I did it! Once again!
Well folks today (14 Jan), on a beautiful sunny day in Virginia I had my checkride for my FAA Commercial Pilot License with David Pearce and successfully passed the test! Yes, I am officially a Commercial Pilot and have already used the license once on a short x-country trip to "Front Royal" (KFRR) airport from Leesburg (KJYO)!
The Written Test
The Commercial Pilot Written Test is perhaps the most demanding of them all. The FAA expects you to be fully familiar (once again) with all PPL procedures and some IFR procedures and then a whole host of new procedures, rules and regulations. The best way to prepare, once gain, is the "King" schools computer based training which is similar to the Cessna Pilot Centre format. John and Martha King do a terrific job of taking you through all that is necessary for both the written and the practical tests. I passed the written first time. Got 79% and had to review areas missed! :)
Early this morning at Leesburg airport, my FAA examiner, David Pearce, was waiting for my arrival. I had prepared well. I had my "Commercial Pilot Oral Exam Guide"; "Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards" and "FAR - AIM 2010" with me.
The Oral exam began a little slow:
David: "What documents do you have to have in an airplane?"
Shane: "Airworthiness Certificate, Radio License (if going outside US), Operating Limitations and POH!" uuuhhh!
David: "We are not here for an inquisition Shane. Think ARROW."
Shane: "Oh yes: AWC; RL; ummmm cant remember the second R"
David: "What do you need to have in your car?"
Shane: "Oh yes: Registeration."
David: "and the 'W'?"
Shane: "hmmmmm! W W W W ...."
David: "Weight & Balance"
Shane: "But of course ... Weight and Balance"
I thought to myself: "this is not going so well". Then David started to ask some more pertinent information to establish whether I was really rusty or just warming up. Questions came one after another: Emergency procedures, Airspace limitations, retractable landing gear operations, scenarios for various failures, etc. All were great questions and I answered them without hesitation. He smiled and said I seemed to be very ready.
Then came the VFR X-Country I had prepared. He said he wanted me to do everything manually, including using my E6B for manual GS calculations and also for diversion.
I set out to the airplane which was a complex plane (need this for the commercial). We were flying N1534X (or Sky Ventures 43 AVL43) which is a Piper P28R Arrow with Constant Speed Prop and Retractable Gears. I had to warm up the engine. David came in, set up his GPS (he does this to have a record of the flight!) and we started taxing down to Runway 17 at KJYO. He was in a hurray to go to Winchester in the afternoon for another checkride and I was trying to accommodate him. His first comment was: "you're taxiing way too fast! Slow down!" How is that for a professional. For David, it did not matter that he was tight for time. I was a Commercial Pilot Candidate and I had to behave like one. He then said: "The FAA expects the safety records of the Commercial Pilots to be the same as the airlines!" That set a very sober tone! I had to do it by the book, perfectly execute and I was Pilot In Command -- Master of the Plane.
David asked for a "Soft Field Take Off" and I executed without trouble. We started on our X-country. He asked for our Ground Speed, ETA at destination, etc. He then said: "Divert to Front Royal". I found it on the map and set up a quick and manual diversion to KFRR (Front Royal) which is a tiny airport 35nm south of Martinsburg. He asked for ETA and I gave him 19 minutes. On his GPS it said 21! He was pleased with all the procedures. When we were safely outside of the Washington DC SFRA, he asked for a couple of Steep Turns. For Commercial pilots you have to do them at 50-60 degrees and hold altitude to within 100 feet and heading to with 10 degrees on return and airspeed to within 10 knots! That is so much tighter than the PPL. Before doing that, I said I needed to do clearing turns for traffic. Once again, the professional David was beaming with joy! Safety is always the Commercial Pilot's number one priority. I executed one to the left and one to the right. Then came power-on and power-off stalls in landing and take-off configurations. He wanted perfection in those. He then asked for Chandelles. I executed a fairly nice one near Winchester airport. Then came the Lazy 8's. Did two sets for him. His comment: "Not the prettiest one I have seen, but that's what the FAA wants to see!". Then a steep spiral to lose altitude. He then said, do a soft-field landing at Winchester. I prepped for weather, tuned to CTAF and entered the pattern. We landed with full flaps, slight power and greased the runway. He liked it. Asked me to taxi back and give him a Short Field Take off over 50' Obstacle. That was done well and then he asked for some 8's on pylons. I have to admit, I rushed these. He knew it and didn't quite like them. He said I have the technique but did not execute perfectly. I tried again and he was ok. Then he said let's go home back to Leesburg. On the way, of course, you would expect more excitement and there was some in the form of landing gear problems. Those were dealt with and he asked me to enter KJYO pattern and do a power-off 180 abeam the numbers. The Arrow sinks like a lead-balloon. The pattern altitude at KJYO is only 800' AGL so, it is imperative that you immediately turn to the threshold and hold best glide (105 MPH). If you are cautious and go for a slower speed, the Arrow will bite you and it will hurt! So, I turned immediately to the runway (17). David asked where I will land exactly. I said "Second set of centre line markings." You have to make that within 200' or you can bust your checkride. He was patiently waiting. I set the Gear down, checked 3 in the Green and continued without flaps at exactly 105 MPH. When almost over the runway, I was certain to make it, first notch of flaps came, then second! I was now awfully close to my touchdown markings, so I put the final notch of flaps and eased back on the wheel and the Arrow just slowed nicely. I touched down exactly on the second set and kept the nose up! David said: "Excellent! Well done!" I knew that I had pleased him.
When we parked the plane, I asked him what was wrong with my Lazy 8's. He said: "Nothing, but you haven't seen real Lazy 8's until I show you them!" We were both smiles! I said I'd like to take him up next time I am around so he could show me a nice one. We shook hands and he went down to do my paperwork! I knew I had passed!
BIG thank you to my Master Monk -- Raymond de Haan -- who believed in me and worked hard to drill every movement and kept reminding me that much is expected from a Commercial pilot. Every bit of detail such as "After landing checklist - Complete" was honed into my often-tired brain. But Raymond demands the best. Despite a less-than-perfect performance the day before due to lack of sleep and jet-lag, he did not lose his cool and encouraged me to get a good night sleep and come back fresh. Thank you Raymond for your trust!
And that's how professionals are created.