“I’ve Earnt My Wings!”

Rachel Charlize  is a friend of mine at Corporate Flight Management in Smyrna, TN and has just earned her private license.  She has chronicled her journey to her license here >>> This is a reprint of her latest article from planecoversations.com Her enthusiasm and love of flying is contagious!   Congrats Rachel!  –Chris


I was just reading through some of my past blogs, and realized that I have gone through an enormity of ups and downs in my journey to becoming a pilot.

A PILOT!  I’m a PILOT!  It’s still seems surreal at this point.  Probably because the elation has not yet worn off.  But I did it.  I realized a dream.  And it’s a wonderful feeling.

It was a long time coming.  One year, and 19 days.  There were some obstacles which were unavoidable, like weather of course, but also the fact that I had to switch from the Cessna 152 after 10 hours of flying, to the Katana DA20 (with 7 months of no flying in between) because of an engine issue.  But looking back, switching to the DA20 was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It has a GPS!  And is a joy to fly.

The weeks leading up to my final test (check ride and oral) were the hardest I’ve had to endure in a long time.  The stress was building, knowing I would have to sit with my examiner while he asked me questions which, at the time, I was not sure I would be able to answer.  Why would anyone voluntarily submit themselves to this much pressure, I wondered.  My fear was that I would not retain all of the information that I was forcing into my head.  But my instructor went above and beyond and spent hours going over what he thought were my weak spots.  This helped enormously, and built my confidence to a point which allowed me to push on.  It’s amazing how a glimpse of success motivates you to push through the tough times.  Looking back, it’s moments like those which make me proud of the tenacity I showed.

I’m not sure how it all came together, but it just did.  I have to give thanks to my Instructor Kirk, who spent hours teaching me to aviate, navigate, and communicate.  I said it in the beginning and I will say it again, choosing a good instructor is invaluable.

So if your instructor signs you off as ready for your check ride, then you probably are.  Have faith in that.

These are some things which I found extremely useful in the lead up to my check ride:

–          Work on your weak areas – of theory, and in the airplane.

–          Fly as often as you can in the week before your check ride to be completely comfortable.  Leaving a week in between shouldn’t matter too much, but I was glad to have gotten in a few good mock check rides before the big one.

–          Nice segway:  Do mock check rides with your instructor.  This will allow you to feel comfortable with the process and to see the order of how things will likely go along.

–          If you can, do a mock check ride with a different instructor – sometimes something that they do differently may help you in your learning process if something is not sticking.

–          Know your aircraft – where everything is, and how it works.  And how it flies best (e.g trim, speeds, etc)

–          You won’t know the answers to all of the questions the examiner will ask you, but know where to find them.  Tab your books if you have to.

–          Know the area – if you can find your first few points on your mock check rides, this will take the pressure off a little so you can ensure you will not miss them.

So I did all of these things, but still, everything did not go perfectly.  But I’m happy to say I wasn’t a complete bumbling fool in the oral.  Somehow, I was able to dig the answers out of my brain.  I guess they did stick!

And just like clockwork – the weather came down after my oral.  So we deferred the flying portion to a better day.  Four days later, weather and I had coincided.

Right before my Examiner arrived in the FBO on the day of my checkride, I was sitting, looking for the millionth time at my flight navigation log, nauseous from anxiety.  Within ten seconds of Reece arriving, he had put me at ease.  I gulped and just decided to do what I had done many times before.

I went through my navigation log and my first leg to Chattanooga, explaining my check points, my heading, my altitude, the weather.  This was nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be.  Feeling ok with my paperwork he said “Let’s go terrorize the skies”.  Ok, lets!

I flew well, but they were definitely not the best take-offs or landings I’ve done.  But they were to standard.  My steep turns were great, my power on and power off stalls were pretty darn good, and I even used the VOR without messing up.  The entire check ride turned out to be fun, which was very unexpected.

It was an unbelievable experience which I will never forget.  Taxiing in along Alpha and Juliet to the ramp I could see Reece signing “S” in the columns to the right.  I can only assume “S” was for satisfactory, which would mean I had passed.  When I turned off the engine he smiled at me and said “you did it”.  Nothing could have made me happier than hearing those words.

I did it.  I am a private pilot.


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