Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Anyone can blow a flight test. Oh, I know it.

It was 1998 and I had just moved to Goderich, Ontario to take a job flying C-GPAA, a sweet B-58 Baron. (I haven't written about the move, and I'll do that later)

A Pilot Proficiency Check (PPC) ride is a lot like a driver's test - you take up a designated inspector (depending on the sophistication of your operation it could be a government inspector or an employee of the company you work for who has completed a special training course) and run through a standard set of exercises to show them that you probably wouldn't kill yourself if something went wrong whilst you were in the air with paying customers.

It's the subject of a lot of concern and stress by commercial pilots, 'cause it's composed of about a thousand little tasks that you have to do correctly, and if you screw any of them up, you fail the ride. As an added bonus, if you do fail your check ride, you lose your instrument rating, meaning you can't fly in bad weather until successfully complete another check-ride.

Remember that most planes run on a mixture of fuel, paperwork and pilot ego, and you'll see how importantly this figures in a professional pilot's life.

I flew from Goderich to Hamilton in PAA, landed, and taxied over to the Transport Canada building. I went upstairs to the main offices and checked in, telling them I was ready to conduct my previously arranged checkride. My inspector that day was Len "The Hammer" K., a Transport Canada inspector who put me at ease initially by saying "I hate doing checkrides on light twin aircraft, they are unsafe".

Yup, no stress at all.

I'm not going to bother detailing the specific exercises in a checkride right now, as it's enough material for an entire post, so I'll skip to the important part:

We were nearly done the checkride, and were down to the last two exercises. I had done great up until then, but The Hammer continued to scowl and my nerves were raw.

I was told to conduct a holding exercise, which basically assumes that landing traffic is backed up at the airport, so Air Traffic Control wants to put you somewhere and let you fly in circles until the traffic backlog has cleared up and you can get in sequence for landing.

I flew to my designated navigation fix, which also just happened to be a waypoint used to line up with the landing runway, and I was nervously flying in a racetrack pattern, basically orbiting the naviation fix.

Allow me to illustrate:

I have pretty sweet MSpaint skills, I know. But you get the idea. The black dot is the navigation fix, and the arrows show the path of a standard hold, which is a right turn. The runway is at the far left.

The point of the exercise was to see if I could align myself with the fix correctly, and if I could stay aligned with it while I went around and around in circles. I was doing fine, so The Hammer told me to do another circle and then line up for landing on the runway which we were aligned on.

And then I had a mental short-circuit, and turned the wrong way. I had been making right turns up until that point, and this time I found myself turning to the left, which completely screwed up my alignment with the runway, and even worse, was an automatic fail. I realised what I had done around the same time The Hammer told me to forget about the rest of the flight test and to land.

So this is what I did rather than just continuing to turn right:

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

We walked across the ramp to the Transport Canada building, and went to a room to debrief. I felt lower than a snake belly, and even worse when he asked for my licence and wrote "SUSPENDED" in big letters across the part of my licence that listed my Instrument Rating.

It was a good thing the weather was good on the flight home, as I had been stripped of my priviledge to fly in clouds.

So what did I do about it? I'll talk about that in my next post.


jennifer said...

AHHHHHHHhhhh...memories...Len the Hammer K.....heh. Who knew that we would meet yet another 'hammer' later on that would put that one to shame. ;)

Aviatrix said...

I wouldn't have thought that one wrong turn in a hold was an automatic fail. I figure as long as you remain within protected airspace, you're good.

Oh and I salute your MS Paint skills. Perhaps next time I have to explain something I'll try to compete.