Planning & Briefing
All steps up to this stage built one huge adventure with many unforgettable memories. And now the final day has arrived.
The Exam Flight so-called Skill Test Flight: Briefing / Navigation / Exercises.
First, I get some waypoints for the navigation flight – based on this I have to prepare the Full MATED Brief.
Afterward, I explain all the different parts of it in a briefing to the examiner. He acts like a passenger during the whole exam. You treat him like a total novice and he pretends to have no idea of flying helicopters at all.
This situation is a bit strange but similar to other verbal exams at college or university. During the flight this will remain the same. He won’t say much – as long as you do a good job. That’s why it was very important, we had always trained to talk and verbalize all the different steps. The examiner has never flown with you before and he can’t look into your head.
The more you comment on what you are doing, verbalize your position, check,s etc., the better he can judge your skills and will not start to distract you with questions. As for planning & flying in general: Always be upfront in the situation, lead it. It’s appreciated, good airmanship and makes everything way easier & relaxed and prevents any bad surprises.
Finally, I have to make the decision if the weather is good enough to go and fly the exam. It’s quite windy. And I know I do not do myself a favor but I have trained everything in even more wind and decide to go. He checks back almost five times and asks me if I am really happy. “Yes. I am happy – let’s go & fly!”
Part I – Navigation Flight
Leg One & Two – Track Hold & Track Crawl – The Navigation Flight consists of all parts we trained during the training. Nothing is new but everything occurs. First, we fly a Track Hold, straight into the edge of Gatwick‘s CTR.
The Radio shouldn’t be an issue anymore and flying accurately is key at this point. Before arriving to the CTR area we are aiming for, I have to descend below a certain height to keep legal. And, I should not miss the field we are looking for – only a few miles behind is the CTR Airspace that goes all the way to the ground.
I had flown in this direction once before, but not exactly the same route. Of course, the moment arrives in which I am not exactly sure if I am really on track. Trying hard to find ourselves on the chart I simply continue to comment on what I see, pretending we are totally on track and hope to get there soon. Just trusting my heading – as learned & trained.
From here, we switch to a Track Crawl. Its direction is straight into the wind and I have to really concentrate on flying accurately in these conditions. This leg takes more than twenty minutes and the examiner will just keep completely quiet.
It was really good that in previous flights I had continued to talk with my ghost instructor under the seat and later with Helicopter Lady G. But I did not mention any sheeps this time and mentioned the amazing view only once!
Farm Spotting / OS Map & VOR Flight – when we arrived we switched to the OS map and looked for a property on the hill. It is quite huge, but behind a forest. Here we talk about approaches to confined areas and start to follow a VOR radial.
I had no problems tuning into the VOR but afterward, the radial did not arrive for quite a long time. Again – know what you do and don’t get confused. It finally came in and we flew all the way back to the south to the area where we would start part II of the skill test.
Part II – Manoeuvres & Exercises
From here the examiner gets way more active, talks a lot on the radio, regularly takes control and it feels more like another really fun training session. First, he hands me over the foggles and we start instrument flying – 360° degree turns and then recover back to normal flight from unusual positions. Straight from here, we go for a practice forced landing.
On the way back to Goodwood he asks me about specific warning lights etc. Back down on the airfield we fly backward and do different variations of spot turns. He does not have to test all the exercises from my training but a significant part of them. Of course, we don’t waste time with the easiest ones.
From here he cruises the magic carpet over the field in a stunning way and lines me up for a nice Quick Stop, afterward we land on the slope, take off again, fly a circuit and finalize the Skill Test Flight with an Engine Off Landing.
I had really enjoyed the training so far and I was almost a little sad to be finished now, it was such a great time. But of course, I was proud too that it all went so well. It feels very strange walking back to the academy building, thinking that now the next step will be “hours building” – flying wherever I want to …
The training was not just fun, it was very straightforward. We never wasted time on unnecessary repetitions. We continuously built up the skills until we started to fine-tune. We did all the steps so faithfully that after the mock flight I had absolutely no concerns about passing this exam.
The only thing I was afraid of was accuracy – flying out of the limitations (speed & altitude) happens so quickly – but we had also trained to continuously improve from flight to flight. During the whole exam flight, I flew even better than before and could avoid some of the minor “fails” I did in the prior mock flight.
Still being a “newbie” the skill test flight feels really long, very long. All navigations on that level, then so many exercises, etc. in just one flight. It is a major milestone to pass and is a major act of concentration. But, it feels absolutely great.
I have no idea why, and it sounds quite ridiculous, but the following night I had an intense dream about this (not very good) movie with George Clooney – Gravity – where he acts as an outer space cab driver. He is constantly listening to a radio station with some hillbilly music (which is not my preferred music really).
But also, he constantly talks on the radio like a “chef” and whirls around in space in an absolutely fantastic way.
Somehow, I had the impression that our exam flight just took place in space. And my examiner talked on the radio even fancier than Goerge Clooney does.
It was again: simply a fantastic flight!]