Crunch-time to completion!

It was only seven days before we had to get done. It was Friday, some of us were starting to get anxious, the weather had been tanking up in low clouds over Felt’s Field airport again making it impossible to get the last four flights in. The decision was made to fly two of our aircraft down to Pasco in south WA. If the weather was forecasted to be good in either Spokane or Pasco we could still fly something. Me and my instructor were assigned to fly one of the Skyhawk 172s down so that we could practice some maneuvers on the way. The practice went well, learned a thing or two, and after we landed in Pasco we were picked up to drive home to Spokane.

The next day (Saturday) I was scheduled to fly a flight to prove to my instructor that I could do everything that I had been taught since July during that flight. It turned out the weather actually was pretty good over Spokane, so we decided to fly locally. I felt ready. I had been doing this for some time now and I really wanted to get the flight done to only have two left for the upcoming week. It was crunch-time and I felt that I really had to perform in every opportunity I would get since there may not be many days of good weather left. However, to my great disappointment the first section of the flight did not turn out well. Knowing I would probably have to do the flight again I continued the flight in emotional discouragement. I never thought that emotions could play such a big role in a person’s performance, but I was proven wrong. There was only one segment of that flight that my instructor was willing to pass me on. I had to fly the same flight again to pass the other segments when the next flying opportunity would arise. I thought I had wasted the weather.

Sunday came with hail, so there was no chance of flying that day. Instead I decided to finish up the remaining work for a course on the main campus that day. When Monday rolled in I had practiced what I failed two days before. I really could not afford any severe mistakes this time. The weather was good enough for Felt’s Field again, so the flight commenced westward. Snow had formed a layer on the ground outside of town which made it harder to navigate, but I managed to identify my checkpoints without too much trouble. My instructor saw enough improvement from last time that he decided to pass me on to the next flight: all the same things all over again but with another instructor. The flight was scheduled later that same day. Pleasantly surprised my old instructor that I had in the very beginning of flight training before I got switched came in just for that day to fly with me. It was actually great fun to fly with him and to be able to show him the things I had learned since he left. He thought my judgement and skill level was good enough to pass me and send me off to the final check ride for private pilot!

I got scheduled for doing the test on Tuesday the following day. I felt that I wasn’t quite ready for the oral test at that time and I had paperwork I still had to finish before the test still dragging. One of the test pilots licensed to conduct the test was sick with the flu that day anyway, so it was only good for the scheduling that one of the students (me in this case) postponed the test. I was rescheduled again for Wednesday which looked like the last good weather day for the year that we knew of. I felt as ready for the test as I could possibly be and showed up at the hangar at 6 am to make preparations and inspect the aircraft for flight that day. 20 minutes before the test I received the news that the test pilot wasn’t current to perform the test. This meant that I got rescheduled again with yet another check pilot later that afternoon. As a consequence we would only have time to complete the oral test that day and hope that Thursday would provide good enough weather to fly in.

Forecasted to be snowy all week, I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up Thursday morning to a new forecast that showed no snow and clouds well high enough to perform all the maneuvers and segments of flight I was supposed to display. It was now or never. This was perhaps the last window of clear enough skies to complete the semester. If I couldn’t complete this flight on time it may mean that my international student visa status would run out and that I couldn’t come back in the spring. Not exactly knowing how that would all work out I pulled the airplane out to the ramp ready to fly. Quick last inspection of the aircraft exterior, removed the chocks and petot tube cover, ran through checklists, briefed my check pilot and got in. It was time to set all other things aside – it was time to fly.

Turned the master electrical switch on and primed the engine. Called “CLEAR PROP” before cranking the starter. The engine caught and I added mixture. We were off. We got clearance to taxi to the end of the runway from the tower. Everything was working fine until I heard over the radio and saw the wind sock indicating increasingly strong winds. Wind plays a big role in landing and takeoff performance and with too high winds it can be hard to control the aircraft. I made the tough call to do all required portions of the test except for the landing and takeoff portion since I was concerned it might be too much to handle. We could continue that part of the test once the winds had died down a little. So we took off starting flying the cross country route to Lewiston. Almost two and a half hours later we landed at Felt’s Field again. The wind was pretty much a straight headwind which did not make the landing very difficult, but hoping that there would be more favorable winds in the afternoon to perform better in I chose to taxi back to the hangar and wait for the weather to get a little better.

Waiting for weather. It is possibly one of the most frustrating things I have learned as a pilot student this semester. One hour passed and the winds died down a little. I ate lunch and waited another hour. The winds were pretty consistent and were blowing down along the runway providing a good headwind. As long as the winds remained like this I thought I would be able to fly. It was my call. I would have preferred lesser winds, but I did not have much choice. I concluded that I would still be able to land safely in the prevailing winds, so I told my check pilot to make ready to complete the flight. It was getting closer to sunset and we would by now have just enough time to complete what we had to do. We went out to the aircraft again, but this time it wouldn’t start. The cold weather had cooled the engine enough to stiffen it up, making it hard to turn the crankshaft around. I notified the maintenance personnel and they gave me another aircraft that had warmed up inside the hangar. With the time constraint I didn’t waste time to get out to the runway.

I simulated a soft field takeoff, flew around the pattern to a soft field landing. Then a simulated short field takeoff followed by a simulated short field landing. Wanting to see a better soft field takeoff, the check pilot had me do another soft field maneuver with a forward slip to landing. We simulated a go-around and did the forward slip again. With just a few minutes left before dark the instructor was satisfied and we taxied back. He congratulated me with a hand-shake and sent me off to refuel the aircraft before storing in over night in the hangar. Relieved and excited to being done I kept my cool as I was still operating the aircraft taxiing to the fuel pump. It was bitter cold out. It was the 8th of December and I could feel it. One day before the semester ended. One day before the due date was up, and with the last rays of sunshine and clear weather to complete the flight I was finished. I was qualified to be a private pilot.

To me it seemed to have been crunch-time all along. But through it all I did have a sense of peace that somehow it would work out. Looking back at it, I had nothing to worry about. There was nothing I could do about the weather. Trusting in God that He would take care of me and take me through training if it was His will to do so, He gave me just enough margin to complete what was needed for the semester. It was an exercise of faith, and looking back I would not have had it any other way. The ways in which I have had opportunity to grow in other areas than as an aviator through this has been more than I could put a price tag on. I wish to give this trophy to His glory for taking me through this phase of training.

Very relieved to have finished the requirements this semester for continuation in the program I can now take a couple weeks to relax and celebrate Christmas.

Lastly, I would like to give a little shoutout for the staff at Moody Aviation along with fellow students who have made every effort to improvise and shown great flexibility to make it possible for us students to succeed.

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