Friday, November 14, 2008


Checkrides for pilots would be like annual bar exams for lawyers.

As pilots, we are one of the most scrutinized professions around. Imagine coming to work every day and having all your conversations with coworkers recorded. And all your telephone calls monitored by strangers and taped for later playback. How about all your work recorded by a little 'black box' whose only purpose in life is to survive an accident so the world can examine how well you did your job right up until perhaps your last breath? Perfect. Not to mention the random drug testing and regular visits to the flight doc. Fun. And more fun.

Did I mention the high visibility? Yeah, if pilots make a mistake 'on the job' the world may find out via a FOX NEWS ALERT or amateur video before we have time to let even our bosses know what happened. And finally, there are those yearly (sometimes bi-annual) flight evaluations...or what we like to call them, 'checkrides'.

Perhaps the most nerve-racking experience pilots go through is the infamous checkride. Air Force checkrides occur about every 12-18 months and most pilots have Instrument checkride to prove our worth by flying safely in clouds and a Mission qual checkride to show that we know how to execute the role that our aircraft brings to the fight.

I can remember my first flight evaluation over 21 years ago that concluded with me earning my Private Pilot's License (PPL). Only a teenager at the time, I worked after school to raise money to hire a flight instructor and 1.5 hours of aviation gas for each sortie in the Piper Warrior II. Maybe it was the fact that I had sweat about 3 liters during my solo flight beforehand, or maybe I just didn't know much about the significance of checkrides or their consequences. Either way, I approached my first checkride minus much anxiety. Although I passed this initial evaluation it wasn't until I entered the Air Force did my appreciation and apprehension for checkrides really take place.

The first rule of "Fight Club" is we don't talk about "Fight Club". Same is true of no-hitters in the 7th inning. This also applies to busted checkrides. Nobody says "don't bust your checkride today" they only say "good luck". Everyone knows that something small, maybe even outside of your control, or the performance of another crew member could doom your checkride. Thankfully I haven't busted any checkrides or received any downgrades ('downgrade'-still pass but with a few discrepancies) since I earned my pilot wings.

But this week I had my latest checkride. After being in a staff job (desk) for the past 4 and 1/2 years I returned to flying the Four Fans of Freedom. With a handful of simulator rides under my knee board and exactly one flight in the C-130 to do 12 landings, it was time to have an evaluator take a look at this 'Old Man'.

My book knowledge on the C-130 took about 3 weeks for me to feel comfortable again. But I still have much to relearn to have that razor-sharp edge. On the first day, I was issued a 2' stack of the Air Force regulations, flight manuals, and performance charts to study. It has helped my studies that not much has changed on the 1960's era C-130 since I flew it last time.

Yesterday was my first flight since May of 2004. Everyone had said that "it's like riding a bicycle" and all the muscle movements would come back quickly...and that turned out to be very true. Whereas the book knowledge was overwhelming at first and at times frustrating, the flying part was comfortable from engine start. It was like getting back in your own bed after a long trip.

Today's checkride consisted of only 3 landings during the flight. Most of the Instrument procedures were completed 2 weeks ago in the simulator.

Although the weather didn't cooperate, I passed my checkride! It feels great to have my checkride over with and even better to be flying again!

Gear up, After Takeoff Checklist!

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