Getting a Commercial Certificate

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This page last updated on 04/17/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


My Reasons

I've worked in the telecom industry for over 10 years.  That technology sector has been pretty good to me.  I got involved in cellular telephony equipment as cell phones were getting popular.  After that was the internet boom and there was a surge in work on transmission class equipment.  When the internet bubble burst, the bottom dropped out of the transmission market.  I went back to traditional telephony and joined a start-up company.  Times were very difficult as the telecom industry experienced the worst melt-down in its history.  The company I worked for struggled and thrashed for survival.  I know many good engineers that were laid off and jobless for 1-2 years.  During all this, many technology jobs moved off-shore to India and China.  I had been lucky and managed to hold on, but it became clear that in 10-15 years there might not be many jobs like mine left in the States.  I started thinking pretty hard about alternate sources of income just in case the worst happened.

All this turmoil spurred me to start my own software company.  Maybe I could develop small products that would stay under the Chinese and Indian RADAR.  They wouldn't bother with the penny ante stuff, it wouldn't be worth the trouble.  So far I've developed about a half dozen little applications and am working on more.  It's a labor of love really.  I might not be able to make a living off of them but the work gives me great comfort.  At least I am DOING something rather than just waiting for the guillotine blade to drop.

I tried to think of other things I could do to turn a buck.  Well I could fly, but there are a lot of broken dreams on those rocks.  Also I'm too old to seriously begin an aviation career.  Still, if I got laid off, maybe I could do some minor work.  With a commercial certificate I could conceivably do flight instruction, banner towing, pipeline patrol, tuna spotting, etc.  It wouldn't pay much more than working at McDonald's, but at least I'd be doing something I like.  These seemed like pretty lame reasons to get a commercial certificate, but who knows...if I had a commercial certificate, at least I would be prepared if an opportunity came along.

After getting my instrument rating, I became interested in flying the Cessna turbo Centurion (T210) my FBO has for rent.  I only had 50 hours of complex time and needed 100 to fly the T210.  It just seemed like a waste to spend 50 hours boring holes in the sky obtain the privilege of flying it.  Getting a commercial certificate requires flight time in a complex airplane.  If I was going to log time in a complex airplane, I might as well be working to further my flight training.  I decided to combine the accumulation of complex time with a commercial certificate.

I spoke with my instructor, Rick, about the rating.  He reviewed my logbook and asked a few questions.  He said that I already met almost all the requirements for a commercial certificate.  The only thing I lacked was training on a few specific maneuvers and, of course, the commercial written test.  He said the commercial was just an expanded version of the private pilot certification.  The FAA requires at least 20 hours of training with an instructor for the commercial.

Training Diary

On April 6th, 2004, I went out to Monarch and consulted Rick.  He suggested that I skip the Cessna Pilot Center training kit and just buy a few select books.  He said I already knew most of the stuff I would need.  We would do the training as a Part 61 activity.  At his suggestion, I bought the following books:

  • ASA Commercial Oral Exam Guide
  • ASA Practical Test Standards:  Commercial Pilot
  • Gleim's Commercial Pilot FAA Knowledge Test
  • ASA Pilot's Manual, Volume 2:  Private & Commercial
  • Gleim's Commercial Flight Maneuvers  (Rick didn't actually suggest this book; I bought it a few weeks later to help visualize flight maneuvers.)

I would do my training in the Cessna 172RG.  Complex time is required for the commercial certificate and I needed to accumulate more complex time anyway.  The only problem was the 172RG was out of service getting a new paint job.  It would be back on the line in a few days...maybe a week.  To fly the T210, I needed a high performance checkout.  I suggested that Rick could give me the checkout in the Cessna 182 while we waited for the 172RG.  Rick seemed to like the idea.  He said he would call me soon.  The remaining part of this saga is recorded as a diary below:

  • 4/8
    High performance checkout in the Cessna 182.  I got out to the airport at about 5:30 PM and began preflighting the airplane.  Rick showed up when I was almost finished.  We talked about airspeeds and a few other details then went flying.  It was just a pretty basic checkout.  We did slow flight, stalls, steep turns, short and soft field landings, etc.  It was a pretty mellow set of drills.  We did our landings out at McKinney.  I had been overshooting my turns onto final a bit and Rick chastised me about it.  Well, OK...so they're not perfect, but I was squeaking the tires on the pavement real smooth.  Rick asked me to see how close to the 500 foot mark on the runway I could touchdown.  Well, I touched down 80-100 feet beyond the desired mark.  Now it was Rick's turn to try.  He took the controls and ran a pretty good pattern.  He was coming in very well, floating about 2 feet off the pavement as the 500 foot mark slid by.  He still had a bit of excess speed to bleed off, but tried to push the plane down on the pavement so he could beat my landing distance.  Unfortunately he hit the nose wheel first and the airplane bucked down the runway in a series of about 4 jumps.  Rick was a bit embarrassed and I just had to snicker after he had chastised me for my base to final turns.  Hoo-boy...heh, heh, heh...  After all that, we had tied in the landing contest.  I told Rick the performance criteria had been how close we could land to the 500 foot mark, not how pretty it was.  We had a good laugh and went back to Addison.
     
  • 4/30
    Between being sick for about 2 weeks and endless rainy days I haven't been able to fly at all.  Rick and I have cancelled about 8 lessons.  All the maneuvers I have to learn need to be done in VFR conditions.  Ah well...sooner or later the weather has to clear up.  In the mean time, I finally got out to the airport today and completed a written test on the Cessna 182.  It's the last part of my high performance checkout.  It took two hours of digging through the Pilot's Operating Handbook to ferret out all the information.  I'm glad that's done.  If I am going to fly the Cessna 210 by mid-July (which is my goal), I have to accumulate another 50 hours of retractable time.  I'm running out of calendar time to accomplish that.  I'll have to take a couple of long trips to get my hours up.  I was thinking of flying to Peoria, Illinois over a weekend to take pictures of the house my family lived in when I was 10.  It'll be a real trip down memory lane.
     
  • 5/4
    Rick and I got together for my first commercial lesson.  We went out to McKinney and did a lot of short and soft field landings.  That was basically it...just polishing landing skills.  One of the other things I need to accomplish is a night cross country of over 100 NM with at least 2 flight hours.  This has to be completed with an instructor on board.  It's kind of funny, because I have flown many night cross countries of more than 4 hours.  The regulations require a long cross country with an instructor on board, so I've got to make a special trip for that.  The night was warm and calm with a full moon; perfect cross country flying.  Rick and I decided to seize the moment and fly to Longview, TX.  After landing practice, we stopped off back at Addison to prepare for the cross country.  Rick went to grab a bite while I got weather and computed our flight plan.  Upon Rick's return, we piled in the plane and were off by 9:30.  The night was perfect.  A very nice flight to Longview.  We did two touch and goes then headed back to Addison.  Enroute, I turned the cockpit lights down low.  Rick tuned a radio station on the ADF and we settled on the return leg.  It was so mellow.  The Earth a ghostly shadow in silver moonlight.  The moonlight twinkled and danced on lakes and streams.  We drifted along for an hour...timeless, dreamlike.  We spoke little, being contentedly absorbed in our own thoughts.  I think many pilots have this feeling flying at night.  I felt I could go on forever like this...just drifting along under the stars.  An eternal peace; a silent tranquility of spirit; a raindrop, finally finding its place in the ocean.  My God, I love flying.
     
  • 5/6
    Rick and I went out and practiced 50 steep turns, power on and power off stalls, slow flight, Chandelles, finishing off with short and soft landings.  The Chandelles were a new maneuver for me.  When Rick explained how to do them before the flight, they sounded very difficult.  When we were flying, he demonstrated them twice then I tried my hand at it.  They turned out to be much easier than I expected.
     
  • 5/25
    Rick and I finally got together again to work on my commercial.  We were delayed by bad weather.  I also had to go out of town on business for a week.  Emergency descents were the only thing new in this lesson.  They were a lot of fun!  We also practiced Chandelles, steep turns, slow flight, power-off stalls, short field take-offs/landings, soft field take-offs/landings, and 180 accuracy landings.  We even managed to squeeze in an ILS practice approach back at Addison.  We really crammed a lot into 1.6 hours of flying!
     
  • 5/28
    I had planned an instrument flight to Peoria, IL to build up my complex time.  Unfortunately, the day before my departure, Monarch called and said the plane was down for maintenance with a burned out landing gear hydraulic motor.  I had to scrub my flight.  Bummer!  I had wanted to get 100 hours of retractable time under my belt by mid-July at the latest, but that now seemed pretty unrealistic.  I decided to just give up on that goal and quit pushing it.  I'd build up 100 hours soon enough.
     
  • 6/4
    Once again bad weather delayed a number of lessons.  Ah well, spring is the time for thunderstorms in Texas.  I finally got together with Rick again to do some flying.  The 172RG I usually fly was down for maintenance with a burned out landing gear hydraulic motor.  When I got out to Monarch and was getting the plane dispatched, a guy I'd never seen before walked in.  A couple of the instructors jumped him.  One instructor in particular (who shall remain nameless) really grilled the guy on how he had managed to burn out the landing gear hydraulic motor in the 172RG.  Apparently, this was the guy that had been flying the airplane when it happened.  I gathered that he had retracted the gear but that the hydraulic motor did not automatically shut off like it was supposed to.  Instead, it ran and ran, but the guy didn't notice.  Eventually, it overheated and burned up.  This one instructor asked him, "Didn't you hear it running!?  Didn't you check the ammeter!?"  "Wow," I thought, "That could've happened to me and I'm not certain I would have noticed either.  I sure don't want to take the heat like this poor guy.  I'm going to make darned sure I pay attention so that doesn't happen to me!"  Anyway, Rick and I ended up taking a brand new 172SP.  It's loaded with fancy-schmancy avionics.  We did Chandelles, steep turns, and short/soft landings and take-offs.  Rick introduced an emergency landing technique called the steep spiral.  In this maneuver, you just do a descending three turn spiral over a selected off-field landing site.  You are supposed to roll out downwind about 1000 feet above the selected landing field.  I managed 2 turns before I ran out of altitude.  Rick also introduced lazy eights.  This maneuver is just like it sounds...a lazy slow maneuver where the nose of the plane bobs up and down and side to side, tracing out a figure eight on the horizon.  Actually it's a figure eight laying on its side...like an infinity symbol.  I thought it was going to be a tough maneuver, but it turned out pretty easy.  It's actually kind of relaxing.  No wonder they call it a lazy eight!  Overall, my air work was pretty good.  However, my landings were a different story.  Usually I nail them pretty well, but something was just off tonight.  Kept overshooting the base to final turn and came in high every time.  My takeoffs were OK but not great.  On the way back to Addison, I asked Rick to shoot an ILS approach.  I just watched and tried to pick up some tips.  He was using the autopilot and the GPS all the way down.  He wasn't actually hand-flying the plane but was twisting knobs on the autopilot to make the plane descend and track the localizer.  It was kind of an S-turning mess of an approach but was interesting to watch.  I don't usually fly airplanes with autopilots and GPS receivers.  Allegedly, the plane can fly an ILS approach down to decision height.  Pretty cool if you know how to orchestrate all the avionics.  We didn't but I learned a lot on just one approach.
     
  • 6/11
    Seven days of uninterrupted rain and thunderstorms again delayed my lessons with Rick.  On Friday, old man weather finally gave me a break.  Rick and I met out at the airport to do a bit of flying.  Chandelles, steep spirals, lazy eights, and steep turns were the order of the day.  All of my maneuvers were pretty rough.  I need a lot more practice.  As we were flying along, Rick orally grilled me on emergency procedures.  He even simulated a landing gear extension failure by pulling the gear pump circuit breaker.  I had been memorizing the emergency checklists and knew what to do.  I configured the plane properly and used the emergency manual hydraulic pump to deploy the gear.  The book says it should take 35 pumps of the pump handle to lower the gear, but it was down and locked in 17.  It was much easier to manually extend the gear than I expected.  We didn't do any practice landings, but I shot a practice ILS 15 approach back into Addison.  That came off well and I was very pleased.  It was a satisfying lesson; I really enjoyed it.  All-in-all a great way to end the week.
     
  • 6/16
    I went out to the airport after work for another lesson with Rick.  Beforehand, I had noticed the Cessna 172RG status had been changed, indicating it was down for maintenance.  I had been schedule in the 172RG, but someone rescheduled my flight in a Cessna 172N.  No problem, although I'd rather do it in the 172RG.  This was all a big surprise to Rick.  He asked a couple of the other instructors about it.  One of them said the RG was up at McKinney because some guy up there was working on his commercial certificate.  "Well what about me and my students?," Rick exclaimed.  The guys told him that Trey had authorized it.  Trey is the head guy out at Monarch.  I think Rick was a bit agitated.  The whole thing seems kind of bogus to me too.  Anyway, I preflighted the 172N and we took off.  We headed up to Pilot Point and did a bunch of air work.  Steep turns, Chandelles, steep spirals, a simulated emergency landing, and lazy eights.  I did mediocre on all of them.  Then we headed to McKinney for a set of practice landings.  Enroute, Rick did not let me use the VORs or GPS for navigation; he wanted me to do it all by pilotage.  I managed to find McKinney airport and gain a clearance to land.  We did short and soft field landings.  I did fair on those...not real sharp.  I think I was a bit tired tonight.  I haven't been getting much sleep lately.  I've been staying up late surfing the net.  Anyway, we headed back to Addison where I shot the NDB 15 approach.  It went really well!  I am so happy about that.  During my instrument training, NDB approaches gave me a good bit of trouble.  I haven't shot an NDB approach since finishing my instrument rating back in early March.  I was very surprised that I was able to shoot the approach and have it come out so well.  Wow...maybe some of that stuff really did sink in after all!
     
  • 6/23
    Stormy weather delayed my lessons once again.  We've had many more thunderstorms this spring than usual and it's affected my flying.  Anyway, Rick and I finally got together again for a lesson.  I preflighted the 172RG and we took off.  We did the usual set of drills; steep turns, Chandelle's, steep spirals, emergency landing procedures, and lazy eights.  They all turned out OK.  A few defects but I can tell I'm improving.  For example, I can usually hold 50 feet in the steep turn.  The test standards require 100 feet for the commercial certificate.  My lazy eights are still pretty inconsistent though.  After the air work, Rick had me to navigate with map and eyeball to McKinney for some practice with short and soft field landings.  After one of my touch-and-gos, during climb-out, Rick pulled the landing gear hydraulic pump circuit breaker.  He tried to be sneaky about it saying he was turning the landing light off, but I saw him pull the breaker.  On downwind I tried to extend the gear.  Of course it wouldn't go down, but I was ready.  I checked the position of all the switches and pumped the gear down manually.  I was able to do all that and make the planned short field landing without a snag.  Rick asked me if I saw him pull the breaker and I had to confess.  We had a good laugh and headed back to Addison.  I asked Rick if he wanted to shoot an instrument approach and he readily agreed.  Letting him shoot an approach is sort of like a tip.  I pay for the plane and his time for the 15 minutes it takes to shoot the approach and he gets to fly and log the approach for currency.  At first we thought we'd shoot the NDB 15, but the wind was from the north.  That approach would put us at odds with traffic departing Addison.  Instead we settled for the ILS 33.  Rick got the radios all set up.  In an ILS approach, glideslope intercept demarks the FAF.  If the glideslope fails, you have to revert to a localizer only approach.  In that case, you need something else to identify the FAF.  Usually this is the DME, but our DME was inoperative.  The next best thing was a cross radial off Cowboy VOR.  We contacted approach and Rick received RADAR vectors to the final approach course.  As he was maneuvering, a devilish thought occurred to me.  These ILS approaches are a piece of cake for Rick...I ought to do something to make it more interesting.  I decided to flip the NAV 1 frequency just before the FAF, a critical point in the approach.  This would simulate a glideslope failure.  Rick had better be ready to revert to a localizer only approach using NAV 2 otherwise he'd mess it up.  "Heh, heh...what a great idea," I clucked to myself.  Rick briefed the approach but did not go over what he would do if the glideslope failed.  Ho yeah...I'll catch him unprepared!  Rick got NAV 2 set up to identify the FAF cross radial off Cowboy, so he was at least thinking a little bit along the lines of a possible localizer approach.  Rick turned onto final and bracketed the localizer.  The tower then told him to increase speed by 10 knots.  This put him at 110 knots coming down final.  That was really good, because it would throw his MAP timing off unless he mentally compensated for it.  Just as the glideslope was coming down off the upper peg, I flipped the NAV 1 frequency.  The glideslope and localizer readings from NAV 1 went off-scale.  This only threw Rick for about 3 seconds.  He had the Cowboy VOR online and the localizer on standby in NAV 2.  He flipped the NAV 2 frequency to bring the localizer online.  The NAV 2 CDI centered up nicely.  The only problem was we now had no way to identify the FAF.  Rick recognized his mistake and flipped back to the VOR, but the CDI swayed around drunkenly and took 5-10 tense seconds to stabilize.  He declared the FAF passed, so I started my timer.  Technically, Rick should have had a timer out for this.  Without the DME the only way we had to identify the MAP was by time and he wasn't ready for that.  Anyway, I kept time for him.  He asked what our MDA and MAP were as he had not briefed himself on these items.  The MDA was 1240 feet and the MAP was 2:44 at 90 knots, 2:03 at 120 knots.  He was running 110 to 105 knots down final because of the requested speed increase.  He got down to 1240 feet just fine, but the MAP timing was all goofed up.  At 1:30 we were already on a very short final.  Rick glanced up and said he'd just land from there.  He floated way down the runway with all that excess speed.  In addition a Gulfstream 4 had just taken off in front of us and the tower cautioned us about wake turbulence.  Rick had to slip to get us down and then made a landing with the airplane yawed about 10 right.  We kind of wanged the left wheel and nosewheel...kind of an ugly arrival.  We taxied off and I read the post-landing checklist as Rick ticked off the items.  Transponder off...check...flaps up...check...cowl flaps open...check...landing light off...check...  It felt like a airliner cockpit there for a few seconds.  I kind of wondered whether Rick would be ticked off about my interference with his approach.  Quite the contrary, he seemed invigorated.  I think he enjoyed the challenge.
     
  • 7/6
    More stormy weather cancelled a couple flights.  This has been one of the wettest Junes on record.  Rick and I finally got together for a bit of practice.  Because it had been a good number of days since my previous lesson, we just planned to do some review.  Steep turns, Chandelles, steep spirals, engine out emergencies, short and soft field landings; just the usual stuff.  My steep turns and Chandelles were executed as accurately as I have ever done them.  Rick seemed pleased.  We headed back to Addison where I attempted an NDB 15 approach.  Air traffic control dropped me onto the final approach course very close to the LOM.  I got behind the airplane and never really caught up again.  The approach kind of went to pot...way left of course, way right of course.  I finally got it bracketed on short final but then descended 100 feet below MDA.  It was such a mess I just gave up while we were on mile final.  Ah well.
     
  • 7/8
    Rick and I went out east of Lake Lavon and practiced our usual drills; steep turns, lazy eights, steep spirals, and emergency landing procedures.  Everything turned out pretty good, except my steep spiral was a bit of a mess.  After that, Rick demonstrated eights on pylons, a ground reference maneuver.  Basically, a figure eight is flown over a road with turns at either end around pylons.  There aren't any real pylons we can use, so you just substitute  something easy to identify, like an intersection on the road.  The maneuver is performed at low altitude...about 700 feet.  As the plane is banked into one of the turns of the figure eight, you are supposed to align the wingtip on a pylon (road intersection) below.  The objective is to keep the wingtip glued on the pylon during the whole turn by varying the speed of the aircraft.  It's a lot tougher to do than it sounds!  You really have to finesse the pitch attitude of the airplane to make it come out right.  I tried it and all my turns were a mess.  Rick made it look easy.  This is the last new maneuver I'll have to master.  I'm going on vacation for three weeks, so there's going to be a big break in my training.  Rick said we'd hit it hard when I got back and really polish things up.
     
  • 9/17
    Wow, had a huge delay in my training:
     
    1. I was out of town on vacation for 3 weeks.  Finally got back in town on the last day of July.
    2. First week of August was a mad-house at work.  We were also scrambling to get the kids ready to start school.
    3. Second week in August, I was very busy at work and, to tell the truth, just not motivated to pour work into the Commercial rating.  I couldn't bear to dust off my flying books and start studying again.  I didn't really even feel like flying, if you can imagine that!
    4. I was sick almost continuously for three weeks from mid-August through the end of the first week in September.  Cursed immune system!

    I finally got my act together in mid-September and plunged into flying work again.  This hiatus is going to cost me.  I expect my skills have degraded substantially.  It'll take a number of flight hours to get back up to speed.  Curses!

    Rick suggested I go up and practice the maneuvers myself.  After work, I grabbed trusty ol' 5305V, the Cessna Cutlass, and headed to Commerce.  When I arrived there, I had the whole field to myself.  I practiced short and soft landings.  Next up were eights on pylons.  These turned out pretty good; not great, but much better than I expected.  I did a few Chandelles to get up to my return cruise altitude.  Back at Addison, I shot a practice NDB 15 approach.  It turned out OK.
     

  • 9/23
    I need a lot of maneuver practice.  My plan at this point is to fly with Rick once per week, just to see how I am progressing.  I'll then fly two more times per week to practice.  Hopefully, I'll get my skills up to snuff fast that way while keeping costs down a bit.  I had planned to go flying with Rick today; the first time since July 8th.  I went out to the airport after work and met with Rick.  Rick has a brother serving in Iraq.  His brother was back in the states for a few weeks, and Rick was anxious to get down to Houston to see him.  I thought I could get some decent practice in myself tonight and told Rick he should just head to Houston as soon as possible.  Rick seemed genuinely grateful and readily took me up on the offer.  We talked a few minutes then I headed out to preflight the airplane.  I flew north to Pilot Point and practiced Chandelle's, lazy eights, steep spirals, emergency landings, and eights on pylons.  The maneuvers were kind of rough.  I then headed to McKinney and did some short and soft landings.  These didn't turn out so hot either.  Back at Addison, I shot a practice ILS 15 approach that turned out great!  The needles were right on the numbers, and the approach was dead-stick the whole way.
     
  • 9/25
    Went out Saturday morning for some more practice.  Flew up north of Pilot Point and did the usual.  Lazy eights, Chandelle's, steep spirals, emergency landings, and eights on pylons.  They were all OK, not great.  I headed for McKinney and did a couple of touch-n-gos.  There was a 50 right crosswind of 11 knots with gusts to 14.  It made the landings kind of squirrely.  I've managed worse winds, but it just wasn't the best day to practice short and soft field maneuvers.  I threw in the towel and headed back to Addison.
     
  • 9/27
    I went out after work Monday to practice maneuvers.  Rick has been unavailable for instruction for a while, so I've just been going out by myself.  I know how all the maneuvers are supposed to be flown, so I just go out and practice until I feel good about them.  I've sort of fallen into a routine of buzzing north about 20 miles, then doing lazy eights at about 3000 feet, followed by a couple of Chandelle's to get me up to about 4500 feet, then a simulated engine failure and steep spiral down to 1500 feet, a simulated emergency landing down to 1000 feet (500 feet above the ground), then a climb back to my critical altitude of 1500 feet for eights on pylons.  It works out pretty well.  If I have any excess time, I try to zip over to McKinney to practice short and soft field landings...or, if I just want to take it easy, head back to Addison and do a practice instrument approach.  Today, I just did the maneuvers, an approach to landing stall, and two departure stalls.  I headed back to Addison for a practice ILS 33.  I felt unusually alert today and my maneuvers came out superb...with the exception of eights on pylons.  Those pylon turns are the hardest for me.  I know exactly what to do, but can't seem to glue the wingtip on the pylon about half the time.  I'm gradually getting better though.  Maybe there is some nuance I'm missing.  Sure would be nice to have Rick give me some pointers.  I'm looking forward to riding with him again.
     
  • 9/28
    Went out to Monarch after work and took a practice written exam.  It took me 1 hour 45 minutes for a score of 87%.  Rick wants me to score at least 90% three times in a row before he'll sign me off to take the exam for real.  Actually, I was very pleased to make it to 87% on my first try.  Hope I can get through the written soon.  It would be great to get that out of the way!  I've discovered a web site where you can take practice FAA exams for free.  I've found the on-line Commercial exam of immense value in preparing for the real thing.  If you're going to take an FAA exam, for Pete's sake, go take a look.
     
  • 9/29
    More maneuver practice.  Just the standard routine I've been following up to this point.  Threw in several steep turns to 50.  Haven't done those for a long time and they turned out passable...not great, but tolerable...actually better than I expected.  No landing practice, just headed back to Addison for a plain ol' VFR landing.  I'm getting a bit concerned because the days are growing short.  The sun sets about 7:20 PM now, and I need light to do these maneuvers.  In six weeks, it will be getting dark so early that I won't be able to practice after work.  I'll be fighting the time change to boot!  That could really pinch my progress.  I'm very motivated to blitz forward and get this certification done while there's still post-work daylight.  Eventually, the weather will get worse as winter approaches and I'll be fighting low ceilings.  Man I gotta keep it movin'.
     
  • 9/30
    Took another swing at a practice written test after work.  Got an 84%...I'm going backward...argh!  The actual FAA written only requires a 70% to pass, but I've got to work harder to clear Monarch standards.  Ah well, at least I'll know the material like the back of my hand by the time I'm through.  The test is 100 questions; twice the number of the Private or Instrument tests.  There are a lot of questions on that bane of all topics, FAA regulations!  Oh how I loath those!  Saw Rick when I was out at Monarch...first time I've seen him in a while.  I'm looking forward to flying with him again and picking up some tips.  I really need an evaluation of how I'm progressing on the commercial maneuvers.
     
  • 10/3
    Headed to Monarch late Sunday afternoon for some more flying practice.  There were some thunderstorms moving in from the west.  By the time I got out there, it seemed best to just cancel the flight.  Instead, I took another practice written test.  Scored a 97% this time.  One down, two to go; then Rick will sign me off for the real thing.
     
  • 10/5
    I headed to the airport at noon today and took another practice written test.  Got a 94% this time.  Great!  I'm on track for my three 90+ scores in a row.  After work, I went out to the airport again and met with Rick.  We were supposed to go flying, but thunderstorms were rapidly approaching from the southwest.  It wasn't clear whether or not they were moving fast enough to get here during the 2 hour duration of our flight.  After some hemming and hawing, I finally decided to cancel.  It wasn't worth running the risk of tangling with bad weather.  I was kind of disappointed, because I really want to fly with Rick, just to get a reading on how my maneuvers are coming.  Ah well...maybe next time.  On the plus side, Rick signed me off to go ahead and take the written test for real.  He said my 97% and 94% on the practice exams were good enough for him.  I am tentatively schedule to do the test on Friday around noon.  I'm really looking forward to getting it out of the way.
     
  • 10/7
    I was supposed to do some practice flying today, but Monarch called and said the plane was having propeller work done.  There are scattered thunderstorms all over the place; I probably would have had to cancel the flight anyway.
     
  • 10/8
    After studying hard all week, the day arrived for taking the real written test.  I headed to the airport at noon.  I actually felt pretty confident as I walked into the testing center.  I was ready and just wanted to get it over with.  Barring some kind of seizure or aneurism, I knew I'd be able to make at least a 70% passing score; I was even pretty sure I could get something in the 90th percentile.  I arrived about hour early, paid my $80 testing fee, and got started.  It took an hour to zip through the test and I managed a 97% score!  Whoohoo!  What a relief to get that over with.  After receiving a printout of the results, I went over to Monarch and left a copy in Rick's mailbox.  All that's left now is polishing maneuvers and passing the check-ride.  On the way back to work, I saw a plane towing a banner along highway 75.  On the bottom of the wing was painted SKYSIGN.COM.  It felt good to think I'd soon have a commercial rating and would be able to do that kind of work.  It was just a really neat feeling...that here was something I enjoyed and could make money doing.  Yeah, yeah, it would be starvation wages...but I could do it man!
     
  • 10/13
    After many weeks of solo practice, I finally got the chance to fly with Rick again.  I was anxious to get some feedback as to how I was progressing.  Unfortunately, the plane was late getting back from an earlier lesson.  By the time Rick and I got in the air, we only had little more than an hour of daylight left.  The maneuver causing the most trouble for me was eights on pylons, so we planned to hit those right off.  I got set up and flew about 3 circuits.  They turned out OK, I didn't think they were really very good, but Rick said they were good enough to pass a flight test.  Wow, that's super!  I do think they could stand to be more polished though.  The conditions were almost perfect with little wind, but the maneuvers get tougher in a good breeze.  I can't reasonably expect to have such good conditions on the day I fly with the examiner.  After a few more circuits, we headed to McKinney for some short and soft landing/take-off practice.  Those went OK, but I failed to open the cowl flaps on climb out during one trip around the pattern.  I'm not sure if Rick noticed or not, but I sure did!  Dang, I always forget to manage the cowl flaps correctly at some point in the flight.  I'm trying really hard to use them right...I just need to heighten my awareness of them.  If I get distracted at all, I forget them.  We headed back to Addison where I turned the controls over to Rick for a practice ILS 33 approach.  I just wanted to sit back and watch how Rick handled the approach.  I always seem to learn a little tip or something when I watch him.  This time I noticed that he didn't set the prop to flat pitch until he was on short final.  I always do that before the FAF as I am slowing the airplane to approach speed.  It caused me to think about why I do that and if there was a better way.  I concluded that, at least for me, setting propeller controls prior to the FAF was best.  It spreads out the workload.  I am distracted enough on short final just staying on course and glideslope.  I really don't need to be adding any additional distractions at that critical phase of the approach.  I can't see any disadvantage to setting the prop to flat pitch early in the approach either.  Anyway, Rick made a bumpy landing and we taxied in to park.  Afterwards, I asked Rick what he was going to do after leaving Monarch at the end of November.  He was going to fly pipeline patrols for a company out of Houston.  He'll be flying a twin with a pipeline observer on board.  The patrols are 5 hours in duration and that will really help Rick build his multi-engine time.  It was neat to think I could do that too after getting my commercial.
     
  • 10/16
    Went out by myself today to practice maneuvers.  There was a stiff wind from the northeast and it played havoc with my eights on pylons.  At my maneuvering altitude, the wind seemed to be 20-25 knots.  I spent 30 minutes just flying the eights and about of them turned into mangled pretzels, looking more like drunken 6s or 9s!  Heavy sigh...I need a lot more practice.  One of the things that kind of puzzles me is the way the maneuver is defined.  You are supposed to fly the maneuver along a road so that the 8 is broadside to the wind.  All the roads around here go north-south or east-west.  If the wind is out of, say, the northeast like it was today, the maneuver has to be flown a bit differently.  That confuses me somewhat because the control inputs are no longer symmetrical as you fly around the 8.  In addition, I find it hard to decide whether to fly the maneuver along a north-south road or an east-west road.  I try to pick the direction most broadside to the wind, but it's not always clear what's best.  Ah well.  No matter which way the wind is coming, I ought to be able to fly the maneuver flawlessly.  My Chandelle's, lazy eights, and steep turns all turned out pretty good.  I did one steep spiral that didn't work out at all.  On the steep spiral, you are supposed to perform three perfectly round, gliding turns about an object on the ground.  As the third turn is completed you need to roll wings level at no less than 1000 feet AGL.  Anyway, with the brisk wind, I misjudged the second turn and allowed the wind to carry me away from my ground reference point.  In a few seconds, the wind had blown me so far away that I couldn't regain my position in the turn without eating up precious altitude (you are not allowed to use engine power during the maneuver...it's all gliding).  As a result, I only completed about 2 turns before I was at my lower altitude limit of 1000 feet.  Just like my eights on pylons, I was allowing the wind to upset the applecart.  I've got to be more aggressive in combating it.  I have to be good enough to complete these maneuvers on rough days like this because these types of conditions may be present during the check-ride.  I'm just not good enough yet.
     
  • 10/18
    Went up with Rick after work tonight.  We flew out east of McKinney and did the usual drills.  Eights on pylons, Chandelle's, lazy eights, and a steep spiral.  All the maneuvers turned out fair...not my best showing but good enough.  Rick seemed OK with it anyway.  In particular, I thought I had blown my steep spiral because I allowed the wind to blow me off my constant radius turn.  I also wasn't controlling my airspeed well and was losing altitude too fast.  In the last 1 circuits, I was scrupulous with my airspeed and turn radius, and what do you know...the maneuver turned out fine!  I was lucky.  My performance on that maneuver was pretty poor, I thought.  We then zipped over to McKinney for some landing practice.  The first landing was a soft field and it turned out perfect.  A real smooth greaser; Rick was elated.  We did a bunch more short and soft field landings and take-offs.  It was getting pretty dark, so we ended the session with an engine out simulation in the pattern and precision landing.  You are allowed to land -0/+200 feet of the touchdown point, and I landed short by maybe 30 feet.  Dang, I almost had it!  We headed back to Addison where we finished up with a short field landing over a 50 foot obstacle.  I was to touch down exactly on the displace threshold, but hit it 30 feet short again.  Bummer...I need some more polish.  I didn't get much sleep last night, and it was a tough day at work.  I think I was tired and not very sharp.
     
  • 10/20
    I originally planned go flying by myself, but instead, called a guy named Kyle to see if he wanted to come along.  Kyle readily agreed, and we agreed to meet at the airport around 5:45 PM.  I know Kyle from church.  He and I had talked about flying last Sunday and he asked to tag along.  Seemed like a good opportunity to do that today.  He said he had been up in a small plane a few times before but I wasn't sure how comfortable he would be doing Chandelles and the like.  I figured we would just fly out to Commerce and do a few landings.  If I still had some daylight and Kyle was doing OK, I might throw in a few lazy eights.  The days have been getting shorter, and I wanted to leave for the airport around 4:45.  That would give me time to get the airplane ready before Kyle showed up.  We could pile in the plane and be wheels up by 6:00.  Various things kept me at work until about 5:10.  I jumped in the car and headed for the airport.  About halfway there, I remembered that I didn't bring a spare headset for Kyle.  Dang!  I had to turn around, drive home, and retrieve the second headset.  That cost me 25 minutes.  By the time I got to the airport, it was 5:45.  I looked around and didn't see Kyle.  Walking into the office, I discovered that the plane was late getting back from the previous flight.  The whole plan was pretty much coming unglued.  By the time we got off the ground there wouldn't be much daylight.  I figured I'd just skip the air work and do short and soft practice landings at Commerce.  Kyle showed up at 5:50 and we retired to the pilot lounge to wait for the plane to return.  Finally, at 6:10 the plane was back.  We got dispatched and readied the plane.  For some strange reason, I felt really nervous with a passenger along.  I hate to say it but I even noticed my hand was trembling a little bit as I slipped the key into the ignition.  This was weird...why was I so nervous?  Ah well, by the time we had taxied out onto the runway for takeoff, my nerves were settled.  I was in my element, I felt confident, and everything was right with the world; it was time to get down to business.  Enroute to Commerce, Kyle remarked that the sky was really hazy.  It was abnormally hazy and it looked like a lot of humidity to me.  With an outside temperature of almost 90, the humidity would have to be extraordinarily high to induce fog this early in the evening.  Though I kept it in the back of my mind, I wasn't really worried.  We buzzed out to Commerce and, by the time we arrived, I was ready to find a restroom.  We taxied up, shut down, and walked into the tiny pilot's lounge.  It was already dark.  We stood around and shot the breeze for a while.  After clambering back into the plane, we did a series of short and soft takeoffs and landings.  These turned out pretty good.  On the very last landing, as I was coming into the flare at about 5 feet, a thin gauzy layer of white vapor flashed through the landing light.  Fog!  It was radiation fog...and the outside temperature was probably in the low 80s.  Wow, there really must be a lot of water in the air.  I had a sudden urgent need to get back to Addison.  On the return leg, I noted how hazy and thick the air appeared, even at night.  Still, I could see ground lights clearly in all directions.  There didn't appear to be an imminent threat of significant fog.  Besides, back at Addison, the heat of the city would delay the formation of fog for some time.  I could clearly see the beacon of Greenville, Caddo Mills, and Rockwall airports.  We could land at any one of those, or even back at Commerce.  We had almost 6 hours of fuel on board and could easily find somewhere to land, even if the whole world turned white below us.  I relaxed and just enjoyed the rest of the flight.
     
  • 10/28
    We've had rainy weather almost every day for over a week.  It's supposed to keep raining for the next three or four days too.  I've missed four flights since the 20th.  Dang...this is turning into a significant delay.  I was hoping to take my check-ride in early November, but I'm sure that will be delayed a couple of weeks.  In the mean time I've been studying hard for my oral test.  In a few days, I'll be all boned up and ready to go, but the rain delays are causing another problem.  It's tough to work up to this really sharp edge and then have to sustain that level for a few weeks until the check-ride.  My next flight is supposed to be tomorrow night, but they're predicting thunderstorms.  Heavy sigh...  I'm really anxious to get this certification over with.  It has dominated every free moment for the last six weeks.  I haven't been doing any of the things I normally do; stuff like taking pictures, reading, working on products for Cloverleaf Software, etc.  After this is all over, I think I'll take a break and just fly for fun for a while.  I have started thinking seriously about getting a Flight Instructor certification.  Lord knows how much work that would take!  Still, I feel drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  Getting certifications and ratings is sort of like earning Boy Scout merit badges; only it's for big boys.  It takes work and dedication, and sometimes it's just not very fun...but still, there's a sense of accomplishment and pride.  It gets kind of intoxicating.  After I got my instrument rating I just sat around for a couple of months and didn't do much.  I started feeling like a slacker just wasting my evenings puttering around with books and my computer; not working towards any particular goal.  Even though it's a strain, it's fun to be working on something that will yield a tangible result.  Yeah, I'll probably start working on my Instructor certificate after this is all over.  I'm kind of excited about doing that and at the same time dreading the strain.  I might give my friend Oscar a call.  He's a Flight Instructor and probably has some valuable comments about the Instructor's certification.
     
  • 10/29
    Well whaddaya know, the rain and thunderstorms abated long enough to go flying after work.  The reported winds were a bit high, out of the south at 14 knots with gusts to 22, but only 10 to 20 off runway heading.  When I arrived at Monarch, I found Rick and a number of other instructors milling around behind the counter.  I thought the schedule had Rick flying with another student tonight.  Anyway, as he was dispatching the plane, I asked if he wanted to go along.  "Nah, I think I'll hang around here," he replied.  He asked me what I was going to do.  Well, my plan had been to go out to McKinney and practice landings, but if the winds proved too squirrelly, I'd just head off and do some eights on pylons.  Rick seemed to mull that over a bit then said, "Hey, I'll go after all!"  Great, I really would like to hear any feedback or criticism he might have.  I got the plane ready and we took off.  Up at McKinney, we shot a bunch of short and soft landings and takeoffs.  The wind was strong, but not really all that gusty, and I ended up doing full flap approaches.  Rick said I was doing well, but that my precision 180 power-off landings needed some polish.  I had been landing short of my mark.  A little practice and I'd have them down pat.  After that, we headed northwest to do some eights on pylons.  These turned out OK.  Rick said he thought they were good enough to pass a check ride.  After that we headed back to Addison.  I called approach, got a squawk code, and we were on our way to a visual approach.  Rick entered the Addison localizer frequency into the DME and Nav #1.  He made an offhand remark about flying instrument approaches.  I nodded thoughtfully...heh, yeah...instrument approaches are a gas alright.  I glanced over at him and he had what seemed like a hopeful look in his eye.  Oh...yeah...it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps Rick would like to do an instrument approach.  Maybe that's one reason he came along on the flight...on the off chance that he'd be able to do an instrument approach.  It was my nickel and my call.  I glanced over at Rick, "Hey, you want to try an ILS 15 approach?"  "Oh, OK!," Rick replied.  He was like "Oh yeah!," and I was like "Oh yeah, now I get it."  Rick took the controls and I got the approach plate and timer out.  I asked Rick if he'd rather do an NDB 15 approach.  Rick just smiled and said, "An ILS 15 will do just fine.  I need to practice these anyway for my checkout in Houston in a few weeks."  Oh, I must have read that "Let's do an ILS approach" look correctly...heh, heh.  I asked Rick if he would mind a few simulated equipment failures.  "Nah, I kind of like that," he replied.  Great...I had a lot of fun throwing curve balls at Rick on these approaches to see what he would do.  Rick had everything set up but missed the marker beacon, so I pointed that out.  About 5 miles from the FAF, I jumbled the DME frequency to simulate a DME failure.  Eventually, we intercepted the glideslope at about the same time we were handed off to Addison tower.  Immediately after that, we came up on the outer marker and Rick told me to start the timer.  He then noticed that we had not actually crossed the compass locator itself yet and had me to wait on the timer.  We watched the ADF needle intently for about 5 seconds until we saw the LOM go by.  Rick OK'd me to start the timer.  I then reached over and flipped the frequency on his #1 NAV receiver, causing him to lose the glideslope.  Now he had to adjust his rate of descent to 800 FPM and drop down to the MDA.  The timer was the only way he had to identify the missed approach point since the DME was out of service.  Rick did really well in adjusting his rate of descent, but got a bit wobbly on the localizer.  The CDI went about 2/3rds scale deflection to the right.  Rick corrected, but it wandered over to about a scale deflection to the the left.  Eventually, he got it lined up OK.  He also got about 50 feet too low on short final, which he later chastised himself about, but it didn't seem like a big deal to me...he was only low for maybe 15 seconds.  About 15 seconds early, he declared the missed approach point and looked up.  The runway was pretty much right in front of us.  He proceeded to a rather bumpy landing, which summoned a good round of chuckles from both of us.  Later Rick asked me why I thought he got so far off the localizer.  I thought about it for a minute and decided that either his scan had slowed down or he had fixated on one instrument for a while.  I thought maybe the point where we were watching the ADF for station passage might have been where things got messed up.  There were a lot of distractions going on right around the FAF.  He seemed to agree.  It's a lot easier to see what someone is doing wrong when you aren't the one doing it!
     
  • 11/4
    Nothing but blue sky everywhere.  Seems like weeks since we've had blue skies.  I zipped out to the airport after work and met Rick.  We buzzed out to McKinney and did short and soft take-offs and landings for over an hour.  We also did four 180 power-off precision approaches to landing.  In the power-off landings, you chop power abeam a selected touchdown point on the runway.  With no further help from the engine, you are supposed to make a gliding approach and landing.  You have to land on your selected touchdown point, -0, +200 feet.  I find it tough to do right.  I always seem to put on flaps too early and land short.  I did my second one exactly right...what a triumph.  One other came out OK, but it was mostly dumb luck.  The other two I landed short.  I definitely need more practice.  We departed the airport northwest for a bit of air work.  The tower informed us that there were six RADAR targets all overlapped at our exact position.  Rick and I looked around frantically and only saw two other airplanes.  One about 500 feet above us and about mile ahead.  Another about 1000 feet below us off our 3 o'clock position.  Counting ourselves, that made three airplanes, the other three were unaccounted for.  I asked the tower if they had any altitudes for the other aircraft.  The controller replied in a irritated voice that all the RADAR tags were merged together in an unreadable mess and that he was occupied with other things at the moment and that I should just go away and stop bothering him!  Uh...yeah..."OK, thanks for your help," I answered.  Sheezh...thanks for nothin'!  Rick and I kept our heads on a swivel and continued without seeing any other airplanes.  We did a few 50 steep turns, a steep spiral, and a simulated forced landing.  Except for one set of steep turns, I didn't think it any of my maneuvers worked out well.  Seems like I fly about 25% more incompetent whenever Rick is along!  We headed back to Addison in the fading light.  Having clued in during the previous flight, I asked Rick if he wanted to shoot the ILS 33 approach.  He readily agreed.  The heading indicator was out of service.  I figured we might as well go the whole way and simulate a full vacuum system failure, so I covered the attitude indicator.  Rick did a great partial panel approach and finished it up with a soft field landing.  We taxied in and shut down.  Rick said he thought I was doing a great job and that he wanted to send me up for a check ride with another instructor in about a week.  Sounds great!  While we were finishing up in the office, I met Kevin, the flight instructor that had given me my first instrument stage check back in October, 2003.  I hadn't seen him in months.  He's such a great guy, I was really happy to shake his hand and see how he's doing.  Hope things go well for him.  Another couple weeks of practice and study for the oral exam, and I'll be ready for my FAA check ride.  I really want to get this over with and move on to something else in life...for a while anyway.
     
  • 11/6
    A nice sunny Saturday without much wind.  A friend of mine, Wayne, tagged along for some morning practice maneuvers.  We got out to the airport about 30 minutes early and got right to work preflighting the airplane.  Just as I began, even before I had finished the initial preflight of the cabin, a guy walked up.  "Hi, my name is Joe M.  I'm with the FSDO office at Love Field and I'm doing a ramp check," the guy said.  (I'm withholding his full name for the sake of privacy.)  Holy cow, a ramp check!  In 18 years of flying I've never had a ramp check.  A ramp check is something the FAA does as part of their aviation safety surveillance program.  They can demand to see pilot credentials, airplane maintenance records, aircraft registration certificates, etc.  They can't actually board the aircraft or look at your log book though.  If the inspector finds any regulatory non-compliance or an unsafe condition, he can ground the pilot, plane, or both on the spot.  Enforcement actions can also be initiated against the pilot himself.  These can result in revocation of your pilot certificate and/or fines.  I've read all kinds of horror stories in the pilot rags about ramp checks.  I knew a couple of guys that had actually experienced a ramp check years ago.  Joe flipped his wallet open  and showed me his credentials.  I took a cursory look, but I don't really know what FAA inspector papers are supposed to look like.  "I think we met a few months ago in the Monarch office," Joe said.  We shook hands...his face looked vaguely familiar, but I wasn't sure I had actually met him before.  "Bet you never thought you'd see a government employee working on a Saturday!" said Joe.  Heh, well, heh...I dunno.  I made some lame comment about it being as good a day as any, especially with everyone out flying.  (Almost all the planes on the line were aloft.)  "Let me see your pilot and medical certificates," Joe continued.  I pulled them out of my wallet and handed them over.  I asked him if he needed a photo ID too.  "Oh yeah, let me see that, you're supposed to have that too," Joe said.  As I handed him my driver's license, he asked, "Aren't you a flight instructor?"  I told him that I wasn't but that I probably spent almost as much time out here as an instructor.  Joe seemed surprised...I think at first he thought I was a Monarch instructor with a student.  I continued to preflight the airplane for a minute or so while Joe made notes.  "What kind of airplane is this," Joe asked.  I told him it was a 1980, Cessna Cutlass 172RG.  He seemed satisfied.  I asked him if he wanted to see the aircraft documents.  "Yeah, let me see those," he replied.  I got them out and handed them over.  A few minutes later, he handed everything back.  Joe walked slowly around the plane, carefully inspecting everything he could see; sort of like a preflight.  He seemed to pay special attention to the retractable gear mechanism.  Finally, Joe said, "Tell Trey I said hi!"  (Trey is the owner of Monarch.)  He bid us good-day and headed for another guy preflighting a Cessna 182.  Whew...that was excessively exciting!  We finished the preflight inspection, pulled the plane out, piled in, and started up.  As I was beginning to taxi, I noticed Joe leaning against his car across the apron, watching us taxi out.  Suddenly, I wondered if he had found something awry with the airplane paperwork and was waiting to to see if we would go ahead with the flight.  Wayne and I discussed the possibility and agreed that Joe seemed like a straight-up guy.  He probably would have said something, if the paperwork had been deficient.  He didn't seem like a guy that would try to entrap us like that.  Anyway, we took off and headed up north of Pilot Point for some maneuvers.  Just the usual drills; lazy eights, Chandelle's, a steep spiral followed by a simulated emergency landing, eights around pylons, and steep turns.  All of these turned out OK.  Probably tolerable for an FAA check ride, but not the best I've ever done.  We headed to McKinney and shot a couple of touch-and-goes before heading back to Addison.  There were a lot of airplanes out enjoying the sunshine today.  Approach control vectored us all over the place, dodging traffic.  We finally landed, taxied in, and shut down.  Back in the office, I mentioned the ramp check and a couple of instructor's eyebrows went up, but they didn't seem to worried.
     
  • 11/8
    Practiced flying maneuvers after work.  The usual lazy eights, a Chandelle, a couple of steep spirals down to a simulated emergency landing, eights on pylons, and steep turns.  Everything turned out pretty well; at least my performance seems more consistent now, but I still haven't totally mastered turns on pylons.  Sometimes they're OK and sometimes they're a mess.  There just has to be a way to fly this maneuver with more precision.  I've been thinking and experimenting, groping for a reliable method.  After a lot of thinking, I began to suspect my pitch corrections were being made about 5-10 seconds late.  Because of that, I was almost always behind the plane and deviations in the maneuver tended to become excessively large.  Usually I just look at my position relative to the pylon and ask myself, "What control input do I need to make now."  The trouble is it takes about 5 seconds for the plane to react.  It then takes another few seconds to see the results out the window.  So, the whole cycle of assessing what I need to do, making a control input, having the airplane respond, and assessing the results is taking too long.  I tried to speed up the process as much as I could.  That helped some, but didn't solve the problem.  The only other thing I could do was try to anticipate the airplane and make pitch changes based on that perception.  Sort of guessing ahead into the future about what control inputs I would need to make at that point but then going ahead and making them now.  By the time the airplane responded, it would be doing what I wanted at that particular moment in the future.  I decided to try a little trick with myself by asking, "Where is the airplane going to be in 5 seconds?" (not "where is it now").  I then made the pitch change I thought the plane would need 5 seconds hence.  The trick worked.  It worked beautifully!  Basically, the "following-rate" of the control inputs was about 5 seconds in this maneuver and anticipating everything by 5 seconds balanced it out.  I was no longer late with my control inputs and the plane traced the pylons beautifully.  So to sum up, there are two keys to master this maneuver, at least for me:
    1. Speed up the cycle of assessing needed pitch change, making a control input, letting the airplane respond, and assessing results as much as you can.
    2. When assessing the needed pitch change, anticipate the change needed 5 seconds hence and make the control input now.

    This anticipation game is pretty weird.  In my mind I could see the view out the window 5 seconds into the future and flew the plane based on what that looked like.  The real view out the window was just used to correct this dream-like vision.  It's tough to continuously stay 5 seconds ahead of the plane like that; I really had to push myself.  A 5-10 second lapse in attention would cause a large deviation.  I'm sure most other people develop some kind of intuitive feel, but I had to consciously play this anticipation game moment by moment, otherwise the maneuver turned out sloppy.   I wonder how fast other pilots master these maneuvers.  It's hard to believe it would take most people as long as I have to hack through to minimal competence.  Oh well.  As the sun was going down, I took 5 minutes to just relax and watch.  An absolutely stunning sunset!  I headed for Addison and shot a practice ILS 15 approach.  It was pretty rough, but at least the needles were centered when I hit decision height.  I'm going to be out of town the rest of the week, so my next chance to fly will be Saturday afternoon.
     

  • 11/13
    I was out of town for four days.  I was scheduled to fly with Rick today to work on commercial maneuvers, but it was overcast and rainy all day.  Instead, I got together with Rick and flew to Tyler on instruments.  Not really relevant to the commercial rating, but good practice anyway.  We took one of the fancy schmancy new 2004 Cessna 172SP models.  It has a really nice instrument qualified moving map GPS.  The moving map can even display real time Doppler RADAR.  Very cool.  Rick showed me how to use all this equipment in conjunction with the autopilot to fly approaches.  It was weird flying an approach by twiddling knobs.  I almost didn't do any hand flying of the airplane enroute or during the approach.  Just managed the GPS and autopilot.  You only have to take manual control on short final to land the plane.
     
  • 11/19
    Rain, rain, go away!  It's been raining cats and dogs since the 9th.  Today, the ceilings were broken and variable between 2800 and 5000.  I reserved the plane and zipped out after work.  Flew north of Pilot Point and did the usual maneuvers.  Lazy 8s, Chandelles, steep spirals, emergency landing, 8s on pylons, and steep turns.  My maneuvers were a bit rough at first but smoothed out.  Guess I'm a bit rusty after the long hiatus.  When the maneuvers were over, I looked up and my attention was instantly riveted by the setting sun.  It was an intensely beautiful, deep neon red and partially screened by grey stratus.  I have seen a lot of fabulous sunsets while flying.  It's hard to believe we live on such a beautiful planet.  I imagine some Mars colonist 200 years from now, returning to Earth and gorging on its overwhelming richness.  I imagine him thinking to himself, "Why did people ever leave Earth.  It's so beautiful and lush.  There's water to swim in and air to breath.  We must have been insane to want to go live on a dead, dry, dusty ball out with the asteroids!"  Don't get me wrong though...if I could volunteer for a Mars mission, I would in a heartbeat.  As Nomad once said, "...a mass of conflicting impulses."  On return to Addison, I called air traffic control and requested a practice ILS 15 approach.  ATC granted a squawk code.  About this time, I noticed another aircraft approaching head-on at my altitude; it was displaced about mile to my left.  I watched it approach and when it was abeam my left wingtip, it turned toward me.  It was a low wing airplane and looked like a Bonanza, but it was difficult to tell in the twilight.  The aircraft swung in trail about ⅛ mile behind me, slightly to the left, and about 100 feet high.  For a few seconds, I wondered if it might be an air force jet sent to intercept the moron that just flew over the president's head or something!  The plane stayed there pacing me for about a minute.  It then dipped its right wing slightly and moved directly behind me, lost to sight.  I banked and yawed left and right, but couldn't see it.  It just disappeared.  I sure hoped it wasn't on top of me, about to slice my plane to pepperoni!  I was a bit nervous, but approach did not warn me of any traffic.  A few tense minutes later, I saw an airplane pulling away in front and above me, partially obscured by a broken layer of clouds.  Maybe that was the guy...it really wasn't clear.  Anyway, I proceeded to shoot the approach, which turned out OK.  Back on the ground, as I was checking in at the Monarch desk, I asked a flight instructor named Spencer how the flying had been lately with all the rain.  "Man, it's rained so much that all my students have canceled.  Last week I only made $46," Spencer exclaimed.  Poor guy, that's not much to live on.  Most flight instructors live on a shoestring, even when times are good.  Theoretically, I am supposed to go flying tomorrow morning.  I'll probably have to cancel.  Wouldn't you know it...they're predicting rain and thunderstorms!
     
  • 11/27
    I was supposed to fly Rick today, but the winds were from the north at 23 knots with gusts to 37.  I hadn't heard from Rick, so I headed out to the airport.  I expected to cancel the flight, but Rick had mentioned a couple of times that we should go through a dry run of the oral portion of the check ride.  Rick seemed sure I'd be ready for the check ride any day now.  When I got out there, the wind didn't feel very strong despite the reported surface observations.  I'm certain I've flown in stronger winds.  When I strode into Monarch, I found they were canceling almost all the flights.  "You're not flying in this are you," one of the instructors behind the counter quipped.  Uhh...no, I guess not.  Rick pulled up and arranged for Nick to do an oral dry run with me.  Rick was engaged in moving his stuff down to Houston and needed to get going.  Nick and I retired to a classroom upstairs and dug into the Practical Test Standards book.  Nick grilled me for four hours!  I thought I did a fair job, certainly not stellar.  I think I would have passed a real oral exam, but my answers were just not crisp enough.  It was a very useful exercise though, and uncovered a number of weak areas.  I intend to bone up.
     
  • 11/30
    Finally, after over a week of rain and 3 days of winds in the mid-20s gusting to mid-30s, a decent flying day!  Clear as a bell.  The winds were still 16 with gusts to 23, but only 10 off the runway heading.  I shot out to the airport after work and flew the usual maneuvers; lazy 8s, Chandelles, steep spirals, emergency landings, and 8s on pylons.  I really needed to practice landings, but the wind was pretty squirrely, so I just canned it.  Overall, not too bad.  I'm actually cautiously confident with my air work.  If I were flying with an FAA inspector, I believe I would have passed.
     
  • 12/1
    Went flying with Rick after work tonight.  We buzzed up to McKinney and did short and soft field take-offs and landings.  We threw in a couple of power-off 180 precision landings.  Everything worked out OK.  When the sun set, we headed back to Addison.  I let Rick shoot an instrument approach.  Rick did an NDB approach to runway 15 since the ILS 15 was out of service.  It all went well until crossing the LOM inbound.  Rick got confused and kept turning the wrong way, trying to get aligned with the final approach course.  In 30 seconds we had totally blown the approach.  I told Rick were were hopelessly goofed up.  He slid the hood up to his forehead and peered out.  "Dang!  How'd I get so far off," he exclaimed.  Rick flew the rest of the way visually.  "What kind of landing do you want," Rick asked.  "A really nice soft field landing will do just fine," I replied.  Rick laughed.  It had been months since he pulled off a smooth landing with me in the plane.  Heh, yeah...a nice soft landing.  Rick got down to about 5 feet above the runway with the stall warning horn blaring.  I thought he'd slam it onto the runway for sure, but he added a good bit of power, held the thing in a stalling mush, nursing it down slowly, feeling tentatively for the concrete.  Eventually, the tires greeted terra firma with light kiss.  I was surprised...what a whacky technique.  I don't know if he did it on purpose or not, but it worked!  It was kind of cool.  I wouldn't try it with any amount of cross wind though.  Back on the ramp, Rick chastised himself for such a poor NDB approach.  I confided that his messed up approach actually made me feel better.  It was very reassuring to see a guy with his experience mess up an approach like that.  If he could mess an approach up like that, then I didn't feel like quite such a hopeless case!  Rick said he was ready to recommend me for a stage check with another instructor.  This will be a dry run of the actual check ride with the FAA examiner.  I'll go up with another instructor who will put me through the drills and tell me if I'm ready for the real deal or not.  I am schedule with an instructor named Jon for four hours next Wednesday.
     
  • 12/4
    I was scheduled to go flying today from 8:00 to 10:00 AM.  I really wanted to practice landings as well as do all the air work, but that's tough to fit into 2 hours.  Since no one had the plane before me, I thought I'd get out there right at 7:00 AM to get a jump on it.  I arrived at 7:00 and walked out to the plane.  The air was still and the temperature about 34F.  I discovered a thick layer of frost on the wings.  The FAA regulations prohibit taking off with any frost on the wings at all...it disrupts the generation of lift.  I had to get the frost off somehow.  As I preflighted the airplane, I noticed a couple of other guys using a rag to scrub the frost off their wings.  When they were done, they let me borrow it.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and only managed to clear the leading third of the wing.  I couldn't reach the rest of the wing; it was too high.  Finally, after hacking at this for about 15 minutes, one of the instructors came over and suggested pulling the plane into the hanger to let the frost melt.  He pulled a plane out of the way, and I towed my plane in place.  The hanger didn't seem all that warm, but in less than 10 minutes, the frost had all melted.  By the time I was ready to go it was 8:00 AM...so much for getting a jump on things.  I buzzed out north of Pilot Point and did the usual drills.  I had a little extra time, so I zipped up to Grayson County airport to do some touch and goes.  Rick had mentioned that the FAA examiner, Norm, liked to take his private candidates up to Grayson County for landing drills.  He might want to fly up there with me too.  I really wanted to at least go look at the place one time before my checkride.  I had time to do one
    power-off 180 precision landing before zipping back to Addison.  Overall, everything turned out OK and some of my turns on pylons were the best I'd ever done; rock solid with the wingtip glued on the reference point.  I'm not scheduled to fly again before my final stage check with Jon, but I'm going to try to find a way to fit in another 2-3 hour session.
     
  • 12/7
    I left work early and headed for the airport.  I had the plane scheduled for three hours; that should give me enough time to practice maneuvers and landings.  I really wanted to bone up before my final stage check with Jon tomorrow.  When preflighting the plane, I discovered it was low on fuel.  I used the radio to call for a fuel truck...no answer.  I called about four times but no dice.  Another plane taxied in and tried to call without success.  Hmmm...that's weird, usually the fuel guys get right on it.  I continued to preflight the airplane while one of the instructors went inside to telephone for fuel.  I completed checking the plane then stood around 20 minutes before the fuel trunk finally arrived.  By the time I got the plane started and was ready for take-off, I had burned up the extra hour I tried to give myself.  Sigh...  I zipped directly to Grayson County airport and proceeded to do scads of shorts, softs, and 180 power-off landings.  My landings were all kind of a bust.  On the 180 power-off landings, I just didn't seem to be able to nail my rate of descent right and was alternately landing short then long of the target.  I only hit one or two landings right on.  Kind of pathetic really.  Even my soft field landings, which are usually easy for me to do, were bouncing messes!  Sheezh...I am so inconsistent...arrrrgh!  Anyway, the shadows were getting long and I had to high-tail it back to Addison.  Enroute, I was able to squeeze in a Chandelle, some lazy eights, a steep spiral, and an emergency landing.  The maneuvers turned out OK...better than my pattern work, that's for sure.  I zipped back into Addison and buttoned up the plane.  Tomorrow I have to take some time off work, because I'll be flying with Jon from 11 AM to 3 PM.
     
  • 12/8
    Last night I feverishly studied my books and planned a VFR flight to Lubbock per Rick's instructions.  When I finally went to bed, I tossed and turned with anxiety ridden thoughts and dreams.  Man, I was as wound up as if I were about to go see the FAA examiner.  Good thing it's only Jon.  If Jon shoots me down, I only need to practice with Rick a bit more...I don't actually fail anything.  Anyway, I crawled out of bed and continued studying until I had to leave for the airport.  Jon wanted to do the flight portion of the test first, so I got the plane ready.  We launched and headed north of Pilot Point for maneuvers.  First up was slow flight.  I kind of choked, because I wasn't expecting to do slow flight.  I hadn't practiced that for months!  I kind of flubbed through it but managed to lose 200 feet in the process.  It was really pathetic.  Hey, great way to start Russ!  After that we did a departure and landing stall.  They turned out fabulous!  Next were steep turns, a lazy eight, and a Chandelle.  The steep turn was a little loose because I gained about 100 feet, but the lazy eights and Chandelle were almost perfect.  Next was a steep spiral followed by an emergency landing.  These turned out OK.  Not my best but good enough.  We did a couple of turns on pylons which came out superb, then headed to McKinney for pattern work.  At McKinney, we did shorts and softs and all of them were things of beauty.  Then a 180 power-off landing which was a mess.  I came in too high and tried to do some S-turns to lose altitude on short final (because the instructors frown on slips).  I still had too much altitude and floated about 150 feet too far down the runway before touching down.  We went around and tried it again.  The second time I nailed it exactly!  It was one of my best power off landings ever.  Ah...what a glorious redemption!  We then headed back to Addison.  Once back on the ground, we retired to a class room for the oral part of the exam.  Jon grilled me about regulations, aeromedical factors, aircraft and pilot currency requirements, airspace, airworthiness issues, minimum equipment lists, aircraft systems, charts, and just a little tidbit about weather (like what's a METAR and TAF).  After all that, Jon pronounced me ready for my FAA checkride.  Whoohoo!  All that's left is to let the FAA man work me over and I'll be done.  After all this, I'm going to take a long break and just fly for fun.  Maybe in a year or so, I'll look at doing something else.  I'm still thinking about getting my instructor's certificate.  It would be a great thing to have and I think I'd really enjoy instruction.  Maybe a glider rating.  Maybe nothing at all.
     
  • 12/9
    Rick called and made arrangements for my FAA examination.  He scheduled me with Norm on Saturday, 12/18 at 8:00 AM.  I'm supposed to fill in my hours on an FAA 8710-1 form.  He also gave me Norm's weight because I am supposed to work up a weight and balance solution for our flight.  Norm requested that I develop an Addison to Memphis, Tennessee flight plan.  I am allowed to plan either a VFR or IFR flight.  Rick suggests the IFR flight would be easier to prepare; sounds good to me.
     
  • 12/11
    A fabulous sunny Saturday.  I flew out to Commerce and did shorts, softs, and 180 power-off landings with fair success.  After that I headed northwest and did eights on pylons.  I noticed there were a good number of large hawks widely scattered at 800 to 1000 feet AGL.  I passed a couple of them at a distance of about 600 feet.  They dove away when I got close.  Then one hawk whipped by only about 75 feet from my left wingtip.  That was just too close for comfort.  If I hit one, they were big enough to really damage a wing or the windshield.  I gave up on ground reference maneuvers and climbed to 2500 feet for some lazy eights.  The eights turned out OK, so I Chandelled up to about 3800 feet and started a steep spiral.  The steep spiral concluded with an emergency landing procedure and the whole thing worked out well.  I then headed back to Addison.  Approaching Addison, the tower directed me onto a wide downwind leg.  I soon noticed a large, bright, red object a couple of miles ahead at a lower altitude.  At first I thought it might be a large kite, but as I closed on the object, it materialized into a red powered parachute with a guy hanging below.  It passed below and to my right; about 800 feet slant range.  I called the tower and informed them that they had an unauthorized aircraft in their airspace, "Addison tower, Cessna 5305V.  There is a powered parachute with a red canopy at about 1000 AGL; I just flew right over it.  It's just about right over highway 190."  The tower incredulously asked me to repeat the report, then said, "Oh yeah, I can see him out there now!"  Later, on short final, the tower said, "You should have buzzed that guy!"  I replied that I had gotten as close as I was comfortable with.  I left my completed 8710-1 form in Rick's mailbox at Monarch.  He's going to check it over and type it up nice and neat.
     
  • 12/15
    I was supposed to fly with Rick today, just to stay sharp for my examination this coming Saturday.  Unfortunately, I've managed to get sick.  I have a fever and feel bad enough to stay home from work.  I hope I can get over this by Saturday.  I'd hate to cancel and then reschedule one or two weeks hence.  It would mean I'd have to try to maintain a sharp edge for two more weeks; both mentally for the oral test and flying-wise for the practical part.  That would also mean a lot more money because I'd have to fly additional hours.  I am going to make every effort to keep my date with the examiner this Saturday.
     
  • 12/16
    I woke up this morning and felt in reasonably good health.  My fever had broken, and although I felt like I had been beaten up by a gorilla, I was well enough to drag my carcass to work.  After work I headed to the airport to meet Jon for some flying practice.  I'm going to try to fly every day now as a run-up to The Big Day.  Jon and I went up and did virtually the same thing we did on 12/8, except I aced everything!  I held my altitude exactly for the duration of the slow flight drills.  My stalls were fabulous, only losing 50-100 feet.  We headed to Denton to practice 180 power-off landings.  They all turned out textbook perfect with the exception of one where I landed about 50 feet short.  Jon said I was flying better than I had the other day.  I was surprised things had gone so well, especially since I felt pretty sick.  Maybe all the viruses infesting my brain are helping me!
     
  • 12/17
    Well, it's Friday.  Tomorrow is The Big Day.  I headed to the airport for one last chance to polish my skills before facing the Examiner.  Perversely, my illness has taken a turn for the worse and I feel like dirt.  I sure hope it doesn't mess me up tomorrow!  I spoke with Nick at the Monarch counter as he was dispatching my airplane.  Nick asked if I had all the paperwork ready.  I thought I did.  He asked about my logbook endorsement.  Uh...well...I thought Rick had done that, but I wasn't really sure.  An instructor must make an specifically worded entry in your logbook before you are qualified to take the Commercial examination.  It's something the FAA regulations stipulate must be in place, otherwise, the examiner will not be able to proceed.  I dug up my logbook and showed it to Nick.  Lo and behold, Rick had not endorsed it...<gasp>, we had only accidentally discovered this on the eve of my FAA examination!  Rick was finishing up with another student, and when he was done, he came over to take a look.  Oops, yes indeed, we'd overlooked the endorsement.  Rick had me look at the 8710-1 form he had typed up which documented my flying time.  It all looked OK, except I had more time in complex airplanes than he had recorded.  He said he would have it fix by the time I returned from my flight.  I also left my logbook with him so he could make the necessary entries then zipped out to preflight the airplane.  After takeoff, I headed to a point just south of Lake Ray Roberts and did the usual drills.  Lazy 8s, Chandelles, steep spirals, emergency landings, turns on pylons; they all turned out OK.  I had just enough time to zip over to Denton and try a couple of 180 power-off landings.  Alas, when I got there, I found two other aircraft in the pattern and the tower wasn't able to accommodate a few short approaches.  There was only time for two shorts and a soft in the fading light before finally setting course for Addison.  Back at Addison, I managed to squeeze in a 180 power-off landing, which turned out pretty good.  I met Rick in the Monarch office, where he furnished me with the corrected 8710-1 form and my newly endorsed logbook.  He also gave me a maintenance release form, documenting that the airplane had been inspected by Monarch mechanics and found ready for the examination.  We were all set.  Rick wished me luck as I headed out the door.  Back home, I spent an hour or so getting everything organized and ready for the exam.  All I had to do in the morning was get weather for the Dallas to Memphis flight plan I had prepared, and plug in the numbers.  This deliberate careful preparation was then followed by 2 hours of frantic cramming for the exam.  Sheezh...there's so much to remember!  I went over and over airspace and regulations...two of my weakest areas.  I also went over weather as a number of instructors had warned me that this is a favorite topic of Norm's.  I finally rolled into bed at 11:30.  I'd have to get up by 5:30 AM to get weather and finish the flight plan.  I was supposed to meet Norm at 8:00 AM.  I felt fairly calm when I went to bed, but ended up tossing and turning all night in some sort of half awake stupor, interjected by weird dreams of Chandelles, steep spirals, and crazy regulations.

The Check Ride

The Big Day, 12/18.  I lay in bed at 5:00, half asleep yet still thinking about my flight plan to Memphis.  I had originally planned to use the Hubbard 5 standard instrument departure out of Addison via the Texarkana transition, then follow V16 to Memphis.  However, yesterday I had looked up the standard terminal arrival procedures for Memphis and found there was one called the Marvel 3 arrival with a Texarkana transition.  I thought it would be very clever to just use the Hubbard 5 out of Addison and connect it via the Texarkana transition with the Marvel 3 into Memphis.  This significantly reduced the complexity of flight planning.  Last night, I had actually prepared another flight plan using these standard procedures and was ready to plug in winds aloft to complete the planning task.  A little problem bugged me about the Marvel 3 transition.  The minimum altitude along the Texarkana transition segment called for 22,000 feet.  Why was that?  Initially I had ignored it, but as I lay in bed thinking, I realized that it was related to the distance between VORs.  The Texarkana segment of Marvel 3 is anchored by the Texarkana VOR at one end and the FAYEE intersection at the other.  The distance between these two points is 128 NM and reception of the Texarkana VOR is crucial in identifying FAYEE.  The only problem is that I would not be able to receive the VOR 128 NM out at my planned altitude of 7000 feet.  That's why the minimum altitude along the segment is 22,000 feet.  It has to do with the service volume of the Texarkana VOR.  Duh!  I would have to use my original flight plan using V16 instead.  Good thing I caught that error before my oral with Norm!

By this time it was 5:15 AM.  The alarm was set to go off at 5:30.  Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to just hauled myself out of bed and get on with it.  I was still sick and hoped it wouldn't adversely affect my performance too much.  I munched on Captain Crunch as I downloaded weather from DUATS and plugged winds into my original flight plan.  I quickly flipped through my flash cards, trying to remember a zillion little details.  Suddenly, it was 7:20 and time to leave for the airport.

I arrived 15 minutes early and found Norm in the break room.  We immediately retired to a classroom upstairs.  Norm began by asking me why I wanted to get a Commercial certificate.  I told him it was a challenge and I thought it would make me a better pilot.  Getting the instrument rating was so rewarding that I decided to keep going.  I told him I thought working on ratings was kind of like earning Boy Scout merit badges.  It was challenging and rewarding.  Norm fairly roared with laughter..."Oh, you're a ratings collector then!"  No, no...I just enjoy the work.  "Do you have any plans after getting the Commercial," Norm asked.  I told him that I'd probably take a good break for a year or two because I'd been hacking away the Instrument and Commercial for 14 months.  I was getting tired.  I had been thinking about getting an Instructor's Certificate though.  I thought it would be great to have one or two students, especially after retirement.  It would get me outside, doing something I like, and keep my hand in.  Norm asked if I liked teaching.  I did, but the best part was just sharing the joy of flying.

Norm looked through my paperwork and murmured his approval of the 97% I got on the written test.  He commented repeatedly on how many hours I had, particularly the number of night and cross country hours.  "Almost 40% of your hours are night and half your hours are cross country!  That's great experience," he exclaimed.  It made me feel pretty good.

Norm asked if I had any questions or anything else to discuss before beginning the oral portion of the exam.  We touched on the following topics:

  1. There are differences in magnetic variation between the AF/D and sectional charts for airports, VORs, etc.  Sometimes the discrepancy is as much as 3 or 4 degrees.  Why is that?  I suspected it had to do with magnetic drift; that the variation for something like a VOR was set when it was built, but that the isogonic lines on the sectional reflected present variation.  Something like a 3 difference represented decades of magnetic drift.  Norm confirmed that this indeed was the explanation.  He added that the magnetic heading of airways were occasionally adjusted to compensate for the drift.  Cool, I didn't know that.
     
  2. I had heard conflicting explanations for minimum equipment lists and had become confused.  I went back to 14 CFR 91.213 and found that it seemed to say that in the absence of a published MEL, the equipment required to be operative to takeoff was the standard day VFR equipment plus the equipment designated "Required" by the manufacturer, but that this could be tailored for the type of flight operation.  For example, the Cessna 172RG indicates that a cargo net is required equipment, but if I'm not carrying cargo, I can ignore that.  Norm confirmed this interpretation of the regs.
     
  3. 14 CFR 61.131 says you can't carry passengers for hire at night or beyond a 50 NM without an instrument rating.  Does that then mean that cargo is exempt?  Norm said yes, you can do anything you want with cargo...the restriction only applies when you're carrying people.
     
  4. The regs say the owner/operator of the aircraft is responsible for compliance with ADs.  What about me as a renter pilot?  Say I am out flying a rental aircraft and the FAA somehow discovers I am flying an airplane that does not comply with an AD.  Will the FAA hold me responsible?  Norm said no.  The FAA does not consider renters responsible for this.  The operator of the rental outfit is responsible for providing airplanes in an airworthy condition for rental.  This is in terms of compliance with airworthiness requirements, like ADs.  The pilot is still responsible for verifying the aircraft is airworthy to the extent possible during preflight.
     
  5. If you run out of gas and wreck an airplane, is that a certificate buster?  Norm said no.  He said that the FAA would likely demote your Commercial certificate back to a Private until you take some prescribed remedial training.
     
  6. Some models of the Cessna 172 have a restriction on slipping with full flaps.  However, the 172RG has no such restriction.  If I know some models of this airplane have this restriction, should I worry about it?  Norm said no.  If there was a problem with the 172RG, an AD would have come out requiring it to be placarded as such.  He noted that this restriction typically applied to 172s with 40 of flaps.  Later models only allowed 30 of flaps and were generally not subject to the restriction.
     
  7. We went over a few fine points about maneuvers:  a) I plan to leave the landing gear down for safety even though the POH specifies retraction after obstacle clearance on short field takeoffs, b) I will simulate maximum braking on short field landings, c) after some discussion with Norm we decided stalls would be to imminent rather than full break.

We then began the formal oral portion of the exam.  Here are the topics Norm touched on, as best I can recall:

  1. What documents needed to be in the airplane when we go flying? - I asked Norm if he meant just the aircraft documents or the personal documents too?  Norm seemed to indicate both types of documents.  I started with the ARROW documents.  We discussed each one briefly...like how long they're valid, where can they be found, etc.  Instead of "Operating Limitations," for the "O" in ARROW, I said "Operator's Manual (like the POH)."  Norm corrected me.  Don't know how I messed that up!  We never did get around to talking about the personal documents (photo ID, pilot certificate, current medical certificate).
     
  2. What recent experience is required of a commercial pilot. - Bi-annual Flight Review, 3 landings every 90 days; the landings must be to full stop if flying passengers at night.
     
  3. When does an airworthiness certificate expire? - Never.  It's valid for the life of the aircraft as long as the required inspections and alterations are complied with.
     
  4. What is an aircraft registration and when does it expire? - It documents who owns the aircraft and expires (or rather becomes invalid) when aircraft ownership changes hands.  Norm elaborated on this by describing temporary registration certificates that are valid for 60 days after an aircraft changes hands.  He had an interesting story which underscored the fact that you had better not try flying outside the US without a permanent copy of the registration.  (The Mexican government impounded a doctor's new Bonanza and wouldn't let him fly it because he only had a temporary registration.  He had to have it disassembled and trucked across the border to the US.)
     
  5. How much baggage can you put in the baggage areas of a Cessna 172RG? - 200 pounds total in Baggage Areas 1 & 2.
     
  6. What three placards are required as a minimum to be in the airplane? - Choke!  Holy cow...I had no idea.  I knew that the various manufacturer placards had to be displayed, but I had no idea which three were required as a minimum by the regs.   I had never read or even heard of such a thing.  I'm sure I had a "deer-in-the-headlights" look on my face.  I admitted to Norm that I didn't know; I could probably take a close guess (like the maneuvering speed placard).  Norm asked where I could find out.  It must be in the FARs.  It couldn't be part 61 because that concerns pilots and ratings.  It must be in the general operating regs in part 91, and that's what I told Norm.  "Not even close," Norm replied.  "It's in part 23."  Gah...of course, part 23 is the section on aircraft certification!  Darn it!  None of the books I read for the commercial rating even touched on part 23, let alone talked about minimum placards.  In fact, the FAR/AIM doesn't even publish part 23, so I didn't even have a copy.  It must be one of those really tricky questions examiners throw in there once in a while, just to see how far an applicant's knowledge goes.  Norm went on to say the three minimum placards were maneuvering speed, cargo weight limitations, and the compass calibration card.
     
  7. What's the maximum speed at which the landing gear can be operated? - At first I answered 147 knots.  Then I corrected myself and said 140 knots, at least I think I said that.  Actually, I can't remember whether I said 140 or 145 knots.  Norm appeared to accept my answer though.  (The real answer is 140 KIAS.)
     
  8. What's the maximum gross weight of our aircraft (Cessna 172RG) and where can you find that published? - 2650 pounds and you can find it in the POH.  Norm asked me to show him.  I opened the POH to a performance specifications summary page in the front of the handbook and showed him.  Actually, in retrospect, I think he wanted me to show him Section 2 of the POH on aircraft limitations, but he accepted my answer.  (The best answer would have been to cite Section 2 of the POH and quote 2658 ramp weight and 2650 takeoff weight.)
     
  9. How can we tell if our aircraft is airworthy, if some instruments are inoperative and we don't have a Minimum Equipment List? - I should know the answer to this, but kind of hem-hawed and stumbled around a little bit.  After an excessively long silence, I answered, "Well, it should just be the normal day VFR minimum equipment (assuming the flight is day VFR) plus that listed as 'Required' in the manufacturer's required equipment list minus any required equipment that is not necessary for the type of operation."  Norm seemed to approve and reiterated that it's just the stuff required for day VFR by the regs.  "Yeah, TOMATO FLAMES," I responded.  I wondered why I almost choked on this question.  I had basically gone over this with Norm before we started the oral.  Maybe it's just because I'm sick and also exhausted from lack of sleep.  The whole MEL thing has been a source of confusion through the entire curriculum.
     
  10. What inspections must be done on the airplane for it to be considered airworthy? - Annual every 12 calendar months, VOR accuracy check every 30 days if operating in instrument conditions, 100 hour inspection if operated for hire but an annual can substitute, pitot/static system check every 24 calendar months if operating in instrument conditions, transponder check every 24 calendar months, and ELT check every 12 calendar months.  Norm wrote down the date and pronounced all was current as of today.  As I went through the list, he asked me to specify the next date by which each item would have to be inspected.
     
  11. How much longer can the airplane be flown, if the inspections have expired? - If the 100 hour has expired, you can fly the airplane another 10 hours.  If any of the other inspections have expired, the airplane is not considered airworthy.
     
  12. If the 100 hour inspection is due, can I rent the airplane and just keep flying it until I get to 110 hours? - No, you must use the 10 hour grace period to ferry the aircraft to a place where the inspection can be conducted.
     
  13. What if I am not near a mechanic and the annual has expired, what can I do? - You can apply for a Special Flight Permit to ferry the airplane to a place where the annual can be conducted.  Norm spent some time relating interesting real life examples of these kinds of problems.
     
  14. Norm showed me a list of aircraft systems in the Practical Test Standards book and asked me to pick any five items and explain them. - I ended up talking about only four items:  Primary Flight Controls, Flaps, Landing Gear, and Environmental.  I was supposed to talk about five, and it was only after the oral exam that I realized I had covered just four.  Norm didn't seem to notice.  Anyway, I had no problem with any of these; I seem to be pretty good with aircraft systems.  In talking about the flaps, I said I was a little puzzled by Cessna's description of the flaps as a slotted flap design because they sure looked like Fowler flaps to me.  Norm said manufacturers frequently call something like a Fowler flap by another name to avoid having to pay royalties for the use of the Fowler flap design.
     
  15. What does 30 of flaps do? - Primarily adds lots of drag.  Used to control glide slope on approach.
     
  16. What does 20 of flaps do? -  Increases lift thereby allowing approach and landing at a lower airspeed.  I mentioned that the same was true for 10 too.  I also pointed out that the 172RG, if loaded at 2550 lbs or less, could use 10 of flaps to assist in soft field takeoffs.  Norm gave me a weird, little, wry smile.  I found that kind of surprising.  I happen to know that Norm sometimes poses this problem to candidates during the flying portion.  He'll state a request like, "Pretend our weight right now is 2551 lbs.  Now show me a soft field takeoff."  He'll wait to see if you put on 10 of flaps.  If you do, you've messed it up.  Maybe he thought I was trying to head off a situation like that later during the flying portion of the exam.  Don't know.  I just thought that information was relevant and interesting.
     
  17. Can the airplane be landed without flaps? - What an odd question...of course it can.  I really couldn't see what he was driving at.
     
  18. Norm asked for a sectional chart, I pulled out a Terminal Area Chart (which he said was fine).  Norm spread it out on the table and pointed to a little turf strip called Sudden Stop (T32) near Collinsville.  Norm asked, "What can you tell me about this field?"  Well, it's a turf strip with no services, 720 feet above sea level.  Norm continued, saying my uncle just died and left me this airstrip as an inheritance.  He then asked, "Would you base your Cessna 172RG there?"  Basically I said no because it was a turf strip and therefore soft, especially after a rain.  The little wheels on the 172RG would not do very well on the soft turf.  The retractable gear wouldn't like it either.  "There's no other reason," Norm asked.  Well, no, I guess not.  "What does this number here mean," Norm asked pointing to a little "15" by the airstrip.  Oh, that's the length of the runway...1500 feet.  Oh!  That's pretty short for a 172RG.  You could probably fly in and out of there, but it would be tight, especially if there were obstacles at the end of the runway.  That was what Norm was looking for...duh!
     
  19. Norm showed me a list of aeromedical conditions in the Practical Test Standards book and asked me to explain any four of them. - I picked hypoxia, hyperventilation, middle ear & sinus problems, and carbon monoxide poisoning.  I had no problem explaining them and Norm seemed satisfied.
     
  20. Norm took my weather briefing information and looked it over.  During flight planning, I used a highlighter to identify key elements of the weather reports.  As he examined the weather data, he took special note of the things I had highlighted.  He murmured approving tones several times.  I am so glad I brought my weather data with me and that I had used a highlighter.  I think this proved to Norm that I had really looked at it and that I had looked at the right things.  It turned out to be a big feather in my cap.  I just sort of accidentally stumbled into this good fortune.  I half-way suspect this averted additional weather questions Norm might have asked.  Norm asked me what problems were cited by the reports that could affect our planned flight to Memphis.  Well, there was some marginal VFR at spots along our route, due mainly to low visibility in mist.  However, I expected to depart at 10:00 AM and by that time, the reports said the obscuration would lift.  Norm murmured approvingly.  "Looks like a perfect day for flying to Memphis," Norm exclaimed.  I heartily agreed.
     
  21. Norm took my instrument flight plan and as he was looking it over asked, "How much fuel do we have on board."  "Sixty-six gallons in the tanks, but only sixty-two gallons usable," I replied.  Then he pointed to the "Fuel on Board" section of the flight plan and noted that I had specified 5 hours.  Norm said, "That is really good.  I am very happy to see that you haven't specified the maximum endurance of the airplane here.  You shouldn't do that.  You don't want to put down 6 hours 40 minutes and then just run out of gas at 6 hours and 41 minutes.  Excellent work!"  Well, what I didn't say was that I really did not deliberately do that.  I just put down 5 hours because that is what I always put down on instrument flight plans for the Cutlass.  However, in my defense, I did look up the endurance of the airplane the night before and found that it was just shy of 6 hours with a 45 minute reserve, so I felt OK just saying 5 hours.  What I had been trying to avoid was putting down 5 hours and finding out (in front of Norm) that I would have run out of gas at 4 hours 45 minutes.  Sheezh, that would have been hard to explain!  I bet Norm might have failed me.

    I had specified 7000 feet as my cruising altitude and Norm asked me why.  I replied that instrument cruising altitudes were odd thousands going east and even thousands going west.  The minimum enroute altitude to Memphis was 6000 feet, so I just picked the next highest valid eastbound altitude because I didn't want to climb any higher than necessary.  Norm asked why I couldn't just fly at any old altitude such as 6500 feet.  I told him that was a VFR cruising altitude.  Norm explained that, in fact, we could fly at any altitude we wanted and could put that on the flight plan, provided it was above the MEA.  The only issue would be if we encountered westbound VFR traffic at the same altitude.  ATC would likely have to assign a new altitude.  Hmmm...I'd never heard that before; very interesting.  As I sit here writing this, it occurs to me that perhaps Norm was fishing for something else.  I think he might have wanted to see if I was choosing altitudes based on the best tailwind, etc.  That was probably the right answer, but I totally missed it.  Norm seemed satisfied though.
     
  22. Norm turned his attention to the weight and balance calculations I had prepared the night before.  I had actually made a spreadsheet to help do the calculations.  It was really easy to keep the weight & balance organized and neat that way.  Plus, I could give Norm a nice little printout of the calculations instead of an illegible hand-scrawled mess.  I worried a little that Norm might think I was cheating on the calculations, using some kind of commercial software to do it.  I debated whether it would be better to do the calculations by hand as a means to authenticate to Norm that I had really done due diligence to work through and understand them on my own.  I decide to just press on and take my chances with my spreadsheet version.

    Norm seem very happy with the results.  He asked me about the spreadsheet and I told him it was pretty easy to develop and that it only took an hour or so to put together.  It was a really handy tool to have to be able to quickly check weight and balance scenarios.  He didn't seem to worry about the authenticity thing.  In the end, I think it turned out to be a positive for me during the exam.  I think Norm took the extra effort as an indication of appropriate attention to the importance of weight and balance.

    Norm then gave me a few weight and balance problems.  First he asked what would happen if he sat in the back seat.  I said the CG would move aft, but that I had, in fact, looked at that very scenario using my spreadsheet a couple of nights ago and found that we would still be within CG limits.  Next he specified a scenario where the aircraft weight was 2650 lbs at a moment of 144,500 in-lbs, and asked whether we could takeoff in that condition.  I calculated the center of gravity at 54.52; way aft of the CG limits, so it would not be safe.  We would have to move or remove passengers and/or baggage to get the CG further forward.  Norm then stated that our airplane moment was now 123,500 in-lbs and asked where our CG was.  I looked it up using the CG Moment Envelop chart in the POH and found we right at our aft CG limit.  Norm asked what would happen, if we used all our fuel.  Using all the fuel reduced the weight by 372 lbs and the moment by 17,800 in-lbs.  This put the new weight at 2278 lbs and the moment at 105,700 in-lbs for a CG of 46.40.  Just within acceptable limits.  Norm seemed happy with all this and even suggested some improvements to my spreadsheet to better display results.  He sketched his comments and I kept them so I could incorporate them later.

Norm announced that the oral portion of the exam was over and that we'd go perform the practical portion of the test as follows:

  1. We'd take off and fly the flight plan through the first couple of checkpoints.
  2. We'd assume we were closed in ahead and behind by thunderstorms and divert to the nearest commercial airport.
  3. At the airport, we'd do normal, crosswind, short, and soft field take-offs & landings.  Somewhere in there, he'd throw in a go-around.
  4. After that we'd depart to a suitable practice area and do the airwork.
  5. The airwork would consist of my choice of a steep spiral or steep turns (I picked steep spiral).  Next we'd do my choice of Chandelles or Lazy 8s (I picked Lazy 8s).  After that we'd do slow flight and an emergency landing.  After the emergency landing we'd do a few eights on pylons then return to Addison.

I mentioned to Norm that my instrument flight plan did not have any really convenient checkpoints.  Norm picked it up and looked at it carefully.  I told him that I had prepared a VFR flight plan to Lubbock with lots of checkpoints and that we could use that one.  I had it right here with me and asked Norm if he'd like to see it.  I pulled it out and handed it over.  I felt pretty good because the flight plan was really thorough.  It was the one I had prepared for the checkride dry-run with Jon.  Norm seemed pleased and said we'd use the Lubbock flight plan.  I told him that I needed to adjust the numbers to account for winds.  He asked me if I knew what the winds were and I replied that I'd just use the forecast winds off the weather data I'd brought along.  We both took a look and Norm read me the wind numbers.  I got out my flight computer, pencil, and calculator and got to work.  Norm watched me carefully as I looked up the performance numbers in the POH and worked the wind calculations.  Norm asked me what I did for a living.  "Software engineering," I replied.  "Hmm," Norm grunted.  I'm not sure why he asked me that.  I think something I was doing was making him wonder about it.  Maybe it was the way I was attacking the problem (I love working wind calculations).  Maybe it was simply because I pulled out a mechanical pencil and a drafting eraser.  Anyway, I calculated the estimated time enroute to our first couple of checkpoints and we were all set.  It was 9:45 and we had spent a solid two hours on the oral.  We were due to get the plane at 10:00.

Unfortunately the plane was late getting back from an earlier flight.  When it returned, I zipped out and hurried to get the preflight done.  Almost immediately, I discovered the guys in the office forgot to provide a dispatch sheet.  I had to walk into the office and get it straightened out.  Just one more thing making us late.  I apologized to Norm for the delay and by the time we were at the end of the runway ready to takeoff, it was 10:38 AM.  Just before takeoff, I reviewed the first leg of my cross country to Lubbock; 320 and eight minutes to the first checkpoint.  "Hey, way to go," Norm exclaimed.  I think he was happy to see me trying to think ahead.

Finally, it was our turn to takeoff.  We taxied onto the runway and were off at 10:40.  Enroute to our first checkpoint, I told Norm that at this point, I'd normally call the FSS and open our flight plan.  "What frequency would you use to call them," Norm asked.  I replied that we could reach Fort Worth Radio on 122.3.  Norm seemed satisfied.  We arrived one minute late to the first checkpoint, so I adjusted our ETA to the second checkpoint and made our first planned course change to 266.  We should arrive over the second checkpoint at 55 minutes past the hour.

I got a little too close to Lakeview airport (uncontrolled) before realizing it and quickly got on the radio to announce our passage just south of the field.  (Almost blew that one!).  I suddenly realized that I had turned to 276, not 266 as I had intended...somehow I had misread the darned heading indicator.  Sheezh, it must be nerves or something.  Norm hadn't said anything and I'm not sure he noticed (not likely).  I gradually scootched over to the correct course, trying not to call too much attention to what I was doing.

Suddenly, I realized I was coming up on Denton airspace (tower controlled).  I quickly turned over to Denton tower frequency and told them we were 5 miles southeast, transiting the area from east to west.  They acknowledged and everything was fine.  In all this hubbub, I had kind of lost track of our exact location.  It was now 10:53 and I wasn't sure whether or not we had actually passed over the second checkpoint (railroad tracks).  I looked all around and didn't see them.  I assumed we had passed them and began computing the ETA to the third checkpoint when Norm said, hey, there are those railroad tracks right there.  Heh, he must have known I was getting confused...he was trying to help me.  In hindsight, I think I could have spaced these checkpoints out a little further and picked some more obvious ones.  There were better checkpoints to be had, and I really did kind of a poor job.  At this point, Norm announced there were thunderstorms in front and behind us.  I told him we'd divert to Denton and called the tower saying we were inbound for the option.  They acknowledged and asked us to report left base for Runway 35.

First up was a soft field landing which came off great, followed by a short field takeoff.  After that was a short field landing followed by a soft field takeoff.  On climb out, I realized that I had not opened the cowl flaps during the first trip around the pattern.  Darn it!  Norm appeared to be looking out the window, so I casually reached down to open the flaps, hoping he hadn't noticed.  As soon as I opened them, he exclaimed, "Good.  Good job gettin' those flaps open son."  Doh!

Norm asked for a normal landing this time.  As we were on downwind, getting set up, Norm said, "You really handle the airplane well, especially for a man a big as you (he means fat dear readers).  You have a brain surgeon's delicate touch with the airplane."  I thanked Norm for the praise and it really did make me feel good.  I kind of wondered if he just said that to diffuse any butt-kicking I might have been giving myself over the cowl flap incident.  Ah well.  I went around the pattern and got lined up on final.  As I was beginning my landing flare, Norm casually said, "Go around."  Gah...I had forgotten he was going to pull a go around on me.  I hesitated for a second before pouring on the coal.  The balked landing came out fine.  I even remembered to call the tower and tell them we were going around, which earned a "Great job!" from Norm.  We departed the pattern to the northeast to perform the airwork.

Norm asked me to do some Chandelles.  I was surprised because he had given me a choice between Chandelles and Lazy 8s, and I had chosen Lazy 8s.  Ah well, no big deal.  We were just outside Denton airspace and I suggested we move a few more miles northeast to make sure we were well clear of their traffic area.  Norm had me climb up to 3000 feet.  We got into the practice area and I told Norm I thought we should descend to 2500 feet to start the maneuver because the floor of Class B airspace was at 4000.  If we started the Chandelle at 3000, we would come uncomfortably close to the Class B floor.  Norm was OK with this, so while descending to 2500 I did some clearing turns.  The first Chandelle came out fine and we leveled off at 3500 feet.  Norm wanted another one, so I descended back to 2500 feet and did it again.  That one turned out OK too.  Norm had me do two Lazy 8s that also turned out pretty good.  They even earned an "Excellent Lazy 8s Russ!" from Norm.  Norm told me, "You are really flying well.  You're flying to professional standards.  You handle the controls very nicely and have a great touch, one of the best I've seen."  "Aw Norm, I bet you tell all the students that," I replied.  "No I don't," Norm said emphatically, "I hardly say that to anyone.  You really are doing a great job, I mean it," Norm exclaimed.  I was just so surprised.  "Thanks Norm, that really means a lot coming from a guy with your experience," I told him.

Next Norm wanted to do a steep spiral.  As I was getting set-up, Norm spotted a private turf airstrip just south of our position.  Norm said, "Hey this is perfect, lets just do the steep spiral right over there by Hartlee."  I entered my steep spiral on the Hartlee downwind.  Everything turned out OK and we finished it up with a simulated emergency landing.  I went around at 500 AGL and we climbed out to the northeast.  Next up were 8s on pylons, so I climbed to 1600 feet and slowed to 100 knots.  As I maneuvered to enter the first pylon turn, Norm said, "Son, you still have 10 of flaps in."  Argh!  I somehow forgot to retract my last notch of flaps during that go around at Hartlee!  Oh, what a stupid error.  Norm said nothing else.  I'll bet he's regretting all those kind words he had for me earlier!  I retracted the flaps and got the plane stabilized again just as I entered the pylon maneuver.

Some lively turbulence below 2000 feet bounced us around the pylons in a little dance.  Still, I thought my pylon turns were coming out, maybe not great, but at least decent.  I did two complete 8s and thought that would be it, but Norm asked for a couple more.  Huh...was I not doing well on this maneuver?  Was this penance for my blunder of leaving the flaps down?  After a couple more 8s, Norm said good enough and asked me to climb for some stalls.

I began a climb to 3000 feet for our stall work.  Norm said again what a truly remarkable job he thought I was doing.  I told Norm that I was just so surprised to hear him say that.  Norm said, "After every checkride, I rate the applicant and make a note in my logbook.  If the guy is average, I just leave the note blank.  If he's good, I give him a '+.'  If he's excellent, I give him a '++.'  The very best get a 'BDG' which stands for Beyond Damn Good.  You are definitely a BDG!  I only award BDGs a few times a year."  "Wow Norm, I just don't know what to say.  Thank-you for the compliment.  I just never really thought of myself that way, and I'm surprised to hear you say that," I lamely replied.  I was truly stunned and just didn't know how to respond.  I mean, my personal assessment of my skills is that they are about average or maybe slightly above average.  Maybe a 7 on a 10 point scale.  Here Norm was telling me that I was a 9 or 10!  That's really significant.  Norm is 70 years old and has been flying since he was 13.  The guy has done and seen almost everything imaginable related to aviation.  He's flown checkrides for hundreds of guys.  Here he was, this august god of aviation, telling me...ME that I was worthy.  It just blows my mind.  It's totally incongruous with my own assessment, yet I am becoming convinced that he's not just telling me this to prop up my flagging ego.  He appears to really mean it.  It is so unexpected that it's almost confusing.  One minute I think he must be trying to prop me up after I made a mistake, the next I think he must be genuine.  I feel very humbled and kind of shocked and kind of happy and kind of confused, all at once.  Anyway, back to the task at hand...stalls.

Norm asked for a landing stall first.  That I did and lost only about 25-50 feet.  It was fabulous...one of the best stalls I have ever done in the 172RG.  Next up was a departure stall, which turned out OK.  Next, Norm said, "Do a power off stall with gear up, 20 flaps, in a right hand turn."  I asked him how much bank he wanted, and he said whatever you want, so I picked 20, which is the conventional maximum for turning stalls.  I set up the maneuver and it turned out fine.  Then Norm asked for a "...power on, gear down, no flaps stall in a left hand turn."  OK, whatever, I did that one too and got a solid stall break.  It turned out fine.  Norm then said, lets go back to Addison.  I told Norm that I had never really done stalls like that before.  He remained silent.  For a moment, I wondered whether I should have done those before sometime and maybe I had forgotten or they had just been omitted from my training.  Maybe he was just trying to create an incipient spin situation or checking my rudder coordination.  Not sure.

We made it back to Addison and Norm asked me to do a no flap landing.  Norm seemed to have some kind of fixation with no flap landings.  During the oral he had asked me about no flap landings and now he was making me demonstrate one.  I think Norm was looking for something, but I don't know what.  Maybe it had something to do with energy management.  Anyway, I did the no flap landing but came over the fence a bit too fast (about 75-80 knots) and floated a good way down the runway.  Norm seemed OK with it though, so I guess it was tolerable.  We taxied off the runway and Norm shook my hand.  "How does it feel to be a Commercial Pilot," he asked.  "Great," I replied.

As we taxied in, Norm asked me if I knew what AD a pilot could perform.  I said some lame thing about owner/operators being the ones to ensure compliance with ADs by having a mechanic perform the AD work...which is technically correct according to the regs, but I missed Norm's point.  Norm said, "I'll show you when we get ready to shutdown."  I thought about it for a second and it dawned on me what he was getting at.  "Oh, you're thinking of the P-lead check," I said, pointing to the magneto switch.  "Yep, that's it," Norm said.  Heh, yeah, I know about that.  Do it all the time, even though it's been scratched off the checklist.  We shutdown (and did the P-lead check), and Norm helped me push the plane back into the parking space.  Norm had a big beaming smile on his face and seemed positively perky.  While I tied the plane down, Norm went inside to do the paperwork.  After getting the airplane checked in, I joined Norm in the break room.

My shiny new Temporary Commercial CertificateNorm asked for my old pilot certificate and I turned it over.  I had just received the new card in May after completing my instrument rating March 6th.  It wasn't very old.  Norm gave me a Temporary Airman Certificate with the words Commercial Pilot on it.  Cool!  Norm asked, "Do you like flying Russ?"  I told flying was an unending source of joy to me.  "That's good because it would be a waste of talent if you didn't like it," Norm said.  "Well thank-you Norm.  If I'm that fabulous, I'd had to see someone who was actually bad," I exclaimed.  Norm took my logbook and signed it.  We talked a little more then I bid adieu and headed for home.  Whew...what an odyssey!  I am definitely ready for a break.  The only other thing I want to do is get checked out in the Cessna T210 and maybe the Bonanza A36.

When I got home, I slept all afternoon.
 

The Total Cost

Before I started, I had no idea what it would cost to get the certificate.  I also didn't know exactly how many flying hours it would take me.  I figured that whatever I estimated, it would be more.  I tried to not worry about the cost or the number of flight hours.  I just went out and flew as often as I reasonably could.  I know I racked up an excessively large number of solo practice hours, just going over and over the maneuvers.  Realistically, I think I could have cut out maybe 15 solo flying hours.  It also would have been possible to cut out about 8 flight instructor hours.  It was all good though.  I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.  I also feel like I really spent the time necessary to master the topics.  It was kind of nice not to sweat the money and time, although I was really ready to have it over with by the end.  As for the books, I used all of them.  However, the book "ASA Pilot's Manual, Volume 2:  Private & Commercial" was of very limited value.  It was also the most expensive book!  I could have skipped buying it with no harm done.  The book "Gleim's Commercial Flight Maneuvers" was pretty good and helped me a little with the maneuvers, but it wasn't absolutely necessary.  The rest of the books were indispensable.  Here's a summary of what I spent:
 

Activity Hours Cost
Cessna 172RG Commercial Training Flight Time 58.9 $6,110.30
Commercial Training Instructor Fees 30.6 $1,106.00
Various Books   $87.00
Maps & Other Supplies   $20.00
Written Exam Fee   $80
FAA Check-ride Fee   $300
Total   $7,703.30