Today was my stage II checkride. Like the stage I check this is 2 hours oral test and then 2 hours flight test. The focus this time is on cross-country work, weather and decision making. Its not really a test, but its organized the same way as the FAA checkride so that your first time flying with a stranger isn’t when its the FAA examiner. We had a hard time finding a senior CFI to do the checkride, but Grainne set it up with a part time instructor called Todd Shara. Todd is an Air Transport Pilot flying for Sky West which does short haul commuter flights in California. Grainne had told me to prepare a flight plan to Fresno and to have all the weight and balance calculations done. I like to have the AOPA airport directory pages in my kneeboard and I’d managed to forget to print out the ones I needed on Friday, so I headed into work early printed the diagrams I needed for Fresno and some other airports along the way. I also got the DUATS briefing and completed the flight calculations. I managed to get all this done and get to RHV for 9am – It was an early start and I arrived just a couple of minutes late. Todd was waiting for me, he is a big fresh faced guy, quiet spoken.
The oral test went well. We started with the route I’d picked out which was basically a straight line from RHV to FAT. Todd had a problem with simply flying over the mountains to the east of San Jose, firstly would the plane climb fast enough to clear the 3500’ peaks and the fact that there is no place to land if the engine quits. He would have chosen to fly south to Frazier Lake and then follow highway 152 into the central valley. He asked me various questions about the airspace along the route, how I’d get information on weather, how I’d find the frequency for Air Traffic Control. He had a bunch of what if questions, like “What if you’re at Los Banos and Oakland Radio tells you that the Bay Area is fogged in from Oakland to Hollister, good night”, answer go land somewhere like Merced and stay the night. We went through the Sectional making sure I could read the airport information, VOR info etc. The test was supposed to take two hours, we finished in a little over one. The plane wasn’t back so we just chatted while we waited for it to arrive.
The pre-flight and taxi went well, I didn’t forget anything. I had some problems with the run-up, the left magneto was really rough. Like I’d been shown I ran the engine up to 2200 RPM for 10 seconds to burn off any carbon deposits, when that didn’t work I tried full power for 20 seconds. That still didn’t work so Todd showed me a trick, you lean the engine (adjusting the mixture to get max RPM) and then let it run there for about 30 seconds. This makes it run hot – its not recommended but better than grounding the plane for a bad magneto when in fact the plugs are just a little fouled. This did the trick and we were ready for takeoff. I did a fine short field takeoff and downwind departure.
The first checkpoint was the Top of Climb, we hit it 2 minutes late, but within the spec. (inside 5 minutes) and leveled off at 5500’. I established the plane in cruise and finished the checklist and then got the Salinas VOR tuned in and identified as I planned to use a radial to confirm my next checkpoint. At this point Todd tells me to divert to Salinas – I’m thinking this is too easy, I’ve just setup the VOR so the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) will tell me the distance and time to the VOR for free. Todd realizes this just about the same time I do and says, “Wait, Salinas just shut down, divert to Monterey”. We had talked about my one trip into class C (on the night flight to San Jose International) and Todd decided this would be a great opportunity to get some more class C experience with Monterey. The weather was perfect, I could see all the way to the coast out to the Monterey Peninsula so pointing the plane in the right direction was pretty easy. Still, I remembered to note the time, got a new heading worked out (195), measured the distance on the chart (45 nm), used the E6B to calculate an ETE (24 minutes) & ETA (12:22) and worked out the fuel in my head (3.5 gallons). However, I forgot to change my altitude for the new heading, Todd reminded me and I descended to 4500’. Then he had me try and look up the AFD to find out whatever I could about Monterey (I hadn’t anticipated Monterey ahead of time so I didn’t have the AOPA directory sheet in my knee board folder). I managed to get the various frequencies, runway lengths and pattern altitude, but it was messy trying to read the book and fly the plane at the same time. We discussed how to get into Monterey class C, I knew about calling up Monterey Approach, but I wasn’t sure about how I’d give them a position fix. Todd suggested we head to Moss Landing (a huge power station, right on the coast, just outside class C) and call them from there. By this time I’d lost a bit of altitude and I was playing with getting back to 4500’ when he told me I really had more important things to think about, like getting the ATIS and getting in contact with Air Traffic Control. I made a dumb mistake getting the ATIS, I’m so used to just tuning out the Reid Hillview ATIS once I’ve got the winds and altimeter setting that I did the same here. So of course I didn’t find out what runway was in use. Todd asked me what runway I was going to use and I sheepishly turned the ATIS back on to find out. I got a hold of ATC just over the power station, they replied with my call sign and told me to standby for a transponder code. Todd, asked me, “Did I think I could enter class C?”, I said, “I believe so” and he said “so do I”, – we had established two way communication with ATC. A good trick he told me was to make sure my altitude was above 4200’, the top of class C airspace, that way I couldn’t blunder in by mistake without clearance. We were finally given a transponder code and told to ident, then told to ident again, finally the controller asked, “Are you the plane directly over the mouth of the Salinas River?”. I looked down and sure enough there was a river, so I told him I was. At this point he told me to contact the tower. We were still almost 10 miles out, but they gave a clearance to land on 28R (the shorter runway). No other instructions, no preferred pattern entry, nothing. Usually a tower gives you more explicit instructions like “Make left traffic for 28R, report 2 miles on the 45”. So I assumed a standard left traffic pattern and aimed for the 45 entry to left traffic for 28R. Other than committing my usual sin at unfamiliar airports of getting too close to the runway on downwind the pattern entry and landing were fine. Todd told me to do a short field landing. I couldn’t understand why the plane floated so much down the runway. It turned out I left just a little bit of power in and so I turned it into a perfect soft field landing.
We called Ground Control and asked to taxi for takeoff. I was told to standby for a departure instructions and then they came back with, “Depart straight out, after the freeway turn to heading 340, Monterey Approach frequency 127.15”, I read this back and they confirmed I’d got it right. I called the Tower again at the hold short line and got a takeoff clearance, an Eagle Air commuter jet took off beside us just as I lined up on the runway. Todd told me to make a soft field takeoff, I did a passable job, but really didn’t get into ground effect until I was already going fast enough to takeoff normally. I climbed out over the freeway, turned to heading 340 which takes you out over the bay. At about 1800’ I was told to contact Monterey Approach. They told me to resume my own navigation above 2000’, so I turned back towards dry land as soon as I got the chance. Todd, told me to let him know when we were clear of class C, this was fairly easy, there is a kind of lagoon on the coast that marks the boundary. Once out he had me put on the hood for some instrument work.
He had me level out at 3500’, fly some headings and determine the radial I was on from the Salinas VOR. Then we did some recovery from unusual attitudes. I think we did three, two nose down and one nose up almost in a stall. I messed up the first one a bit, not leveling the winds before pulling out of the dive. I was a bit confused about cross checking the turn coordinator with the attitude indicator. Previously I’d been told check the attitude indicator first – then quickly cross check the turn coordinator to make sure. Todd told me to do the opposite, because of the possibility that the attitude indicator has tumbled. So spent too long looking at the turn coordinator, trying to level the wings, I thought they were coming level and I started to pull up the nose, then I looked at the attitude indicator and saw my wings were still banked left – so then I leveled them using the attitude indicator. The plane ended up straight and level, but Todd wasn’t happy about not leveling the wings first. I got the hood off and he told me to head for home.
A little passed Frazier Lake Todd asked me was there a checklist in the side pocket, this was just a ploy to get me to take my hand off the throttle which he promptly pulled out. I established best glide speed and thought I could make it to South County, he kept saying are you really sure, I said I thought I could but that it was close to the limit of the glide. Then he said assuming I couldn’t then where would I land, so I turned the plane around and started heading for Frazier Lake, which in hind sight was the right answer in the first place. So I fell for the Frazier Lake ploy again – forgetting this little airfield is there. he told me to turn back for home, took over flying the plane and gave me a lecture on how there was no way he would have tried to make it to South County when there was a good airfield so close and how even if there wasn’t he would have put it down in a field rather than try and fly into a built up area without being sure of getting to a landing spot. So lesson well learned – go for the sure thing when the engine fails.
Had a nice uneventful flight back to RHV. Todd had me do a short field landing which went perfectly this time. Other than the recovery from unusual attitudes and the emergency landing he said I did fine on the stage check evaluation – ready for my solo cross country. The flight was fairly long, but it went well overall. I really feel ready for flying cross country on my own.