It’s 6am on a dark Tuesday morning. I sip the bland coffee I bought from the donut place, wince at the taste, and get back to my flight log. Having just called to get a weather briefing, I rotate the whiz wheel every which way, computing my wind correction angles, estimated ground speeds and fuel burns.
I didn’t sleep well at all the night before, the stress in my head about the words “mock checkride” causing my tossing and turning. The wrench in my stomach is either pre-flight stress or the bad coffee, it doesn’t really matter which.
The plan for the morning was to fly up to Santa Rosa with my instructor, and go through the motions of an actual check-ride, in order to evaluate my readiness for the real deal with a Designated Pilot Examiner.
Waiting for the fuel truck on the green ramp, I run across the tarmac to empty the coffee from my bladder one last time before we leave. After 737GM (Ugly Duckling) moved up north, I had been flying 738VU which during my last lesson took 2.5 pilots to start properly. I decided that I’d try out 733PV for the flight to Santa Rosa, and likely my checkride some time after.
Packed into the cockpit, I start the airplane on the second attempt and receive my taxi clearance. Turning left out of the parking space and into the sun, I realize I left my sunglasses in the car.
On my night cross country I requested a straight-out-departure into Oakland’s Class Charlie airspace. At the time my instructor remarked “they never allow straight out departures from Hayward.”
Being a doe-eyed student pilot, I call up Hayward Tower:
“Hayward Tower, Skyhawk Seven-three-three Papa-victor holding short of Two- eight right, requesting straight-out departure”
“Skyhawk 733PV, Hayward Tower, straight-out departure approved for runway 28R”
The right seat was a bit surprised with the clearance, but happy to have it as it would cut more time off the trip en-route, allowing us more time to maneuver in Santa Rosa.
Closing in on Santa Rosa, I’m informed that there’s a balloon a couple miles north of the field. “Weird” is my initial thought until my eyes lock onto a hot air balloon hovering 50ft off the ground. Neither my instructor nor myself have shared airspace with a hot air balloon, but not one to miss an opportunity to quiz me he asks “who has the right of way?”
The hot air balloon.
The first landing is a smooth soft-field landing on my side (left) of the runway. As the nose settles onto the runway, I confirm that we’re performing a touch-and-go.
Carb heat, flaps, trim, max power; back into the air.
Another soft-field landing, followed by a touch-and-go and we depart the airport to do some manuevers to the west. Having recently conquered my apprehension/fear of power-on turning stalls, performing those to the right seat’s satisfaction wsa easy. A power-off stall followed, which by Practical Test Standards (PTS) is a bit trickier as the pilot is expected to maintain a heading +/- 10 degrees during the manuever.
We continued with a few other standard VFR pilot exercises before I was diverted to Sonoma Skypark, a little uncontrolled airport on the way south from Santa Rosa. While I fussed around with my charts, looking out the window to try to ascertain which road I was over to figure out what my instructor wanted to know: time, heading and fuel burn to get there.
“Use all available resources” he suggests over the intercom. I fumble about a bit more, so he repeats his hint: “use all available resources.”
Oh right! This plane has a GPS unit installed. I put the airport code directly into the GPS unit, and let the computer calculate the time and distance en route, along my ground speed, leaving me to calculate our fuel burn for the diversion.
The runway is 40ft wide at Sonoma Skypark, a smaller runway than I have ever landed on. The right seat requests a short-field landing as we enter the downwind leg.
My first approach, I’m fast and high, two things you definitely don’t want in a short-field. Go-around.
Second approach, I’m less-high, and less-fast, but still too much to avoid floating in ground-effect for what seemed like half the runway, before I decided to abort the landing and go-around. I was close to putting the wheels down, but I was much more worried about the amount of runway I had eaten up.
Next circuit, I start to get my speed under control earlier, float a bit before finally settling down onto the runway, and start braking. Stopped on the runway, I prepare for a true short field take-off, staring down the big tree at the end of the runway.
Near max power, I release the brakes and the plane starts barrelling down the runway. I anxiously switch from looking at the airspeed indicator and the tree at the end of the runway. At 59 knots I start pulling the yoke and maintain a ~60 knot climb (short-field climb) until at least 200ft.
My palms are a bit sweaty from the take-off.
On the last circuit, my speed is under control, my descent reasonable but I flare too abruptly, ballooning slightly and then I let the plane fall down with a mild jolt onto the mains before braking. Short-field doesn’t have to be soft, it just needs to be short, mission accomplished.
Another short-field take-off and we’re in the air heading down towards Hayward.
The right seat has a hard(ish) stop at 10am, and was only able to squeeze this flight in because we started at 6:30am. Overflying Novato he requests “maximum forward speed” which is pilot speak for “burn fuel and haul ass.” The GPS indicates roughly 120 knots over the ground at 2500rpm. I request clearance through Oakland Charlie airspace again, receive it, and over the San Pablo Bay we’re screaming along 2000ft above the water.
As we’re handed off to Oakland Tower, my instructor holds up his hand to indicate that he’s going to take this radio call.
“Hey how’s it going?”
“Heeyyy, not that bad man.”
Aeronautical terminology goes out the window when the frequency is quiet and a friend is working the other end of the radio.
After a brief conversation about how the Federal shutdown is affecting the FAA-employed controllers, we catch sight of Hayward and are handed off to Hayward Tower.
A well executed (finally!) short-field landing later, we taxi off the runway and to parking. Mock checkride completed.
My performance was satisfactory enough to where my instructor and I scheduled my official checkride on October 24th.
Between now and then there’s a lot of nights studying and a few more practice flights to go before my instructor and I pile back into 733PV and fly up to Santa Rosa again. Hopefully the return flight won’t be piloted by a student pilot but rather an FAA-certificated VFR pilot.