Hop # (who knows)
I didn't get much sleep last night. Nerves. Looked at the ceiling for all but 90 minutes of the night. When I got to the airport this morning, I preflighted the airplane (I'd fueled it last night) and made sure the engine heater was plugged in. Then I went inside, stacked all my various notes, books and charts, and called for a weather briefing. Good thing, too - although the conditions were better than last night, when I did the flight planning (VFR conditions throughout) there were some things to keep an eye on. There was reported icing near my destination airport, which shouldn't affect me since I'm not flying into clouds, but still. Also, there was reported mountain obscuration by clouds, mist and precip near one of my interim airports. Plus, a 30-40 knot headwind was expected across the entire trip.
Oh, and one of the VORs that I'd plotted as a waypoint had a NOTAM. It was due to be inoperative all day. Derp.
The examiner got here an hour after I - flew his gleaming white and blue Cessna 172 in, parked, and came in. He's an older gent, sparkling blue eyes and a smile. We did paperwork (oh my head, the paperwork) and then settled in. He ran me through two hours of one on one oral exam. We talked about the airplane first. I showed that I'd done my research and that the airplane was legal and safe to fly - the AV1ATE inspections, documented in the engine and airframe maintenance logs; the airworthiness directives, the airplane's registration and airworthiness certificates.
From there, we moved on to my planned trip and went over the cross-country I'd plotted out. I had done all my legs and wind corrections and fuel burn manually, which (he admitted) was good, because it meant he didn't have to have me prove I knew how to do it. It's legal to show him an iPad or computer-generated plan, but he said with a laugh that when he's shown one he makes the applicant work through part of it in front of him - but he questioned me on my work, and I didn't have to do any calculations.
Following that, we talked about VFR Sectional charts - he questioned me about airspace regulations, weather minimums, chart notations, TRSAs, ATC operations, MOAs and prohibited areas, TFRs, HIWAS, RCO, VOR, VORTAC, DME (...and a partridge in a pear tree). Although it was a lot and I had been very worried, everything came smoothly. He led me back gently from a couple of answers I got wrong. After that, we talked about the airplane again - how its performance related to the trip I had planned. We talked about landing and takeoff distances, weight and balance, fuel burn and fuel calculations.
After that he hit a few areas from the FAR for my delectation.
Finally, though, he said "Okay! Let's go flying."
So we did.
He explained I was pilot in command, and that he was a passenger on this flight. So I gave him passenger and departure briefings, and told him what I was doing as I did it - started up, tested everything, ran the checklists. We taxied out and I did the runup, then set my VORs to two nearby stations, one of which was my first plotted checkpoint. After takeoff, we turned on course while I climbed to 4,500 feet (NEODD & SWEVEN, I was going west). He had me tell him my estimated time enroute to the first checkpoint (the VOR) and we timed it. I was right (hooray)! Since the next leg was a long one, he had me start out on it and narrate to him where we were, using landmarks from the chart and pointing them out on the ground. Finally, he had me give him a go/no-go based on current conditions, and based on the conditions I said that I was happy with current conditions but that there was clouds and mist drifting northwards which would obscure our flight path for the next two hours (if we really made the whole flight) and based on that plus the winds, plus the icing and mountain obscuration, plus the inop VOR, that I would not make the trip. He concurred and had me turn northwards and back towards the airport.
Once we were on course, we did maneuvers. Turns, steep turns, slow flight, power on stall, power off stall. Then we did hood time - he had me maneuver the airplane to his direction while wearing the hood, and finally we did 'unusual attitude recovery.' In this, he would have me close my eyes and then throw the airplane around for a while before handing it back to me in some, well, unusual attitude - a steep descending spiral, a climbing turn, almost up on its side, etc. I was expected to (with the hood on, using only instruments) recover the airplane to straight and level flight, paying attention to the airspeed when I took control and immediately correcting it if necessary.
Once we were done with that, he told me to take off the hood and then asked me where I thought I was. I frobbed the two VORs I'd programmed and then (with a bit more confidence than I felt) poked the chart and said "Here." He'd been a bit sneaky - we were in a section of the chart where the VOR compass roses were obscured, so I had to guesstimate which radial I was looking at.
"Okay!" he said. "What course would you fly to get to Barnes?"
"Uh...175 magnetic," I guessed, based on the chart.
"Is there another way?"
Thought for a second. "Oh, um, yeah. Heh. I already have the Barnes VOR tuned in, so I just frob the OBS like this...ah, 195 according to the VOR."
"Yes indeed. Okay then, what are the procedures to fly to Barnes and do a stop and go, short field landing and takeoff?"
"I need to get their ATIS information, then contact Westfield Tower for a clearance."
"When would you contact them?"
"Ten to twelve miles out."
"And how far are we now?"
I looked at the chart, then thought herp derp and flipped on the DME. "We're fourteen miles out now."
"Okay then. Let's go to Barnes."
So I got ATIS ("...advise you have information Yankee") and contacted Westfield on 118.9. "Westfield tower, Cessna 12732."
"Cessna 12732, Westfield tower."
"Westfield, 12732 is..." - checked - "...twelve miles north at four thousand five hundred, inbound for a stop and go with information Yankee."
"Cessna 12732, be advised your transmission is hashed. Cleared for a straight in approach to two zero; report a two mile final. Requests for departure?"
"Westfield, 732 would like to turn on course for Seven Bravo Two after departure."
"Cessna 12732, cleared to depart and turn on course for Northampton."
He spoke up then. "We'll have to get down to pattern altitude for Barnes, so I'd like you to make an emergency descent to two thousand, after that you can descend at your discretion."
"Emergency descent to two thousand." I checked left and right (clearing turns, don't forget 'em) and then pulled power to idle, added carb heat and pushed the nose over until the ground filled the windscreen and the airspeed indicator rose to 145 MPH, or Vno, and held it there. At 2200 feet I started to pull out, adding power at 2100 as the airspeed dropped past 120, and came level at 2000. "Level at two thousand." After the airplane had settled, I said "Descending to thirteen hundred for Westfield pattern."
The straight in approach was a bit of a problem, since I usually fly pattern approaches, but it wasn't a big deal - when the DME said I was three miles out, I pretended I was abeam the numbers, pulled power to 15 and added in flaps as I got below Vfe. At two miles, I reported: "Westfield Tower, 12732 is on a two mile final for two zero Westfield."
"Cessna 12732, you're cleared for a stop and go on two zero, cleared to turn on course after departure, your discretion."
Landed the airplane. Felt funny doing a short field landing on the enormous runway at Westfield - built for F-15 Eagles, I could probably land and take off at least twice, maybe three times along its length. Once we were stopped, I cleaned up the airplane, configured it for short field takeoff (ten degrees of flaps), did a pre-takeoff rump checklist (fuel selector, trim, mixture, carb heat, magnetos, primer) and took off again. I took out the flaps once we got above 100 feet.
"Stay at 1400 on the way back to Northampton so we can take care of our last maneuver." I nodded and headed back northeast, holding at 1400. When we got to Easthampton, just outside the Westfield Class D limit, he pointed to a church steeple and we did turns around that point. When asked, I declared that there was no appreciable wind, based on what the airplane was doing, and he nodded.
Then we went back to Northampton. I did a soft field landing at his instruction. He checked with me: "Are you high?"
"Yes, but it's OK." Added flaps and a bit of slip.
"Are you sure you can stop? Do you want to go around?"
Eyeballed it. "No, we're OK." Landed the plane, made the second turnoff, and taxied back to the opposite runway, since someone was lined up for that one. I did a soft field takeoff; as we took off, he asked me to point out where I would put the airplane down if we had problems, so I kept pointing out the fields I had in my mind as we climbed out and went around the pattern.
As we turned downwind, he said "From here, would you be trying to make the airport?" Said yes. "Which end of the runway?"
"Well, we're on downwind - from here, I'd try to make it back to one four, not go for this end."
"Excellent. Go ahead." And he pulled the engine back to idle. But I'd been expecting that.
"Northampton traffic, Cessna 12732 is on left downwind for One Four, simulated engine out." With that, I started eyeballing the runway. Just as he mentioned that we probably didn't want to get too far from the runway, I rolled into a left base, then added flap, then final, then some more flap.
"Where are we?" he asked calmly.
"We're a little high and fast," I said absently, juggling the yoke a bit to get the airspeed where I wanted. "...now we're just a little high."
"Can we fix that?"
"Sure." I put in a forward slip.
"Okay, you can have your engine back if you need it."
"Nope, we're all good here." And I put it on the ground. We squeaked the tires a bit, but no big deal.
"Fine, fine. All right, let's taxi back and do another round." So we did, and this time, on climbout, he reached over and stuck a bunch of blankers over my airspeed indicator, my vertical speed indicator and my attitude indicator. "How are you going to fly the pattern?"
"I'm going to look outside the airplane, use the horizon and engine noise..."
"Excellent. Go ahead."
So I did. As I came around on downwind, we played a guessing game - every time I put in a notch of flaps, he asked me to guess what I thought my speed was, and then he'd uncover the ASI long enough to see how I was doing. The first two I was within 2 MPH both times - then as I got busy turning final, I was off by maybe 8 or 10. He covered it back up. "Go ahead and land." I got to within a few feet of landing and then he said "I need to see you go around."
So I did, adding full power and dumping carb heat, holding the nose down, dumping the flaps, and making the radio call.
"Fine. Let's go back and land."
So we did.
I taxied us in to the ramp, shut down the airplane with the checklist, and we took off our headsets. He turned to me and held out his hand. "Congratulations. You're a private pilot."
As we walked back in, he said "It's expected that you grin like an idiot until at least the New Year." We laughed, and took a picture of me holding my new pilot certificate (after doing Yet More Paperwork) and he shook my hand again, got into his gorgeous 172, and flew off.
Holy shit. I can fly airplanes. By myself.