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From Private Pilot to Airline Pilot - Part 5

English Proficient

The big night came and went; life carried on.

I fumbled around my oral and blew a couple questions, but with some creative questioning from the instructor, I found the answers he was after. We walked out to the simulator and started the checkride.

The fire bell rang, and red lights flashed on the glareshield. I glanced left to the engine gauges and saw an engine spooling down. The brick slid right, then some right rudder pressure brought things in line. “What have we got?”

The captain stirred to life. “Left engine fire.”

“Immediate action items for engine fire in flight,” I said. He pulled the “menu,” a single laminated sheet with checklists for the worst of the emergency scenarios, and started to read.

“Affected thrust lever, confirm and idle.” I confirmed. He shut the engine down, cut its fuel, air, and hydraulic sources, and then fired the extinguisher bottles. The nasty red light on the panel still said “fire.”

So we turned back to Atlanta, where the skies were blue and the runways stretched to the horizon. I let the fire get to me and rushed my turn to base leg and final, then found myself about 400 feet high when I lined up on the runway.

A Cub would have had no problem. Boot in some rudder and cross-aileron, and the Piper would have sank like a brick. But this was no Cub; the CRJ has a glide ratio of about 22 to 1. The engines at idle generate enough thrust to make descent planning an important factor. I pulled a trick from the old Mooney playbook. I pulled the thrust levers to idle, and waited a long time. The second PAPI light turned red just as we reached 500 feet, and I eased a little power back in.

My landing wasn’t graceful, but then again, there was an engine blazing away in the back. We rolled to a stop, the captain set the parking brake, and we started the evacuation checklist.

“That’s a pass,” the instructor said from the back. The cockpit jolted, almost imperceptibly, as the hydraulics lowered our simulator and the walkway came into place. “I’ve got some paperwork to do, so if you’ll square everything away, I’ll meet you in the office.”

Kevin, my seat-filler for the checkride, looked over, shook my hand and congratulated me for a successful ride. We ran through some things he noticed, so there would be few surprises on the debrief.

I used to hate checkrides. I still don’t really enjoy being put on a pedestal and analyzed, but with each one, the anxiety eases a little. I was a bundle of nerves for my private ride. We had taken off in a 172, headed to the examiner’s airport, and a nasty little distraction had caught our eyes as we climbed. Fuel streaked down the window. We landed and swapped to a new 172. I had to learn how to operate the autopilot on the fly.

Now, the checkride anxiety was still there, but I’ve come to understand that examiners are not superhuman, and they don’t expect you to be either.

In the office, my examiner printed out a temporary certificate and handed it to me to read over. It was two in the morning. I caught a misspelling. He corrected it and punched out two copies.

I drove home that morning and visited my friends at the airport. The phone rang as we finished lunch, less than 12 hours after crawling out of the simulator.

“Jeremy, I’m from the training department. How are you doing today?”

“Great, and you?”

“Fine. First of all, congratulations on passing your checkride. However, we’ve got a little problem.”

Define little! Do I have to retake the checkride? Please, no! My brain kicked from relaxation mode to alert in half a second.

“Your check pilot is a great guy, a good instructor, and a reasonable examiner. However, his paperwork—it leaves much to be desired. There is a mess of typographical errors on your certificate.”

Sure enough, he was right. I pulled out my certificate. “Multienine.” “Priveleges.” The list continued.

I’m amazed he didn’t threaten to pull the “English proficient” endorsement from my certificate. Maybe it’s because we managed to spell that one right.

The qualification line-oriented flight training (Q-LOFT) that followed a few days later was a non-event in comparison. Neither engine exploded at rotation. We climbed normally and flew to our destination with the only failure being the ILS at our destination. We flew a GPS approach instead.

We landed, taxied off the runway, shut down, and swapped seats. It was my leg to fly on the way back, and it went quickly with a 150-knot tailwind. We had an air conditioning pack fail on the way in to Atlanta. Then I showed how not to land an RJ in a crosswind, and we headed back to the briefing room. The instructor signed us off and wished us luck.

This is the fifth of a six-part series on Jeremy King’s adventures in going from a grass strip to an airline cockpit. He lives in Whitesburg, Ga.

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