One of my favorite aviation sayings is “you start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.”
Despite all your training and preparation, luck is still plays a role in aviation. I now know this for certain.
When we last left off I had failed a single task on my private pilot’s checkride. On the way home from Santa Rosa, I performed a couple landings at Gnoss Field for my instructor, proving that I could actually enter a pattern correctly. With that demonstrated he was clear to call and set up my re-take.
I had made a plane reservation for Saturday morning to fly somewhere and get lunch with a friend, but with my checkride failure that wasn’t happening. I decided I still wanted to fly and get some manuevers and pattern work done.
Going through the usual pre-flight, and engine start checklists at a leisurely place, I was in a genuinely good mood. Sure I didn’t have my pilot’s license, but I knew I could fly. A soft-field take-off later, and I was headed towards Mount Diablo.
After departing Hayward’s airspace, I called up NorCal Approach to receive traffic advisory service while in the practice area. A habit I formed early on in my solo work, without the help of a set of instructor’s eyes, I will pick up a squawk code to make sure I don’t miss anything in my traffic scan.
I’m verbalizing the exercises aloud, as if I’m both the instructor and student. “Alright, show me some slow-flight” “Okay, clearing the area” and so on. Accidentally keying the mic or having a stuck mic would be quite embarrassing during my airwork.
I performed some stall recoveries, steep turns, and then decided that I was bored and wanted to head over to Livermore.
I’m on the 45 to enter the right pattern for 25R, but i’m too high. Reaching into my bag of tricks I start performing S-turns to shed more altitude over a shorter distance. Closing in on the field i have a thousand feet left to go so I transition into a full forward slip, using the plane as a big 40 year old air brake.
At pattern altitude I key the mic: “Livermore Tower, Seven-three-three Papa- victor, I’d like Two-five Left if possible.” Like Hayward, Livermore has two parallel runways, 25R is the big long runway, 25L is the smaller runway for little guys like me.
“733PV, Livermore Tower, approved as requested, extend downwind for landing traffic, I’ll call your base”
Within a few minutes I’m rolling to a stop on 25L and taxiing off. I taxi back and hold short of 25L. While holding the controller screws up a radio transmission, corrects it and then says “yep, saturday mornings huh?” with a laugh in his voice.
I call Tower from my position: “Livermore Tower, Skyhawk 733PV, holding short of 25L, requesting left-crosswind-traffic”
I sit for a second, then realize I screwed up my radio transmission too.
“733PV holding short of 25L for left closed traffic, saturday mornings.”
The controller chuckles on his transmission and clears me for take-off.
I continued to do pattern work at Livermore, on one circuit, a Bonanza was entering a right base for 25R from the south, while i’m in my downwind. Tower informs me of my company, which when I look over, is a mile or so off my 1 o’clock.
I continue through my pre-landing checklist. The Bonanza and I both turn base at just about the same time, then turn final about the same time. After my wheels touch town, turn off carb heat, flaps up, trim set for take-off and execute my touch-and-go.
At about 500ft above the ground, I key the mic and say “733PV, that’s the closest I’m going to get to formation for quite a while!”
Tower chimes in with “it was pretty though.”
I love friendly controllers, then make things so much more enjoyable.
Another circuit, and I depart the pattern and head back to Hayward, where I land and shut down the plane.
Still in a good mood from earlier, I head home for a relaxing Saturday afternoon.
Later in the day, I get a phone call from my instructor right after I finish mowing the grass.
“Hey, Steve [examiner] is going to be in Oakland picking up his wife at the airport, how would you like to get your pilot’s license today?”
What a silly question! Of course! I hurry to pack everything up, and book it to Hayward.
The way the checkride works, is that there is a long list of tasks I need to perform for the examiner, if you fail a task (like I did), the examiner can ask if you’d like to continue. If you continue, you can gain credit for all the tasks you correctly perform.
I had one task left.
Upon his arrival at the California Airways office, we both started doing our respective paper work for the re-take. Everything squared away, we head down to the plane. He sits patiently in the plane while I pre-flight.
Engine started, I call up Hayward Ground and we get moving.
Unlike last time around, I’m feeling much better, far less stressed. After taking off, I take the liberty of explaining some of the flight plan “So, we’re going to climb initially to about 1000ft until we’re abeam Lake Chabot” “Why’s that?” he asks, in a way to where I can’t tell if he knows and is quizzing me, or if he’s genuinely curious. “Oakland’s Class is at 1500ft until about there”
“Good man” he responds and then continues silently looking out the window.
Once I demonstrate to him that I’m not a nitwit, he says “alright, let’s go back to Hayward.” Not one to complain, I oblige and start preparing for our return. A side effect of having far less stress, I’m feeling more “explanitory.” I explain to him the route we’re going to take, why it’s not direct over the hills, etc.
I’m treating him more like an inquisitive passenger, than an examiner.
Heading back into Hayward, the setting sun is directly above the field, making it hard to see. I hold onto some altitude until I can clearly see it, starting my final approach at about 900ft and about 3 miles out.
“We’re a bit high, I kept some altitude until I could see the field. I can fix too high, it’s better than too low.”
Over the mall we’re at about 60 knots, and I go to full flaps to steepen our descent.
The sun is setting over Hayward when the mains gently chirp on touch down.
I taxi back to parking, shut down the plane and shake his hand.
A little over a year ago I took my instructory flight, where I was lucky enough to get paired with my instructor. Throughout the duration of my flight training, I’ve also been quite lucky that my wife hasn’t scrutinized the amount of money I’ve spent in pursuit of wings.
I demonstrated my abilities as a private pilot, late one Saturday afternoon, thanks to a bit of lucky scheduling.