The day you earn your private pilot’s certificate, people are quick to tell you that you’ve just received your “license to learn.” And with a little more than 40 hours under your belt, you’re keenly aware of how much you just don’t yet know. In fact, the most terrifying flight of my life was probably the short hop from Frederick to Gaithersburg whilst the ink dried on my temporary certificate.
I’m one of a small subset of people who makes crucial decisions based on weather forecasts. Among pilots, the weather is one of the most important and oft-discussed components of aviation. After all, weather mistakes can be fatal: an encounter with a building thunderstorm, a run-in with icing conditions, a chance meeting with wind shear at low altitudes. Pilots pay careful attention to the weather because their lives depend upon it. So naturally, I pay close attention to forecasts at all times of the year.
Last night I got a chance to fly again, the first time I was the flying pilot since February 14th. An instructor and I piled into my airplane for a ride to Tipton, then over to Martin State, and back to Gaithersburg. It had been a long time since I had done any kind of night landings; the FAA requires that pilots perform three landings at night to a full stop in order to carry passengers in the dark. My goal was to get current, and to gain some valuable experience.
There are many rights of passage for pilots: the first solo, the reciept of the first certificate, the first instrument flight.
For most pilots, they never fly as often as they like and the flights they do fly are never as long as they desire. But for most pilots, they try to get out and fly once or twice a month, sometimes more or less depending on their schedules.
Winter is in full swing over most of North America, and so with it brings a natural lull in flight activities. The clouds are full of ice, and the winds come up regularly to strong gusty levels. With only one good flying day since my last flight to Lancaster, and with the transponder issue needing to be corrected, I’ve not had much of a chance to head into the sky.
Yesterday, exactly one week after receiving my instrument rating, I filed an IFR flight plan from Gaithersburg to Lancaster, intending to give this “single pilot IFR” thing a try. It was a severe clear kind of day, so there wasn’t going to be any actual attitude instrument flying; instead, it was a chance to test out my ability to obtain, follow and understand clearances and other important elements of the instrument flight rules system. Plus, it was a great opportunity to take a solo flight under IFR – something you don’t get to do until after your instrument rating is complete.
A little more than a year after hearing the words, “you’re a pilot now”, I earned my instrument rating and thus the right to fly through the clouds, rain and other weather. I took my instrument airplane checkride with Robert (Bob) Gawler at Gaithersburg, and despite being the more difficult checkride, it was a worthwhile experience.
I postponed my instrument checkride yesterday.
Though I have the number of required hours, I don’t feel ready to take the checkride. It’s a hard thing to admit: not being ready, but it’s an important part of being a good pilot. I don’t want to take a checkride that I’m not prepared for any more than I want to take a flight that I am not certain will have a good outcome. It’s just not worth it.