It’s taken me longer than I planned to write about my checkride. I think I was so exhausted that I just needed a little break. I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts in place to tell you the story. Now I have, and here’s a little taste of that very exciting day.
I’ve never been so nervous in my life. The days leading up to my Private Pilot Checkride were some of the most agonizing days I think I’ve ever experienced. I think the worst part was not sleeping well; as every time I’d wake up in the night, all I could think about was the checkride and worrying about whether I’d pass or not.
I studied relentlessly, to the point that I just didn’t think I could study any more. I kept wondering if what I was studying was actually sticking in my brain, or just splatting there and rolling down the wall like that sticky stuff my kids always loved to play with when they were small. You know the stuff, it’s gooey, splats and then plops down continuously until it hits the floor. That was my brain on studying by the time the checkride day arrived.
My checkride wasn’t scheduled until 3 in the afternoon, so I had the entire morning to lose my mind. My instructor had scheduled me for the plane about 2 hours prior to arrival time. I would have to fly 30 minutes to Davidson County Airport to meet the examiner, and give myself plenty of time in case there was an aircraft issue prior to departure. It turned out to be a good thing.
I was happy to go to Davidson as I had flown there a few times previously and was familiar with the airport. I even went up there a couple of days beforehand to practice so that I’d be confident about getting there and landing.
I tried to be calm and not really study that morning. I made sure I had all my paperwork together, and the information I needed on the plane ready. I rechecked my flight bag several times to ensure it was prepped for the flight. I reviewed my flight plan and the weather more than once.
I got to the airport a bit early and went out to preflight before my departure. The landing light was out of course, and there was a chance I might not get back until after dark. I knew I would have to have it or I wouldn’t be able to fly it back home. I quickly went inside to see if there was a way to get it replaced prior to leaving. Understanding the urgency with my checkride in the afternoon, they got on the phone and tracked down the maintenance crew. I was told to take the light and taxi the plane to the maintenance hangar. They would get right on it so I could make my appointment.
I taxied out and made my way down a couple of hangars where I was to meet the maintenance gentlemen. As I turned to make my way, I was caught by delightful surprise when I saw my old friend, Juliet, sitting pretty on the ramp. She was the first plane I ever soloed, it seemed like a lifetime ago. She’s a lovely Piper Cherokee, and my eyes filled with tears as I reflected on my journey to get to this day. I knew she wasn’t there by accident, and that it was a sign that today was going to be the day I finally get my license.
The maintenance gentlemen started using taxiing signs to park me up close but not fully into the hangar. After I shut it down and opened up the door, he came up, smiled and said he was happy to see that I understood hand signals. I smiled back and said, “Yes, I do.” I flew out of Concord for awhile and we used them there frequently. I felt kind of proud of myself as he said that not everyone knows them. I grinned to myself looking over at Juliet and thought, “This is going to be a good day.”
He quickly went to work on switching out the landing light. It was a much more labor intensive swap out than I would have thought. There were so many screws, and he had to note each of them and where they had been located. I watched intently, listened to him talk about his flying time and recalling his checkride. He was amazing, and very understanding. It did seem to take forever, but I calmly reminded myself that there was plenty of time and no need to rush or be irritated. After seeing Juliet, I couldn’t be stressed any longer.
Once he finished and we checked everything out, he sent me on my way. I gave Juliet a wave and thanked her for showing up on such an important day for me. I wished her well as I departed.
The flight to Davidson was a bit bumpier than I had thought it would be; but overall, it was uneventful. There was another plane in the pattern when I arrived, but I felt confident and excited as I crossed midfield and announced my entry to downwind. I was worried that the examiner might already be there and I wanted my landing to be a good one, just in case he was watching. It was, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I taxied her up to park in front of the FBO office.
As I parked the plane and prepared to go in, I got a text from the examiner saying he was delayed and would be about 30 more minutes before he got there. Well, that gave me time to potty, get my stuff together and review my paperwork again.
Once he arrived, he was quick to set my nerves at ease. He made it a conversation about flying, and asked me questions as we worked through each of the items that had to be covered. It went by more quickly than I imagined it would, and most things came to mind rather quickly. A few things, I stumbled over but managed to get through them. I was so relieved when the oral exam was finished and I had passed it. Now, it was time for the flying portion.
He sent me out to preflight and said he would follow shortly. Since it was early fall, the sun was already beginning to set. He asked if I wanted to wait and come back, as it would mean that when we finished, I’d be flying back in the dark. In the back of my mind, I was so relieved that I had taken the time to get the landing light replaced, or I’d have had to wait till another day to finish up my checkride. I wanted to get this done today, regardless of anything else. The examiner was accommodating, and we took to the skies.
There was a full moon that evening, and it was so bright that we used it as my reference for steep turns. He asked me to do different maneuvers one at a time; and for what only seemed like minutes, turned out to be over an hour I found out after landing. I did everything flawlessly that night to my surprise. I knew when I was preparing for my last landing that I had done well. Once we parked, he shook my hand, told me to savor the moment, and congratulated me on passing. He also told me I flew like a 250 hour pilot, not a student pilot. I couldn’t have received a greater compliment. Upon hearing those words, I began to cry. I apologized and shared with him my history, how I had battled breast cancer, and overcame the FAA medical issues to finally get here today. He gave me a hug and told me to enjoy it.
It was dark when I left Davidson after my checkride. I was so elated, overwhelmed and exhausted; but I was also so excited that I couldn’t wait to share my news with everyone. It was a short flight back to Monroe on a beautiful full moon evening. The air was smooth, the lights of Charlotte were glowing softly in the distance and I couldn’t stop grinning. I was so proud of myself for making it through this day. I knew seeing Juliet was a good sign. If I hadn’t had that light issue, I’d have never seen her there that day. I feel like it was a gift and a way to set my mind at ease; after that moment, I was filled with confidence and determination. The fulfillment of my dream was finally realized. A long, hard path that in the end was worth every ounce of blood, sweat, tears and lack of sleep.
Don’t ever let anyone crush your dreams. Work harder than anyone else, study more, endure the sleepless nights, the long hours, cry your tears, wipe them off, pull up your big girl pants and tell the world they can’t stop you! It’s worth it, and once you’re there, no one can take the success of the moment away from you. Savor your successes!