My 1979 Cessna 172N

Friday, August 17, 2012

The End and the Begining (Student Pilot to Private Pilot)

April and May 2012 were dedicated to work and more work.  The company I work for is acquiring another high tech company and the two information systems must be integrated.  The planning and pre work just to bring the two companies together as one the day we merge is maddening.  I’m stressed out and tired and don’t get to fly as much as I want to.

I continue to work on technique and to build hours so that I’m ready for the Private Pilot Single Engine Land practical and oral tests.  The check ride includes both an oral and a practical exam both of which I’m nervous about.  I do not enjoy tests of any sort and it’s all a ball of stress.  I’m still fully committed however and want to get this phase of the adventure done. 

Lonnie was brave enough to tag along with Bob and I on a long cross country flight from Provo to Bryce Canyon.  We enjoyed another nice lunch at Ruby’s Inn and then flew the plane to Bountiful Skypark where the plane will undergo some maintenance (leaking fuel tank) and a nice upgrade.  I flew through the Salt Lake City “B” airspace for the first time and got to see what is was like to request permission to enter an be watched carefully by Air Traffic Control.  ATC was professional and friendly directing us to a straight in landing at Bountiful (KBTF) with ease.  That little airport is strangely situated near SLC and amongst a bunch of oil refineries but all went well and we arrived without any issues with a rather nice landing.

Part of the maintenance done was the installation of an XM weather receiver.  This brings near real time weather data into my cockpit, something that will help me maintain a higher level of weather situational awareness and keep me clear of problem areas IF… I use it wisely.  Some pilots think that weather data in the cockpit will help them make thunder runs between storm cells.  I’m not about to do that nor do I think it is wise.  I’ll get visual representation of precipitation and wind data along with detailed weather conditions for any airport that transmits weather data called METARS.  This is pretty cool stuff and I’m looking forward to the added capability.

The maintenance was done and the plane ready for pickup on May 10th.  Bob picked me up at Provo airport in a Diamond DA20 (interesting and very light aircraft) for the flight up to Bountiful.  There was a bit of a breeze when we left that turned into a pretty good wind by the time I left to fly my plane home.  The winds were blowing at 20 kts gusting to 25 when I entered the pattern at Provo.  It was a bit tense but thankfully the winds were blowing from the north down runway 31 instead of a cross wind.  I got the plane back and tucked away in the hangar without incident.  I must admit I was a little nervous but I just flew like I had been trained, held it together and everything went fine.

On Memorial Day weekend I scheduled my check ride for June 8th.  I purposely told only a few people about my pending check ride which some may think odd.  This is a big deal, THE big gate for getting your Private Pilot’s ticket, and I just wanted to concentrate on the task at hand without fanfare or having to tell friends in the event I failed.  Like I said… I hate tests.

The week leading up to my checkride I flew Wednesday and Thursday and just tried to maintain my edge and confidence in ground reference maneuvers and landings.  With work responsibilities to attend to and the pending check ride, I was a little keyed up but felt ready.

The morning of the check ride I arrived at Provo Airport at 0700, did a quick preflight of the plane just to make sure nothing was going to prevent me from flying (there seems to be a small fuel leak in the right wing tank again) or cause a delay.  I headed over to TAC Air (former Million Air) to set up in one of the conference rooms for the oral portion of the exam.

My Designated Pilot Examiner showed up at 0730 and we started the “dance”.  Phil Widmer, my DPE for the day is not unknown to my family.  Phil knows my dad from when Dad was Chief Instructor Pilot working at UVSC now UVU at Provo Airport.  Phil and I seemed to get along right off the bat which set me at ease a bit thank goodness.  I was not a stress mess but I was anxious to get through this and do so with flying colors. 

The oral portion of the check ride is a review with the examiner to prove that I didn’t just memorize a bunch of multiple choice questions on the written and then hit the delete button in my brain immediately after.  I had to talk about and explain theory and the whys of this and that and basically prove that I knew what I was doing well enough to keep me, my passengers and people on the ground safe as a pilot.  Because Phil is somewhat a friend of the family, I expected there to be a fair amount of small talk but I was not ready for a 5 hour oral.  I was exhausted and hungry (we didn’t stop for lunch) by the time it was done and the wind had picked up providing a challenging flying environment. 

The practical portion of the check went as well as it could as we got bounced around the skies on the southwest side of Utah Lake.  I was very tired but did my best in all maneuvers and various landings and came back to the airport a certificated private pilot.  I DID IT!  It took me 11 months but I did it and couldn’t be happier.

I have dreamed of this day for most of my life and I’m finally a pilot.  I can’t explain the feeling I had when it was all said and done and I look forward to taking Lonnie up as my first passenger.  I was so exhausted the following day even though it was Saturday that I didn’t step a foot on the airport property and just chilled at home wondering how I survived a 5 hour oral and that windy bouncy check ride.

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