I have to admit that I was nervous and had trouble sleeping the night prior to my checkride.
I prepared a flightplan to Kinston (KISO- Class D), did my weight and balance with myself and the examiner for the helicopter scheduled, and did a quick review of the areas I had any questions about in my notes from ground school.
I felt ready for the oral portion of the exam, but the practical portion - flying the maneuvers - was the part I was the most nervous about.
For the most part, I felt confident in all the practical flying areas I needed to be proficient in for the exam (the PTS or Practical Test Standards details the requirements for each rating). However, there were a few areas where I was less than confident. I’m told this is not uncommon and that some of these should make me nervous well through my commercial rating (and into CFI).
For me, the slope landings and auto-rotations are still my most nerve-wracking maneuvers. I do slopes well about 50-60% of the time, and the rest of the time I’m so-so. There are some times when slopes are a big problem for me (wind really screws me up on slopes and any tension I have gets magnified pretty severely).
For the exam, I didn’t do my best on the slope landings, but it wasn’t horrible. The DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) was very good and gave me pointers after I executed maneuvers so I could also learn from the checkride. On the slopes, he didn’t have too much new information for me, but did tell me that you can tell if a slope is too much for the helicopter by feel (you’ll feel feedback about once per rotation if the slope is so extreme that the cyclic is too far over).
My auto-rotation was not great either. I entered the glide o.k. but I think I didn’t go all the way down on the collective because I was focused on only cracking the throttle to get a needle split instead of rolling all the way off. As a result, the RPM dropped at first. I spent the rest of the glide chasing RPM and airspeed as a result. Fortunately, my recovery was decent but it was not my best (or even average) auto-rotation by any stretch.
Now for the good stuff!
We went through a normal take-off and approach with no problems after a turn through the pattern.
One of the important things he told me ahead of time was that if I was outside of the standards (100′ from the given altitude and 10kts from the airspeed given) that I should verbalize and tell him what was happening and what I was doing about it or why it was off. I was almost 100′ from the pattern altitude at one point and told him that I was reducing power to get back down and was also increasing speed a bit (from 70 to 75kts). One thing I was afraid of was that I was going to forget to do my downwind checks (check the gauges and pull carb heat), but that wasn’t an issue.
During the pattern he turned off the governor and then rolled off the throttle until we got the low-rpm horn. I lowered power and rolled on throttle until the RPM was in the green again (put in a little aft cyclic but not much). It was really quick and I was very smooth and controlled on the inputs.
Then we did a confined to a paved spot right in front of the ILS tower to the side of the runway. It was a fairly steep approach as there were trees on the final leg that we had to clear with the pad about 100′ beyond. The first time around, I didn’t give myself enough of a run at it and it looked too small a spot (with the tower being only about 30′ away from the edge of the pad). It was definitely not a spot I would have attempted based on my own judgement. So, I called it off and told him I wasn’t comfortable with that spot and that it appeared to small.
Note:As pilot-in-charge, I was aware that judgment would be one of the things he’d be accessing and, in my judgment that wasn’t a spot that was safe for a private pilot to attempt.
He said o.k. and then told me to circle around at my lower altitude and land there. I did (I admit, I didn’t give myself enough room again and actually did one more orbit before landing). He then told me to do a max-power take-off over the ILS tower. I had already shown him one Max Power T/O so I thought this was a bit odd, but went ahead after asking him if he wanted me to do the magneto check again. He said no and I lowered to a low hover and then pulled max power.
The ship got about 25′ above the ground (I had to pull straight up since the tower was right in front of me) and then started to settle. Since I couldn’t go forward to gain ETL and the right was clear, I did a moving turn to the right to gain ETL. Evidently, that’s exactly what he was looking for. He wanted to show me the risk of settling with power in a hover-hole and make sure I understood the recovery could be in any available direction (with the right preferred if open since it takes advantage of the translating tendency and uses less power).
After that we went out of the immediate area of the airport and climbed to 1500′. Along the way, he had me take various headings and change altitude a few times. Once we got to 1500′, he asked me to go into an out of ground hover and then get us into a settling with power condition. I did (making sure to focus on a water tower in the distance so I could keep my heading while hovering) and then, as soon as we were in SWP, I reduced power, nosed forward a bit and then pulled power back in at around 20-25 kts. No problems.
After that we did the not-so-great auto and then the not-so-great (but better than the auto) slope landings. I won’t dwell on those, just suffice it to say that I intend to have both manuevers nailed down very soon so that for my next check-ride, they’re perfect.
The final check was my hover-auto. As I mentioned, I did a pretty good job. I had a little left yaw, but not much and I corrected for it on the way down. The set-down from the hover-auto was pretty smooth, but the one he showed me where he glides forward on the descent was even smoother; something to work on for next time.
Afterward, he was kind enough to fly for several more minutes showing me various autos (low-speed, low-altitude, some full-downs), LTE and recovery, stuck right pedal landing, and other maneuvers. It was a great learning experience in that it gave me a better understanding of what the ship was capable of and what a good pilot can overcome, but it also was very educational in that it showed me how much more there is for me to learn, as well as, how even with as experienced as the DPE was, he was still constantly learning and treated the craft with respect and was extremely safety conscious.
He was a great example to add to that of my current instructors and the experience definitely gave me a standard to strive towards.
So, I did get my license but, as others have said, it’s really just a license to really start learning now.