Bad News

Well, I failed my checkride. I shouldn’t have, but it happened. I had a bad day at the wrong time.

I watched the extended weather forecast for several days before the test. For most of that time, the reports were calling for scattered thunderstorms and gusty winds. On Sunday night though, the TAFs for the next day looked OK through about 1PM. After that, there was a chance of storms. Depending on which airport I looked at, the winds were forecast to be from a low of 12 knots gusting to 18 to a high of 17 knots gusting to 25. I seriously considered canceling once more but, I had already called the exam off three times and I wanted to get it done. I decided to go out to the airport and make a last minute decision based on the actual conditions.

The test was scheduled to begin at 9:30 and I was there about 45 minutes early. I looked over the airplane, checked the fuel and got the maintenance logs out. I was all set to go when the examiner arrived. I expressed my concern about the winds but, in the end, we decided to go ahead.

The oral portion of the exam took about an hour and a half and was no problem. I did not know the answer to every question but, I knew where to look them up. Overall, the DPE called my performance “superior” which was nice to hear. He said he knew I was worried about the weather and suggested we get going on the flight in hopes of avoiding the gusty winds that were forecast. As it turned out, we were already too late.

I preflighted the airplane, gave my “passenger” his briefing and we took off on the cross country I had planned. The first couple checkpoints passed under us as planned and then it was time to abandon the trip and start on maneuvers. I did steep turns, slow flight and power on turning stalls all to standards. I wasn’t asked for any power off stalls.

As I recovered from the last stall, the examiner told me that my engine was running rough. To make the point, he leaned the mixture until it really was rough and asked me what I was going to do. I turned toward the nearest airport, which happened to be Burlington and tried to trouble shoot my simulated engine trouble. Before I got close enough to the field to have the runway made, the mixture was pushed back in and the throttle pulled to idle. Now I had lost my engine completely and wouldn’t make it to the airport. I pitched for best glide, picked a field and started down for an emergency landing. I didn’t get very low before the examiner gave me the power back and announced that the emergency was over. Now he wanted me to enter the pattern for turf runway 19 at Burlington and to a soft field landing. That’s where the trouble started.

I just could not get a nice soft landing on the grass strip. While we were doing the high work, the winds had picked up down below. The AWOS was reporting winds 220 variable to 270 at 14 gusting to 24. I could blame my trouble on the gusty winds but, really, I should have been able to do better than I did despite the conditions. The examiner gave me three tries in all (one a power off simulated engine out landing) and all of them were firm rather than soft. I was also not holding enough crosswind correction on any of them so we were off the centerline every time. After the third poor one, he called it off and we started back toward Waukegan. On the way, he had me to some S-turns and turns around a point. Then, he picked a road and told me to fly directly over it, following the turns. This was my ground tracking exercise in place of a rectangular course. I had to hold a large crab angle because of the strong wind but, I stayed over the road.

So, in the end, I failed. The PTS areas I will have to be retested on are crosswind landings, soft field landings, emergency power off landings and hood work (which we skipped on the first exam). I will meet with Sandy when she gets back from her vacation and we will make a plan to do a few flights and then schedule the retest.

  • David says:

    Ah, that’s not bad news, just a pilot’s life! Hey, you get to go fly some more, right?

    Seriously, you were dealt a bad hand, most PICs would choose not to go to a “soft field” in the conditions you had, but you did (a *real* soft field), and it sounds like the plane is reusable, so in reality, you did 3 soft field landings in conditions over most peoples heads.

    PTS says do it again, the real world says you did it. Have a good lesson, and tell us how your followup check ride goes!

  • rusty wrycza says:

    a superior comment is grand! live that up forever. as for the grass at Burlington – tried that today myself, that’s one short strip – I imagine your confidence level next time will be perfect – as will your results!

  • TheNewsBlogger says:

    Indeed, I know it has to feel bad to get a pink slip, but what a way to get one! I can’t imagine most PPL students being terribly thrilled or performing at the top of their game on a day like that, and in conditions such as those.

    Keep it up, and I look forward to hearing about you completing it the second time around.

  • Tom says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I don’t want to blame the wind for my failure. I had a bad day. If I had been having just a little trouble, the DPE probably would have let it slide. I got it on the ground all three times but, the landings were all firm not soft.

    Next time will be different!

  • Ex Gravel Cruncher says:

    Sorry to hear about that. Good luck on your next ride!

  • Anonymous says:

    Hang in there and best of luck with the few remaining test components. You seem to have a great attitude and after all, it’s all flying experience and time in the air.


  • Oblivion says:


    No biggie. You’ll get it. I could have been busted on my checkride on the same thing – I got 3 tries on a soft field landing and even my last one wasn’t REALLY soft. My DPE told me, “That wasn’t great, but I’m giving you the license to practice them until they are.” So, really, I was right on the fence with you.

    Glad to see you’ve gotten back on the horse. I wish you better weather for the retest.

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