Beyond Flying Lessons
Ready for Testing
When testing for your pilot's license, you want your first attempt to be the best. But sometimes you learn more than you bargained for in the process.
Working and studying hard during my nine months of flight training in a small Cessna 152, I made the usual trials and tribulations one experiences in the flight training process. The instructor would always pass on to me, "Don't ever do this" type of advice. He would explain that loss of power while being too low, long, or slow on a final landing approach was a very bad situation that needed to be avoided at all cost. Explaining that the consequences were crashing short of the end of the runway.
After making it through all the written and medical exams. I performed all the required flight time in navigation, takeoffs-landings, rules and regulations. Ready now, I was anxious to finish up with my practical F.A.A. flight exam.
Learning to Fly
Practical flight testing is performed with a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. The man that appeared that morning at the flight office looked as if he could have just stepped out of a WWII P-51. He had sharp blue eyes with a rock solid air of confidence. Dressed casually in his leather flight jacket and looking more like an indifferent passenger than an inspector. It was at this point I realized that he was just an observer and that I should forget about getting any fatherly advice from this man.
My pre-flight planning and preparation went well; we got into the plane with barely any conversation. I missed the occasional tips and hints that would come from my instructor, and this inspector was testing my confidence levels with his silence.
Once we took off, I made a slight error by leaving the radio audio slightly low. The tower had to call two times before I caught the error, but the inspector caught it with a disapproving nod. We did a short navigation trip with maneuvers then returned to the airport to do some touch and go's. The first landing was good. The second loop was OK, but the landing was a bumpy one. I felt like things were going fairly well, and I could now feel the license ticket in my hand.
But on the third and last loop I went long on downwind, the inspector pulls the engine power and says "You have to make the field with a simulation engine out!" No, the inspector is not crazy for pulling the power, he is testing my ability to resolve a crisis situation.
I could hear my instructor's voice chiding me "Don't ever do this! You should never be long on final approach." My palms started sweating. I turn to base leg, then turn to final, not enough altitude, OK, stretch it out but keep it safe. Still not enough altitude! The inspector remains eerily quiet during my dilemma. Runway is still one-quarter mile away! Flaps are at the best glide. Heart pounding, Runway is still 800 feet away, air speed is good but I don't dare go too close to the stall speed. Time just crawls by, the runway 400 feet away and altitude is only 60 feet above the ground. Runway now 200 feet away, I am torn with trying to fix a really bad situation in order to pass my test or to put on the power and remove the problem for safety sake and fail my test.
Just Save the Situation
That's It, put on the power and be safe! I applied slightly more power just to get us over the runway threshold. The inspector snaps, "What are you doing?" I yelled, "I didn't think that I could make it!" Shoot, I am done now; I blew it. I continued to land, the air now tainted with that cold chill of failure and the inspector's ever present silence mocking me.
After landing, we went back into the office; convinced that this was a wasted day, my license delayed to some other decade.
Later, the inspector explained to me you should never be long and low on a final approach. Although he was pleased to see how I took the initiative to correct a perceived safety hazard. He explained that I didn't yet have enough experience to realize I could have made it to the runway after all. With that, he handed me my certificate and said I would be a safe pilot. My spirits soared, I was elated. But I vowed after that day, doing what is safe is always the best alternative, especially in an airplane.