The False Start and The Bad Deal

I was so pumped, so confident, so nervously ready for an oral exam and checkride last weekend.

Yet, I wasn't ready.

As I faced the examiner across the table from me, my heart was pounding, my hands shaking, my breath short, my eyes wide, my emotions on the edge of erupting either with joy or sorrow depending on how the exam went. My confidence going into the exam was full of hope but quickly deflated as I began to stumble over basic questions, some I knew I knew but panicked and froze up. My brain and my confidence went into a graveyard spiral. I wasn't as prepared I could have been. I thought I was close enough, but really, looking back I can see know how woefully I wasn't.

That was my false start.

The examiner offered his time to review material with me and even shared his notes as to what I missed during the exam so I could review. I gathered my things and walked solemnly back to my airplane. I covered up the canopy, locked everything up, then cried in the car.

I had too much going on that weekend: Joshua's birthday party at 5pm followed by a neighborhood pool party and pressure mounting for a long cross country trip to Illinois. That's not my excuse and it is no excuse. I simply wasn't as ready as I could be.

I had a conversation with the manager of US Sport about what I should do next. He advised me to get with one of his instructors. I scheduled with a guy who I thought would be a Finisher type of CFII. He seemed military to me: little emotional connection, very factual, very methodical, even a bit rigid.

Things were going well. I was being challenged and nitpicked on details from the FARs and equipment and aeronautics. I was asked to make a flight plan from scratch (pencil, paper, E6B, maps & weather data), asked to reread the POH, asked to call in a flight plan, not just use my iPad. It was good! I was actually enjoying the Bootcamp treatment because I believed it was going to make me better, stronger and more ready for the next exam. No stone was left unturned.
"Do you have GPS user manual in the airplane?"
"I have a few-page cheat sheet in my pilot bag."
"The user manual is a 50-60 page book."
"Well, no, I..."
"That mistake will cost you $500."

gulp!

Then today happened.

We were to go up into low cloud IMC on a flight to Tyler, TX. I made the flight plan on paper quickly, picked out the alternate airport, looked up pertinent weather, called the briefer, and preflighted the airplane. I was ready to go, fully expecting to be diverted then tested on a variety of flight maneuvers and approaches.

As I started up the airplane going step-by-step with my checklist, the instructor asked what the yellow words on the GPS screen said.

The 530/430 WAAS GPS system showed that the obstacles database had expired in February of this year.

"Can we legally shoot a GPS approach with outdated information?" he asked.
"I did not read anything in the FARs about an obstacle database being required."
"But if the database is expired, is that safe to do a GPS approach?"
I think it is safe enough. Obstacles like towers and buildings don't change very quickly.
We went back and forth on the issue for a moment, then the conversation evolved to my ultimatum:

"I feel confident that GPS course laid out into Addison is clear of obstacles and that clouds are high enough that we could safely get back. What do you want to do? Are we a go or a no-go?"

The instructor said he did not feel safe going on a flight and so the flight was canceled. I taxied back to the hangar space, shut it all down, tied it up, covered the canopy, and collected my things. A perfectly good flying day was canned on the basis of having the GPS obstacles database expired by four months. None of the other instructors had made obstacle mapping a requirement of GPS flight. None of previous FOUR instructors took issue with it. I had current paper plates and maps (VFR and low IFR) to reference.

I called Rusty to discuss the change in plan. He felt as incredulous as I did.

I tried to reschedule. He's booked with another student. Tomorrow- booked. Monday- booked. Tuesday- booked. Wednesday, available after 5pm.

"Can we do ground time, review material to prepare me for the next test?"
"I need to see you fly."

I didn't have enough time to run home to update the database then be back for a flight before his next appointed student would arrive. And he didn't take my offer for ground time to study other topics.

My female brain heard "We're done."

I later did update one Garmin card with a new obstacle database at the cost of $200, and read carefully Garmin's terms of use,

... to use the Database in a Garmin GPS receiver or System and, if applicable, use as a VFR reference tool, but not for primary airborne flight navigation, during the effective period stated on the Database download page.

Not for primary airborne navigation. This explains why plates for GPS approaches show obstacles depicted. The maps and procedures updated every 28 days are certified for primary airborne navigation, but obstacles are not.

I reluctantly paid for my time with him, then left, crying and pissed. Angry that I had just paid, over two days of time, $275 for an instructor who wasn't available to help me with my goal to prepare for a retest, and who wasn't available to see me finished any time soon, angry that the very FBO that got me started wasn't able to finish me with a rating, angry that so much effort and time and money had been spent only to be stuck, and dumped again by yet another instructor. I have had CFII instruction by six instructors, seven if you count that one girl CFII who was a no-show the second time we were scheduled. I understand that flying with various instructors is good to learn various perspectives and techniques. But none of these guys were Finishers. There was no sense of ownership to see me get rated.

I was in the self-checkout lane.

I have decided I am done using that FBO as a student. They are terrific with mechanical issues, super friendly in passing, helpful in many ways, but not adequately staffed to serve pilots seeking higher ratings.

After a couple of hours of reflection and emotional cooling off, I called Torrey Zook. He put me on his schedule to fly on Tuesday for my biennial flight review checkride, and to evaluate my progress since we last met.

I was so hopeful and tried so very hard to get an IFR rating secured before Rusty and I embark on our long cross country to Illinois for a wedding next week. It's highly likely we'll encounter clouds and weather that will mess with our desired route and timing. But it's just the way it will have to go.

My plan of action is to continue test-prepping information, continue my review of material, continue to polish and prepare for the next opportunity to test. I feel confident that by then, I'll be way more on top of my game!

IFR Rating Home Stretch

My Facebook page has been accumulating a little dust while this blog has a thick layer of neglect to wipe off.

Every year, April to June is the busiest time of the year of me and the family. After Easter, there are 3 birthdays to prepare for, Mother's Day, volunteer obligations, and the various outings that celebrate the warm weather. This year, my attention has been laser focused on finishing my instrument rating.


To date, I've flown 48 approaches and just over 40 hours of simulated and actual instrument conditions. On a couple of weekends, I flew 4 times! Plus a lot of landings, tracking VOR radials, holding procedures, following ATC instructions, airplane control and flight planning. While 40 hours doesn't seem like much considering that's normally a work week of time, for me, it's lasted since Nov. 2012. There were pauses of time due to new airplane ownership, weather, maintenance and general scheduling. I've flown with six different instructors, plus a couple of CFIIs in a simulator.

I feel more than ready to get this rating, and a bit of fatigue from being a student of it for so long.

My last flight with Torrey Zook went very well minus a couple "gotchas", which we discussed. This week I'll be reviewing concepts in preparation for the oral exam and reviewing approach procedures for various airports.

If I can pass my rating checkride this Friday, I'll feel more prepared for our family flight to Lubbock next weekend. And don't worry, when I receive my rating, I promise to share it here! :-)

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