On Engine Failures

I attended an FAA safety seminar last weekend about engine failures, and it has me thinking about my personal experiences.

I experienced my only engine failure to date shortly after a night takeoff, which in my opinion is the absolute the worst time to lose confidence in your engine.

I was a relatively new student pilot and still several months away from my checkride. My instructor and I had just departed on a night cross-country flight. I was at the controls, climbing out of 1,500 feet AGL just a few miles from the airport when the engine stuttered. My instructor didn’t notice the engine’s hesitation. My attention went to the tachometer. It slid downward a second time. The plane pulled. This time she noticed. I was keenly aware that we were engulfed in a black, night sky. A highway below contained considerable traffic so wasn’t an option. If we had to put the plane down into the blackness, there would be no telling where we’d end up. There was no way to know what was inside that abyss –– farm equipment, livestock, fences, water. All were dismal landing environments.

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Flying Sonoma and Napa Valleys

August is a great time to leave Texas. For pilots especially, summer presents unique challenges. High temperatures and humidity contribute to bumpier, often less enjoyable flights. These conditions also diminish aircraft performance, resulting in longer takeoff and landing distances and reduced fuel efficiency.

Of course, these issues aren’t particularly difficult to deal with. Perhaps the hardest part for me is the time spent on a smoldering airport tarmac for pre- and post-flight operations.

In Austin especially, the months of August and September are not kind to Midwesterners.

For these reasons I was anxious to escape with Lauren to California. Sonoma County is a good destination for anyone seeking chilled air. We decide that before setting out on a fast and furious tour of areas wineries, we’ll kick-off the trip by logging some local flight time in Napa. It would be our first experience in flying out-of-state since I earned my pilot certificate in 2012. Continue reading “Flying Sonoma and Napa Valleys”

Preparing for your private pilot checkride: Here’s what you need to know

Preparing for your private pilot checkrideIn October I passed my private pilot checkride after 18 months of flight training.

I scored well on my written exam, but by the time my instructor signed me off to take the checkride I felt a degree of uncertainty. Part of this was due to high expectations I set for myself, and part of it was based on my knowledge that the examiner I was scheduled to test with had recently failed a number of students for various reasons.

I’m fortunate to have trained with a flight instructor who drives high standards and expectations. In addition, she’s a natural teacher who is able to communicate complex information effectively. Rather than just memorizing fragments of information, my CFI taught the whys and hows of systems, operations and regulations. But the checkride exams –– divided into an oral and a practical flying segment –– filled me with uncertaintity.



I channeled my nervousness into more studying and more flying. The end result paid off. I performed well and was issued my pilot’s license; When my examiner shook my hand and told me the job was well done, I felt like I had let out a breath I had been holding in for weeks.

To help other student-pilots out during this grueling process, I prepared the following guidelines on what to expect on the day of your checkride. I also provide a list of likely questions and topics that will come up during both your oral exam and your practical test.

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