Practice Flight Test

I wanted to report on my most recent aeronautical activity, the Practice Flight Test.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have completed the syllabus and all required hours for both solo and dual flying.  The next thing to get done was a Practice session where we could go through all of the elements of the test without the pressure.  Because each lesson as you go though builds on the previous, you don’t realise just how much information has been stored away – and now you have to recall, demonstrate, and explain ALL OF IT.

So it is nice that there is a practice run – would have been nice when I was learning to drive if there had been a trial run with the examiner before the Real Thing.

It is not a huge exaggeration to say I have thought of almost nothing else for the last few weeks other than preparation for this.  I have gone over old lessons, watched as many videos as I can, brushed up on all the rules and regulations and radio calls.  I have pored over maps and charts, I have made laminated checklists.  I have talked to other people, studied the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the plane, and made every quiet moment an opportunity to mentally walk through everything from the preflight inspection to the circuit work and training area exercises.  I bought a nifty pilot’s watch.

So you would think that this should just be a nice breezy run-through, maybe a chance to solidify and streamline my processes.

So I got up on Sunday after a nice sleep in, made sure I had a good lunch, spent a little more time going over things and left A WHOLE HOUR EARLY.  So naturally, when I turn onto Church Street in Parramatta I find that the police have barricaded it off and all traffic is detoured onto a side street.

Of course from where I am to where I am going, everything more or less funnels though there and no matter which side road I took or which labyrinthine path I tried to snake my way around on, I found that it eventually led back to the same path.

Nigel, our beloved but dysfunctional GPS unit, was of no help as he just wanted to take u-turns every 5 seconds in a desperate attempt to get me exactly where I didn’t want to go.

So I flew out of Parramatta and hit the highway up to Silverwater then back across, putting me 30 minutes and several km’s out of my way.

I was so frustrated and flustered when I got there, I was beginning to have doubts I should even go through with it.

But what a calming ritual is the Preflight Inspection   Something about methodically just going through a checklist that starts to pull the mind right back into the headspace it needs to be in.

The taxi and runup checks went very well, and before long I was ready to line up.  Brett asked for a Short Field takeoff, which means that I need to taxi as far to the very beginning of the runway as possible (even though this looks ridiculous at Bankstown’s 1km+ sealed runways).  Ding number 1, I felt a little rushed due to a plane behind me at the holding point, so didn’t inch right up to the edge up the asphalt.

The plan was to head straight into the training area straight off of runway 29R.  Crossing the railroad tracks to the west and climbing to 2500′ (straight into the sun) the most immense, other-worldly smoke cloud hovered over the entire area we were aiming for.  It must have stretched from Camden to Richmond!

No worries, we just diverted to the south part of the training area… but scratch about 90% of my mental walk-throughs, now I was literally doing all this for the first time!

As we settled into our altitude of 3500′, I felt the calm returning to me and though I had already a few things rattling my cage, I was able to pull off all the climbing, straight and level, descending, turns, high-speed, low-speed, radio work, checklists, stalls, wing drops, and steep turns he asked for.  In fact, my highlight of the day is Brett saying my steep turns were some of the best he’d ever seen!

So here is where things started to sag… right about the parts I thought surely I would ace – Practice Forced Landings and Circuits.

Now… if you have been paying attention, or know me at all, you will know that I have been doing circuits for what I feel is a disproportionately long time.  Such is the price of training in spare time and being subject to things like weather and budget…. you have to spend a bit of time each lesson getting back to where you left last time.

I thought I was past that since I have been making such great progress, finished up my solo time, and prepared so well.

Though I *knew* what to do, and had all my checklists handy, I found myself crowding the circuit, coming in too high, too fast, sloppy with my procedures – in short, I was fried.

But I think this is what happens when you get flustered – all available mental capacity is used up trying to concentrate on the things that are more difficult, and the things you had hoped would be second nature/muscle memory just… aren’t.

I have a theory on this – an epiphany perhaps?  So let’s say there were what – 4 or 5 things that flustered, rattled, or frustrated me from beginning to end?  OK so for argument’s sake let’s say that now I have used up 20% of my mental capacity just dealing with that – that leaves me 80% to work with.

Now in the process, I mentioned things that I found calming, and I think I have always assumed that if you calm yourself down in this way, it gives you back that 20% – I mean, I’m not still thinking about it am I?

So here is my theory, and I’ll need to keep it in mind for the future – I don’t think that the calming moments actually gave me back the 20%… I think it just gets filtered out as background noise and resets the level – so now 20 is the new 0… but guess what, I still have only 80% to work with…

So to make a long story short, Brett has marked me as “competent” to attempt the test on all of the stuff I stressed over – stalls, steep turns, training area stuff and has sentenced me to “remedial” work on the things I thought I knew like the back of my hand.  My actual test is scheduled for Saturday June 1st, and more than likely we will spend the first part of it doing circuits until he is comfortable that I am competent before hopefully getting stuck into it.

I hope that I have been able to analyse accurately how this happened to me – I know what I missed, but the important thing is “why” since I shouldn’t have – this will be key in preventing it from happening again.

Fingers crossed the next post will contain some good news!


Well, This is Cool…

Now that I have worked my way through the syllabus, racked up enough dual and solo hours, the next step is to take a practice Flight Test.  In fact, CFI Brett emailed me last night to see if I wanted to schedule the flight for 1500 on the 19th of May, so not this Sunday but next.


Or course I said, “hell yeah!” so now I will need to really study up on all the finer points.  I feel pretty comfortable with flying so that is one worry out of the way.  Main points to focus on are:

  • Departure to the training area
  • Steep turns
  • Stalls
  • Practice Forced Landings
  • Arrival from the training area
  • Flapless circuit
  • Normal circuit
  • Go around
  • Glide circuit
  • Short Field Takeoff and Land (STOL) circuit

…and of course, the million-and-one details that comprise each.

However, as it turns out, it is well-within the rules to have any reference materials I need with me so you can bet I will be putting together a handy reference sheet for all of the little reminders I might need (laminated of course)… nothing too detailed, but perhaps some of the acronyms, radio call reminders, transponder codes, etc…  As well as a chart of the area so I don’t get lost on the way back, which could be embarrassing…

Presuming I do well on that, then the next flight could very well be my Certificate flight test!

It.  Better.  Not.  Rain.