Chief Flight Instructor Whitesell isn't a very tall gentleman, and really isn't all that physically imposing at all. However he is quite, he has a sense of humor, but is very difficult to read. When he walks into a room full of chatter, things get quiet in a hurry. Not that he makes it that way that's just how it happens. And you hear the stories of the dreaded stage checks with Rick, all throughout the hangar and the classrooms. It was kind of comforting but not at the same time knowing that I wasn't the only pilot who felt that way. To me he's like the guy from the Dos Equis beer commercial. Rick's facial expression doesn't change when he's upset or when he's happy. You just never know what the man is thinking.
My version of Rick at first, mysterious!
After my first solo flight, our part 141 course curriculum mandates that the student’s next flight be what's known as a stage check with Rick or his assistant Mike. A stage check is no more than a practical test of the material covered in the prior "chapter" if you will, whereas the final check ride is more like your final exam that covers the whole curriculum. Our school divides the private pilot course into three stages. Solo/Maneuvers, Cross-County, and the final check ride. If you're a pilot already reading this you're probably familiar with "check-ride-itis" which is the same as the "Rick effect" that I spent the weekend dreading. Hoping I wouldn't forget everything I learned and make myself look like a fool. As an athlete I'm no stranger to pressure situations or the big game but for some reason this was different. I didn't know which maneuvers I'd be performing or what type of mood Rick was going to be in at the time either. Honestly I probably wouldn't know anyway. I had to wait until 0800 on Monday July 1st to find out. If all went well it would be the first flight of a very busy week.
I chose a morning flight purposely because I knew that the air would be smoother than it would be at 3:30 in the afternoon for sure and I needed every advantage I could possibly get. Honestly though, the "Rick Effect" had gotten into my mind so bad that I almost started to consider it a disadvantage. At least if I struggled some during the afternoon thermals and turbulence I would have something to blame it on. Mess up in the calm smooth morning air and it would be all on me. While driving to the airport I called and spoke to my Mother who told me to just relax and fly the airplane. She told me I'd been doing fine all of this time, so it shouldn't be any different today. As usual she was right and I slowly began to relax.
Once I completed the pre flight inspection Rick joined me in the airplane and we went over the pre flight brief, then started up and taxied out to runway 1 instead of the usual 19. Remember when I said in my last post that nothing seems to go according to plan? This would be only my third departure from runway 1 which meant unless the winds changed I'd be performing my landings on it as well. You're probably asking yourself what's the big deal? Well due to helicopter operations and some airspace restrictions on the western side of the airport we fly a non-standard or right traffic pattern when runway 1 is in use. Last time I actually landed there it was my second lesson and my instructor set up and flew the 45 for the entry, so it would be my first time doing that as well. Any other time I would've hardly noticed, so I guess you can blame it on the "Rick Effect".
After takeoff I began to feel more comfortable because I had less time to focus on Rick. On the way to the practice area conversation was very little and Rick was just as stone cold as ever. "Oh Boy" I thought to myself. Once we arrived I performed a power off stall, slow flight, emergency procedures which included a slip to landing, and one or two more maneuvers and then he said "take me to the airport". All the anxiety I felt was pretty much gone at this point. I had nailed the maneuvers and now all that was left to do was enter the pattern do one touch and go, come back around and land. Interestingly enough on the way back, and in fairness some other parts of the flight too, Rick started up a conversation that lasted all the way up until I entered the pattern for landing. Word's can't describe the relief I felt but I also felt quite stupid in a way. There I was all worked up dreading something thinking Rick was this terrible guy when in all actuality he's not. All I had to do was fly the airplane and he would have no reason to complain. Flying the airplane and focusing is exactly what had brought me through the maneuvers and again during landing. My landings on runway 1 were the best I'd had since I first started flying there on the 8th of June. If the "Rick Effect" made me grease it on like that particular morning, then I wanted him to be on board for every flight. We taxied in and I shutdown the airplane and it was all over. Rick had some advice for me which I took in and planned to adhere to during future flights. The "Rick Effect" was over and as it turns out it really wasn't much of an effect at all. Just the typical case of nerves commonly referred to as "check-ride-itis". My next stage check should have fewer reservations about it prior to the actual flight.
With the stage check complete I was able to resume flying and move on to the cross country phase of my training. A well planned, and later executed with the willingness of my instructor, week allowed me to fly as much as possible and cover 5 lessons in 3 additional days of flying. During that week I'd also enjoy my first out of the traffic pattern solo flight to the local practice area, my first night flight and cross country. One more each: dual day cross country, a night cross country, and a day time solo cross country are all that remain before I will have my next encounter with the "Rick Effect" for my cross country stage check. Difference is this time I'm actually looking forward to it. In less than a month I've experienced tremendous growth in my own abilities as a pilot and have been humbled as well, and I've meet great people and unfortunately some not so great. I say that to say this is more than a future career it truly is a journey, or a voyage of sorts. There will be ups as well as downs but when you're doing something that you absolutely love to do, nothing can keep you away.