29R - Nothing but blue skies...

Practice makes PTS

Weather: KBJC 201848Z 02007KT 12SM SCT080CB 24/11 A3028

Bout that time eh chaps? Right-o!

It's been quite a while since I last wrote. Progress was slow and flying not too often after my long cross-country flight. Work and life seemed to be getting in the way of flying and life. Since May I have been consistently flying again, and everything has come back now. I spent a while in April getting ready to finally take the written knowledge test, and ended up passing after only missing two questions. After all the time I spent studying and the nerves before taking the test, I'm glad it all paid off.

So after many flights in between now and that knowledge test, my instructor gave the sign-off to take the stage 3 check. This is the final proficiency check with the chief flight instructor before the school gives their approval and lets me try to prove my worth with an FAA designated pilot examiner (DPE). For some reason, the chief flight examiner always makes me nervous. This is both good and bad. The extra nerves drive me to study and practice more than I might otherwise, but at the same time just make me nervous while I need to focus.

My stage check was scheduled on a Friday morning, starting at 10.30 for three and a half hours. The first two hours are an oral review of my knowledge and a review of a flight plan I put together before the test. The remaining time is a flight review of all maneuvers and just about everything else. This check is basically exactly the same as the FAA check ride, just with the school instead. I was a complete wreck the few days leading up to the test, and in my mind, this check was going to be more difficult than the check with the DPE. I didn't sleep much the night before, and got up extra early to review the knowledge one last time.

This time of year, flights in the morning are with the least wind, and the closer you get to noon, the more the winds pick up until a possible thunderstorm or two in the afternoon. An early morning flight would have been nice, flying at 12.30 isn't so great. As I prepared for the knowledge test, I watched in disappointment as the winds slowly picked up to a sustained 7kt direct crosswind. Not good. Fortunately by the time 10.30 rolled around my nerves had slightly dropped and by the time I started answering questions, my mind was mostly at ease. This was a nice change of pace from the past few hours. The knowledge test passed surprisingly quickly and by the end, there were only three small areas that were noted I should spend a few extra minutes on, but overall, I had done well. That was an extreme relief but instead of feeling great at this point, I started to sweat the flying portion now.

I'm much more comfortable now with every maneuver and most all aspects of flight, except for shortfield landings. They still cause me trouble every once and a while, and I was just hoping that it would be a good day for all my landings. Despite the direct crosswind, we were going to flying to Erie (EIK) and practice all landings there, where the wind was almost perfectly down the runway. This way I wouldn't have to worry about a crosswind and a shortfield landing combination, which might have spelled busted check ride.

The preflight question and answer session went well, and the only thing that was noticed was a slightly low front tire. The air tank for the tire pump was completely depressurized and wouldn't work, so the chief decided to continue with the flight with one change. This turned out to be the biggest blessing of the day, as shortfield landings were ruled out and we would only practice softfield landings and takeoffs. So now my biggest concern of the flight was just taken off the menu and we hopped in the plane. A quick radio and brake check and we taxied to the run up area for the final checks before takeoff.

Before you even conduct the run up, you set the instruments to make sure everything looks good for the run up checks. It was at this point it became extremely obvious that things didn't look right. The attitude indicator was cocked 5 degrees to the left and was limping along. We could continue the flight without it, but it's a pretty key instrument when it comes to making a few of the maneuvers, especially steep turns. The flight was pretty much done at that point and we started looking around and noticed that none of the vacuum instruments looked good and the suction gauge was maxed out, meaning no suction. All signs pointed to a vacuum failure. The plane was most definitely still flyable, but not in a position to be taken on a check flight. It was a quick taxi back to parking and that was it.

So my free pass on shortfield landings had expired and the check ride was rescheduled for Monday morning at 8.00. Hopefully the winds will be favorable or nonexistent, and nerves will be at a minimum. I'm a bit worried about not having flown in almost a week, but I'll give it my best shot and see what happens.



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