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Monday, 4 April 2016


March 17th, 2016. I have an appointment with our CFI for a pre-exam flight. That is the last flight of my curriculum, and if he is convinced I can perform well enough, we'll go apply for my practical exam...

A touch nervous, I head out to the field. It's OK weather; reasonably high cloud base, good visibility, not too much wind, and from a favourable direction. It's more or less "on the nose" with runway 05. That is the least-used direction of the runway, because of prevailing South-Westerly winds in the Netherlands. So I have used this runway direction (with it's right-hand circuit) the least of the two directions, but I am confident that I can fly this one perfectly.
I am way too early, because there's a lot of preparation to do. For example, I  have a standard take-off and landing performance calculation in my flightbag, that shows I can land and take off on a wet grass runway of 700 meters, on a tropical day (30°C). This means I can come and go to Hilversum, no matter what the weather does (provided it is VMC, of course). But at the exam, you'll need to demonstrate that you can use the Performance Tables (or Graphs) to calculate the actual performance of tat day, and compare that to the required performance of the planned flight. So I calculate that I will need 230 meters of the available 1250 meters for the take-off run. The same sort of thing goes for the NOTAMs, weather, weight and balance, ... A bit more extensive preparation and printing, so that I have my story ready.
Our CFI starts out with asking me all sorts of questions an examiner might ask, about the details of this flight preparation. All in all that was quite extensive, and took about three hours ...
So I was already "cooked" before we took to the skies.We only did some airwork and circuits, because navigation would take too long for us to complete before the next one had an appointment with our CFI. Some stalls, steep turns, emergency landings, they all come by at some point. And all have some minor remarks, of course, but that's only normal for this kind of flight. My three landings were progressively better, with a nice, smooth landing to close with.

Overall, it was good enough. So after the necessary paperwork, we could apply for my exam. Our CFI would send me some addresses of examiners, and then I could make an appointment myself.
That all was on a Thursday, and that evening I got an email from our CFI, asking if I could do my exam on Tuesday already. I immediately accepted! Almost no time to worry about the exam. Ideal!

Tuesday the 22nd was the day. I had taken the day before aff as well, so I could prepare a flight to Münster-Osnabrück (Germany). I knew, of course, that we would not be flying back and forth, but I made a navigation plan, and a flightplan for both legs, just to be complete. Printed all NOTAMs (28 pages!), and crossed out those that were irrelevant to our flight; marked the ones that were important with an pink marker pen. Man, those Germans are active in placing new windmills!
The weather was for the Tuesday itself. I needed an current weather forcast in order to complete my navplan with wind- and speed calculations, and my meteo briefing.

Legend of the symbols in the GLLFC (Graphical Low Level Forecast)
The weather was not ideal, that day. The cloudbase was relatively low, completely overcast. But it was legal to conduct the flight at 1500 ft, so no "no-go" there. The forecast promised ceilings rising, so if anything, things looked like they only would get better. Wind was not too much, but somewhat cross to the runway. Enough to reach my personal limit of 10 knots crosswind. Visibility was about 10 km. Again, well above minimums, but with so much moisture in the air, that the horizon was somewhat blocked by greyness.
I did not make things easier for myself by declaring the weather "good enough".
The flying itself went OK, especially considering the circumstances. When we passed Deventer, my examiner asked me to divert to Hoogeveen, and that's where things started to go wrong. I asked the examiner to fly straight and level for a bit while I would plot our new course on the map (good call). I determined the heading, allowing for wind compensation, and calculated that it would take me 21 minutes to get there. Only, I forgot to note the time at which we started to deviate. The landscape in the East of the Netherlands is pretty featureless. It's "fifty shades of green", with a couple of villages of no more than 300 people, they all look the same (the villages, that is). No railroads, no major highways, no distinctive water features. That, combined with my not writing down the start time of my deviation, and the exam stress induced warped sense of time, made me feel like I should have already passed Hoogeveen after some 10 to 15 actual minutes. I felt like I had already been searchin for Hoogeveen for half an hour! Than I spotted a larger settlement, which fulfilled a couple of requirements for being Hoogeveen: a road to the left, a road underneeth, and industrial area to the North, and some green fields that could well be the airport. "OK", my examiner said, "Fly me over the airfield; no need to actually land". As I approached, I noticed that the roads were no highways, the green fields were soccer fields, ..., this was not Hoogeveen! And because I could not find anything on the map that resembled what I was looking at on the ground (I was sure I had already passed Hoogeveen, remember?), I had to admit that I was not sure of my position. I retrospect, there are a number of things I could have done at that moment, but I just shut down.
On the way back to Lelystad, we did the other air exercises (steep turns, emergency landings, no stalls because of low ceiling), and at Lelystad three landings (normal, flapless, precision). All the exercises and landings were quite good, despite the 12 to 15 knots crosswind that were measured at that time. But the damage had already been done, of course.
They call it a "partial pass" to formulate it positively, but it felt like a big failure. 5 Out of 6 sections were passed, but for the section Navigation, I was given a second chance to prove myself on a different day. It was up to me if I wanted to take some extra lessons in between.

I decided to go for a quick-as-possible re-try. That was on March 30th, with only Lelystad-Hoogeveen to prepare.

Of course I knew that there would be another diversion. The choice would be between turning left to Drachten, or right to Teuge. Leeuwarden is a military field, and Groningen is controlled. So that leaves these two. Since Teuge would be too easy (fly past the city of Zwolle, and follow the river IJssel), I decided I would practice a diversion to Drachten in Microsoft Flight Simulatoer, with NL-2000 fotoscenery, to see what features I could expect. And indeed, at the exam I flew exactly the same diversion. Even from the same point enroute, and with the same wind I assumed during the trial run. Plus, visibility was 20-30 miles, so I could see Drachten from the moment I started the diversion.
Near Drachten I was instructed to navigate to Urk. Did the same as when diverting to Drachten: let the examiner fly stright and level, plot a line on the map, add time tick-marks, note the time of the start of the deviation, regain control, and steer the heading, Immediately I saw that big pancake called Noordoostpolder, with all those toothpicks standing in line along the IJsselmeer coastline. Where this line of toothpicks is interupted, that's where Urk is. So I didn't need those obvious features as Heerenveen, Tjeukermeer, that one forest in the middle of the clay polder.
After another extremely well 15 knots crosswind landing (I am now raising my personal limit), this time I DID pass the 6th section.

It has been a learing experience for me. If you ever find yourself in a position that you are up for your PPL practical, here's some takeaways I can offer from this experience:

1) do your thing. You know how to fly, just follow your nav plan, keep your altitude as best you can.
2) You know you'll get a diversion after some initial navigation. Try to think of a diversion that you would give, if you were the examiner, and look it up carefully. Preferably in a flightsim, but Google Earth will do fine as well. Look for the features you'd be looking for from the plane.
3) As your examiner to take the controls for a minute when you plot and plan your diversion. That will give you time, and hands to do the preparation.
4)Have enough space available on your nav log too add extra lines, or at least take a new, empty one with you, so you can document the diversion in a structured way that you are used to.
5) No need to worry about the other exercises until you have done at least one diversion leg.
6) An examiner thinks you have passed, until you prove the opposite. He's not the Boogeyman, just another fly guy.

I for one am sure I will never forget to write down the time I start a diversion. On top of that, I always have the G500, backed up by an iPad, backed up by an iPhone that can all tell me where I am, and were I can or may go to. But those are off limits during an exam, of course...

 treated myself to a new logbook, to start this new chapter in my PPL life fresh.
Now all that remains is the long wait for the piece of paper...

To be continued... ;D

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