Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's All Worth It in the End

I've been getting ready for this past week for months...and anticipating it for years. To become an Airline Transport Pilot, one must meet a variety of flying and experience requirements. After being a pilot for nine years, I finally had could check every box to become an ATP! It's hard to find an equivalent in the real world, but this is the highest Pilot Certificate available. I guess you could say it is the PhD of licenses, and I finally got it! Though it would have been nice, it wasn't just handed to me after some paperwork. A few months ago, I took an Airline Transport Pilot written test consisting of 120 questions pulled from a bank of 1,700. This past week, I had to survive a 2.5-hour oral examination, as well as every imaginable emergency in my Beechjet Level D full-motion simulator before being awarded a new certificate! And with a big smile on my face, I came out of the simulator victorious. I had done it at last!

I left Phoenix on Sunday after church to head to Denver for a layover. Our flight from there was delayed temporarily while they fixed the lavatory before heading to Wichita, Kansas where I would spend the next three days in half-day simulator sessions and four-hour ground school classes refreshing me on Beechjet systems. This was my second Beechjet Recurrent session, last January being my first. Two years ago, I went through training to become a fully-fledged Captain on the Beechjet by attaining my Beechjet 400A Type Rating. This week, Monday through Wednesday found me in the sim from early morning until around 3:00, then in ground school until 8:00 PM. It was so much fun, and such a treat to have a refresher on systems that can baffle. I loved every second. But I also had a little dark cloud over my head, anticipating my ATP check ride that coming Friday. I couldn't relax and enjoy my recurrent training. I certainly didn't sleep all week! I couldn't make my brain quit thinking about airplane limitations and emergency memory items (immediate action items that need to be memorized because there isn't time to get a checklist out). There are seventeen million limitations on the Beechjet, and I had to know all of them. It is fun to get back in class and hook up to the fire hose of information they provide! I have always loved school, and that hasn't changed just because I am done with college. Nerd Alert!

I took Terry to the airport on Thursday morning since he was finished with his recurrent training. Then I headed to the FlightSafety training center to do a practice simulator session with my instructor, the wonderful and intelligent Mark Carter, and my sim partner, an intern who really knows her Beechjet stuff. We had a great session in the simulator, practicing everything from V1 cuts (an engine failure just before liftoff that leads to a continuation of the takeoff and dealing with a single engine in the air during a climb) to steeps turns and stalls. My sim partner, Karen, then stayed with me after the simulator to do a practice oral exam with me, where she asked systems, limitations, emergency memory items, and general flying questions to help me feel prepared for my oral exam the following morning. By the time I left FlightSafety that afternoon, I felt calm...ready and excited for my check ride! What a relief! It still didn't bring sleep that night. I did take a few hours away from studying on Thursday evening to browse the local stores. I purchased an iPod Touch with my credit card cash back...Happy ATP Present to me! Luckily, thanks to child-proofing material much smarter than me, I couldn't open it that evening to play with it. So I studied instead.

Friday morning came earlier than expected. Since my brain wouldn't let me sleep, I got it out of bed and made it work by studying some more. I arrived at FlightSafety at 7:30 AM and grabbed a bagel for breakfast. I don't function well during a hectic day without something in my stomach! Then I headed to the briefing room where Mrs. Nancy Kitchens, my check ride pilot, was waiting for me! I only found out last week that Nancy was going to be my examiner. Two years ago, she was my flight instructor during Initial Type Training! Yet another answer to prayers to have her be my examiner! She is a sweet, wonderful lady who only makes your life miserable if you aren't prepared. And with how much I had studied, no one in the room was worried! We caught up on our lives (she is getting her PhD so she can teach business at the local college) and chit-chatted during paperwork. I had to bring my logbook in to prove that I had the required time, and luckily that was no concern! She left the room to make copies while I computed a weight and balance form for the Beechjet. When she returned, another instructor came with to observe the check ride. Karen, my copilot, also showed up. With the four of us in the room, we continued for the next two hours talking about crazy cousins, Beechjet systems, limitations, dentist visits, and dogs. It was very enjoyable (not sure if I have ever said that about a check ride before!) and went very well.

Next came the fun part...three hours in the full-motion simulator. After experiencing a Hot Start which led to an aborted starting procedure, the sim miraculously fixed itself. We took off from Cincinnati doing an RNAV (GPS) departure procedure to intercept a course from a heading. We continued our climb to 15,000 feet, where I did air work consisting of steep turns and three types of stalls (clean, takeoff configuration and landing configuration). All went well and made me very happy. Then we headed to Indianapolis to perform our four instrument approaches. First came a two-engine coupled (flown using the autopilot) ILS to runway 23L. Next came a full-procedure hand-flown Localizer to runway 14 using the procedure turn to find our inbound course. After conducting a Missed Approach because of the weather, we got an engine failure during climb out that we were able to get restarted in the air. Phew! Then we did a GPS approach to runway 5R and circled to land runway 32. That's always a fun one in low visibility! Finally, after getting a V1 cut (engine failure on takeoff with the takeoff continued) we came around for a final ILS to runway 5R with low visibility (1,800 RVR, or about 1/4 mile). After landing from that fourth instrument approach, the weather mysteriously cleared up to allow me to perform a zero-flap landing to and from runway 23L. I was barely able to contain excitement at this point, because I knew this is the final requirement for the check ride! Everything went smoothly on this last landing as well, and no one died! I brought the airplane to a stop, and we performed our after-landing and shut-down checklist. When I turned the battery switch off, it was all over! And it felt incredible! I don't think it has sunk in yet what was accomplished.

Ever since I was six when I decided to become a pilot, this has been my ultimate goal. I got there and did it well. I was very happy with my performance in the oral and the simulator. If you know me and what a perfectionist I am, this should tell you how the day went. An answer to prayers. It couldn't have gone better! I am so blessed and tickled that it's all official.

I guess my new title could be Dr. Captain Micah! Just don't ask me for any drugs.

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