This hardly needs an introduction so I’ll keep it brief. I received an email from Varun on March 9th, 2012 with this as the introduction.
“My name is Varun and I am interested in earning a Private Pilot Certificate. I have no prior flying experience (except for a 30 min discovery flight a month ago) and I am really excited and looking for help to get started as soon as possible. I have a full time job and I am looking for availability mostly on weekends and probably one or two evenings in the week.”
These are the challenges many pilots living in Silicon Valley face, but with solid determination and a steady flying schedule the results are huge.
I was intrigued first as to how he got my email address, and if this was a legitimate request. I’ve had a few odd ones come in via email. Much to my delight it was legit and the rest is now history and a successful new pilot is out there living his dream. Its been a pleasure to teach and fly with you!
Varun’s journey to becoming a Private Pilot!
2nd Jan 2014, KPAO, Cessna 747ZP
I believe that most of us pilots have always wanted to fly. And often, with all the daily routine and focus on immediate needs, we somehow tend to forget our wants. It all started during a visit to my hometown in Dec 2012. It is a small place with no flight service by any airline carriers. And there, someone mentioned that an ex-airline pilot has recently started shuttling passengers in an 8 seat Cessna between my hometown and another major city. The word, “Cessna” stuck in my mind.
So, I Googled “Cessna” and the Cessna website appeared first in the search list. I learned a little about their airplanes on their site and then went to the link “Learn to fly”. And from there on I went onto “Pilot Center Locator” and put my US residence zip code. Diamond Aviation based out of San Carlos appeared first on the list where I learned about their discovery flight.
After I was back from vacation, I arranged for a discovery flight with Diamond Aviation. And that was it! From there on I had to learn to fly as soon as I can. I did some more research and decided on Advantage Aviation based out of Palo Alto. I reached out to a few CFIs and Ron was the first one to respond. I met Ron and I had no second thoughts.
My first flight lesson was on 24th March 2013 and I soloed on 23rd June 2013 (you can read more about my solo experience here). After a few more lessons, both dual and solo, I went through a phase check at the club with a former DPE for the oral and the assistant chief pilot for the flight school. The phase check helped discover areas where I needed improvement. I worked with Ron on improving them. More lessons, a lot of study and I passed the knowledge test with a good score. Now the time had come for the checkride!
The checkride was on the 21st of Dec 2013 at 09:00 at the club. The weather was good that day – sunny, very light winds. I arrived early to get the weather briefing, complete the x/c plan (KPAO to 1O2) with the latest winds, and get myself setup. Ron arrived early too. The DPE arrived promptly at 09:00 and we went through the paperwork (IACRA, logbook, etc) right after he arrived. After everything looked good, we decided to begin with the oral.
A good thing happened and the DPE asked if my instructor would like to join us for the oral. It was comforting just knowing that Ron is sitting with me in the same room. The oral started off well. There were a couple of questions towards the end that tripped me off – one on the aircraft performance and the other on the validity of charts. In the back of my mind I wasn’t sure if I will make it through the oral. But in the end the DPE said that I did well and that I should go preflight the airplane for the flight. It was a relief to get through!
After preflighting the N48849, the DPE met me at the airplane. He mentioned that he doesn’t need a passenger briefing. And as I would have done many times before, I followed the checklist, started the engine, taxied to the runup area and completed the runup. After clearance from ATC for a “right Dunbarton departure”, I started with a soft-field takeoff as requested by the examiner. It went well. My first checkpoint was VPSUN. At KGO, the DPE asked me a time estimate to VPSUN. I gave him an approximate time and he seemed good with it. Then he asked me to find the time, distance and fuel to Salinas from our current location. I complied. We were at 2000’ and had just crossed the Dunbarton Bridge when the DPE noticed engine roughness in the airplane. We immediately made a call to head back to KPAO and he suggested not changing the engine configuration (carb heat, throttle, etc) in any way until we were within safe gliding distance of the airport. We were cleared for a short approach. It is supposed to be simulated but I did an actual power-off emergency landing on a checkride!!! After we touched down safely, on our taxi back to parking the DPE mentioned, “you are going to remember this checkride forever”. I surely will.
Being a Saturday, there was no mechanic available to confirm the problem (later it was found out to be a bad cylinder). And the other C152 (747ZP), had more fuel than the both of us could carry. A notice of discontinuance was disappointing but it was the right call. I ended up doing some solo pattern practice that day in 747ZP. And after a couple of reschedules later, I was finally able to book a slot on the 2nd of Jan 2014 at 10:00 for continuing with the rest of the checkride.
I arrived almost an hour early at the club. I called FSS for a briefing, preflighted the airplane (747ZP this time) and rehearsed all the maneuvers in my head before the DPE arrived. He arrived at 10:00. We went straight to the airplane. And this time, for some reason, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was a short field take-off and a “left Dunbarton departure”. We leveled off right after crossing the Stanford Stadium, did slow flight, power on/off stalls and a steep turn. Then we diverted to San Carlos airport. It was the first time for me at KSQL and I didn’t know the TPA. I was reaching for the A/FD when he said it is 800′ and said that the passenger happens to know it :-). The first landing was a soft field landing. I had never done a better soft field landing before! Then we did turns around a point near the cement plant and entered the pattern for a normal landing. Right after we crossed the runway threshold, he asked me to go around. We climbed back and did a straight out departure. This is when I put on my foggles and did some under the hood flying. I also did an unusual flight attitude recovery and then we headed straight back to KPAO. Things were moving along quite well.
He asked me to do a short field landing at the threshold. The touchdown went well and was within 200′ of the threshold. However, it was not the best approach for a short field landing as I was a little below the glide path. It was the last maneuver and I started wondering if I busted the checkride. The DPE had seemed to be an easy going person and had made me quite comfortable by making cool conversations right from the beginning. But now, to add to the uneasiness, he had not said a word after we had touched down. We continued to taxi to the parking.
At the parking, I looked at the checklist and followed it to shutdown the engine. That is when he said, “Congratulations, you are a private pilot now. You did very well and I will see you inside for the paperwork”. I did not know how to react and I only responded with a “Thank You” as a reflex. It was while I was walking back to the club when it finally sunk in me and I realized what I had achieved that day – I was a PRIVATE PILOT !!!
Once inside the club, it only took 10 minutes for the paperwork. The DPE congratulated one more time and asked me to go celebrate my achievement. I wished my CFI and/or my wife were there at that moment; I was feeling so exultant. The front desk guy was very kind and took a photograph of me with the temporary certificate and the airplane. Later I shared it with almost everyone I knew. It took me 9 months and 9 days from my first lesson to earning my certificate! And it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my wife and the patience and relentless effort put in by my CFI to make a pilot out of me.