“You’ll do fine,” said the reassuring captain as we parted ways. Our next meeting would be in the company of the FAA examiner. In fact, our check ride was to be administered by Elite Air’s FAA-designated “principal operating inspector.” It occurred to me that I could maybe even screw the pooch for the entire company. “We are scheduled to fly at 9 a.m., so let’s meet at 8.”
That Tuesday dawned clear and brisk. A cold front had swept through the day before, leaving me grateful that this exercise was not going to take place in low instrument conditions. I picked up a couple of Starbucks. Jason was already there when I arrived at 7:45. Two other Elite Air pilots were at the round table in the hangar. They were Beechjet pilots, and they were getting checked today as well. They were in uniform, four stripes apiece. Jason and I were in civvies, a good thing as I am the only three-striper in the group. Let’s not rub it in.
Robert Donahue, the POI and FAA check airman, arrived on the dot at 9. He asked for each of our licenses and medical certificates. Even though I was not getting a check ride, Bob inspected my paperwork with rigor. Then a surprise: The Beechjet captain asked to see Bob’s documents. He produced a wallet with “Federal Aviation Administration” emblazoned on it. Given Bob’s FAA hat and shirt, that would have been enough for me, but the examinee persisted. Bob opened the wallet to reveal a sheet of what looked like velvet. When he peeled it back, there was a gold badge. It looked to be the size of a hubcap, as you might expect for a man who had flown just about everything from seaplanes to Gulf Coast helicopters.
Bob nodded with pleasure when we asked him if he had any guns or weapons of destruction on him. It became evident that this event was going to be played by the book by all concerned. The Beechjet guys would fly first, and that would give me a little more time in the cockpit to prepare and work out weights and speeds.
When our time arrived, Bob agreed to the short flight from St. Petersburg (KPIE) to Sarasota (KSRQ), Florida.
The short trip would save fuel, but things happen quickly in a Lear on short segments. We’d fly the ILS to Runway 14 at KSRQ. Bob watched us do the preflight without saying much, but when Jason briefed him on the emergency procedures, Bob asked him how to tell if the life jackets were current and approved. Good thing Jason knew.
As I called for the clearance, Jason closed the door, always a thrill on the Lear 31A. Sure enough, the door light would not extinguish on the glareshield annunciator light panel, so we recycled. Still no joy. We called maintenance, which came out and concluded that it was a switch issue, MEL’d the door annunciator light and affixed a placard to the glareshield. Then Jason closed the door one more time, and the light went out. Natch.
Off we went, taxi diagram on the yoke, reading checklists and, finally, lining up for takeoff. It all went well. When our heading to intercept the ILS at KSRQ looked like it might not get us lined up, Jason said, “Ask for an additional 10 left.”
I did, and then jumped off our common radio frequency to get the ATIS. Jason acknowledged and briefed me when I got back that the only change had been the heading. I checked the audio for the ILS and copied the appropriate dots and dashes. I computed the landing and go-around speeds. I briefed Jason on the approach, including the date of publication of the Jeppesen chart. He briefed the go-around procedure.
We landed softly and turned off the active at midfield. Bob said little. We just stayed there on the taxiway while I got the flaps reconfigured, recomputed our takeoff weight and got the route back to PIE in the box. There was no rush. Finally we taxied back and took off. Seconds later, it seemed, I was picking up the PIE ATIS. Jason brought us onto the downwind and then the runway with a surety of experience in flagrant display.
By 11:30 we were back at the round table in the hangar. I asked Bob about when pilots are most dangerous. “The first 1,500 hours and between 5,000 to 7,000. In the first instance, they are just learning. By 1,500 hours they start to listen to the airplane. Between five and seven thousand it is complacency,” he said. He also knew I was trying to hide my concern about his verdict.
Not to worry. Jason had nailed it. My favorite part? “As a crew,” Bob said, “I put you two in the top 10 percent. You were well structured, had exceptional checklist use and worked very well together. You are obviously very used to your roles.”
It was only fair that I told him that, before that clear morning in January, we had never flown together. Jason remained calm throughout.