So, at last, I've obtained my Private Pilots License! What does this mean? Well first of all it means I get to learn more and second I can take passengers with me as I act PIC of the aircraft I'm flying in. Now let me tell you about my checkride experience.
Beginning in October my CFI and Best Friend Daniel S. from San Carlos Flight Center started looking for a suitable DPE for me to take my checkride with. At this point, I had already been signed off for my solo cross country time. As I progressed through October I became more and more anxious as the winter season was approaching "Fast". As the days flew by we found a DPE, and we received a test day to get it done on December 15, 2020, at 9 in the morning. As the day grew closer and closer I became more and more nervous with each looming minute just the thought of me failing and or passing this checkride.
It's now a week from the checkride and I'm double-checking every single last detail in hopes it would calm me down for the checkride. On the last Saturday before the test, Daniel and I decided to keep a close eye on the weather over the next two days to figure out if we should depart the day before or the day off to get down to Paso Robles. Then comes Monday, we check the weather one last time and make a decision to pack everything and fly down the night before. We arrive at the airport around 8 pm and departed at 8:15 headed for the Paso Robles airport. Departing on a school night felt like a forbidden crime that would soon backfire on me the moment I touched wheels on the pavement in San Carlos. Cruising along at 6500 feet on a cold, clear, December night Daniel quizzes me on aviation knowledge to keep me sharp for the test the next day. The whole flight down was filled with pop questions and aviation talk and finally, we arrived at the Paso Robles Airport. After securing the plane we ordered an Uber to take us to the hotel and ordered pizza for dinner that night ending the day with some ground review and a major pep talk before finally falling asleep.
The next morning I woke up to an early alarm and had totally forgotten that I didn't bring my plunger to take my night lens out of my eyes. In total panic mode, I woke up my mom and told her I couldn't take my glasses out of my eye but within 10 to 15 minutes I poped the night lens out of my eyes and became calm and collected once again. Sitting down at the table I riped out my flight plan and started calculating a mass amount of performance calculations for my flight plan to the Long Beach airport.
Arriving at the airport half an hour early we eagerly wait for the DPE to arrive. As soon as the examiner arrived we filled out the paperwork and started the oral test. Now the oral test was a handful of mind-boggling questions that were all laid out in the ACS or the Airman Certifications Standards, but what was most challenging to me was the performance calculations. Specifically the pressure altitude and density altitude calculations this was where he found a flaw in my knowledge. Although I had failed the checkride at that point I had decided to continue and finish the oral portion of the checkride.
Back home Daniel and I went over calculating performance specifically the short-field takeoff and landing distances during this time I've come to the fact that the pressure altitude and density altitude formula was an unreliable source for an accurate number. With this, I resided to my CX-3, E6B, and Density Altitude chart to figure out the most accurate number coming out to all three getting the same number. Not only did I have to review performance calculations but at the same time, I had to keep my flying skills sharp which meant flying a total of 8 flights before my next test day on Jan 18, 2021.
Then came the day my second checkride was hours away from the beginning and since we didn't bother to fly down to Paso Robles the night before I had to get up early and fly. We departed sometime around 8:00 am on a cold Monday morning. Although I had been preparing for a 76% finished checkride I still had doubts about whether or not I was going to pass that day. After arriving at the airport we settle in for a 3-hour wait in which every second of it was torture. If you were sitting across from me you could clearly see that I was worried and anxious.
When the DPE showed up we went upstairs filled out some paperwork, showed him my calculations, and told him how I did them and from there the oral portion of the checkride was completed! I wasn't out of the woods yet as there was still a flight portion to be completed, the one moment we've all been nervous about. So I get out to the plane and the DPE starts the test and watches me preflight my little Cessna 172 S model. Soon after we get in the plane start-up and depart to my first cross country waypoint.
This was one of the many lessons I've learned, which was to find better waypoints as well as making my path beside the waypoint so I could actually see where I am going. So we climb out and we make it to the first point I quickly calculate fuel and the time we took to get there using my CX-3 ( This is a really handy tool for slow mental math people like me ). Shortly after he had me divert to an airport miles away to the east due to "simulated weather". Me being overloaded with holding altitude, speed, and direction had to plug into the calculator to find the time, distance, and fuel needed to get to the destination. This caused me to brain fart and instead of using the ground speed listed on several of my avionics, I decided to calculate my own ground speed... the stupidest mistake I made in my entire life! Thank god the DPE gave me a warning and asked me if I had anything else in the plane that could tell me my ground speed. I've never felt so embarrassed in my life before.
The next few maneuvers were as usual steep turns one to the left and one to the right. The stalls power on and power off, now I never knew that we were supposed to do them with a bank angle until recently when I was preparing for this second checkride. Next was instrument time dawn the hood and the baseball cap, flying around and doing a few unusual attitudes scenarios was easy as pie. Soon after we did the emergency descent simulating a full-blown engine fire with a transition to doing S-turns over a highway.
Then it was time to head back for my landings which were all spot on and everything was fine till the very very last pattern. During my last pattern work, I was so focused on verbalizing my checklist and making sure that I didn't mess up that I had forgotten to keep an ear and eye out for other new traffic entering the pattern. When I was on the downwind I thought that the traffic I was following was the only traffic in the pattern at the time, totally neglecting that the other traffic in front of me had extended its downwind. After passing the traffic I was following I turned my base just to be met with a situation of an unknown aircraft in the pattern on final 2 miles ahead of me. My initial reaction wasn't to go around but to make a right 360 turn. THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE as the DPE explained to me after the flight. One of the biggest lessons I've learned from this checkride was that the phrase you can always go around doesn't just mean when you are on the final leg of the traffic pattern. The phrase "you can always go around" applies to everywhere and anywhere you are no matter if you are in cruise or close to landing, if you are in a dangerous situation just add the power and climb and keep a visual till you are clear of the traffic. This cost us a night at a Paso Robles Hotel as I was lucky enough to get a quick pattern retest the next day in which I knew for sure I would pass.
The next day came and I did my pattern practice with my instructor before the DPE came. When the DPE came I did the same as the day before by filling out some paperwork and beginning the test. We got in the plane did my one pattern and go around coming back around for another landing then securing the plane and walking into his office to receive my Temporary Airman Certificate. Just like that, I was a certified Private Pilot! If there is anything to take away from this whole pilot training experience it would be to dream big and never ever give up no matter what happens. Even if you fail a checkride once or more than once as I did, just know the DPE is your friend and he is looking out for you and your passengers' safety.