I was spending my afternoon bean-counting. All the ‘one-point-somethings’ in my logbook were steadily adding up towards the ‘Magic 200’ as I counted and test time was near.

THE PROSPECT OF SOMEHOW finding a way to accumulate 200 hours had often left my throat dry. But now that it was finally about to tick over, it felt almost surreal. Wanting to make extra sure I hadn’t made a terrible miscalculation somewhere, I cross-checked row with column on the spreadsheet… and breathed a sigh of relief.

The total came to an amusing 199,9 hours.

The result of scrupulous tracking of progress and hours; my logbook held everything I needed for a CPL – minus the 0,1 hours (or six minutes) to the magic number. This left me with a convenient excuse to take one more training flight to get my eye in (in other words beat my miserable nerves into submission) before taking the dreaded check-ride. In this, I would have to woo a divinely appointed Examiner with my ‘expert knowledge’ and laser-sharp flying skills – if I had any.

Just how laser-sharp I had to be was laid down in the seven page test form: airspeed within 10kt, altitude within 100ft and so on. Unfortunately my racing mind pictured a stern-faced examiner laden with gold on his shoulders and a clipboard to strike off the lives I had left. Just like the testing officer for my driver’s test, who even made a note when I removed one hand from the steering wheel to wind the window up.

Know your AIPs! Add them to your arsenal.

‘HIS LORDSHIP WOULDN’ T GET SILLY’

As much as everyone tried to assure me this wasn’t the case, I couldn’t help feeling nervous. Fortunately my instructor was one who bolstered what little confidence I did have and was on my side.

With D-day set, we started off test-prep with a mock ground evaluation. The CPL test would be broken down into two parts: oral examination and flight test. While the forms had a detailed list of everything to be tested in the air, I had pretty much no idea what to expect in the ground evaluation. Would he ask me to flawlessly recite the Ten Commandments? Or would I be allowed to use resources and look up the answer? I learn nothing when my mind is on other things, so before we jumped into the plane, I wanted to get this bit sorted first.

So my instructor and I grabbed a pile of theory books, a briefing room, and ‘twee koppies koffie’ and got started.

In my arsenal I had The Pilot’s Radio Handbook (or ‘aviator’s bible’ as I like to call it), aircraft manual, access to the regs online, and a few maps along with the associated paraphernalia. But dominating the pile were the Aeronautical Information Publications (AIPs) – big enough to kill someone with.

My instructor assured me His Lordship wouldn’t get silly and try to catch me out with details I couldn’t possibly hope to memorise. If I wasn’t sure of an answer, I should say so and then look it up. Of course there were many things I would be expected to know (and that I really should have known by then if I was serious about becoming a commercial pilot) like VFR minima. But if he asked a very particular law question for example, the main thing he’d want to see is that I knew where to go find the answer.

My instructor began by setting up a basic scenario flight from Cape Town to Bloemfontein and then asked me to break down the ETAs, fuel planning, and so on. Then he threw in at various times in the week scuba diving, blood donation, and a glass of wine the night before: when would I be legal to fly again? You get the picture.

‘MY POOP-SCARED IMAGINATION HAD RUN WILD’

A recurring ‘hot tip’ I got every time I picked an instructor’s brain for check-ride advice was “know your AIPs!” The AIPs are a giant set of books that contain info on airports, airspaces, radio frequencies, and the like. They’re the go-to for looking up official information when planning a cross-country flight but can be a pain in the butt if you’re not used to them. If you’re looking up a frequency for example, you can quickly find yourself wading through endless pages, only to discover you’re in the wrong volume entirely. They can be a real stumbling block if you don’t know them. That’s why it’s best to get them on your side so they work for you in the test. Luckily I had already finished fighting with the AIPs and knew them quite well after the cross-country flying I did while hour building, so that was covered.

As the questions continued, I got the flow of things and by the end both of us felt confident I’d be okay. So, feeling much more at ease, I jumped in next to my instructor for one last flight to polish things off. Unfortunately, my poop-scared imagination had run wild again and pictured the examiner with a ghastly smile on his face as he sprang an engine failure on me when I wasn’t looking. Rubbing his hands together he gave a chuckle as he watched me fumble through a forced landing, waiting to see if I’d screw it up.

While these types might exist, I was assured my examiner wasn’t one of them. But sometimes I just don’t listen, so a simulated forced landing was top of the to-do list on this flight. As we taxied out to the runway 200,0 hours ticked over and the imaginary confetti and party whistles went off in the cockpit. By the time we landed there was nothing more I could do to prepare. And, although I was still nervous, I had total confidence in my instructors: If they said I was ready, I was ready. More on that next month.

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