My flight test was scheduled for 9am this morning. But last night I got a call from Drew asking if I'd be able to push that back. The weather forecast didn't look promising--rain and low clouds. So we pushed back until 1pm. I was glad to do it. It gave me an extra 3-4 hours of study time.


I spent the rest of the night brushing up all the seemingly endless facts, figures, rules, regulations, charts, checklists, and random stuff that I'm supposed to know. I tried to focus on what I expected the examiner to ask, but didn't want to skew my studying too much.

I got up this morning at 6:30am to finish studying and grab all the necessary weather info before heading down to Hollister. At 9:00am I was re-reviewing all applicable sections of FAR part 91. When 10:15am rolled around, I hopped over to the National Weather Service's Aviation Weather site to get the necessary info. I then called to talk with a weather briefer and updated my cross-country plan. The clouds over the Santa Clara Valley (and south to Hollister) were likely to be at 4,000 feet. Those over the hills near Los Banos (my destination airport) were likely at 6,000.

I drove to Hollister, arriving at roughly 12:15. I noticed that the clouds looked a bit lower than expected but there were large blue holes, so the flights ought to be good. But the cross-country plan wouldn't work because of the low clouds over the mountain.

I met up with Drew to get started. After he unlocked the supply shed, I asked if the nose wheel on glider 64E was fixed. He forgot but called Haven to come take care of it. In the meantime, I checked out the maintenance records for the glider so that I'd be able to show Dave (the FAA examiner) when the last 100-hour inspection had been performed, as well as the last annual inspection.

Then I inspected the tow rope, put a battery in the glider, and was just about to start my pre-flight when I saw someone walking over. I introduced myself and found that it was Dave. He was 30 minutes early. I had planned to re-review a few more things before he arrived, but that went out the window.

I told him I needed a good 10-15 minutes to do my pre-flight and that I'd come grab him to help with the positive control check.

I did a careful pre-flight inspection and Dave wandered over just about the time I needed him. We did the positive control check. Haven began working on the nose wheel while Dave and I walked back to the classroom to do the necessary paperwork and then he'd start with the oral test.

The Oral Test

Rather than simply quiz me, we had a conversation. He started by asking me about the weather and how it might affect us today. We talked about the 10-15 knot headwind and how it ruled out a downwind landing after a simulated rope break. (I made a mental note that he'd probably pull the rope around 400-600 AGL and expect me to land on 31.)

He then asked about my cross-country planning and the weather. We looked at the X-C profile I had done. I then suggested looking at the sectional chart to see the landmarks. He said that we should look at the sectional but for other reasons. He then asked me to find a particular airport and tell him everything I could based on what the sectional said. No problem. He then asked about glider towing in class C airspace. We then talked a bit about oxygen use.

After a bit more chatting, he said "Okay, let's go fly."

I was surprised. We hadn't been talking more than 10 minutes. 15 if you include the paperwork. I expected it to go quite a bit longer than that. He never even asked to see the weight & balance I prepared. (I asked him later and he just wanted to know that I had done it.)

The Flight Test

After a fit with the radio (I had to switch batteries), we pulled the glider out to runway 24 and prepared for launch. Dave didn't want a seatbelt briefing. He hopped in and strapped himself in. I adjusted things up front and went thru my checklist. Haven hooked us up and I had the canopy closed in short order. I explained my emergency plans in case of a rope break. I made one last scan for traffic and asked him if he saw anyone. No traffic.

Haven helped us launch. The first few hundred feet were normal. I called out my landing sites and as we climbed. I really expected him to pull the rope around 600 feet, but we just kept going. After we hit 1,000 feet, he told me to drop down to low tow when I was comfortable. Unfortunately, it was getting really bumpy. Lots of thermals.

Before we launched, I had explained that I flew mostly in the AM and had very limited thermaling experience. It showed. We got bumped around a bit and I was sloppy. But not too sloppy.

I got us down to low tow and flew half a box. He asked me to stop after I was half done. I then asked the tow plane for a 180 degree turn to avoid some clouds. After a couple more turns (and bumps), Dave asked me to tell the tow pilot to level off at 3,000 feet. We did. He then told me to release.

We could have gone much higher, so I wasn't sure what Dave was thinking. Maybe he wanted to do multiple flights?

He asked for a full forward stall. No problem. I cleared the air and performed the stall. Next was a full turning stall with a recovery in the turn. No problem.

I was expecting him to ask for slow flight and some precision turns. Instead, he said "let's see how you thermal." I chuckled, knowing that it'd probably suck, and headed toward some cumulus clouds. I found lift several times but couldn't quite center it. I kept ending up in sink.

After a few minutes of that, I noticed that our altitude was approaching 2,000 feet and we were a good 4 miles from my patter entry point. And I was on the opposite side of the airport. Not wanting to cross over the field (there were other folks taking off). I told him that my plan was to fly the long way around and fly a slightly abbreviated pattern. We were low but not low enough to worry yet.

While flying over what's normally the downwind and base legs for runway 31, I found lift. I slowed down and just flew through it. That got us a good mile or two closer with minimal altitude lost. Roughly 1 mile from my entry point, we were at 1,500 feet and I was just about to make start my landing checklist, and enter the pattern. But we hit some strong lift, so I turned and caught some of it. After one circle, I continued on into the pattern.

The wind felt like it was blowing 20 knots or so. I angled toward runway 31 and flew roughly parallel to it on my crosswind leg. Turning downwind, I announced my position and we really picked up ground speed. Before I knew it, I was making a base or almost base-to-final turn. Once on final and flying into the wind, I popped the airbrakes a bit to get us on a reasonable glide slope.

As we got closer, I made some adjustments to get us centered and aimed for the right spot. Dave hadn't said anything for the last 4-5 minutes, so I was wondering what he was thinking. I was wondering if he'd seen something he didn't like. Or maybe he'd just ask me for a second flight to get the maneuvers that we hadn't done on this flight.

Crossing the fence, our position was good--a bit off center. I centered us and adjusted our decent a bit. We touched down right on target! I've never made a zone landing that well before. As soon as he touched the ground, I was about to engage the wheelbrake so we'd stop in the designated area. Dave said, "let it roll... let's just take it back to the parking area. It's clear that you'd have stopped in time." That confused me a bit. If he wanted to park the glider, that means no more flights. I assumed I had done something wrong and had failed the test. But I had no idea what it was.

Once we stopped, I opened the canopy and he said, "it's too windy for a rope break with downwind landing today, so let's just call this your checkride." That took a few seconds to sink it.

I had passed!!!

We pulled the glider over to the tie-down area. He told me that he'd go inside to start the paperwork while I tied it up. Haven came over to congratulate me. He said something like, "Dave usually knows in the first few minutes whether he's going to pass you or not."


I went back to the classroom. He had just finished with my temporary airman certificate. He asked me to look it over and confirm that he'd copied the information correctly. He had.

We then talked for a few minutes about my (non-)thermaling and how the wind made the landing easier.

That was it. Game over. He left. I packed up, paid my bill, and headed home very happy.

Posted by jzawodn at March 20, 2003 05:52 PM

Reader Comments
# Kalyan Varma said:

Congrats dude.

You've been waiting for this for a while now... so now comes the real question.. when are you taking me on a ride ;)

on March 20, 2003 09:49 PM
# funjon said:

Congrats, man. I saw your pictures from your flight the other day and all I can say is, you lucky dog. Makes me want to move back to Sillyfornia.

Yahoo! hiring? :)

on March 22, 2003 08:46 PM
# Gerald Clark said:

Welcome aboard.
I got my PPL - Glider
three years ago. I am 51 now.
I wish I had done it when I was
in highschool.

on March 24, 2003 01:58 PM
# Mike G said:

Congrats Z!!! I can't wait to get my license... If I'm out in CA I'll have to hit you up for a ride. :-)


on March 25, 2003 12:26 PM
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