Today I took (and passed) my skills test!
The week started with days of very low visibility and low cloud, so I wasn’t hopeful, but yesterday the forecast was looking very positive, and thankfully it proved correct.
I’d been given the route the evening before so I was able to do my planning etc, and put the winds in and grab NOTAMs etc in the morning before heading in. I got to the airfield nice and early, and as I had a bit of time before the examiner arrived I checked out the aircraft so any issues could be dealt with early, and got it fully fuelled. I then did the necessary weight and balance and performance calculations (we don’t normally do these as with two people it’s essentially impossible to go outside of limits, and if the Cambridge runway were to be a limiting factor something is going very wrong, but it is a test requirement to demonstrate I can do them).
When the examiner arrived, we had a briefing where he went through the various sections of the test explaining what he would be asking me to do, outlined who was responsible for what in each stage (broadly speaking I was responsible for everything, except navigation while doing the general handling etc, and lookout while we did the simulated instrument flight), explained the possible outcomes of the test (pass, partial or fail), explained that in general I was to treat him as if he were a passenger, except in the event of a real emergency when he would most likely take control.
After that he had a quick glance at my weight and balance etc, and we then went through the club out brief prior to heading out to the aircraft. I offered to give a passenger briefing but this wasn’t needed, which avoided me having to feel very stupid telling someone who clearly knows it all already etc!
At that point, it was just a normal departure – due to the wind runway 05 was in use (we normally use 23 as that’s favoured by the prevailing wind), so it meant a long taxy along the grass to the holding point for the other end of the runway – at least it gave the engine a chance to warm up so avoided a long wait.
The takeoff was normal, so then it was just a case of heading to Point Alpha (a name the club has given to a road junction as it looks from above a bit like the symbol for alpha). Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m not used to doing it to from 05, and so started to get a bit concerned as I couldn’t locate it at first. I’d deliberately avoided turning towards where it should be until I was beyond the city, and then when I did I’d hidden it under the nose of the aircraft – once I’d found it, it was a case of turning onto heading, and informing the examiner the heading, speed and altitude I intended to fly the leg at, and once I’d calculated it an ETA at the first waypoint (I’m deliberately not giving the route as there are other people taking tests soon and the examiner might use the same one).
The first leg went well, I had to nominate a new altitude a couple of times so I could climb / descend to avoid a few clouds, but everything appeared when and where I expected it. Also along the way I changed from talking to Cambridge Approach to London Information, as we would be heading outside of Cambridge’s coverage.
I arrived at the first waypoint about 30 seconds ahead of my ETA, at which point I turned onto my next heading. This leg would take me very close to another aerodrome’s ATZ (Aerodrome Traffic Zone) – while I was at an altitude such that I would have been above it, from an airmanship point of view I gave them a call to inform them, and find out if there was any other known traffic.
Once clear, I switched back to London Information (in the debrief afterwards the examiner suggested that I might have been better to go to another aerodome’s approach frequency instead). The examiner asked me to identify a small town/village out to our side, which I (eventually – there weren’t many unique features!) did, and he then asked me to plan a diversion from this location to another.
I drew a line on my chart, and estimated a heading and distance. I then turned onto it, informed the examiner of the heading, and once I’d estimated it gave him an ETA. I chose a point about half way to check how I was doing – I was a little bit off track once it came into view, so I adjusted my heading to compensate and informed the examiner of the change.
The destination (which as a small airfield) came into view a little to my right, and after verifying it was the correct location, I headed for it, arriving almost exactly on my ETA, which was nice.
At this stage the examiner became responsible for navigation, and we started the air work. We went through the various exercises, which in general all went very well. The ones I was most worried about were the steep turns and the PFL – the level steep turns were fine, though my descending turn I did end up with the speed starting to get away from me a bit, but the examiner was happy enough with it. The PFL was made quite easy as we started it from around 4000′ (giving more glide time to make decisions etc), and there was a field perfectly shaped and oriented into wind that I could see. I ended up a little high as I approached (something I have a tendency to do, though this is better than too low!) and had to do some S turns, but the examiner was happy we would have got into it safely.
On the climbout we then did a simulated EFATO (Engine Failure At TakeOff), which was fine. At this point it was time to head back to Cambridge for the circuits.
The field came into sight nice and early, and I requested and was given a left base join, which saved some time. The circuits went very well, with two of the landings being some of my best ever. On the glide circuit (which was to land) I ended up a little high (as I mentioned, I have a tendency to do this!), but nothing that a couple of S turns couldn’t sort out. It was then just a case of taxying back in, and going in to get the good news and fill out all the paperwork.
I was a little dehydrated by the end, but overall I was very happy with the flight – the only part I knew I could do significantly better was the descending steep turn. Once the CFI gets back into the club (which should be on Monday) I need to get various bits of paperwork sorted out and signed, and then send it all off to the CAA in order to get my license. In the meantime I can fly solo with an instructors authorisation, but I can’t take any passengers until the license comes through and I have it in my hand.
As you would expect I’m very happy at the moment (in a similar way to my first solo I’ve not been able to remove the grin from my face yet) – I’ve booked my first solo slot for Sunday morning, so weather permitting I’ll have a bit of a bimble in the local area etc.