IFR Diary, Day 18: Monday, Sept 20
The Check Ride
At five-thirty I arise so the demons of darkness won't prey upon my
Because of airplane scheduling, I've convinced the examiner to begin
at 8 o'clock instead of his usual nine. Hayward is forty minutes by
car and the examiner's office at Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose
is about a 15 minute flight. Charles' default plan is to meet me at
Hayward so we can fly on his ticket to Reid-Hillview. Today there
is no coastal stratus, so I phone Charles at home at 5:45 switch the
meeting place to the examiner's office. This gives him an extra
hour of sleep.
I leave home at 6:15. A half-mile from home I discover that I've
forgotten my hat, so I turn around and fetch it--I don't want to
introduce any new variables into this equation.
I arrive at the Hayward airport at about 7:00 and preflight the
Tiger. I gather up all the airplane's paperwork and stuff it in my
back pack. On take-off, I hear a new term for the first time:
"...remain clear of Oakland Class C airspace..." The canceled check
ride was to have taken place before the new airspace classifications
went into effect.
I arrive at Reid-Hillview about 20 minutes early. I'm outwardly
calm, but inwardly I'm as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room
full of rocking chairs. I remember that I had given Charles my log
book, Medical and Private Pilot Certificates in order to prepare the
application. "What if Charles rolled over and went back to sleep?"
says the devil. I brush him off with, "He's never been a second
Charles also arrives a bit early, so we sit in his car making small
talk. Finally, I cracked a little bit. "Charles what should I do
if he asks me to blah, blah, blah?" He grabbed my arm, "Stop!
Don't do this to yourself."
He then gave me a quick briefing on the DE, Cliff Hodges. He's a
very quiet man. His technique is to try to make himself invisible
during the exam. He won't say a single word that's unnecessary, so
don't read any meaning into his silence. A lot of people don't like
Cliff because he doesn't dispense warm-and-fuzzies during the ride.
But he's absolutely the fairest of the lot. Besides, he's a hell of
a pilot himself and knows what's important in this rating."
About this time Cliff arrives. He's 50-ish, about 5'9", with a
ruddy complexion. He has the warm, shy manner of an Indiana farm
boy. He is indeed quiet--but friendly. He gets his coffee pot
going before he even acknowledges our official business. "If I get
my first cup right away, I'll pee before we go flying. If I wait,
I'll have a full bladder during the test." He look at me impishly,
"Now you wouldn't want that, would you?"
"Not to worry," I fired back, "I always carry a bag of 'Depends'
right next to the sick sacks," I said. Charles looked at me with
astonished eyes that said, "You just called your examiner
incontinent, then offered him a diaper." Cliff stopped washing his
coffee cup and looked out the window, trying to recall what
'Depends' is. When he remembered, he laughed softly but didn't say
Cliff and Charles go through the paper work. Charles gives me double
thumbs-up and leaves. Just then Cliff took a phone call.
I'll warn you from the outset--the oral was short and completely
unromantic. I got a bunch of quick, rote questions about:
instruments, charts and symbols, regulations, weather, and clearances.
The flight planning portion was a complete shock. He said, "How
would you work up a flight plan to San Luis Obispo?" I asked what
he meant by 'work up.' He said very of matter-of-factly, dropping a
pile of DUATS print-outs on the desk, "You know, if you wanted
arrive in San Luis Obispo at 8 p.m., how would you fill in the
blanks on the flight plan form."
I then took a big risk, "In real life or for purposes of this exam?"
He smiled, "In real life, of course." I quickly and without much
detail told him the steps I use to get the TAS, ETE, and so forth.
In general, I'm very casual with the E6B. He asked a couple of
simple questions ("are Winds Aloft reports True or Magnetic?"), then
asked, "OK. What would you put in the blank for an Alternate."
There were no tricks in the weather report--SBO was predicting 500
foot ceilings from 7 p.m. due to coastal stratus, so I needed an
alternate. I chose an airport (I don't remember which one) on the
eastern side of the Coast Range where the stratus seldom reaches.
Once we got past that point, he hurriedly asked about fuel reserves
and filing to airports without instrument approaches.
Then he said, "Tell me what you know about icing." I said, "I don't
know anything about icing--I know a few facts about ice, but not
much about icing."
"Well, do you think you'll recognize it if you see it?" he asked in
a mock-patronizing manner. "I reckon so," said I. "What are you
going to do in the Tiger then?" Without hesitation I replied, "A
one-eighty." He then abruptly said, "OK, you've passed the oral
portion of the examination."
And that was the oral--the whole thing probably lasted no longer
than 45 minutes. I thought we were just getting warmed up. I just
had to inquire why it had been so short. He explained, "I have a
few stock questions on each subject; then I ask a follow-up question
or two to probe for soft spots. If I don't find any, I move on. If
I do, then I start squeezing to see what's there."
"Mostly I'm looking for common-sense answers, not the academic
stuff. You'd be amazed at the responses I get to the 'Tell me what
you know about icing' question. I've had applicants draw me
elaborate diagrams about how icing screws up an airfoil on their
Skyhawk. And about how they would decide whether to climb or
descend. But not one applicant in ten says, 'I'd turn around and
get out of there.' That's what any sane person without icing
equipment would do."
I could not believe my ears when the next thing that happened.
Cliff asked , "Where would you like to go for the flight portion of
the test, Stockton or Watsonville?" I didn't play it at all casual,
but instead veritably blurted, "Let's go to Stockton--uses less
He said, "OK, get out your plates for the NDB at Stockton, the VOR-A
at Tracy, and the ILS at Livermore. On the way home we do a little
air work and I'll dream up a DME arc. There's the phone. File a
full flight plan."
Cliff headed for the toilet, saying, "Nothing says I have to test
your pre-flighting technique, so you go do that and I'll grab
another cup of coffee and meet you in fifteen minutes."
I had just pre-flighted the Tiger a couple of hours ago, so I
checked the oil and waved my hands over the rest. I then sat in the
plane for fifteen minutes and memorized every detail of these plates
that I already knew so well. On my knee-board, I even drew little T-
boxes containing the Final Approach Course, MDA/DH, Time, and a
simple graphic showing the first phase of the missed approach
Cliff arrived, buckled in, and asked, "Did you get your clearance
yet?" I said that I had not, that I assumed that he'd want to test
me on that. "Well, there's only one possible clearance out of here.
I'd know if you got it right by looking at your copy. The only
thing different is the squawk code, and I'd know soon enough if
you'd copied that incorrectly." Here was a man after my own
In the run-up area I called for the clearance, which read (verbatim
for posterity) "Grumman 74613 is cleared to the Stockton Airport.
After departure fly heading 290. Radar vectors SJC V344 SUNOL V195
MANTECA DIRECT. Climb maintain 3000, expect 5000 5 minutes after
departure. Departure frequency is 121.3, squawk 4543." I copied
and read back correctly.
Next I set up my equipment, touching each thing on the panel and
using the hundreds-tens-units technique to dial in the VORs. I was
able to identify the SJC VOR on the ground. I set the ADF to the NDB at
Stockton and punched in my time on the timer. I had never departed
IFR from Reid-Hillview nor had I ever flown V334 SUNOL V195 MANTECA
before. But I wasn't complaining.
Before take-off, Cliff explained his role: interested passenger.
He would watch for traffic, but he would not handle the traffic
calls on the radio. He made it clear that he wanted to participate
as little as possible in this flight. So that I wouldn't have to
look up, I could ask him to synchronize my DG and compass once for
each approach, but I had to ask. He then said very kindly, "I know
you're nervous, so I want you to know that I'll inform you if you
make a disqualifying error. So, no matter how bad you think you've
done, if I don't tell you that you're busted, keep flying."
After take-off and shortly after switching to Bay Approach, I still
have red flags on my main VOR--the one tuned to 114.1 (San Jose). I
look at the front panel on the radio and see that it says 114.2. I
switch it back to 114.1 and casually say, "Boy, I'm more nervous
than I thought." I forgot to ask Cliff about this afterward, but he
must have doinked it during ground roll.
I get two or three vectors around San Jose traffic, then an
intercept course to V334 and turned loose on my own navigation. The
A 70-degree turn from V334 to V195 occurs at 15-DME, SUNOL
intersection. It seems no matter what airplane I'm flying, I always
reach the assigned altitude when it's time for the turn. Today, of
course, I also get a "2-mile opposite-direction traffic" call pre-
pended to an ATC sector hand-off.
Somehow I manage it all smoothly. I even manage to sneak a listen to
Stockton ATIS between hand-offs. I then gave Stockton Approach our
wish list. At the first vector, I turn the volume knob on the ADF--
silence, no Morse code. Damn, this had happened on the first day of
training, but the ADF had worked fine every day since. I said,
"Cliff, this has happened before but I thought it was fixed. The
ADF works fine, but the audio is intermittent. If you like, I'll
make the beeping sounds during the approach."
He fooled with the volume knob a bit, then simply said
During the down-wind vector, Approach revised my missed approach
procedure to point me toward the MANTECA VOR, the initial approach
fix for the approach into Tracy. When on final vector, I asked
Cliff to synchronize the compass and DG.
The NDB went perfectly and at about 30 seconds from MAP he said,
"Glasses off, look up, and land." The NDB's course is about 20
degrees to the runway, so I had to step to the left. At touch-down,
he said, "Landing is assured, low approach."
When I had gotten the Tiger climbing and banked, Cliff put me on
partial panel. He used large Post-It Notes instead of those
fiendish things with suction cups. The fat was in the fire, now.
Recalling how far I had gotten behind on this segment just two days
earlier, I climbed rapidly and slowed to 90 knots immediately upon
leveling out. Stockton Approach then informally gave me my
clearance, but instead of DIRECT MANTECA, it said RADAR VECTORS TO
FINAL APPROACH COURSE. Why not, I thought, less work for me. I then
set up for the final approach course of 220.
Just as the needle came alive, Stockton Approach gives me a new
vector and says, "613, this is vector around traffic and will take
you through the final approach course. Expect further vectors in two
Hmmm. Believe it or not, I had read about this but it had never
happened to me before. I added two minutes to the current time from
my wrist watch and wrote it down. During the next two minutes, I
listened amazed while someone with a time-warp speech impediment
negotiated a pop-up enroute clearance. At the predicted time, plus
a little for slack, I started trying to jump in and ask for my
vector back to final. No luck.
After what seemed like an eternity, I said, "Cliff, I'm turning back
toward the course and heading to MANTECA to hold. I'll call another
sector controller and inform them what I'm doing. Flying off into
outer space like this gives me the willies." I cranked over to a
standard rate turn and he said, "No. Continue on the assigned
vector; I won't let you hit anything."
Just then the controller came back, "613, Apologies sir. Vectors
from your current position will intersect the final approach course
just outside of MOSSA. Or would you like vectors to a new approach.
Quickly I had to choose between more time flying partial panel and
hence more opportunity to screw up, or a shortened approach like
last Saturday's. MOSSA is the final approach fix.
Before I had decided, Cliff said, "Continue the approach, I want to
see how this turns out." I informed Stockton Approach and he gave
me a shallow vector of 250. As I watched the DME I said into the
intercom, "I'll never make it." During the turn, Cliff said sort of
absently, "270 would have been better." I grinned, put in 270, and
told Stockton. Two-seventy is easier to track comfortably because
there are no compass turning errors.
Over the last week the miniature airplane on the Tiger's turn
coordinator had been getting increasingly jumpy about an hour into
the flight. It chose today to become useless. Once a turn was
established, it indicated rate of turn OK, but it had become
increasingly sensitive to roll forces. Today, the slightest amount
of roll (or even light chop) would slam the miniature airplane
against its peg for what seemed an eternity. In other words, I
suddenly found myself on partial panel with a very skittery wings-
Just like on Saturday, as the needle came alive, I was very close to
the initial approach fix. Again, I fudged on the interpretation of
"established," started down, started the timer, and made the traffic
call on the Tracy CTAF. The unwanted hysteresis in the miniature
airplane caused my tracking to take the form of S-turns down the
I managed to keep within one or two dots of the course and leveled
off about 25 feet above minimums. I had about a minute to go to the
MAP. Cliff said, "Now don't look up." I didn't understand why he
had said this. I responded somewhat indignantly, "Jesus, I haven't
come this far to get myself busted for cheating."
"No, I mean I want you to fly the missed, so don't look up for
circle-to-land." I felt a little silly, but was instantly wondering
if I was going to fly the holding pattern of the missed approach on
partial panel. As soon as I got the Tiger climbing and put in the
initial turn, Cliff took me off partial panel.
I was way ahead of Saturday because the number two VOR was already
set to the holding fix and was working when we got to about 500
feet. I was so far ahead, that I thought to myself, "You've got
things under control--why tempt fate with a 'crisis' hold entry."
Accordingly, upon reaching the fix, I leveled out at the assigned
altitude and simultaneously made the 30-degree teardrop turn and
started my timer. At one minute I turned back toward the course. I
had no more gotten into the turn than he said, "OK. Tell Stockton
we're ready for the ILS at Livermore."
Like a moron I asked, "Do you want me to continue once around the
hold?" True to his non-participant role, he said, "It's up to you."
My mother may have raised a moron, but she didn't raise a fool:
"Stockton, 613's ready for the ILS at Livermore."
On the vector to Livermore, I started to smell victory. When I was
cleared for the approach, the controller said, "Maximum forward
speed if able--blah-blah jet just behind you." "Ah," I thought as I
slowed to 90 knots and put down flaps, "Today's my day, kerosene
Then Cliff said, "Comply with the speed request."
I resisted, "But the controller said 'If able'."
"Well," said Cliff, "You're able--give him 125 knots." I heard the
Outer Marker faintly starting in the background. This was going to
be fun. I had already put down flaps and slowed. I let the flaps
out and knew that I wouldn't have time to get straight-and-level
before starting down--I'd have to fly this one by Braille.
Things were happening too fast to look up the time, so I just reset
the timer to 000 and started it counting up. Better than
To make a long story short, because of the extra speed, I had a
little trouble getting squared away on the localizer, but after that
I just did whatever it took to hold glide slope. About one-third of
the way down, I had found the power range and was flying with my
usual technique, just faster. I had the needles in good shape at
minimums, when he had me look up. Beautiful sight, those
He said, "OK. I've got the airplane for a few minutes. You relax,
but keep your goggles on." He flew the airplane out of the ATA
(sorry, Class D) and I did a perfunctory recovery. Then he asked,
"What's your best direction for steep turns?" Like a dope I
replied, "Left." He chuckled, "OK. Give me a right 360 steep
I did it just fine and rolled out into the left turn. "No, don't
bother. Get on V195 VFR, take off your goggles if you want, and
take us home." The smell of victory was so strong I could taste
Cliff picked up my enroute chart and held it up in front of me. Now
we're here on the 010 radial, 13 miles from San Jose; how would you
do a 10-DME arc to the 180 radial."
"Great," I thought, "I don't have to do it, just describe it." I
started babbling about this and that and it was clear he didn't
recognize any of what I was saying. "What heading would you fly
first," he said. Still flying, I glanced at the chart and said,
"Right." It seemed so obvious.
"OK, do it." There was a note of daring in his voice. I got in
perhaps a two-degree turn to the right when I came to my senses and
rolled the wings level. "I'm confused. Let me hold the chart."
He said, "I think you're confused, too."
Then I saw why. Intending to be helpful, Cliff had originally shown
me the chart upside-down and I wasn't paying much attention. I
turned the chart right-side up, then noted the two headings
currently at 90 degrees. I then rotated the OBS to the final
approach course. As I saw that the needle move toward 080, I
quickly said "East" and cranked in a standard turn.
By the time I finished the turn, I was at about 8.7 DME. Do you
want me to go get 10-DME?" I asked cockily. He said 9-DME would be
fine. Knowing 90 degrees would take me away from the VOR, I waited.
When I reached 9.0, I started making the bracketing turns: 9.1:
twenty degrees south, 9.0: 10 degrees north.
After about three turns, it must have been obvious that I could hold
between 9.2 and 8.8 more or less forever. "Congratulations," he
said, "You're an instrument pilot."
"I don't like your way of doing DME arcs, but I don't want to
argue." I kept my mouth shut very tight.
We landed and while Cliff did the paper work, I called my wife at
work to take her off pins and needles.
The entire flight had taken less than two hours. Surprised, I asked
Cliff if mine wasn't a particularly short exam. "Not really," he
said, "I can usually tell in the first few minutes whether an
applicant is going to pass. I figured you had a good chance when at
SUNOL you leveled-off, turned, and talked all at the same time.
Also, you got hit with some funny stuff and none of it seemed to
bother you. You flew well and kept your cool. Good job. Just be
careful...and I advise you not to accept a DME arc in IMC till you
learn to do them right."
He handed me my temporary certificate, we shook hands, and I walked
out to the Tiger. It was 11:45.
I flew back to Hayward and chased down Charles for lunch. I faked
him out at first with a sad face, but then my smile gave me away.
We debriefed at Roi de Burger.