Big Day

Big Day

Visibility: almost unlimited
Temperature: 14°C
QNH: 1020hPa
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: MD3 Rider (D-MALJ)

I’m up early. I did not sleep well, woke up several times. I’m nervous. Yesterday I spent three hours at the flight school drinking coffee and listening to the rain. It should have been my practice run but we stayed on the ground. “I’m sure it’s gonna be okay” says the teacher. I don’t feel well prepared.

My wife tries to calm me down over breakfast. I look at the sky. It is completely over cast but it looks light. Without a reference it is very difficult to tell how high the clouds are. I need 2,000 feet, more would be better.

On the way to the airport I watch an airliner turn into the final approach of the near by commercial airport. I know that it is flying in the controlled airspace “charly” which is above 2,500 feet here. The large jet is not even close to the clouds. One less thing to worry about.

I’m at the airport very early. Watching as an early pilot gets his Cessna ready, I look at the sky. The sun is dyeing the clouds orange. It looks pretty together with the light blue patches in between.

The secretary of the flight school arrives and the office smells of coffee. I fire up the computer to start with my flight preparations. At least this I practiced yesterday. The weather data of the GAFOR system looks promising. Except for the wind direction. ‘VRB’ (variable) means that I have no direction to put into the flight plan. So I can not compensate for the wind. 10 knots is not too bad, though.

The examiner arrives just as I’m getting the flight plan ready. I like him. He was also the examiner for the theory class last year. He is very experienced and very calm. He radiates calm – just what I need now!

Three out of five

We chat for a few moments until the mechanic comes in to tell us that the aircraft is ready. The first part of the test is precision landings. I have five tries to get three right. I tell the examiner that I did not practice yesterday because of the weather and that I would like to fly two patterns before we get startet. He smiles in a friendly way and says I should not bother but start with the precision landings right away.

I do a slow and thorough pre flight check. The examiner is watching me and I comment on every check item as the flight instructor has taught me to do. We taxi out to the runway. The examiner gets out to watch my landings from the side of the runway. I am cleared for take-off and bring the aircraft in position on the center line. 1,200 meters of runway in front of me with a slight slope. My hand is shaking when I let go of the yoke. Come on, get a grip, you can do this!

A precision landing is an emergency landing exercise. You fly over the threshold of the runway at 2,000 feet. Then you pull the engine to idle and fly a full circle in order to arrive at the threshold and touch-down within a 150 meter area. I begin the first one and come in too high. My circle was not wide enough and I am still at a comfortable altitude over the landing area. I push the throttle forward and go around. One out of five.

On the second attempt I talk to myself loudly. I call out altitudes and way points. I come in too high again. I can safely get the aircraft on the ground now but I am way out of the 150 meter area. So I go around again. Strike two, now it has to work.

The talking to myself helps. I remember my altitudes from the last round and fly a wider circle. At 700 feet I set the flaps to 15° and slip a few moments to loose more altitude. During the flare, shortly before touch-down, I cross the middle marker of the landing area. I force Lima Juliet to sit down and turn the left over kinetic energy into squeaking rubber. Not cat like but within the landing area. I’m getting calmer.

Turn number four, I am actually a bit low. The flight instructor told me before, that I can cheat a little by giving the engine just a half a turn of power to slow down the descent. As long as I don’t gain altitude again, the examiner would not be able to tell from the tower. My examiner is not on the tower but right next to the runway. So much for cheating. I set the flaps late and actually make a respectable landing.

Number five is actually good. I break and stop the aircraft on the runway. I close my eyes for a second and take a deep breath. On to the second part.

The examiner gets on board and we take-off for the second part of the test. Now I go on course 121 on the first leg of my prepared rout. On the way the examiner asks me to perform several maneuvers. A “flat 8″ were I do two circles and should arrive back at the staring point. Rolling the aircraft from one side to the other around the center line.

“Keep in mind, the nearest exit might be behind you…”

Just after crossing a near by airport, he pulls the engine to idle to simulate an engine failure. I push the nose down to control the speed and then turn back to the airport behind us. Examiners love to I see whether the examinees are looking for an empty field ahead or if they remember the safety of a nice and plane runway just behind them. I was prepared for this, he can not fool me. A few minutes later we simulate landing on a field. I set full flaps in order to be as slow as possible on touch-down. It feels as if someone is holding the aircraft by the tail. Just before I am able to identify what is growing below us, he tells me to go. We scare a few cows as the engine screams to life.

A moment later he does catch me off guard by asking which air space is above us and at what altitude. I blank and fight with the map for a bit before I can give the answer.

I keep talking as I was told by my instructor. I volunteer possible emergency landing areas, tell were the wind is coming from and comment on the engine readings. The examiner does not say much. I know it is the way he is and it actually calms me down.

“Please stay seated until the aircraft has come to a complete stop”

The trip is meant to take just over 30 minutes but by the time we are approaching Strausberg again, almost one hour has elapsed. All the drills and emergency landings take time.

The landing is acceptable and we taxi back to the apron. I carefully follow the shut-down check list. Then I fill in the log book. “So, what do you think?” asks the examiner. I decide to take the bull by the horns and say “I thought it was okay.” He smiles and shakes my hand “I though so too. Congratulations.”

To be continued…


(originally posted on April 16, 2011 by tilbo at

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