“Hello. I am your Examiner…I am here to help you!”

Oh yeah…Really?

I am one of those people who loses two nights of sleep before an Instrument Rating Check Ride (IRT).

I spent ten years of my life at boarding school and four years at university. When that was over I made a promise to myself that I would never leave home again and since it had taken me seven attempts to pass Mathematics ‘O’- level (GCSE), I would never take another exam in my life…ever!

Then I took up aviation and in forty-five years of ‘Contract Flying’, I spent four Christmases at home and was never more than six months away from a career-threatening examination.

The stupid thing was that I only failed one IRT and that was because the examiner had popped the Marker Beacons Circuit-Breaker before I strapped myself in and I reset it during the pre-start checks and I failed the test right there, because the rules state that a popped circuit-breaker may be reset twice in the air, but if a circuit-breaker is found to be open on the ground, it must be reset by a qualified engineer…Fair enough, but he would have saved me quite a lot of money if he could have told me that I had failed, before we got airborne, instead of at the end of what would otherwise have been a successful check-ride.

Having said that, generally speaking I have been very lucky with my examiners and have almost always taken some new gem of aviation wisdom away from the tests.

Of course there were some examiners who had a reputation for eating innocent pilots alive and spitting the chewy bits out on the tarmac after landing.

One of these was ‘Robbie’ and his reputation earned me three sleepless nights at the prospect of one and a half hours of purgatory, followed by a humiliating terminal experience and I would not be allowed to burst into tears until I got behind the locked door at the end.

My check ride with Robbie included a ‘Practice Forced Landing’ from an approach from mid downwind on runway 01, with the props in fully fine pitch and the power at idle.  The aircraft came down like an elevator with the string broken. The secret was to keep enough speed up to be able to flare, before digging an enormous hole in the runway, and it worked. In fact, the resulting landing was one of those greasers which happen once in a lifetime and it brought a smile to Robbie’s face as he said “Okay, that’s enough for me. Let’s go and grab a cup of tea.”

The ‘Debrief’ was more like a pleasant conversation and Robbie forgot to tell me whether I had passed until I asked him. He laughed and said “Oh!…of course…did I not tell you?”

My obvious relief caused Robbie to laugh “What were you worrying about? That ‘Practice Forced Landing’ was one of the best I have seen!”

“Oh, I always lose sleep before a check ride…it is just one of those things!” I said, sipping my tea and breathing again for another six months,

Robbie smiled and nodded reflectively.  “Mm…” he said, “You are not the only one. Anybody who says that they enjoy a check ride is either a liar or sick in the head!”

Robbie was one of the most experienced Flight Test examiners ever born. He was the only civilian examiner on the Blackburn Buccaneer ground attack bomber in the Thunder City Collection in Cape Town and since I never met anybody who was not terrified of him, I was especially interested to discover that he himself lost a couple of nights sleep at the prospect of carrying out a Prof Check in the Buccaneer because the examiner had to sit in the back seat. There were no controls in the back and if the pilot got a knot or two out on the speeds, the Buccaneer would tell him by falling out of the sky without warning.

The ‘warning’ was when the aircraft fell out of the sky and if that was anywhere near the ground when it came, then it would probably be career-shortening for the crew, and being an Examiner would not improve his chances.

It was funny…I had never thought of an Examiner losing sleep at the prospect of doing a Check ride…it just seemed to be the wrong way round…but having said that, my opinion of Robbie took a sky rocket when I discovered that, hiding under the terrifying exterior, there was a quivering little human being…almost like me!