Like most primary students I was in a hurry to get past the private pilot check ride ASAP. Summer was almost over, and after all the yakking I’d done at work, a long winter without that paper in my wallet would have been unbearable.
Was I ready? Well, I’ve already admitted to zero emergency training, and what little I’d read on slips and skids left me uncertain which was which. When I asked about it the answer was, “Eh, the Blanik doesn’t slip well.” So much for that then. All I wanted was a sign-off, and that’s all I got.
On the big day, if there was an oral evaluation it was too short to remember. No mention of communication, navigation, or a multitude of other basics. It was 1975 you know.
In the air, when the examiner called for a slip I glibly repeated, “The Blanik doesn’t slip well,” causing him to bark, “BS!” or words to that effect. And then, bless his eternal soul, quite contrary to the Practical Test Standards, he taught me slips so we could finish the check ride.
Back on the ground, he made an obvious point of deliberating whether to pass me or break my heart, and when he did hand over the white slip, said sternly, “Now I want you to get more instruction… soon!” Hardly a backslapping attaboy.
Truth was, I had already planned to take a lesson from my instructor’s instructor that very afternoon, and it was he, on that only flight I ever had with him, who instilled the singular wisdom I’ve preached to this day. I was unconsciously moving the stick far more than necessary (which I soon learned nearly everyone does nearly all the time) as if it had some positive effect on control. “Hold the stick still,” he pled, “and let the bird fly!” Bless his soul, too.
The next weekend, on my first flight with a passenger, I managed to both terrify and nauseate a personal friend — then early the next season scared even myself so badly I decided to outright quit. No really, I was that bad. But in daydreams I still fondled soaring’s unknown joys and possibilities, and then in night dreams too. Even two years later and thousands of miles away, first thing each morning I’d compulsively peek out the nearest window to see what the soaring might be like. There was no choice, I had to come back.
Naturally, I fell into the same rush for a commercial rating before taking time to learn some things first. My excuse was I’d wandered into a lovely soaring hinterland, with no one around to learn from, meaning no one to tell me I was over my head. And boy was I.
Hook and crook, I wrangled an endorsement for the commercial written, and showed up after a 150-mile drive in a borrowed car not knowing I’d need proper ID… Somehow they let me take the test anyway, which I promptly flunked. It is only high school level material after all, but there’s so much of it!
On the eventual commercial ride, still knowing next to zilch, I actually made the DE scream at my landing and laugh at my ignorance, yet passed anyway because he had a hand in the outfit I worked for. That same afternoon, I sat in the shade and watched him fail a more capable candidate from a competing operation up the road. Nuff Sed.
CFI? Oh sure.
Still no one around to learn from, so this check ride became a sweaty nightmare without ever leaving the ground. The examiner, a nationally known contest pilot, saw right away that I was unprepared and spent the entire day, indoors, proving it. He was also a contributing author of that era’s principle text, the SOARING FLIGHT MANUAL, which of course I had never seen. Kindly, he lent his personal copy full of scrawled notations, and gave me five days to memorize it before we met again.
Our continuance started hours later than the marathon first day, and we still had to finish the oral. At least this time I had some come clues what we’d be talking about, and by then he was as eager as I to be done with it. The flight portion began with his grounding our glider because of a bad Dzus fastener on the instrument panel, something I wouldn’t have noticed in a year of preflights. By the time we procured another ship and went through its paper work, evening had come again.
He gave me fifteen minutes (till sunset) to teach him towing and all basic maneuvers, plus the landing. That actually went smoother than expected, or seemed to, and I climbed from the cockpit feeling pretty good about myself.
But no. He said he’d made clear an hour beforehand that the one thing he would not tolerate was any skidded turn, no excuses. I must have been distracted; maybe he should have said it twice, or louder. Anyway, while acting as student he intentionally skidded his turn to final and I failed to call him on it, ordaining another bust.
Time wounds, ALL heals. Expect delays, however. Who knows, that one disappointment may have saved a life or two. Yes, bless even his ostentatiously mustachioed soul.
Ultimately, clearing the CFI hurdle became little more than a hasty formality on another kind of late afternoon embroiled by altogether different tangles of yarn we needn’t go into (not sure how much I remember). One more bullet dodged, justly or otherwise, a battlefield commission you might say.
And the rest is mystery. If nothing else, I’m a living example of the ‘Peter Principle’: we all rise one way or another to where we’re perfectly incompetent, there to wallow in formal validation until succeeded by someone even more so.