"Why don't you tell him how it went?"
-my Designated Pilot Examiner, to me, after my instructor asked how things had gone
Thursday, November 10th, I decided I really needed a mental health break after the horrors of Wednesday morning - waking up and finding my country (which, although it may sometimes not appear to be so, I love deeply) had elected a Nazi-supported, criminal, multiply bankrupt, pathological liar of a sexual abuser to the highest office in the land. So I drove back to Danbury, CT to continue my seaplane studies.
When I got to the airport Thursday morning at 8am, the instructor told me that the weather for Friday looked 'really iffy.' He said 'Look, you made some good progress last time in the couple hours we got in. I think you have a shot at taking the test this afternoon. Are you up for it? I gotta be honest, otherwise we'll have to try for next week, I think."
I said "If you think I'll be ready, let's schedule." So he did.
We preflighted the Husky, and went off to practice in Lake Lillinoah. We got several landings in, although I didn't do as well as I had the first time. That's sort of normal for me, once I know all the ways I can get it wrong, I start thinking about them, and...yeah. It wasn't terrible though. I made a couple mistakes, but none serious, and the landings themselves were fine. I turned a bit too abruptly while step taxi-ing, but not dangerously so. So we went back to KXDR, landed, and he called the examiner to schedule us for later that afternoon. We spent some time reviewing the oral exam questions, then got back in the Husky and headed west to the Hudson River (just south of Poughkeepsie, the section immediately north of the I-84 bridge). There's a big red buoy in the middle of the river, and we used that for a reference point. We did several landings and those went fine, operating to the north due to the prevailing wind. We tried emergency procedures, which involves him yanking the engine while we were 350 feet up over the water and seeing if I could make the 180-degree turn to land into the wind, but I was having trouble really getting the plane far enough around safely. I'm not used to stick vs. yoke flying, and this plane loses energy like a brick, so we decided I'd emergency land straight ahead - that went fine.
So we flew over to N45 - Kobelt Airport - to meet the examiner, a gent from Wallkill, NY who also owns a gun store. We drove back to said gun store to do paperwork and the oral exam, and that went quite well. He declared me 'boring' because 'I can't get this guy on anything.' So we trooped back to the airport and got in the plane, with the examiner in the back, and he said 'Fly us over to the Hudson, and keep outta Stewart's airspace.'
I took off, and flew us to the buoy again. As we headed south towards the bridge, we noticed it was much choppier. He said "Was it this bad?"
I said "No, it was really nice earlier."
"Okay, I'd take us all the way to the bridge, and that spot over by the eastern shore looks smoother, right in front of that indent where those condos are." I looked; that spot was about 1/2 mile from the bridge, and up against the eastern shore. We were headed south down the middle of the river at 400 feet, so I set up a left-hand square pattern, headed for the bridge, turned left base, left final, added flaps, came down...and something was wrong, I knew it when we got close to the water, but I couldn't figure out what it was. We hit kind of...hard, but landed and didn't bounce too high.
"What went wrong?" he asked dryly.
"I...don't know yet," I said, checking things. Carb heat? Nope. Flaps? Nope, I had all three notches in. Hm...
"Okay, let's take off straight ahead." Our nose had drifted to the left, so I jammed right rudder but I couldn't get the plane to respond. I was about to put the water rudders down when he said "Nah, let's see what it wants to do." The plane continued to swivel gently until...it was pointing directly at the bridge.
Upwind. Oh, shit.. The wind had shifted 180 degrees since I'd been on the river, and I hadn't taken the time to check the wind before setting up the pattern - I'd let him maneuver me into landing downwind. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
"Yep. I see it." I said, trying to be laconic rather than depressed about it.
"Okay, take off towards the bridge, and give me a landing in the right direction."
I did that. That landing was much better.
"Hm, I want some glassy ops, but this water's just too damn choppy. Okay, let's head over to the Wallkill River near my place. Take off and head about two eight five. I'll call Stewart and get us cleared through the Class D."
I did so, obediently. We got to the Wallkill...and it was a creek. No, seriously, trees on both banks, maybe 100 feet wide, meandering. But since it was in a valley, the water was calm. I said "It looks glassy, which direction do you prefer?"
"Circle around to the right, let's land to the south."
So I did, trying not to notice how narrow and winding the river was. I had to follow the river between the trees on rollout, and landed in the middle of the stream, the airplane stopping right where I wanted to - with maybe fifty feet on either side between my wingtips and the trees. The airplane has a 35-foot wingspan.
"Now that's what seaplaning's all about," he said dryly from the back seat. "Hell, even Sullenberger can land on the Hudson. Okay, take off straight ahead, you'll have to follow it around to the right but it curves left again almost immediately."
Took off...first rise...second rise...on the step...before the curve, I lifted my left float and popped into the air to get airborne before the curve, followed it right, then left, and climbed above the treeline. "Where to?"
"Back to Kobelt, I think."
Headed back to N45. On the way in, dealt with another aircraft in the pattern, made my pattern calls, came around from base to final..."I'm a little high, but speed is good, okay..."
From the back: "Maybe use your flaps on a short field?"
Fuck. I had one notch in, but I'd gotten distracted. I put in the other two, landed without incident, and we taxiied back to where we'd left from. Opened the door and Tony (instructor) came over. "How'd it go?"
From the back: "Why don't you tell him how it went?"
I said "I fucked up twice. First time, bigtime, I didn't check wind direction before landing on the Hudson, and it had reversed since we were there. Second time, I only had one notch of flaps in coming onto short final here at Kobelt."
"That..." Tony said. "You don't make those kinds of mistakes."
"Yeah I do, Tony. Clearly."
There was silence for a bit.
From the back: "Well, you passed. But you're gonna remember this, I hope."
Sudden, utter rush of relief. "Yessir. I damn well will."
"Okay then. Let's go get your paperwork processed."
So we did.
Later, as we prepped the plane to head back to Danbury and the DPE had driven off, Tony asked "Where'd you guys go, you were gone a while?"
"After I fucked up on the Hudson, he made me land in the Wallkill."
Tony stopped. "The Wallkill? In this plane?"
"Shit. I told him I'd only take the Cub in there. It's frigging tiny. And it gets duck shit all over my planes. But this one is kinda a big cow for that creek."
"Well, that's why he passed you."
"Yeah. The Wallkill is the stick skills test. You'd tanked the decisionmaking a bit so he figured if you hacked the stick and rudder test on the Wallkill he'd let you slide, and he did."
"Well, I'll take it. But shit, I still feel like every time I come onto short final somewhere I'm gonna hear Frank's voice, all dry, like 'maybe flaps?'"
"So, you learned something and passed."
"Yeah." Brightened a bit. "Yeah, I did!"
And that was my Thursday.
He holepunched my pilot's certificate and gave me a temporary. This one says "PRIVATE PILOT: AIRMAN, SINGLE-ENGINE LAND, SINGLE-ENGINE SEA." It also has my new weight, which is 120 lbs lower than my weight on my original certificate. I'm gonna keep that first one to remind me. About everything.