Even a postponed checkride can teach us something
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately preparing for my commercial pilot checkride in the United States. It’s been a long road; I’m training under Part 61 while studying for a completely unrelated degree at a university without an aviation program. Thus, at times, the preparation process has been messy. There have been weeks away from flying, classes I’ve been wholly unprepared for, and moments I’ve had to decide whether I need to prioritize preparing for classes or the checkride.
Training in Chicago isn’t helpful either where our winters are notorious. Now as winter starts to melt into spring, the winds are picking up once again. In fact, due to weather, today’s checkride was postponed so I’m writing this instead.
All this is to say that it’s been a challenging road. For the first time, I have to manage being an active student while prepping for a checkride instead of doing all my final training over summer break. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change it for the world because, though the process hasn’t been seamless, I have learned a lot about time management and how to handle my training. Not only have I learned how to balance schoolwork with flying work. I’ve also learned how important it is to get enough sleep, to keep exercising, and to eat well. More than ever before, I’ve needed to learn how important it is to go into each day focused with a strong, sharp mind.
I’ve also needed to learn how to manage nerves. Arguably, this is the most important checkride I’ve faced to date. I’ve heard plenty about people who had easier times with commercial and about those who thought it the toughest test. While no two pilots will have the same experience prepping for this checkride nor the same reactions to the requirements in the ACS, the fact remains that at this point in the process, the stakes are higher than ever before. I’m being judged on whether I can safely carry passengers for hire, whether I’m qualified to allow people to entrust me with both their lives and their wallets. To me, it’s also the latest step in my dream to fly professionally, the biggest test I’ve handled so far.
Thus, equally as important as learning how to manage my time is learning how to regulate my emotions in a new way. Not only do I need to manage such a big test and prevent my nerves from besting me, I also need to learn how to trust myself and trust my training despite the imperfections I face each flight. I’ve needed to learn to come to terms with my realization of how impactful this checkride is to me and the training challenges I’ve faced without compromising each opportunity to learn and continue to grow as a pilot and as a person.
The decision to delay today’s checkride put my emotions and self-trust to the test. Making the quick decision to push back my test forcing me to wait to learn my fate, has given me more patience and is teaching me how to keep myself focused. It’s even helped me learn how to take a step back from training to reset, refocus, and come back energized to keep tightening up my maneuvers.
No matter when my checkride happens – if the weather on the next scheduled day works out or if I need to keep waiting – I’ll also have a new lesson in trusting myself. After a recent lesson, my instructor reminded me that, no matter how much I fly or practice before my checkride, I still need to take a leap of faith going into such a big test. Even though I won’t perfectly nail my maneuvers every time, I still need to trust my training and trust what I’ve learned from both my great flights and my crappy flights. I have amassed plenty in my toolbox to have a meaningful ride no matter what happens.
Ultimately, no matter how the checkride goes, I’ll have more to take from the experience. Whether I pass and move on to the next level of training or am forced to keep working on my skills before stepping up, I will learn from the flight and from flying with a DPE more experienced than I. Regardless, I will have more flights, more ground training to keep flying, I’ll keep improving my skills, and keep refining my abilities as a pilot. Once I move on from commercial single, the process will start all over again. There will be another new environment, another new challenge, and another checkride to keep pushing me into a new comfort zone and giving me new lessons to learn as I strive toward my ultimate goal of flying for a living.
As my training continues, I cannot help but remember a moment from my private training. I was struggling with my short field landings, and as I waited for departure for another trip into the traffic pattern, I marveled at the sight of a business jet taking off before us. My instructor reminded me that even the most skilled pilots on the planet started where I am. Everyone faces road bumps, everyone has challenges for each checkride, and many of us have even failed a few. But if I kept myself moving forward, I could get over the biggest challenges that right now feel like they could make or break my world, and one day I’ll be up front at my dream airline, in my dream plane, appreciating just how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown on the journey.
There will always be something to learn, no matter where I end up. As long as I lean into the challenges, I’ll become a better pilot from each experience that comes my way, even if my trip to professional flying isn’t as perfect as I’d dreamed. Until I become the best pilot I can possibly be, the only thing left to do is hit the books, head to the airport, and keep learning.