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There Will Never Be Another November 21, 1998 Thankfully!

November 21, 1998 wasn't the nicest day in Illinois history. It was windy and cold, not untypical for November, but not the kind of day that I hoped for. I had been gearing for this day for a long time. I decided to eat a light breakfast I'm not a good test taker and I didn't want to get an upset stomach.

The drive to Hinckley Airport in Hinckley, Illinois took about an hour. On the way I studied my 3x5 cards with emergency information, speeds, key FAA regs, and that elusive concept called density altitude: "from high to low, look out below." I hoped I could remember it. From a half-mile away I could see the morning sun shining off the aircraft.

This was the day. I was either going to get my Private Pilot's License today or as we say in Chicago referring to the Cubs, it would be "wait until next year" or "next century." There was only one weekend left in the soaring season, Thanksgiving weekend and my wife, Mary Ann, and I had plans to be with our children, Suzanne and Christopher for the long weekend. So it would have to be this day!

To begin with, the frost was thick on 13F, a Schweizer 2-33. My checkout instructor, Lon, and I spent a half-hour wiping off the wings and turning the glider into the sun. While we were defrosting , I realized it was cold, and I was nervous and hungry. I should have brought gloves, eaten more breakfast, and taken an antiacid.

After we checked out 13F, we hooked up to the Cessna 182. I liked the Pawnee better, but it was in the hangar being stripped of its fabric. "Oh well, at least it's not the Citabria," I thought. All I needed was a couple of good landings to get Lon's recommendation to take the practical exam. The first tow, pattern and landing was okay. Lon thought we should do it again, and I agreed. Back up to 1,000 feet, release, another okay landing, but the crosswind was exerting it force. Once more. When we hit 600 feet, the tow plane rocked its wings immediate release. I had decided that at anything above 500 feet I would make a pattern landing and abbreviate the downwind leg. I was so concerned about my pattern that I missed seeing the Blanik until I turned on base. It was just ahead of me. Fortunately the Blanik pilot landed at the end of the airstrip and to the left, so I landed over him or her and to the right another okay landing.

Lon thought I was ready. We went into the operations center to start the process with Al. Al, the Hinckley "boss", a CFIG, a FAA examiner, and by all accounts a great pilot, gave me the 13F weight and balance information and then came the realization, "Oh no, we're too heavy." So he went on and gave me the weight and balance information for 68H, an older model. Still too heavy. (To set the record straight, it was my problem, not Al's.) It was beginning to look like 1999 would be the year.

Al called the only other FAA examiner in the area. Ron agreed to come and said he would be there by 1 p.m.; it was now 11 a.m. During the two-hour wait the other CFIG's told me about Ron. He is a senior pilot for United Airlines and an aeronautical engineer who grew up soaring and owns a glider operation to boot. I thought, "This guy has forgotten more this week about flying than I know." Perhaps I should save Ron the trip, lose weight over the winter, and wait until the next season. But he was on his way.

I should have taken the time to get some lunch, buy a sweatshirt and gloves, and take an antiacid. Instead I reviewed the FAA Flight Manual. For those two hours I was cold, hungry, and very nervous.

Ron arrived, and fortunately the weights and balance were within limits. He looked over my logbook and test results and then began asking me questions. I tried not to shake too much. After what seemed like an eternity, he said, "Let's go flying." At least I made it this far. I didn't think Ron would want to fly with me if my oral answers were too far off.

I inspected 68H, not my favorite 2-33 and then the bottom fell out! The Citabria got in position to tow. I really don't like this tow plane. Its climb is not like the Pawnee or the 182. I really don't like the color either, orange with checkerboard panels on the wing and rudder. On the way up Ron told me to box the wake. I pulled it off pretty well except when I got back into high tow position I was low and the wing tip vortex turbulence knocked me to the left and then to the right. After fighting this several times, I got higher. We finally reached 3000 feet.

I released the towrope and said goodbye to the Citabria, thinking, "I won't see that plane until next year." I would either make it on this flight or do it next year. We went through the usual maneuvers: stalls, slow flight, shallow turns, steep turns. It was time to land 68H. I started through the USTALL checklist, executing "U" perfectly. When I got to "S", I yanked back on the spoiler handle without telling Ron and just about cracked his kneecap. I hoped he could get disability!

Fortunately Ron told me not to worry about it, and I thought, "Next year when I am taking my exam again I need to be more careful pulling back on the handle." That was the least of my worries. I failed to compensate for the crosswind and got too close to the strip on the downwind leg, which pushed me too far on base leg, so my final leg was to the downwind side of the airstrip. I crabbed into the wind, straightened up and landed. I exceeded the stopping point by only a couple hundred feet. I promised myself, "next year I will do better."

To my complete surprise, Ron said we'd do a pattern tow. Through my chattering teeth I said, "Okay, thinking, "What's there to lose? It's not every day you get to fly with a senior United pilot." Up we went. At 1,000 feet I released over the IP. This time my course on the downwind leg was better. I crabbed into that awful crosswind. The base leg was okay, and the final leg was pretty good, a little high and fast. I landed 68H before the "brick wall." It was an okay landing, but not one you would video for teaching students how to do it right.

Ron (This man is unbelievable!) said, "Let's do it again. I thought, "what's wrong with this guy? He flies all sorts of aircraft for a living and owns his own glider. Why does he want to go through this agony again?" I was so cold and hungry that my nervousness had gone. My mind raced: "oh well, I've got nothing to lose. I can move to another state and get someone else to test me unless the FAA Examiners network with each other." I imagined that the following would go out on the FAA Examiners network, "Watch out for that fat guy with gray hair who had some kind of abnormality that causes his teeth to chatter all the time. He's the one who broke my kneecap." I wondered if I could take the test in Indonesia.

I released at 1,100 feet. At the IP, I eased back on the spoiler handle. I crabbed downwind, did a tight turn onto the base leg and another one onto the final leg. I lined up, my speed and altitude okay. I flared out and touched down. The nose of the glider was 100 feet short of the imaginary brick wall when we stopped. That was my best landing of the day, a good thing because the sun was close to setting on a cold and windy Illinois day.

Ron and I walked to the operations center. We sat down so he could critique me. I wondered, "Can I get up to speed and take my test in May 1999? I need to get my license before Chris comes home from the Air Force Academy. He'll get the chance to soar at the Academy, and I really want to get my license before he gets his next summer. Yeah, I should be able to do it before his June 1999 furlough."

Now I was really cold and hungry, and my teeth were going a million bites a minute. Ron looked me in the eye, and I thought,"Here it comes, I'm ready for next year." To my great surprise, though, he said, "Congratulations, you've earned your Private Pilot's License." And I said, "You're kidding!" Ron countered with, "You know what you are doing."

All of a sudden I was warm, calm and full, even on this cold and windy day in the Heartland of America.

I was congratulated by the other pilots and CFlGs. My name went on the board, "Grey Jeffreys-Private Pilot License" probably the last entry until 1999.

My thanks go out to all who made this day possible but special thanks go to Ron Ridenour. I really am sorry about your knee.

You know, it really was a pretty good day after all, but wait until next year!

About the Author: Grey Jeffreys holds degrees in Aircraft Operations Technology, Business Administration and Theology. He worked for ten years as mission administrator in Borneo, Indonesia and currently works for Mission to the Americas, Grey and Mary Ann live in Wheaton, Illinois about 37 miles from Hinckley Soaring where he has accumulated 11 hours and 37 minutes flight time, all in Schweizer 2-33s.

Posted: 4/9/1999 By: Richard Jeffreys

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