Today I had my final stage check at the flight school. A stage check occurs before major phases of flight training, and the intent is to have a second set of eyes evaluate the student before they are handed more responsibility. My flight school does two stage checks for private pilot students: one pre-solo, and one pre-checkride.
My stage check today was with an older CFI named Fred. Fred's one of those guys that's been flying since 1903, who has seen it all and done most of it too. He's laid back, but intimidating simply because of the volume of his experience. I was very nervous going in, not because Fred is mean (I've flown with him before and he is very relaxed) but simply because I was afraid I wouldn't meet his expectations.
I showed up at 10 and then waited for Fred. He had forgotten that he was flying with me and gone out for breakfast, but I made the most of it by pre-flighting the airplane and trying to relax. When he did show up around 10:45, I felt much more relaxed and very ready to fly. I re-checked the plane and we taxiied out and took to the skies.
We began with a soft-field takeoff, a special takeoff where one must imagine being on a soft field, perhaps a grass strip. You must keep weight off the nosewheel, and never ever stop. Directional control is very important and can be challenging simply because the nosewheel is off the ground. I aced the takeoff and earned some praise from Fred, which helped me relax quite a bit more.
We then circled the field and returned for a soft-field landing, where one lands slow and keeps the weight off the nosewheel. We took off again, doing a short-field takeoff over an imagined 50-foot obstacle, circling back for a short-field landing over a 50-foot obstacle.
After the takeoffs and landings we began the cross-country portion of the flight, which I had planned from Winter Haven to Sebring. We stopped over the Lake Wales airport for some air work; slow flight, stalls, turning stalls, and some intrument work. Fred failed the engine on me once or twice but I managed to cope relatively well. We did turns around a point over the Bok Tower near Lake Wales, and then went for some S-turns over a road, during which Fred failed my engine again.
The only eventful portion of the flight was when my window exploded open mid-turn. I tried to close it, but the latch snapped and departed the aircraft, leaving me with a window stuck open. Fred shrugged it off, and since we're a non-pressurized, underpowered, low-flying Cessna 152 instead of an airplane where windows matter, it really wasn't a big deal.
We went back to Winter Haven, Fred failed the engine on me again, and we landed uneventfully. All in all, the stage check went well: Fred passed me and my checkride is scheduled for the 16th of this month.
He did leave me with some constructive criticism. Talk to the pilot examiner more, explain what you're doing. Be more diligent with your clearing turns. More brakes and more helm on the short-field landing. Apart from that...I should be good to go on the 16th for my checkride.
We shall see!