A pilot certificate is just a license to learn.
When you’re doing your initial training, that must seem like a foreign concept. Those guys and gals who have completed initial training and have certificates must know something, right? Well, of course they do. But you’ll be surprised at how much each additional rating shows you what you don’t know about flying. And how much you’ll want to go learn that stuff!
I try to practice what I preach. After the instrument rating, I began a quest to visit as many corners of the aviation envelope as I could find. And there are plenty! Multi-engine aircraft. Seaplanes. Flying upside down. For several years, I didn’t need to get a flight review because a new certificate or rating resets the clock on flight reviews. In fact, I went months at a time carrying a paper temporary certificate for this or that because the plastic certificates couldn’t keep up.
It’s not that I gave that up. I shot a movie about aerobatics, got more involved in CAP, and flew competition aerobatics myself. But I hadn’t gotten a new rating in some time.
If you’d asked me in March if I thought that I’d be a commercial pilot now (and in gliders no less), I’d have chuckled at you. But here I am, one of the nation’s newest commercial pilots. I went in for the checkride on June 26 at Livingston County Airport (KOZW) near Howell, Michigan. I felt ready. I got through the three-hour oral with the authority of a Navy Chief. I flew the first 90% of the practical test like a champ, including shutting down the engine in flight (required for the ride when you’re doing your ride in a motorglider – don’t try this with your average single-engine airplane) and getting a restart. Then we came back in to the airport for the landings. I needed to do a no-spoiler landing, a precision landing, and an emergency abort.
Long story short, I failed the no-spoiler landing by coming in way too high and way too fast and I blew by the imaginary fence at the second turnoff. End of checkride. My first time ever hooking any checkride unless you count that instrument stage check way back in 2005 or so.
Kerry Brown was the FAA designated examiner. He gave a really fair ride and seemed more disappointed than I was that I hooked it. But he invited me to get a little remedial instruction and come back to polish off the ride.
I’ve long said that there’s no shame in hooking a ride. The penalty is that you have to go out and fly more. Oh, no! Please don’t throw me in that briar patch! But now I had the opportunity to actually see how well I’d live by those words.
My trusty instructor, John Harte, and I banged out five landings on the trip home. I then did a fair amount of flying, some of it in formation on the way to the Battle Creek airshow and around the field when the box was closed. (The formation stuff is worth an entirely separate post. It’s amazing. It turns out that I can do it reasonably well. And, if you’ve never arrived at your favorite airshow in a three-ship formation and done an overhead break to land in front of a crowd line that you used to occupy as a spectator, it’ll peel the top right off your head with pride.)
On July 12, flew back to KOZW to meet again with the designated examiner, Kerry Brown. I banged out eight landings before rolling to the ramp, gassing up, and loading in Kerry.
The additional training helped a great deal. I was a lot more graceful and steady on the slip in to the no-spoiler landing. I nailed the emergency abort, even though it took a couple of S-turns to be sure of landing with enough room to roll out comfortably. I shut the engine down downwind abeam (again: don’t try this at home other than in a motorglider) slipped a little on base and final, touched down, put the speed brakes away, brought the tail back up, and coasted into the 100-foot zone with Kerry’s voice in my ears congratulating me on my new commercial pilot certificate.
Flying continues to have the ability to baffle, surprise, challenge, and inspire any human. I can say that after 370 or so hours and a more varied logbook than most pilots have after more than 1,000 hours. Even airline drivers with 10,000+ hours will tell you exactly the same thing. Heck, I’m pretty sure that astronauts will say the same.
If you’re a primary student (and, if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you are), the things that you’re working on might be different from what I’m working on. But we’re both working just as hard. My stuff is just as new to me as your stuff is to you. And that’s the way it should always be.
Been slogging into the parking lot lately after training sessions wondering if you’ll ever figure out when to flare? I hear you. You should have been there with me in the TG-7A a quarter mile out and 800 feet up wondering how I was going to get the aircraft down and stopped before that second turnoff. I was at least as confounded as you.
But I have a new commercial pilot certificate in my pocket right now. And you’ll soon have a private or sport pilot certificate in yours. Days like the one on which I had my first phase of the commercial ride are inevitable. They happen. It’s what you do with a setback like that when it confronts you.
A pilot certificate is just a license to learn. A rough patch on your path is par for the course. If you don’t have rough patches, you’re not trying hard enough or getting the most important stuff out of this experience. And rough patches make days like July 12 all the more worthwhile.