After a few weeks of nerve-wracking delays, the day was finally here. Of course, in true Jack style, Murphy was with me from the moment I woke up with heavy rain, gale force winds and dangerous storms predicted.
Driving to Gil Layt’s Flying School, I was far from optimistic about my chances of getting aloft. The rain hadn’t eased for most of the morning and visibility was low at best. Not being 100% sure of what was in store for me, I headed in to meet with the instructor that would be taking my test. The CASA approved testing officer at Gil Layt’s is Steve, the CFI. I have had a few lessons with Steve and have a fairly good relationship with him. I was nearly overcome with nerves walking in to the flying school and made small talk with Gil to try and calm them.
After organising some paperwork, Steve summoned me to follow him through to the end briefing room. We started to go through some pre-test information, which I thought was general discussion. Little did I know it was a test! Steve gave me multiple performance and loading charts to work out and hit me with general knowledge questions to ensure I knew what I was talking about. To help better paint a picture of my experience, imagine hammering rain, nearby lightning strikes and intermittent loss of power, just to make things more interesting.
On completion, Steve seemed quite happy with my performance.. so far! After staring at the sky for what seemed like an eternity and making weather forecast predictions based on little more than a wet finger in the air, we decided to accept defeat for the moment and reassess the situation a little later in the day.
A quick whopper and onion rings later, a call from Steve confirmed we were back on. Let’s give it a go and see how far we get. With not much time to do my standard checks and preparation, I wasn’t off to the best start. But this was only the beginning, things were about to get a lot more interesting.
While taxiing out to runway 10R, the ATC kindly advised that the tower had lost power and they were expecting to lose radio communications within the half hour. Great! This meant that on our return, we would most likely be under CTAF (Common traffic advisory frequency) operations. Not only did I skip that part of the textbook (the chances of needing it at a towered airport didn’t rank it that high on my list of things to do), but the one time I need the information is during one of the most important tests in my career. Yep, Murphy was definitely coming along for the ride.
I decided to take Robert’s advice and not get caught up on things beyond my control or things that I stuff up. Just move on and focus on the present. Whilst I know the entire flight is a test (communications, airmanship, etc.) Steve certainly didn’t waste any time getting started on the actual test items. First test – do a short field take off and then depart to the east. No worries, short field never really presented an issue for me. So I headed east and maintained 1000 feet as instructed. I knew where we were headed (thanks Robert), so I had a little time to prepare myself. Arriving over Panniken Island, Steve positioned the plane ready for a precautionary search and simulated landing. Two laps and a pretend landing later, Steve was happy enough to call it a success and move on to the next manoeuvre. Climbing to 1500 feet and heading back over the mainland, Steve had me put on the hood for a dose of instrument work. Straight and level, climbing, descending, turning, climbing and turning and descending and turning. After about 10 minutes, it was all over, another success and voila! We were just east of Park Ridge and ready for a forced landing. Procedurally, Steve and I were both fairly happy. In practice however, Steve was far from impressed. Arriving a little high, I performed some tight figure 8’s to lose some height. Whilst I would have made the landing, Steve informed me that someone of my experience shouldn’t be trying such risky manoeuvres at only 1000 feet off the ground. Instead, I should have stayed true and used a fist full of flap. Lesson learned!
Next, we headed out toward Jimboomba for some more advanced flying. My stalls were good and my steep turns weren’t perfect, but good enough. Flying back to Archerfield for some circuits, I listened to the ATIS which confirmed that Archerfield was under CTAF operations. Great! Knowing that I didn’t have a good understanding of what needed to be done, Steve helped me out and gave me a lesson on CTAF at the same time. Lucky he’s a good bloke. Others may not have been so kind.
On arrival at the airport, normal operations commenced and the mayhem began to ease. Which really was a great relief. From 1500 feet, Steve asked me to slip the plane down to land in a flapless configuration. Steve was very impressed! Textbook he said. If only the rest of the test followed the same trend. Next up, glide approaches and short field landings. Oh my, what a disaster! Most of what I thought I knew and had practised turned out to be somewhat incorrect. At this point, any confidence I had left was deflated and I saw passing a somewhat impossible task. Again, taking Robert’s advice, I tried to put it behind me and concentrate on doing the best I could with what I had left. After a few tries at the short field landing, Steve was happy enough to finish the test.
After stopping the prop, Steve gave me a small debrief in the plane. At this point, I was mentally exhausted and a little overcome with emotion (not in girly way, of course). I think it was mainly disappointment in myself. When you put everything you’ve got into something and dedicate your life to it, criticism is hard to take. Steve was great though, he gave me pointers on where I could improve and congratulated me on things well done. I’m being quite hard on myself, really, the only thing that I stuffed up was the glide approach and short field landing.
After putting the plane to bed, we headed back in to the office and Steve informed Gil that I had passed! Yay! What a relief!
After completing an endless amount of paperwork, it finally started to sink in. I’ve passed! Another great milestone complete and the first chapter of my flying complete. I can’t wait for what is to come.