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A CFI's Checkride Experience

A story written by a female heli pilot when she received her CFI license.

I am a certified flight instructor! Believe me it feels fabulous!

The ground started at about 9:00am. There were lots of questions about endorsements, training techniques and some really tough aerodynamics. I had a moment of panic when my brain checked out for a few minutes and I misinterpreted an airspace requirement. I took a minute to collect my thoughts and then told the examiner that I had answered the question completely wrong. He agreed wholeheartedly, which didn't make me feel much better but the brain kicked on again and I had the correct answer. Then after about two and a half hours of oral questioning I presented a ground lesson to five other students. Two of the students were fixed wing students so they asked great questions since they weren't as familiar with the maneuver (maximum performance takeoff).

After the ground lesson we took a short lunch break. My friend Erin brought
me lunch and we chatted nonstop about the checkride. Erin was scheduled for
her CFI checkride directly after mine. She gave me a huge pep talk and sent
me on my way. After a through preflight we started up the helicopter.

There are two settings for communicating with another person in the
helicopter, a intercom button and a hot mic. When the hot mic is switched on
it is not necessary to press the intercom button, the system is voice
activated. After starting the engine I turned the hot mic on so that I could
talk through the instrument check and begin "instructing" with the examiner,
Dale. When I turned the hot mic on I could no longer hear myself and Dale
couldn't hear me either. Agghhh.


I did my best to remain calm and after troubleshooting for a few minutes
decided to go inside and get a different headset. I let Dale have the
controls and jumped out. The headset I brought back was much better but I
still had a hard time hearing myself with the hot mic on. Dale could hear me
a little bit so we decided that we would go. I used the intercom switch for
most of the checkride.


We departed the airport and flew towards the mountain so I could complete
the confined area maneuver. On the way there I "taught" Dale straight and
level flight. He had told me on the ground that he would do exactly what I
told him to do so I made sure to talk about GENTLE control inputs.
Apparently it worked fine because he flew very well and was satisfied with
my instruction.


The confined area was one I had been to before and wasn't too difficult
except for the wind which was gusty and strong. Dale encourages combining
required maneuvers so I performed a steep approach into the confined area.
The area is a logging road in a bit of a clearing. The road has a slight
grade to it, so I had planned to use it to demonstrate a slope landing.
Beacuse of the wind the slope landing was pretty ugly but he said it was
fine.


Then I performed a maximum performance takeoff out of the confined area and
check off one more required maneuver. On the way back to the airport I
demonstrated settling with power recognition and recovery. Settling with
power is a condition where the helicopter is sinking into its own downwash.
The descent rate can be more than 2,000 feet per minute in the advanced
stages. This is most likely to occur near the ground so prompt recognition
and recovery is critical. I discussed how it is important to give forward
cyclic to get out of the downwash before arresting the descent. This went
well. Then on the way back to Hillsboro Dale gave me a simulated low RPM
recovery. This is easy to recover from and isn't a big deal at all.


I was clear for the Alpha pattern which is a helicopter pattern using the
Alpha taxiway. Only one helicopter is permitted to use Alpha at a time and I
verified that Alpha wasn't "hot". It wasn't, so I proceeded. Then I saw a
helicopter on a collision course about 500 feet away from me. I took evasive
action by descending and turning away. The other helicopter didn't
immediately see me but then also turned away. I was very rattled. The other
helicopter had cut through Alpha on their way out of Hillsboro. It was their
mistake. I knew I couldn't let it interfere with the checkride so I
completely compartmentalized it. So much so that I had even forgotten it
happened until several hours after my checkride.


Not 20 seconds after the evasive action I had a near miss with a bird.
Striking a bird is one of my biggest fears because it is an element that is
completely out of my control. Anyhow, again I compartmentalized and finished
my pattern and made a normal approach to a taxiway intersection. I did
forget to mention that we slow the helicopter to a walking pace over the
ground so Dale questioned me about that on the ground.


Now it was time for the maneuver that I was most worried about, the full
down autorotation. An autorotation is a powerless flight condition where the
helicopter's main rotor is driven by the air flowing upwards through it. In
the private training and commercial training autorotations are done with a
power recovery at the end because one gets the feel of an autorotation
without having to performing the maneuver all the way to the ground and
increasing the possibility of a mistakes immensely. In the CFI training the
autorotations are done all the way to the ground and the energy that is in
the rotor blade is used to slow the helicopter and control the touchdown.
Timing is essential- flare too low and you will have a hard landing as well
as a possible tail boom strike, flare too high and you will use all the
energy too soon and fall the last few feet.


I explained to Dale that my plan was to set up for a full down but if I
didn't feel comfortable or liked the set up I would do a power recovery.
This is considered a "go around" and doesn't constitute being unable to
perform the maneuver but rather good judgment. Since I was unwilling to
worry about pressing the intercom button during the full down we would use
the barely operable hot mic. It was extremely odd feeling since you get so
used to hearing yourself. Even though I couldn't hear myself, I talked
through the whole thing anyway. My set up looked great and I decided to
proceed. My touchdown was slightly on the aft skids but was well cushioned
and completely safe. Yes! At this point the checkride is more of less
complete and I knew I had passed. The only thing left I had to do was a post
flight inspection on the helicopter. I asked Dale if he would fly back to
the ramp. He was very willing to fly since he doesn't often get to fly on
checkrides. I leaned back and enjoyed the ride, I was a CFI. I bounced
around and smiled from ear to ear the rest of the afternoon.

Erin went into her checkride and I gave her a similar pep talk before her
flight. I even borrowed a hand held radio from the fuel services guy so I
could listen in while she completed her checkride. I was able to watch Erin
complete her full down. It was so beautiful that I thought she had a power
recover since she timed her flare so well as to almost completely stop her
descent. I was watching from upstairs in the lunchroom of the school with
Adam a fellow student who had just passed his CFI checkride the day before.
We stood up and cheered like she had won the World Series. Erin also let
Dale fly back to the ramp. I asked her on my handheld when she returned for
the good news. Dale said, "Do we have to put this over the radio?" This was
in a pretty serious tone but Adam encouraged me to say, "Only if it is good
news." After an interminable long ten seconds Erin said "Lorena, you are
just going to have to wait" Whoa... sheer panic set in. Had she passed? How
could she have not passed? Everything looked great? For the next twenty
minutes Adam and I went out to his car and debated over and over again what
this meant. It was awful. I felt more anxiety for Erin than I had on my own
checkride. Finally I got up the courage to go in and find her. She had
passed with flying colors but she and Dale had decided to play a little joke
on me not realizing I would take it so seriously! Whew! Needless to say
there was lots of laughing and celebrating that night.

Thank you all for your support. I know I have a crowd of people which have
made this possible. I couldn't have done it without you. As for my plans
now, I took yesterday off before starting into the next rating. I am hoping
to finsh this up in a month or so before heading home for a visit in July.
At this point I am hoping to get a job here at Hillsboro to work towards the
magical 1000 hour mark and my first "real" job. The next rating is self
paced so I should be a little more communicative. I hope all is well with
you.

 


 

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