Cloud License, Part II

The good, the bad, the ugly.

The bad:

I failed the first time around. The oral portion, about which I was most nervous, went surprisingly well. A few ding ups here and there, but my stage check oral (the Parks version of the FAA) prepared me very well. Examiners can smell bullshit a mile away, even if you sound confident about your answer. And my examiner was straightforward. “No it’s not,” he said when I gave a completely made up answer.

The flight was going well. We got vectors for the ILS into Alton, and the airplane quickly got in front of me. Approach plate on my lap, I tuned in and intercepted the localizer— tower told me to report at the outer marker. At the last moment, I realized that I didn’t overlay the approach in the GPS. While not necessary for the approach, the GPS not only gave me situational awareness, it displayed the intersections (essentially the outer marker where I needed to report) along the approach. I was cleared to land by tower, but I knew I messed up— I forgot to report. The examiner told me to turn left and climb; he told tower that we were departing to the south. He explained my error and gave me the option of continuing the rest of flight. I decided to continue, so I didn’t have to do the rest of the flight the next time.

For the first 10 minutes after the flight, I was ready to change my major and call it quits with flying. But then, I thought, what the hell would I do? I couldn’t answer the question, other than writing, and even that doesn’t trip my trigger as much as defying gravity. I’m in it for the long haul— the ups and the downs. (Puns are rampant).

The good:

The follow up flight was amazing. I executed all three approaches with finesse and thoughtfulness. I was very calm and relaxed. I’m not a good test taker to begin with, so any hype dramatically decreases my effective operation. Note the Yerkes-Dodson law of arousal and performance: the one time you play the piano in front of three people, and you fumble, not remembering a single note.

I found out that failing a checkride isn’t uncommon and is not the end of the world. Many airline pilots have failed, and they are regarded as competent pilots— the beauty is in the resilience to accept the failure and prepare to pass with flying colors the next time. I have many people to thank for their support, most importantly my mom, Delia, and my previous flight instructor Sara.

Now I can fly through clouds by myself, save for the fact that Parks’ Diamonds aren’t rated for instrument flight conditions; the carbon fiber builds up static electricity and is at risk for electric discharge. It’s really a great feature when we’re trying to learn how to fly. sarcasm.

The ugly:

Actually, there was no ugly. I looked damn good for each flight, as per usual. Who says Gap khakis from Goodwill can’t look good? And for three dollars, one can’t go wrong (except for the fact that, before washing the garment, I found an Adderall pill in the pocket. I can’t help but wonder if I disrupted a drug deal).

Overall, what did I learn? In the wise, comforting words of Delia, “Lick your wounds.” I did, and I moved on, and most importantly— I passed.

I may now, in fact, have my head “in the clouds.”

Cloud License, Part I

Coffee, as per usual

Tomorrow is the big day. Everything since January leads to this moment— my Instrument checkride. There are two portions to the test, and oral portion and flying portion. When obtaining a rating or certificate in aviation, there are two segments: the knowledge test and practical test. I equate it with a driver’s license— one takes a written test and then drives with an examiner, except that it’s like the officer grills you on every area before you start driving.

I’m nervous. I’ve been studying, but I don’t know that I feel confident. On the collegiate level, I passed both the oral and flight portions, but by the skin of my teeth. It’s not hard flying, and the key to success is multitasking to keep yourself ahead of the aircraft. What will I do next? What will I do after that? Then what?

The examiner has a website with detailed instructions and a layout of what he may ask— word of mouth suggests that he is very laid back and reasonable, but one must know their stuff. Chair flying and reviewing procedures will help me with the flight portion, and studying the FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual), Instrument Flying Handbook, and an oral prep guide. It’s very technical information with numbers and acronyms, wherein I fall short— while my mind is keen to these concepts, I consider myself artsy and flowery, not by the book and precise. This type of flying requires precision.

My friend, Stephen, dubbed this rating my “cloud license,” because it allows for a pilot to fly solely by the reference of instruments in clouds or extremely low visibility. The human brain can be fooled easily when it can’t see anything but a white shroud— not to mention that it’s attempting to maneuver a hunk of aluminum at more than 100 miles an hour. Flights are conducted with radar vectors, radio navigational aids, and GPS, culminating with an approach to the airport that brings the aircraft down to an altitude, hopefully, below the clouds to see the runway environment. If not, the pilot executes a “missed approach” and either circles in the sky until the weather clears up a bit or goes to an alternate airport with better conditions or a more precise approach.

This does no justice as to how thick this book actually is.

My instructors say that I know my stuff, but I need to spend time with it. What happens to me in the airplane is that tasks pile up, and I fall behind— then everything needs to be done all at once, and I become flustered. During training, specifically with our aircraft that can’t go into the clouds (ironic? No. Poor planning on behalf of my university), we aren’t “in the soup” or in the clouds, so there is no real imminent doom if I don’t have my ducks in a row— but I’m usually under foggles, a view limiting device that simulates actual instrument meteorological conditions; to me, it is real.

Around the airport, it is said that if one passes the stage check performed by the school, it is almost guaranteed that one will pass the FAA test. I’m skeptical.

My yogic mind needs to incorporate what I do on the mat and what happens in the airplane— thoroughly think about each action, perform, and react without judgment.

As long as I breathe and remain calm, I think I’ve got this. Excuse me while I envelop myself in the specifics.