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Private Pilot, Training

Ups and Downs

July 27th, 2014

Total Hours: 26.2

Another intense week wrapped up. It started easily enough because I took Sunday and Monday off to give the brain a little chance to catch up. That’s one thing I’m learning quickly; no matter how much I might want to keep grinding away at maneuvers the mind and body just need a break sometimes. I’ve been trying to compare this to climbing. When I worked a really hard route I just wanted to keep going at it, but I learned that a little break often paid big dividends when I finally returned. The thing is that when I’m out climbing I reach a definitive point where my muscles just won’t pull anymore. In the helicopter I could keep going and going, even if it isn’t getting me anywhere. I’m sure I will develop the awareness to know when I need a break. All in time I guess, just like everything else in this endeavor.

I returned to school on Tuesday hoping to see some payoff from my leisurely repose. But Tuesday the weather was uncooperative and we only got a half-hour of flying in. It was still worth it though because I had a chance to see what flying in the rain is like. What surprised me was just how much my depth perception was thrown off. First I was hovering a couple of feet higher than normal and then I overcompensated on the takeoff and ran the skids within a foot or less of the taxiway. A couple trips around the pattern gave me a good sense of what to expect but once my instructor and I started getting soaked (we fly doors off all the time) we decided to call it. Wednesday brought some mechanical issues and there was no flying that day either. Now I was really chomping at the bit, which I suspect is just where one wants to be when it comes to learning new skills.

Thursday was a good day of flying. My instructor and I covered almost all the maneuvers that I’ve learned thus far and I did well on each one. Not perfect, but I’m learning to live with that…for now. In addition to the flying my instructor had me take the pre-solo test. It was a bit harder than I expected but I felt good about the majority of it and we covered the areas that gave me trouble afterward. My instructor decided that the next day I should have my stage one checkout. You might remember how I explained the stages of the Part 141 curriculum, but to recap, there are three stages of ground and flight for the Private certificate. I’ve just about finished all three ground stages but the first flight stage is quite intensive and has been taking some time. At the end of stage one flight the student is ready to solo.

As you can imagine any student has come a long way from day one to the point that she is ready to solo. There is so much to learn; mechanical knowledge, emergency procedures, radio communications, familiarity with the airport environment, and of course the maneuvers. Because of the seriousness of allowing a student to take his fist solo the school wants to make absolutely sure that he is ready. That’s why there is all the testing and even a mini-checkride with an assistant chief pilot. I flew Friday morning with my instructor in a sort of pre-checkride outing. Everything was looking good and I felt nervous, but ready. Not that anything was really riding on this checkout; I just wanted to do it well. Surprised?

And I wish I could say that I crushed it, but unfortunately that was not the case. I’ll spoil the ending by saying that I did get my checkout, I just didn’t perform nearly as well as I wanted. In fact I felt it was one of my worse displays of flying since I started. Why did I do so poorly? Well of course there were the nerves. But I learned another lesson from my experience as well. The interesting thing is that as structured as Part 141 is each instructor has their own way of wanting things done. Almost every time I’ve flown a five-hour check I’ve performed at least one maneuver just the way I’d learned only to be told that they wanted it done differently. As frustrating as this is it is also an important learning tool. Being shown different ways to approach a maneuver is a good thing. One day when I become an instructor I’ll have my own way of teaching and evaluating students and it will come from each of the experiences I’ve had along the way.

Now I’m sure some want to know exactly what happened. The first thing the assistant chief did was quiz me on the questions I’d had trouble with on the pre-solo quiz. Thankfully I had taken it on my own initiative to go over them the night before so I did pretty well with his questions but I still fumbled around more than I would have liked. Then he asked if I had a weight and balance sheet. Nope! It may be different at other schools but we are always so far within the weight and balance limits that we don’t routinely do them and I didn’t know I was supposed to. Then we headed out for the flight portion of the checkout. Another routine, not taking fuel samples unless it’s the first flight of the day, bit me on the pre-flight. When I picked the aircraft off the ground in a two-step pickup (that wasn’t too pretty) I was told that I am supposed to lift off in one continuous motion. On the takeoff he gave me a solid piece of advice about holding takeoff power with the collective and being easier on the initial cyclic movement. That was something I’d gotten lazy about so I needed the reminder. My first approach was terrible. I came up two hundred feet short of the intended spot. While my approaches still need work I can’t remember the last time I came up that short. I don’t even know what happened.

On the next takeoff roll he called out, “Quick stop!” I had always done the quick stop maneuver by starting a normal takeoff, climbing to 50 feet AGL, leveling off, and then performing the maneuver. We might have been 15 feet off the ground. I didn’t know if I was supposed to stop right away or if I should climb and perform the maneuver like I normally do. A few seconds spent wondering and then half committing to both options I didn’t even come close to pulling either one off. By now I was feeling decidedly off my game. The following approach came up every bit as short as the first one. My final approach was at least decent and I did fine answering his emergency procedures questions. I even caught the low rotor RPM far before it dropped out of the green. But the final blow was performing simulated engine failures. Again my technique was not the one he wanted to see. And so in the end it was a humbling experience. As I said he passed me and even said that I am doing just fine for the amount of experience I have. All I could think is, “I wish you could see how well I can actually fly.”

The real takeaway from this experience is that I need to be better prepared when I fly with a new instructor, especially for any kind of checkout. I believe that the real reason they make each of these stage checks so hard is that they want the real checkride, the one that will earn you a certificate, to have no surprises and hopefully feel easy. They want students to feel prepared for anything. And I’m confident that when the time comes I will be. The other thing I’ve learned is that I should probably take things a little less seriously. I don’t mean this in the literal sense, I simply mean that I know I can’t perform my best when I put too much pressure on myself. Stay relaxed…and that’s exactly what my instructor is always telling me!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


2 thoughts on “Ups and Downs

  1. Orin, I felt nervous for you as I read about your simulated checkout flight. I think you’re right in believing that they want these to be harder than the real checkout flight.
    I’m curious about why rain affects your depth perception. I would never have anticipated that. Do you have any idea why that’s the case?


    Posted by David | August 18, 2014, 07:27
    • The stage checks continue to make me nervous, but I’m getting a lot better at handling them. Just another skill I have to develop as part of my training.

      As for the rain, I don’t have an exact answer but I do have an idea. I think that the multiple raindrops on the windshield cause the eye to focus at that close distance instead of further outside. That changes the perspective and throws things off. I have since learned during my night flying that it doesn’t take much to throw off my normal references!


      Posted by Orin Bakal-Molnar | August 18, 2014, 11:50

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