with my altimeter.

 After landing we taxied back and took off for another landing at York. But this time a short field landing where you can’t touch down prior to the runway numbers but have to touch down within 200 ft after. I didn’t make it and if it had been the real test day would have failed. I was not happy with myself. After this we took off again and I put on the vision limiting goggles so all I can see are the instruments. I then had to do a series of maneuvers and follow at VOR navigation beacon. I start out ok but then completely draw a blank and set up the instrument incorrectly. Another fail. We continue and after 30 minutes of flying blind I get to take off the goggles and do steep turns and turns around a point which I do well. Soon after I feel the motion sickness creeping up, I’m a bit nauseous and feel like crap; and just last week I commented on how I don’t get motion sickness. At this point we head back to Westminster and I’m not doing good at holding my assigned altitude. I’m told to stay high on my turn to final and do a slip to landing; a technique where you basically fly sideways to create more drag and loose altitude; however, I’m just not doing well so he tells me to just do a normal landing and call it a day.

So I did several things well but had a rough day at others and it would not have been a good test day. I’m feeling exhausted, still a bit of motion sickness, and basically not feeling good about the day. I know I will have to up my game next week and perform each required task. I have done them before and know I can, I just have to put them all together in one flight. 

Next week. 

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