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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Made it out alive - Certified Flight Instructor at last

Friday June 24th dawned as it usually does in North Texas in the Summer - suddenly and with a wave of heat.  We'd actually had a break from the heat during the days prior, once we even had an overnight low in the high 60's. Bliss.

But most of the time I was too busy to savor it, what with starting to teach a new student, working during the day, and studying for the CFI-Airplane check ride.  Ready of not, here it came!

I awoke early, and packed a lunch and some water, and left the house at 6:45am.  Sundowner 49C was ready to go at 7;15, and we made the short flight to Addison.  In the American Flyers building, I set up in one of the briefing rooms upstairs, and settled down to wait the arrival of Examiner Jim (not his real name).  About 7:50 he arrived, and so did Instructor Anne, who came to meet Jim and to make sure all her paperwork was in order.  We settled down in the briefing room right at 8am.

After some small talk, Examiner Jim (EJ) started to go over the FAA's Special emphasis areas, such as runway incursion avoidance, stall and spin awareness, wire strikes, temporary flight restrictions and so on.  Then he covered the 3 possible outcomes from the test, and requested his check for $400.  We ran through the checklist of required items, and then checked my documents and endorsements, which were all in order.  Then the "fun" began.

"what are the endorsements required before a student can solo?  Where are they to be found?  What endorsements are needed before a student can leave on a solo cross country?  How long must an instructor keep records?  Do they have to be on paper?"  Etc, etc, etc.  I actually thought knew most of the answers, but I made sure to look them up in the regulations (FARs) and only then gave the answers.  This was OK, because instructors are supposed to look things up and treat the FARs like the Bible of Flight.  Around this time, Instructor Anne departed.

Then he asked my to cover the Principles of Flight, but as I got ready to start, he said, "oh yes, you have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, don't you?  I think we'll take that as "done".  And that was about it for the oral.  There were a few miscellaneous questions, but after slightly over 1 hour, we were ready to fly.

Climbing into the Sundowner, I had to show the documents that make an airplane legal to fly - Airworthiness certificate, registration, operating limitations and weight and balance.  I asked if he wanted to see the maintenance logs to make sure the airplane had received an annual inspection, but no, he didn't.

During the taxi, he asked a few questions about runway signs and markings.  We were cleared for take off almost without delay, and departed East at 2,000ft.  Over Garland, he asked me to demonstrate and teach a steep turn.  I was actually a bit uncomfortable, as we were still over the city, and delayed a while until it thinned out.  Then I did a steep turn to the left, talking about what I was doing as I went.  Halfway through, he took the controls and I thought "Crap!  I busted!"  But he actually just wanted to show me what he liked to talk about as we entered the turn and how he wanted to the exit to go.  Then I took a turn again and replicated what he has just done.  I hadn't busted, he just wanted things done slightly differently.

And that was a challenge for the whole flight - I was torn between trying to talk about *everything* I knew about a particular maneuver (to show that I did know it), while doing it, verses teaching it as I would to a beginning student.  It turned out he wanted it done as if to to student, but it was hard to turn off the torrent of words.

Next he asked for a stall demonstration, any type.  So I picked the easiest one, a straight ahead clean stall.  I cut the engine, lifted the nose, and talking through what was happening, I described the critical angle of attack, per-stall buffet, stall break and recover.  Then once more, he took the controls, and did it *his* way, leaving on a little power to make it all go slower, and allow a smoother demonstration.

Then he picked a water tower, and said "teach me turns about a point".  What?  at 2,000 feet? yes, at 2,000.  Normally this is done at 1,000 above ground level (AGL).  And that was how I had practiced it.  This was different.  I got too close (using my normal distance, but the extra height threw me off), banked too steeply, and got flustered.  I thought things were going poorly.  But after the second turn things were going better, and he asked me to demonstrate 8's on pylons.

The FAA handbook makes a big deal about using the proper pivotal altitude for this, which at the Sundowner speed is 900 ft AGL, or about 1,400 ft MSL.  He had me do it at 2,000 ft, again something I had never practiced.  But somehow it worked.  I think I was too flustered to talk much, but he asked me questions, and I was able to answer.

After that, it got better.  We went over the lake, and he asked me to do a chandelle, which I'm normally better at, but this time I didn't pitch up enough and we were a bit too fast at the top, but it was acceptable.  Then we did another one to the other side, which went a bit better, but still not as good as I can normally do.  At this point I was anticipating he would pull the power on me and I would have to do an emergency power off glide and approach, as were  around 3,000 ft, but instead he said "let's head up to McKinney and do some touch and goes".

Wearing my hair shirt, I said "shouldn't we first go to AeroCountry and get the Bonanza?  Don't those have to be done in a retractable?".  He said "no, I just have to see that you can fly a retract, we'll do that later.  Set up and show me a grass-field landing".

Making the assumption that meant a soft field landing, I explained what the goal was, and the method to achieve it (essentially to land as softly as possible on the main wheels only).  On the downwind, I started to feed in flaps, and slowed to 70 on final approach with full flaps.  The landing was perfect - on the rear wheels with the nose held off (thanks to the water ballast I'd put in the baggage compartment), and with the nose still in the air he told me to take off as if on a soft field.  SO I went to full power and still holding the nose off, reduced flaps to 10 degrees.  We lifted off at about 50 kts, and I held in ground effect to accelerate to 80, taking off the remaining flaps. "Very Nice", said Inspector Jim. "Let's go now to AeroCountry and get the Bonanza".

Following a normal landing at T31, we pulled out the V-tail 40D, and put the Sundowner in the now empty hanger.  I asked EJ (again) if he was O.K. with taxiing and using the brakes, since there are none on the right hand side.  He said, "no, you sit on the left, and we'll go to Addison, and do a go-around there".  "OK", I said, "but Addison doesn't normally permit pattern work.  Shouldn't we go to McKinney for that?"

"No, we'll just go there and see".  So I took off after setting up radios in advance (it's a very short flight).  On approach to Addison, the tower cleared us to land, and I asked Jim if he was going to request the go-around.  "No, just go ahead and land".

Not knowing what that meant, I did so, and then we taxiied to American Flyers.  Following the engine shut down:

"Congratulations!  You're a Certified Flight Instructor!"  What??!??!?!

Now that was a weird check ride.  I really had little sense of how well (or otherwise) I was doing the whole time.  Apart from the the soft-field landing, I was never flying as good as I can, and I was always off balance.  Maybe that was the point.  Some of the things in the PTS we just never did, although examiner's do have discretion.

I have learned from another examiner that they normally know within 5 or 10 minutes if an applicant is going to pass of fail, based on their knowledge, bearing, confidence, and how well they handle the aircraft on take off.  Give them the confidence early that you are safe, competent and knowledgeable, and the rest slackens off.  Don't demonstrate that early, and the ride is much more tightly controlled.

So I don't think I did my best, I was always torn between showing what I know and teaching as I would to a student, and doing ground reference maneuvers at the wrong altitude really threw me.  I seemed to recover, and we didn't do the whole PTS.  But apparently I did well enough, and now have a CFI-A to go along with the CFI-I, AGI and IGI (ground instructor licenses).

I think this last 2 months has been about the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, other than perhaps adjusting to being a parent when Thing 1 was born.  I don't think I want to fly this week, time for a break.

1 comment:

Gary said...


Great write up! Kick back and relax then get ready to share your knowledge.