In spring 1976, I failed grade 7 French.
It was my delinquent year — I was almost two years younger than the other kids, starting the school year in 1975 still aged 10, and as hormones pulled my slightly-older friends in new directions, I found a different outlet, testing how many rules I could break without getting caught. Despite my failure, I joined the grade 8 French class the next year, paid attention, didn’t cheat, and ended up second in the class with 89% (my hormones had kicked in, and girls became more interesting than acting up).
In spring 2009, I failed my biennial IFR flight test.
In Canada, unlike the U.S., we have to redo the complete IFR flight test every two years to maintain our ratings. I passed in 2003, 2005, and 2007, but failed yesterday due to altitude deviations. I now need to be signed off by an instructor, then take the full flight test again. That may put an end to any hope of family trips or Hope Air flights this summer: without an instrument rating, it’s not really practical to fly on long trips around northeastern North America, unless you’re willing to wait 2 or 3 days for weather to clear at each stop.
Because of work, I haven’t flown much in the last year and a half. The hood/foggles don’t bother me, and I’m still good with the radio work, IFR procedures, heading control, and needle tracking, but I need to get back up and regain my altitude control. The Transport Canada test standard is +100 feet/-0 feet for IFR, and I dipped 50 feet below four times in my two approaches. Next time, I’ll remember to target 50 feet above minimum altitude as well, to give myself some wiggle room.
Obviously, as a 700-hour pilot with nearly 100 hours actual IMC, I was shocked and disappointed at the result, but I also recognize that it is my responsibility to fix the problem rather than looking for excuses. It’s important not to fall into bad habits, no matter how long you’ve flown, and it’s probably time for some recurrent training anyway. When I arrived back at my home airport, I went straight in and booked a two-hour lesson for next Tuesday with an IFR instructor. I’ll have him evaluate my flying, then we’ll put together a plan to get my altitude control back to test standards (as well as anything else that might have slipped).
The examiner (a very nice man, and a talented, 20,000+ hour pilot) felt terrible about failing me — he said I obviously know what I’m doing, had 4/4 on much of the test, probably just needed to go up once to get a sign off from an instructor so that I could redo the exam. I’m prepared, though, to work at this all summer if I need to.
Failing once in a while is good for the soul — if you never fail at anything, then you’re not really trying in life — but I don’t want to fail this particular test again, and with my confidence badly shaken, I’m afraid of messing things up next time that I took for granted this time (like holds and NDB approaches) even if I do fix my altitude control. I need not only to brush up my skills, but to get my confidence back.
A good day, all the same
Despite all this, it was a good day yesterday. First, I realized that I really do still care about flying — my first reaction wasn’t to give up, but to book some lessons and get back on the horse. Second, the Red Sox came back from a 1-3 deficit at the bottom of the 8th to beat the Yankees again, for 8 straight this season. And most importantly, I celebrated 21 years married to my best friend, and that easily trumps any flight test results.