Friday 11th March 2011

It was make or break time today. I had completed all my examinations, I just needed another four hours in my log book, then I could take the Skills Test. The additional four hours required was split between two hours solo, and two hours dual instruction. To make sure everything went according to plan, I had an early start for my two hours solo. After take-off, I turned west, and headed for the practice area over Lake Disston. Ormond air space only stretches from the ground up to 1200 feet, above that level, it becomes Daytona airspace, and we are not allowed to into that without permission from Daytona. The usual procedure is to keep below 1200 feet for the three miles or so it takes to clear Daytona air space (this is usually judged by a landmark such as some power lines, or the edge of a lake), then to climb to the required altitude. As I would be practicing step turns and stalls, I climbed up en-route to 3500 feet. The area to the West of Ormond is Class G airspace, which is uncontrolled, so you donít have to talk to anyone on the radio if you donít want to. As this area is used extensively for training, however, it is a good idea to announce your position and intentions, so all the other aircraft using this area for the same purpose know where you are and what you are doing, so everyone can avoid each other. ďThis is Piper Warrior N9237J, at three thousand five hundred feet , one mile east of Lake Disston, practicing stallsĒ was the call I made, every three minutes or so. I also heard other aircraft making similar calls, and made sure they were far enough away from me so that we didnít cause each other any problems, as I practiced various maneuvers. In fact the area is so vast that although I heard plenty of aircraft announcing their intentions, I only actually visually spotted one aircraft, and that was far enough away not to cause me to change direction.

On my return to Ormond, I was handed a sheet of paper, outlining the flight plan I had to create as part of my Skills Test. The route I was given was to fly from Ormond to Palatka, then on to Gainesville, with a possible diversion to Ocala. Having already flown the first two legs on previous days, I was happy about that part of the route, but I hadnít flown to Ocala previously (in fact I didnít even know where it was), so I would have to plan that part of the route from scratch. Apart from the Nav Log, I had to compute Weight and Balance Calculations, Take-Off & Landing dimensions, , and a full Flight Plan( even though this item would not be filed; I had to show I knew how to submit an official Flight Plan if required). There was not much time to do this before landing from my solo flight, then going out again with Mike for last minute practice.

Mike and I headed back to Lake Distton for practice on the basic maneuvers. I was having difficulty with the steep turns, as you are expected to make a three sixty degree turn, at an angle of bank of forty five degrees, without any height loss. I didnít have too much trouble holding the bank angle, but I was finding it difficult not to lose height (by judging the right amount of increased power to apply during the turn). We tried this maneuver a few times, and unusually, I was better in a right hand turn than a left hand turn. Most people find it the other way around. We also practiced some more stalls. Soon it was time to return to Ormond, finish my flight plan, and grab a bite to eat before the final Skills Test. I was to be tested by Adrian, the owner of EASA. Just after I ordered a salad for lunch, and whilst still working on the flight plan, he popped his head into the Inn, and told me he would prefer to start earlier than planned! I was really into multi-tasking now, as I juggled my various bits of paper around the table, whilst trying to eat my lunch, and not drip salad dressing on to the forms. Once I was ready, I was told to go and preflight the plane, start it up, and collect Adrian from outside the EASA office.

Once Adrian was on board, we were off. I made the radio calls, and we taxied out to the runaway in use to take off. Once airborne, Adrian instructed me to start the flight plan I had prepared, and I explained the planning I had done, the various VFRís I had identified to navigate by, and the route I planned to follow. Adrian did his best to put me at ease during the flight by chatting to me on various subjects as we flew North West, past Lake Crescent, on the way to Palatka. This helped, but I was very mindful that this was a test, and I needed to be mentally planning my next move at every step. I was also recording the flight information in writing, on my Nav Log, as we had been taught by Mike. Just short of Palatka, Adrian announced that we wouldnít be going to Gainesville, we wouldnít even be going to the alternate airfield I had planned for, but he wanted me to navigate to a small airfield he pointed to on the map! This meant that I had to mentally recalculate the plan I had prepared, on the fly (pun intended)!† Fortunately, the airfield he had chosen was fairly easy to navigate towards, as it was on the far side of Lake Crescent, not far from the southern edge. I calculated the new heading, and turned the aircraft towards it. We flew over the lake, and the airfield was where I had calculated it would be. Adrian then instructed me to head back towards Ormond, and on the way, he tested me on various maneuvers. When he asked me to show him a steep turn, I asked him which direction, and he told me he didnít mind, so I did the turn to the right (the one I had mentioned previously, that I find easier). †One of the good things about this test, was that after each maneuver, Adrian explained the theory, and correct way of carrying out the maneuver, so as well as a test, it was like an additional lesson. After several more flight maneuvers, we headed back to Ormond, for various landing tests. Apart from the normal landing, we are taught how to land without flaps, and landings without power (glide approach). We are also taught a couple of take-off procedures, normal, and short field (high angle), and we carried out several take-off and landings, covering several scenarios. After the last of these landings, we turned off the runaway, and as I carried out the after landings checks, Adrian told me I had passed the Skills Test. The next half hour or so , parking the aircraft, completing the paperwork etc. passed in a haze to me, I was on such a high that after all the work I had put in over the nine months since I decide to do the PPL, I had finally achieved the result I wanted - a pass! Several of the students were at the school, and all were congratulating me on successful completion of the course. On the way out to the car, my Daughter Claire called me, and we had a couple of minuteís conversation, but I was still on such a high that I canít remember a word of it.

When I got back to the house, most of the guys were there to congratulate me. Jens & Andreas produced a Pilotís Shirt, complete with Epaulettes, that they had purchased for me as a present for passing the course (they obviously had more confidence in me than I did myself). They had even bought the gold bars to go on the shoulders (four bars, which I think is Captain Level). There was to be a social that evening at the Slip & Turn Inn, and I was told I was expected to wear the shirt for the evening. This of course I did, which caused much hilarity amongst the real Instructors (some of whom had only two bars on their shoulders). In fact the whole evening turned out to be a great success. Most of the Instructors who had taught me were there, as was Adrian. He and I got talking cars and bikes (he had left this afternoon after the test on an amazing motor bike, one I had not seen before). I mentioned that, back in the 70's, before I was married, I lived with my Sister Brenda, and her Husband David. I had a Singer Chamois car at the time (a posh Hillman Imp), and David had a Triumph Daytona motor bike. If they needed a car, they would borrow mine, and I would borrow the bike, which I enjoyed tremendously. On hearing this story, Adrian took me into the back of the hanger, pulled back the covers on a motor bike, and there was as Triumph Daytona! I am sure David will appreciate the photo I took of it. Adrian also had a classic Mustang car in the hanger, so I drooled over this for a bit.

After getting fairly lubricated at the Inn, we decided we should go on to the Iron Horse Saloon, a world famous venue, especially during Bike Week. As expected the place was heaving with Bikers. There was live music on offer, and we got near the stage to watch. The guy we listened to was David Allan Coe, who I was told by one of the Bikers is a Ďlegendí. I decided it wouldnít be wise to tell the Biker that I had never heard of him! I have since looked at his website, so I apologise to any hard-core fans for not knowing who he was. Apparently he is a Ďlegendí on the country music circuit. Although the music is not usually to my taste, we did enjoy the atmosphere, and the whole event.

It was a good job that Joanne had decided to drive tonight, as I am not sure how I would have got back to the house, if it wasnít for her driving me. She also surprised me during the evening, by presenting me with a Congratulations Card from her, and another one signed by most of the Students and Instructors from the evening. What a nice, and much appreciated, gesture.