On a glorious afternoon last month, FAA examiner Dale Bleakney and I met at the Augusta airport for my oral exam and check ride, which are requirements for the license.
The test was the culmination of two years of ground school and flight training with flight instructor Dave Dewhirst and his counterpart, Dave McConeghey.
In the few days following the check ride, Dewhirst, ever-patient, took several late night calls and last-minute questions from me.
I arrived at the airport plenty early to preflight the airplane and do some reviewing. I was more than a little nervous and shoved a handful of Tums in my pocket.
The outgoing Bleakney arrived and began talking and joking, which helped me relax.
In the conference room, he asked a number of questions about regulations, airspace, landing distances, weight and balance and about a cross-country flight I’d planned – “homework” he assigned before the test.
I cheered to myself when he said I passed the oral exam. Then it was time to fly, and we climbed into my dad’s 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer that I’d trained in. The Tri-Pacer is special because of how much it’s meant to my 88-year-old father. I knew he was cheering me on from home.
In the air, Bleakney had me demonstrate soft-field and short-field take-offs and landings and a variety of maneuvers, such as power-on and power-off stalls, steep turns and slow flight. He took notes during each maneuver. I worried how I might be doing.
Finally, smiling, he said, “OK. Take me back to the airport. If you don’t kill me or scare me, you have your license.”
With the sky almost dark, I landed and taxied up to the airport office where Bleakney completed the paperwork and issued a temporary license. Dewhirst, who had waited through the test, was all smiles.
Bleakney told me that I have joined a club of pilots who look out for one another and help one another, which I appreciated.
What meant the most, though, was when I called the most important member of that club to share the news: My proud father.