I’ve mentioned before that I am a third generation private pilot. Both Grandpa Country and my Dad were private pilots, and I can vividly remember my first flight with the both of them. It was at a very young age, I sat in the backseat of a Cessna 172 while Grandpa was in the left seat and Dad was in the right seat. He had not began his private pilot lessons yet. I always remember this all occurring at age four. I was wearing a checkered patterned shirt and I remember getting sick during the flight, the only time I’ve ever gotten sick in an airplane. Dad and Grandpa cleaned up the airplane but brought me home to Mom and Grandma Country to be cleaned up. Aside from the vomit, I remember enjoying that flight. I flew with my Grandfather a couple of times since then, but did most of my flying with Dad after he got his Private Pilot’s certificate. After they both passed it was up to me to get my certificate to fly if I wanted to keep on flying, which I did.
Today I earned my Instrument Rating as a private pilot. This is one step beyond the basic Private Pilot’s Certificate, and I have proven my skills at successfully planning, flying, and navigating through IMC, or Instrument Meteorological Conditions. I can fly in the clouds now. I started training for this rating when we lived in Upstate New York but didn’t get to finish it before we moved to Chicago. General Aviation in Chicago proved to be a bigger hit on the budget than original anticipated, so it wasn’t until we moved to Tucson that I was able to resume this training. There’s three parts to the certification: a written exam (I passed in June), an oral discussion/exam, and a proficiency checkride. The latter two happen on the same day unless something happens with the weather during the oral discussion and then you can defer the flight to another date, but otherwise you do both on the same day. I took the day off from work.
I’ve been studying like crazy for the past several weeks, and on Wednesday I flew with a different instructor to make sure I was ready for what today’s adventure would entail. I walked away from the flight on Wednesday feeling good about things. I contacted the FAA Designated Examiner on Thursday and he had me plan a flight from Tucson to El Paso, Texas, which would be the basis of our discussion. As I was finishing up my flight plan last night, I noticed a NOTAM, or a Notice To AirMen (actually now Notice To Air Mission) that the main runway and the instrument landing system at my home airport would be closed. All of the approaches I had practiced for the checkride were no longer available.
When meeting with the examiner, he suggested we try approaches at nearby Tucson Airport. I’d never flown these approaches before, my instructor had a look of surprise on his face, especially when I said, “OK, let’s go ahead and do that instead”. It took a few moments of discussion with the examiner to build the scenario and then he said something to me that struck a chord, “you’re not going to be flying the same approaches every flight”. So instead of using muscle memory and acquired skills through repetition, I’d be flying like an airline pilot onto the main runways. Tucson Air Traffic Control normally doesn’t allow general aviation pilots to practice approaches to the main runway, but I told them I was on my FAA Checkride and they sequenced me in between Boeing 737s and Airbuses as I made my way down the approaches to minimums. Overall the flight went very well, I received my “satisfactory” blessing from the FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (who was very, very pleasant to fly with) and I am now an Instrument Rated pilot.
I am going to continue my aviation training and career and will be starting my Commercial Rating training in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to the challenges, and I have a feeling the two previous pilots in the family are smiling down as I progress through this adventure.