A swampy October morning brought with it an exciting (and somewhat nerve racking!)
step in my training: the Private Pilot Practical Test. After gathering all my materials and triple
checking the weather, I set out for Torrance to pick up N439LP. An all-too-quick trip across
LAX’s Class B airspace brought me to Santa Monica Airport, where the checkride would be
conducted. With the help of the ground controller, I found my way down taxiway B2 (which
bears an uncanny resemblance to a freeway off-ramp) and to Justice Aviation.
Inside, I sat down with Joe Justice, the examiner. The exam began after a detailed check
of my paperwork and 9LP’s maintenance records. He covered every conceivable topic: weather,
airspace, systems, weather services, spin awareness… you name it! The oral ended two hours
later with an inspection of my flight plan to Santa Maria and an interesting discussion about
weight and balance.
Despite his thoroughness, the oral exam was not the intense “grilling” I expected it to be.
It was more of a conversation about aviation than a traditional challenge-and-response test,
thanks to his frequent use of scenario-based questions. I didn’t even realize how many topics we
covered until he started checking items off his list!
After a quick 30 minute break, we went out to the ramp to begin the flight portion. Since
there was no need to follow my flight plan all the way to Santa Maria, Joe had me request flight
following to Oxnard instead. Following a normal takeoff and climb to 4500 feet, he and I
discussed the different signs of engine trouble while verifying the accuracy of my flight plan’s
timings. In the Restricted airspace outside of Point Mugu, Joe had me demonstrate most of the
standard maneuvers, such as stalls, slow flight, hood work and steep turns. Then, we turned back
toward Oxnard, where he “failed” my engine and had me spiral down and perform a slip to a
deadstick landing on runway 25. A soft-field takeoff led to a short-field landing at Santa Paula.
After completing that, a short field takeoff, and a turn around a point near the Reagan Library, a
soft-field landing marked our return to Santa Monica.
As we exited the runway, Joe said, “Well, as long as you don’t hit anything, I think we’ll
be done here!” Thanks to PSA’s comprehensive training methods, I was over-prepared for this
exam, and was able to depart Santa Monica that evening as a newly-minted Private Pilot!