Saturday January 25th 2003, 3:30pm, N4754D, 1.3H

So its been a week since my last flight. I was given another reschedule date of Friday January 31st for my checkride. However, I was supposed to be away on business that week so I moved it to the next available date on February 10th. Then, my trip got pushed out a week, so yesterday I left an apologetic message with the Examiner asking for the January 31st date again. He called this morning and confirmed next Friday was fine. I hadn’t planned to fly this weekend (at least not as a pilot, I was supposed to on a plane to the Philippines). But with the checkride in six days I want one last practice, as luck would have it Grainne was scheduled with two other students today and had another open slot at 3:30pm.

So (hopefully) my last flight before checkride. I wanted to practice some landings and ground reference. So we headed off to the south. The visibility was terrible, I was feeling rushed having setup this flight at the last minute and then having to drive like the devil to get here on time. I climbed up to 4000’ and the haze just seemed to get worse as I went up. Even though I’ve flown over this area many times, for the first time I felt confused as to where I was. The restricted ground visibility, the low sun in the west (it was about 4pm by this time) just made everything look strange. There was a freeway right below me, but it didn’t seem to match any freeway I knew and was in the “wrong” place to be highway 101. It was really quite disconcerting. So instead of leveling off at 4000’ and neatly setting the plane up for cruise I got distracted trying to figure out where I was. Grainne brought me back to my senses by gently reminding me not to red-line the engine. I had let the plane get into a dive on full power, the tach was over 2600 RPM (redline is 2700), the airspeed was north of 120 KIAS in the yellow arc and we were back at 3500’. All this because I was distracted by the view outside. Pretty f**king stupid for someone supposed to be ready for his checkride. I leveled off at 3500’ and continued on passed South County to get to the nice open fields around Frazier Lake. We did a nice leisurely descent down to 1000’ and went looking for the wind. As is typical down here there was a wind blowing down runway 32 at South County but it appeared to be blowing in exactly the opposite direction just 5 miles further south. So I found a tree, made a 180 turn to enter downwind losing 200’ in the process which I had to gain back as I started circling my chosen tree. By about half way round I had the altitude and airspeed under control again and we made two circuits that were reasonable. Actually, they feel pretty good when you fly them, its only looking at the GPS ground track later that you realize the imperfections – thankfully there is no instant GPS replay on the checkride!

Then it was off to South County to practice some landings again. We did four landings, two short, one without flaps and one soft. We were doing touch and goes. When I do T&G’s with Grainne she takes care of the flaps and confirms they are up, I not allowed to do T&Gs solo so there’s no risk I’ll mess up on my own (like forgetting the flaps and trying to takeoff). So as we land Grainne says do a soft field takeoff. About halfway down the runway I figure out that the main wheels are still on the ground because I don’t have the recommended 10 degrees of flaps to get up into ground effect. Grainne put them all the way up. The Cessna 172 will eventually climb into ground effect without flaps, but your airspeed will be almost up to normal rotation speed anyway by this point. So I lowered the nose, got 55 KIAS and took off normally. All the landings were fair, none were great.

We had a nice uneventful trip back to RHV, the visibility had cleared up a bit, we could just make out the VASI in RHV 6 miles out in the haze. I’d been given a straight in approach to 31L and Grainne asked for a short-field landing “on the numbers”. This landing was simply picture perfect, I swooped in with full flaps, did one of those flares that feels like a bird landing (just one long continuous pull on the yoke, no round-out or float). I planted the wheels right on the middle of the numbers and it only took light breaking to get off on taxiway bravo (the very first exit after the threshold). A great high note to end my last flight before checkride.