Sep 27 2009

Flight Training Is Over…

I’ve passed the PPL flight test this week. Interesting feeling – tired and annoyed, happy and pissed, with a strong desire to quit… You really have to get enough of the flight training business to bring yourself up to the flight test standards. If your daddy’s rich and you don’t need to work – things can definitely go smoother. Otherwise the torture extends. But anyway, I am glad that it’s done now.

Interestingly, the test itself resulted to be fun! I have learned a great deal while talking to the examiner – luckily this guy was open to questions and provided me with excellent feedback. If the idea of “learning something new during the exam” sounds strange to you, think again. Are you sure you really know everything your flight examiner will ask you?

In my case, the most interesting things were totally out of the book syllabus. For example, I was trained to dip to the runway immediately after clearing the obstacle – which could have failed me immediately. I was also taught to build the route with checkpoints every 10 miles or so, flying at about 3500 feet – this was laughed at by examiner and a productive discussion about how to make navigation fun and safe followed. In the air, I quickly discover that maneuvers could be combined, not displayed in sequence. The “Training Manual” precautionary landing procedure was simply ignored in favor of doing the things realistically – and it cost me a lot to switch my mind and try to do the best right in the air, unaware till the last moment…

I mean, we are supposed to know a lot. But complete lack of emphasizes on the critical things results in a huge pile of information garbage accumulated in our brains. We memorize and forcefully implant in our mind tons of curious details, skipping or barely mentioning the really important ones. Sometimes taking them for granted – like the time to maintenance written on the dispatch board. Sometimes seriously believing that knowledge of the airway width is as important as knowledge of which three mandatory weights should be used in the W&B calculation.

Think about it. The student really has no exact idea of what the examiner will ask him. We really try our best to discover this beforehand! We query those who passed about the questions they were asked. We try to get some information from our instructors – freaking them away because now they believe we are not ready for the test. Every question to another student results in us trying to learn something we think we were missing. Every question to the instructor ends up in the frantic order to “study more”, followed by a nice add-on measures like flying some extra hours.

The only thing we really need to know is what exactly is expected from us. Which errors are critical and which will be barely noticed by an examiner. What will fail the test and what will only result in a side comment? And guess what – only the Class 1 instructor, who actually exam people can help you with this. Is your instructor a Class 1? No? Go get one and make him fly a mock-up flight test with you. This would be enlightening, guaranteed 100%!

There is also a huge confusion about flying solo. While a good confidence builder, it is actually a huge negative in a sense of flight training. You just learn a lot of mistakes. You think you know something, then you go dual and find out that your money was spent learning bullshit. So don’t fly more than mandatory hours, concentrate on going dual and draining your instructor out of hints and information! You will have enough time to fly solo later on. It is just fun, barely useful after the initial 3-4 hours of discovery.

Maybe the most important advice I can give you based on my own experience, is – fly the day before you go to the exam. Do it with Class 1 instructor and ensure you are really good. Use the same plane, same POH, memorize only the mandatory information and know as much as possible about the subjects you’d be asked for. Ignore, disregard, and just skip anything else! It is better to be solid in all critical moments and pass for sure, than have in your head a lot of fun stuff but be nervous and full of fear for the unknown. Trust me, I was nervous as hell and managed to spoil the things I never do wrong while calm. And I do know a shitload of stuff, but skipped quite a bit of crucial items. This could have been easily prevented, knowing in advance and in detail what I understand now, post-factum.

Go prepared, know your future, relax and enjoy. Flying is fun, even after those painful hours of training. Here’s one more freebie – a little checklist of things to prepare for the flight test. Based on the Cessna 150/152 numbers, please ensure that you’ve been using those from the POH of the plane you’ll fly during the exam. Good luck!