Thursday 10th March 2011

As forecast, we awoke to torrential rain, as the storm came in from the west. This shouldn’t affect my schedule too much, as I had set aside today for the written exams. The first was to be Navigation. I had studied hard for this, as you have to use the circular slide rule (the Whizz Wheel), for the calculations. Having practiced a great deal on this, I was now fairly competent in its use, and was confident I could carry out the necessary calculations (Speed based on Wind Factor, Fuel use based on Specific Gravity etc.). Where I wasn’t so confident, was in the use of the headings gleaned from the Maps. These are measured using a protractor, and even a small error can lead to a compounded error in the calculations, as I have found doing the mock exams. As only two maps were available for the tests, it was decided that I would go first, with Jens & Andreas following immediately afterwards. Once I was ensconced in the examination room, I got to work. Apart from the questions based around a theoretical flight from one town to another, via a waypoint, with a potential diversion along the way, there were a series of questions based on radio navigation.

Most of the examinations are finished well within the time allowed, but the Navigation exam is the exception. I found I needed all of the 90 allotted minutes to answer the twenty five questions, ensuring I re-checked each question, and the calculations they were based on. I used the method I had previously found worked for me.  I went through and answered all the questions on a spare piece of paper, then turned it over, and re-read and answered them again.  This technique had stood me in good stead in the other examinations, and again came to my rescue on two questions, where I had two different answers when I compared both lists. These two I spent some more time on, to decide which of the two options I had chosen should be the one to go down on the actual examination sheet. I finished the exam with about three minutes to spare! Kim, the Office Manager, collected my papers, to take to the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) for marking. Normally, the answers to the exams are not available until the day after, but Kim told me that the CFI would be marking my paper that day, as I was now being fast-tracked to complete the course before the weekend, in case I needed to re-sit any examinations.

As soon as this exam was over, I headed back to the house to drop off/pick up the next set of textbooks, whilst my place in the exam room was taken by Jens & Andreas, who were ready to take their exam.  I decided to return to the school, to grab some lunch at the Slip & Turn Inn, whilst revising the next subject. I soon had my head into the Radio Telephony Communications book, as that exam was scheduled for later in the afternoon. We were told to be ready for a 2 hour briefing/pre-study session at 2 PM, the test was scheduled for 4 PM. Originally, we had hoped that the final Skills Test for each of us would be taken on the Saturday, but due to circumstances, this was not going to be possible. One test slot was available for the Friday Afternoon, and two on the Monday. As I was to leave on Monday, and Jens & Andreas were not due to depart until the Wednesday, I was given the Friday Afternoon slot (assuming I passed my exams).  When Jens & Andreas finished their exam, they joined me in the Inn. When we compared notes, it looked as though Jens had been very unlucky; both Andreas and I had a set of Navigation questions based on routes and notes that had been in the sample Questions & Answers revision aides, whereas the route given to Jens was one that none of us had come across before. Just the luck (or lack of it) of the draw!

I was in the middle of my salad lunch when Kim came in to tell me I had passed the Navigation exam, with a score of 88%. What a relief, this was by far the hardest exam of the lot (or maybe it just seemed that way, as it was the most recent). Whilst it is a pain having to take these exams, they do ensure you study the subjects in depth, and retain much of the information. I have found myself being able to answer most of John’s questions over the last few days, (as he studies the subjects for his exams), without reference to the manuals. Soon it was time for the R/T brief. We were placed in the classroom, and given various revision notes to study, together with an outline of how the test would be conducted, and the areas to be covered. We had been joined by Armano, another student who was to take the R/T exam. He is an Italian, who lives in Sweden. This place really is a European Community. He and I decided to role play the positions of Tower and Pilot, to see if we could improve our RT skills.

 Just before 4PM, we were joined by Adrian, the owner of the school, who was to be our examiner. I had not seen Adrian since a snowy Saturday in January, when I had taken five of the examinations at the EASA premises at Leeds Bradford Airport in the UK. I am now so glad that I did these exams before I came to Florida, I have seen how much hard work and stress the other students have endured, whilst attempting all eight exams in between flying. Adrian explained the format of the exam. He took us into the exam room, and demonstrated the mock radio equipment that was set up there. He would sit in another room, and using the radio, take the Role of Air Traffic Control. We were given an outline Flight Plan, and expected to make the necessary calls or responses along the way from one airfield to another, from contacting the Ground Controller, Tower, Radar, Approach etc. en-route. Briefing over, the rest of us left the room, whilst Jens prepared to take the test first (as he was due to fly shortly afterwards). After he had finished his exam, I was next. I well remembered the first time I had used the radio, on my first flight in a PA-28 back at Gamston. My Instructor Kevin had asked if I would like to have a go on the radio during my first flight, as we taxied out to the runway, and I had agreed. He told me exactly what to say, I repeated it word for word back to him, but when I pressed the Mike Button, the rubbish that came out of my mouth was nothing like what I intended! I was afraid that the same thing would happen again, and indeed it did for some of my responses, but by and large, I got most of the procedures right. The one part that the Student must get right (or it is an automatic fail), is the Emergency Procedure. Because we all know this, we all make sure that above all, this routine is committed to memory, which, of course, is the point. In a real emergency, it is natural that in a high stress situation, you will hopefully tend to do the things that have been drummed into you, automatically. The particular lists of items you need to call are designed to give those on the ground as much information as possible to help you. We all passed the RT exam, which for me was the last of all the theoretical exams, now there is just the practical to compete, and the hours to get in.

I still needed to get in two hours of solo night flying to qualify for my Night Rating, (as did the other two), so the three of us were scheduled to fly later that night, more or less at the same time. We had to complete at least five takeoff and landings during this flight. Once in the air, I was in the circuit on about my third landing, when I heard an emergency call on the radio, from an aircraft about to land at Ormond. I was actually just turning from the Base Leg to Final, when the call came over the air, from an aircraft announcing an emergency landing , straight in on one of the runways (in fact, a different one than we were using). The Tower at Ormond closes of a night, from 7 PM to 7AM, so aircraft in the vicinity just call out their intentions on the Tower frequency, so that all aircraft know what each other are doing. When I heard the emergency call, I announced that I would abort my landing, and received an acknowledgment from the aircraft with the emergency. I restored full power, climbed, and turned left (we were using a right hand circuit), and headed off, over the beach. Thankfully, the aircraft with the emergency announced a safe landing, so I rejoined the circuit and carried on with my landings. After the mandatory ones were completed, I still had an hour in the air I need to complete, so I left the circuit, and once out of Daytona airspace, climbed to 3000 feet and flew north along the Florida coast line to admire the night lights. This week is Bike Week in Daytona, and the place is jam packed with bikes. The biggest Harley Davidson Dealership in the world is located just off the A95, and, of course, this week it was lit up like a Christmas tree. Soon it was time to turn around, and get back to Ormond. I had not been happy with the last of my four previous landings (I had forgotten to turn on the landing light, which made judging the distance to the ground difficult), so I decided to do a couple more for practice, before my final landing of the evening.

Back at the house, I micro-waved myself a meal; it had been a long day, now I had to prepare for the Skills Test tomorrow