I’m rehashing a few webposts I’d done a number of years ago to help answer some questions coming my way. These questions arose from recent blogs covering my transition to full-time flying. The airplane I’m talking about in this blog is my first one – N8260Y – a beautifully restored Piper Warrior II

Multi Ratings – Accelerated ATP Check-ride Preparation

I am a good pilot, but not by any natural ability. I have accomplished what I have through the help and understanding of pilots better at some things than I am, and confident enough in themselves to teach me what they know. I arrived at the ATP through willpower, determination, and hard work. I did not arrive completely polished and without flaw, as you shall soon see.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My airplane came back late from it’s Annual last week. I was aggravated that it was down for two weeks, instead of the one week a simple annual should have required. On top of that, the new pitch servo was installed yesterday, and isn’t engaging properly. Water had destroyed it, so it went back for a rebuild.

I’ve had an awful sinus infection since last Thursday night, but the antibiotics my allergist gave me by Friday night were starting to help. Still, I could feel the pressure and had to limit how much IFR flying I’d be doing, and also limit my altitude to 5000’. I was anxious to get going, and decided to head up early and get my rental car situated and checked in at the hotel.

Departing 33N around 11am, there was a thin ceiling at 1000’ that I had to fly through. Climbing through 2000’  it was clear, and the ride relatively smooth. Level at 5000’ I could hear the effects of lowering pressure as my sinuses expanded. I actually felt some temporary relief from the pressure, but worried a little about making things worse on the way down. I’ve had real issues flying before a sinus infection was gone, and figured I’d have a setback when all this was over.

Getting back to the flight, Dover calls and asks me to verify I’m on Victor16. They tell me I look like I’m off course to the west. “I sure am [on V16]”, I state with great confidence. “Dead on, in fact!; Woodstown is next and I’m dead on the centerline!”. I open my coffee and wait for him to realize his error when I hear, “ah, 60 Yankee,  Woodstown isn’t on Victor 16 and you are about 2 miles west of course.”.

That’s because I’m an idiot and misread the chart!” I carefully explained in a quiet voice. I thanked him for catching my error and replaced OOD (Woodstown) with VCN (Cedar Lake) in the flight plan. I let the autopilot do the rest of the flying clear on up to Long Island. I clearly was preoccupied with what was coming.

The flight up was over a solid undercast with tops around 2500’. Lots of moisture in the air. Arriving at Groton, CT (GON), I flew my clearance out over the water to MONDIE intersection. This happens to be a waypoint on multiple approaches, and I’d be flying the ILS 5 and breaking out under a similar thin layer like at home. I landed uneventfully; found the self-serve fuel; and then taxied to free parking for GA aircraft. Good thing I brought my own tie down tie straps.

Inside the terminal building, I picked up my rental car, and saw the Action Multi offices right away. I went over to introduce myself, and hoped maybe to even get started on a flight or ground school that afternoon. They thought the same thing when they saw me, but quickly realized they were too booked to accommodate, and I’d have to wait until the morning. The next days forecast looked good though, so I was pumped about getting a few practice flights in.

I stayed at the Comfort Inn in Mystic, CT. I had a smoke free room down the smoke filled hallway from the majority of smoke filled rooms. Delaware has some advantages for non-smokers.

Tim stops by my room and introduces himself. He is working on his multi-engine check-ride, and we exchange notes and stories for 30 or 40 minutes. It’s a nice break. The school told him I was there to maybe hook him up with a ride in the morning. He’s been paying $35. for a cab each way, and I rented a car. Its nice having the company, and talking with someone doing basically the same thing you are.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting the weather on my computer in my room, the weather forecast for today still looks great. That was the good news. The no-so good news is that the weather forecast for tomorrow and the next 7 days looks like the end of the world is coming. Lets worry about today.

I grab my gear and go down to drop off my gear in the car, and then have some breakfast. The hotel is very clean on the outside, but there is a dead rat in the car port. He is of significant size, so on my way for coffee, I tell the desk clerk. He didn’t seem to flinch when I told him that people checking in had to step over the body, and told me that a bird would come by and pick it up. “Not unless it’s a Condor it won’t.”, I suggested. He was not moved to get off his butt, and when Tim and I left for the airport after coffee, the rat was still sitting there. Alrighty then.

We get to the office an hour early and sit and read our notes. Bryan arrives at 8am and I sit with him to do my ground school while Ryan takes Tim flying. No time is being wasted on anyone. We spend about an hour and a half going over the test and paperwork I had completed before I got here, reviewing all of my answers and all of my documents. I do several additional graph problems to show I can use the POH, and Bryan gets my answers aligned with how this examiner wants them. I have no significant changes to make in my thinking, really, and get through this quickly.

Ryan comes back and we walk out to the airplane. We complete a pre-flight and inspection of the airplane, and then mount up in the Seneca I. The NAV instruments are mostly sun-faded and hard to read. The interior is worn, but well cared for. I feel safe in this airplane, even though I have no clue where everything is. I am not at home.

Ryan explains how my pre-takeoff briefing will go with the examiner. I go through the start-up sequence and have to learn not to use my right hand for switches on the left, and not to hold the yoke while taxiing. Brake tests are done by revving to 1300rpm while holding the brakes, not by moving and then stopping.

We do the run-up and prepare for takeoff. I reach for the DG out of habit and am told not to touch that. Wait until you get lined up on the centerline and then set your DG to the runway heading. Apparently the compasses in both airplanes are less than reliable. I continue with the pre-takeoff briefing, which is simply (for the loss of one engine) “gear still down / land straight ahead; gear up / continue the take-off and do the procedure”.

Full power as I recite the memorized procedure in my head for a normal takeoff. 85mph; pitch up 10 degrees; positive rate – gear up; 500’ 24 squared; 1000’ fuel pumps off one at a time and pitch for 120 mph”. We roll 10 or 20 feet when he yells ‘ABORT!! ABORT!! ABORT!!”. I don’t hesitate for a moment and firmly bring both throttles to idle and do not apply any brakes (the later part is spelled out in the script, makes sense with lots of runway, but is not necessarily instinctive). This is the last takeoff abort we do, so I guess he knows I’m preloaded for that.

Climbing through 200’ I lose an engine. Mixture, props, throttle, flaps, gear; Identify, verify feather. Do the procedure efficiently, but not in a rush. When I say feather, I get the engine back and we continue the climb. Steep turns are next, and I lose an engine in a 45 degree bank. Not as dramatic as it sounds.

Vectors for the ILS 5 and I lose the engine on localizer intercept. I fly it well, but go below DA when I didn’t realized it was a circling approach (WIRE). I didn’t get the engine back yet, and executed the single engine published missed. The climb was noticeably anemic, but I got the engine back at 500’. In the hold now, the instructor notices high temp and low oil on the left engine. I am supposed to execute the precautionary engine shutdown, but forget how. I am reminded of the procedure and execute it smartly, but in the wrong order. Should be – Throttle; Mixture; Prop on the inop engine; Mixture; Prop; Throttle on the good; followed by flaps and gear. I’m hangin’ on the tail and trying to get back into the airplane. Not good.

My left prop is just sitting there in the wind. I cannot see it. My vision is limited to the instruments and switches 18” in front of me. I am expected to time the inbound leg, manage a shutdown, hold my altitude and re-intercept my inbound heading in the hold; time the inbound leg; and then ultimately restart after I get the timing right in the hold. Not doing so hot on the inbound leg intercept, and this burns me later on the check-ride too.

I get a clearance next to the LOC 7 into Westerly. We keep moving from one to the next and never stopping. Practicing in the simulator, I would always take my time and go around another circuit once cleared for the intercept. Ryan instructs me that the examiner will not accept this, and wants and intercept at the first opportunity from the hold. I adjust my thoughts accordingly. Still in the hold, set the DME to the correct NAV and do WIRE (Weather, Instruments [DG and Altimeter – Don’t touch the DG], radios and everything else). Turn outbound for the LOC 7 and plan on a tear drop entry to intercept the localizer inbound. Determine circle or straight in and modify when you put the gear out and how low you go, accordingly. I’m doing ok, thanks to the simulator, but still go 50’ below MDA. Damn! I also drop the gear one dot below, even when it’s a circling approach. Damn!  Forgive myself my mistakes and move on.

Fly the missed and get all set up. The NAV is old and I start not necessarily trusting it. That consumes scan time. I’m at least sitting in the airplane now, flying along fat dumb and happy. I glance at the #1 localizer and notice I’ve flown through it immediately (simulator was invaluable in catching this fast). I re-intercept the localizer using reverse sensing, and do a tear drop procedure because the examiner prefers this over the truly accurate parallel. I agree with him and the next LOC 7 approach is at least above the MDA. “S” turns not withstanding.

On the missed, its vectors to the VOR 23 back into GON. That ends in a circling approach. I dropped the gear out early – again – you will see I did this again on the check-ride too. I am exhausted after this non-stop 2.3 hours introduction to the Seneca I, and I’m hungry as hell.

I get a 45 minute lunch break and I’m back at the airport. I walk in the office and am handed a security pass to get on the ramp and preflight a slightly better Seneca I. The instructor arrives shortly after I wrap up the preflight, and we are off for another run over the same circuit.

This flight looks much better, according to the instructor. This one is only 1.5 hours, but I am on my normal instrument game and he really likes my call outs and execution. While handling various emergencies, I still go below safe altitude twice around the circuit, and know this is a killer and check-ride buster. I’m exhausted and not feeling all that well.  I have no doubt I’ll nail it in the morning and pass the check-ride.

Back in the office, all the instructors are looking at the weather. The owner is there too, and tells me the forecast is so dismal, there is almost no chance we’ll fly at all the next day, nor the next several days at least. These guys have been flying in marginal weather routinely, and I weight their opinions accordingly. I decide to leave tonight, returning to work for Thursday and Friday. I’ll reschedule next week, when the weather has to be better. It cannot rain forever in June.

The flight home is ahead of the weather, and enjoys yet another headwind southbound. Back at work the next day, I speak with the flight school, and find out the weather ended up just fine for finishing up, so the weather wins another one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009 

Down at the beach now. My littlest grandson comes into the living room with his nose running like a leaky faucet. I see his little eyes droopy with a cold, and just know in my heart that his cold will soon be mine. No matter if I put him in a bubble – my wife would be kissing all over him and I’d have that cold in no time. I see the train, and just lay down on the tracks and enjoy the whistle of the inevitable. Antibiotics are battling that sinus infection still, but colds don’t care about antibiotics, do they? No – is the answer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 

Charles P. and I meet in Georgetown and simulate the circuit I’ll be flying. Knowing the intricate details of how they are training me adds realism and depth to this session. I can feel that new summer cold kickin’ in. Note: t this time my simulator was based in a hangar at Georgetown as a business venture.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My new summer cold is in full swing this morning. I’m glad to see VFR for the flight up to Wilmington before work. Red Eagle will make a second attempt at getting the pitch servo to engage and disengage reliably today. They managed to find a broken wire, and I did a test flight after work on my way to Georgetown to fly with Alberto. Everything is working well. Zero squawks is a nice place to be.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I do a conference call this morning for work, and then depart IFR for GON (Groton, CT) around 11am. There is a thin layer here at home, and a somewhat thicker layer up in Groton, CT. This third leg is met by yet another headwind – that’s 3 in a row now – so it is clear the weather is out to get me. Arriving Groton, I fly the ILS 5 because I have to. It goes just fine; I’ve done it a billion times on the simulator and this is my second one in real life for this particular approach. The cold is still there – so the autopilot is holding the localizer just fine. I experiment with the hi-track versus GPSS, that the GPSS holds it dead-on. I use the ILS/VLOC signal on the #1 indicator, and the STEC30 flies the ship in the background through the GPSS. Entirely legal, safe, and efficient.

The plan for today is to get a flight in at 2pm; one more brush up flight tomorrow (Friday) morning; and then the check-ride by 11am. Assuming I pass the check-ride, I should be southbound  by 1pm and beat the expected weather. Should I not pass on the first try, I’ll stay here and fly once with the instructor and then again with the examiner.

Our 2pm flight lasts around 2 hours, and the instructor is exuberant. I think I still busted on altitude by descending early – as soon as I dropped the gear – on a non-precision approach. I have to fix that, but everything else went very well, despite a lingering sinus issue and remnants of a summer cold.

Back at the office, Tim has passed his check-ride and is headed for his C172 trip home. Ryan and I check the weather for the next day, and it looks just like the next 5 days – Questionable. I’m staying until this is done. Period. Doesn’t look good though.

We finish up my 8710 form and I actually have to fill out solo time and other trivia. Whatever! I make some SWAGs and move on. Everything is in order, so I return to the hotel to study the oral questions again. I’m sick of looking at this stuff. Cannot concentrate on anything else though.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I am supposed to arrive by 8am, but I wake up at 4:30 or so. I pack my gear into the rental car, and decide not to eat any of the paltry breakfast items displayed at the Comfort Inn this morning. I grab a bagel and cream cheese, and stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a large coffee. Fill up with gas, and head on over to the office.

Arriving at 6:15 am, I sit on the row of seats in this empty airport terminal, awaiting everyone’s arrival. I read the material one more time and can recite it in my sleep. I just cannot read it anymore, so I start looking at used airplanes in Trade-a-Plane. Its 7:30 now, so I decide I’d better hit the rest room. At least its quiet and my nerves are making easy work of this. Clunk. The sound of a breaker tripping outside and the absence of light tells me the entire building is out of service. Perfect.

The lights came on in a few more seconds, and I waited the last few minutes by the office door. When the sun first came up, it looked like a marginal VFR day. Since then, the field went completely closed with fog and low overcast. You couldn’t see the runway from the ramp.

Around 10am, it cleared enough to be encouraging. You could see blue skies above, but the forecast was slow to materialize. By 11am, the area looked to be getting almost to marginal VFR (legal), so the examiner was asked to come in. He has to drive for 90 minutes to get here.

Noon comes and the hopeful sky blue is gone again. Field is once again IFR in heavy fog. Line of storms marching toward us, just crossing the Hudson now. I am advised to get a room reservation just in case, since it’s the weekend and there may not be any left. I get the last non-smoking room available, of only three left in the hotel. Good advice. I still have my car, and advise the Avis lady that I may be keeping it another day.

Its raining by 1pm and the examiner stands outside for awhile. He is in his 70s and appears to be no-nonsense. Not mean, but rather intimidating when I imagine his experience. I am told that he believes he can get both rides done before the storms get here, so I ignore my senses and listen up. Bryan takes Tony for his practice ride while I sit down for my oral. I’ll go on my practice-ride when Tony gets back, and Tony will get his check-ride. Something like that.

The oral is the shortest oral on a check-ride I’ve had so far. He asks me questions continuously, and I answer not only what he asked, but everything on the page about the subject he mentioned. I can see the damn pages in my head. He is satisfied and we talk about flying various equipment, my experience, his experience, and his likes and dislikes in airplanes and pilots. Nothing heavy – just an attempt to calm my nerves, which I realize and appreciate.

Tony comes back and the weather had decayed a bit. Light rain on the field as I go out for my practice run. We take off, lose an engine, intercept the ILS 5, lose an engine, land. I perform as poorly as any attempt so far. I’m not confident, but willing to go anyway. I figure I warmed up on where the switches are, and will make damn sure I don’t get busy with an emergency and bust altitude.

Byron gets in. I taxi 5 feet and he yells at me to get out of the restricted area. I’m on the ground mind you, and there are dashed yellow lines around an abandoned air terminal that identify it as a no-taxi zone. I figured I failed at this point, and truly forgave myself and committed to keep going. No pressure.

Out to the runway, we are cleared to back-taxi on 23 and depart with whatever amount of runway we are comfortable with. Byron had given me a clearance verbally, and I have it on my kneeboard. I know the departure procedure for noise abatement by heart, which is more important to these guys than anywhere else I’ve been. I make my announcements and do the takeoff under the foggles. Lose an engine like you expect and get through the engine-out checks fairly well.

This flight now became different than in practice – we flew low over the water (we were heading south, so I knew this rather than saw this) and nothing happened. My expectation from the practice sessions was a non-stop attack on my senses, but the weather was playing hell with the examiner too. He was avoiding incoming clouds and finding a hole to get back for a approach (under VFR), I presume. This caused me to spend those few minutes thinking this guy was pissed and waiting for me to remember something I’d missed. I started verbalizing everything I was to do out loud, and stated that we are set in cruise at 2000’ and good to go. No response. No Pressure.

Vectors for the ILS 5 and I could hear the other company Seneca on the radio and in the pattern. Inbound IFR traffic was also working the field from the north, and we were told to prepare for an early abort. Thinks worked out though, but I lost an engine just as quickly at about 8 miles.  Do the procedure and simulate feather with a finger touch, causing him to set a zero thrust condition on the inop engine. I do a single engine ILS fairly well, staying one dot high to avoid blowing through the DA. He seizes on this and won’t let it go. I tell him what I’m doing and tell him the winds call for a circling approach, so I’m not dropping the gear. He counters that I’m right about the approach required, but do a straight in anyway. Don’t do what your trained to do, do what I tell you. Gear down, hold flaps for 1000’ above TDZE. Flaps to 25 reaching that and wait for him to say “lights in sight”.

With the lights in sight now, I shift from calling out altitude for 207’ to saying out of 1000’ for 107’. Coming down through 150’, he says nothing, so that indicates that the runway is not in sight and I initiate a single engine go around. Full power on the operating engine, pitch 5 deg up and retract flaps. Fly blue line and watch directional control. The number 2 nav was set up for the missed approach on 062 radial outbound, and I switch the DME to that and intercept the radial. Established in the climb with the ship clean and one engine ‘feathered’, I reset the number 1 nav to the GON vor and fly that one now as primary. Switch the DME back to number 1.  I get the engine back and continue the missed approach as published.

Level in the hold now, using the DME and number one nav as the sole guidance for the pattern, he announces that the left engine has low oil pressure and high temperature. I begin to execute the precautionary shutdown and all hell breaks loose on the radio. We are in moderate rain, lower than we should be and with converging traffic. I ask him to verify he actually wants me to shut this thing down and he stifles my query to listen to the radio. Not hearing any more, I shut the engine down and feather it, configuring the aircraft at full power on the right engine. Don’t worry about redlining the prop – that’s what governors are for.

I get the engine secured, twist the OBS for the inbound radial and get myself established on the inbound heading. I get the engine secured and we go around the pattern once. He instructs me to restart and …..   I pull out the checklist; fly the airplane; watch for the DME fix to start my turn; finally start the engine. It won’t start. Are you kidding me?

I drop my number one VOR from my scan at this point while I’m doing everything else. He warns me to ‘watch my heading’, which I react to by noting the current DG heading and not allowing it to move. I should be correcting back to the VOR radial, but I stay on the heading and spend time trying to relight the engine. I recheck that I’ve done the entire checklist before I try again. If I don’t get this engine started, the check-ride must end and we declare an emergency and land. He yells at me for being off course, and I’m too busy to do anything about that. Finally, I get a restart; understand what he is saying; start to react; and he gives me the next clearance.

I may have just failed again, but I forgive myself and am grateful for two engines. I get the radios set up very efficiently, and head out for the Norwich transition to the Westerly Loc 7 approach. I talk through the entire approach and settle myself down. I perform the WIRE procedure (weather, instruments, radios, everything else) and determine the approach will be circling.

At 1nm prior to the final approach fix, I put the gear down. He rightfully complains that this is a circling approach, and I say – DAMN! – gear coming up. Right in the POH it says NOT to reverse the movement of the gear or you’ll damage the hydraulic pump. The only reason I waited for the gear to come down is that I was swimming in glue and making sure I didn’t go below the MDA like in practice. Did I mention there was another airplane landing; the visibility was barely legal; and it was raining loudly on the hull? Gear comes up until abeam the numbers in the circle, and I perform a respectable approach to land. I get down to 25’ above the runway and he issues me a go around command; testing my ability to reconfigure on the fly.

I expect a hold with reverse sensing here, but the weather is getting worse, storms are moving in, and this ride has already lasted more than an hour. One approach to go.

There is traffic at Groton airport, and I am being vectored back for the VOR 23. Byron dings me for going below a step-down point, but I prove to him (while I’m flying and waiting for an engine to fail) that I’m right where I should be. He agrees and we continue. Looks like a straight in approach is in order, and the radio chatter is awful high for being marginal weather. Has to be IFR departing traffic mixed with the other company Seneca (practicing for Byron’s next victim) and one arrival. I am descending down to 640’ and about 2.6 nm out when the tower asks the examiner to give him a right 360. WTF?!

Bryon says ok, but doesn’t offer to take the controls. I absolutely lock my altitude and add just the right amount of power to arrest my descent as I roll into a standard rate turn to the right. The re-intercept and continuation of the approach is flawless. Check gear down; add remaining flaps; set power; land. I am certain he would have made me circle or doing something silly if I hadn’t had that last minute challenge.

I did not know if I had passed until we shut down the airplane and the examiner reviewed what he didn’t like. Particularly that I was almost 2 dots high on the glideslope during the first approach, and that he feels I should have been more aggressive in capturing the glideslope earlier. What he didn’t know is that I’d descended below MDA and DA several times during practice, when emergencies and distractions were thrown at me in this unfamiliar airplane. I knew he’d yell about being high, but I knew he’d fail me if I went low. I chose to gamble that I would do enough things well to overshadow what I’d done wrong, and that’s the way it went.

I passed my ATP Check-ride. 

Once clear of the office – I raced to return my car and get to my airplane. Admittedly, get-there-itis, or get-thehelloutofhere-itis prevailed in getting me home. Severe storms were marching across Connecticut from the west, but crossing over to Long Island kept me 10nm south of any precipitation.

Additional note:  I was so ready to leave I mis-understood a controller clearance leaving GON. Could have been a problem due to his non-standard phraseology and my wanting to beat a storm home over water and keep it all moving. I remember it like it was yesterday.  

originally posted fed 2009-12-01

By fdorrin

Recently rated Gulfstream 280 pilot, working on instructor qualifications. WestWind and Astra corporate jet flight instructor. Contract corporate pilot. Own and operate a PA30 Twin Comanche. CFII; MEI; ME-ATP; SES; Typed in DHC-8, B-25, IAI-1124, IAI1125, G100, G280. Retired engineer / executive - Delmarva Power, Conectiv Energy, and PEPCO Holdings, Inc.