Would You Believe 3 Check Rides?

The weather here hasn’t been very nice this week, but forecasts for today look favorable. I head out to play ultimate optimistic that things will work out pretty well.

The game was fun, though perhaps a bit sad also. A lot of our crew has been playing together for nearly a decade and we have a blast getting together and running out some of the workday tensions. One of our longtime players is leaving the lab and going into industry. I made this move myself nearly seven years ago, but managed to work close enough that I could still get out for most games. Since his job is downtown Chicago and in finance, he’s not going to have that luxury. We’ll miss him.

Getting back home the cleaning ladies are working, so I sit in my office venting my post-workout odors into the air and talking with some folks at client site over skype. I also notice that the weather isn’t improving as much as I hoped it would. It’s still flyable, 2,200 foot ceilings, but we won’t be able to do stalls if that remains the case. When I spoke with my flight instructor a few days ago he mentioned wanting to do some stalls. I did just finish my instrument rating, perhaps he’ll be fine without doing that.

I arrive at the airport and look down the ramp only to see a guy that looks a lot like my flight instructor getting out of a car way down the flight line. Looking quizzically at our hanger I notice that the club lock is missing and realize that perhaps this plan has been moved since last I flew it. So I jump back in the car and drive down the ramp to see what’s up. Sure enough, we’ve moved again.

Sometime last summer the hanger this plane used to be in got badly wind damaged and the airport authority moved us to another location. I’m not sure what precipitated the latest move. The new hanger looks identical to the one in which we had occupied. Echo 3. Now I need to remember we are in Echo 3. 3SP is in Echo 3. The 3′s should make it easier to remember.

We open the hanger door and I do a pre-flight. As usual everything is right with the plane. We have a great club and members leave things in good shape without exception. When we took this plane for three weeks last summer it took us a couple hours to clean things up when we were done, but we left things at least as clean as we found them at the end of the day.

I start the engine and we’re off.

This is my third check ride in four flights. The first was to get my instrument rating. Then Beth, my mom and I flew down to Macomb to visit Sarah at university. I had another check ride in Addison, TX in order to be able to rent planes from the FBO in the area. If I pass, this flight will give me the right to use club planes for another six months. Look, I know the expression is “a good pilot is always learning”, but really. At some point I need a chance to use the training somehow other than just convincing people that I’m not going to bend their planes.

Being the pioneers we are, we head west. Well, I suppose it’s a combination of the pioneering spirit and that heading east would have us flying over O’Hare.

We fumble our way through the GPS and approaches. I’m convinced that the GPS and the autopilot are feuding spouses. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get the autopilot to follow the magenta line, but nothing has thus far worked. Without that working we rotate the heading bug around and sort of convince things to work. The plane initially turns to the heading bug, then realizes that’s not where it wants to be and turns back toward the GPS track. I will put out a request for help on the club Facebook page when I get back.

Then the fun begins. The winds today are brisk from 290 at 14 gusting 20. I’m on approach for runway 20. This is good because it makes the math easy. 29-20 = 9. So the winds are exactly 90 degrees across the runway. The 14 number is measured at the ground, in the air it looks like the winds are more like 30. Which is to say the plane is significantly crabbed in order to stay on the centerline of the runway.

Runway 20 has a little farmhouse at the approach end. It’s weird. There isn’t a lot else out there, it’s almost like the owner of the farm and the airport designer were enemies, so the designer decided to put the flight path directly over the farmers house. I fly over the house in a 25 degree crab and right on the approach path. At that point we’re probably about 300 feet above the house. Power is low and things are quiet. I can imagine sitting at the window watching the planes come in. When the wind is coming from the north and people are flying over at full power as they take off it might be less entertaining.

As we descend the gusts become more obvious. They weren’t really that apparent in the air, so perhaps it is really only gusting in the bottom 100 feet. I start to slide the power out, but catch the airspeed falling more quickly than usual and add a bit back in. We coast in a bit lower over the threshold than I might have preferred and hit a little rise as we do so. I edge the power the rest of the way out and we slowly sink onto the runway for a firm touchdown.

Then it’s flaps up, power up and we’re off into the sky again.

On the way back my flight instructor does the standard “oops, looks like your engine failed” as he retards the throttle.

Ok, this one is easy. I run this drill all the time as I fly. I learned it as the ABCDs.

A: Airspeed for best glide.
B: Best field for a landing.
C: Engine fail checklist. In this plane we check the fuel tanks, check the mix, check the throttle, check the mags.
D: Declare an emergency. 7700 on the transponder and talk to tower. If they don’t respond try 121.5.
s: Secure the airplane on final approach. We open the doors, turn off the fuel and power down the electronics.

Done working the list we’re a bit high on our approach. This is a good place to be. It’s always possible to lose altitude in a hurry, but without an engine you can’t get it back. So, I add a bit of a slip to put the brakes on and we descend to a freshly plowed field with the grooves pointing into the wind. CFI says he’s happy, so I’m happy. Full power, remove the flaps and we’re climbing once again.

I fly us east for a while and soon enough we’re parked on the ramp and I’m signed off for another six months.

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