Achievement Unlocked – PPL!






It is with a heavy heart that I write this. I need to change the subtext of my blog from “An Anaesthetist’s journey to PPL” to “An Anaesthetist WITH a PPL!”. Yes. That is correct – I passed my PPL checkride on Tuesday! I am now legal to fly all and sundry and to “exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot License holder!

It has been quite a journey. There were times when it was hard – not physically hard, but hard in the way where you think that you’ll never get it right. I sailed through my solo Nav exercises – so well in fact that I forgot to blog them. I told myself that all I had to do was an hour or two of PPL test prep with my instructor and Bob’s your Uncle, I’m on my way.

This was not to be the case. Apparently you lose skills if you don’t practice them. Really? Who knew? My circuits, oh good grief, they were shocking. My steep turns? Horrendous. Stalls, marginal. I couldn’t believe how poorly I was flying. 2 sessions, then a third and still not up to my instructor’s (or my) standards. And then, suddenly… it all came right. I clicked. I flew hundreds of steep turns in X-plane. I flew many in the real thing and I now know where the horizon should be and how much it can move before I need to pull back.

So I was sent off with the CFI for a mock PPL flight test – which went surprisingly well. Then one more solo flight to iron out any rough spots – and to finish the required 15hours of solo flight for the PPL – and then it was time for the PPL test itself.

PPL Passed!

Date of FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
12 June 2018ZS-BOR(SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALI (Lichtenburg) - FAZR(Zeerust) - FALA3.076.4

In SA, the PPL test requires a ground evaluation – which is essentially an open book discussion with the examiner on the AIPs, ENRs and the relevant regulaitons and standards. Mainly, it is about flying and a very long navigation exercise. I was told to plan Lanseria to Lichtenburg to Zeerust and then back to Lanseria via the UTRUK intersection.

This is a long nav. Without any messing about it is 244nm. Which at 130kts GGS is a long flight. The day dawned clear and crisp which was fantastic, except this was NOT the case at Lanseria. Lanseria lies in a gentle valley, which is blanketed on many winter mornings by a significant inversion layer. This would not be a major issue were it not for the informal settlements in the area which predominantly burn wood and coal for heating which makes a lovely smog which can take hours to clear. Scheduled launch time was 09h30 – at which stage the airfield was still declared IMC with visibilty of 4000m in haze. So we waited and waited.

I was starting to give up hope with the examiner having to be somewhere else soon – until someone suggested we ask for Special VFR. Special VFR allows one to leave a controlled airfield in IMC conditions to accomplish a cross-country flight. So this we did, and wouldn’t you know it, as we were taxiing down to the runup bay ATC comes on and says, “by the way, we’ve just become VMC”. Hoo-bloody-ray.

The flight itself was…. actually really fun. I hadn;t met my examiner previosuly but what a great guy he was – similar age to me and we had a ball. Chatted all the way, flew lots on the autopilot and he appreciated the snacks. Top tip – bring snacks on your PPL checkride. We were supposed to do one touch and go at Lichtenburg (FALI). So we do the unmanned join overhead but there are kids playing soccer on the runway. We descend on the dead side, join the circuit tight and fly a reasonably long final with all the lights on. And they didn’t move. Not even one damn was given by these kids. So as we get to the roundout, the examiner says “full throttle but DO NOT CLIMB” and we zoom over them at 10m and 120kts. Which was suposed to scare them off but they start taking videos on their cellphones. Now I’ve heard of buzzing a runway to scare game off, but kids? Not so much. We decided not to land there and carried on to Zeerust


Zeerust was to be the site of the circuit work. As we arrived, I was asked to do a precautionary landing – no problem. The runway there is wide, long and unsullied by children (only cowpats). Nioce precautionary, then a flapless and finally a glide from downwind which was harder than it needed to be because I was configured for downwind – Cirrus standard landing training calls for 100kts, 50% flap on downwind. I pull the power, we adopt a glide profile not unlike that of a microwave oven. The examiner says… “you ARE allowed to pull the flaps up you know”. AHAA! flaps up and suddenly we’re gliding like a streamlined microwave – bam – just made it on.

Then back to Lanseria via the training area for some (i thought) steep turns – it was only one. I lost 25feet. That is all – my best ever. 2 stalls later and he takes the airplane and asks me to reach back to fetch his pen. As I do so it feels weird – I turn back and he’s put us into a spiral dive. “Recover!” he says – and it comes to me – level wings, idle throttle and PUUUULLL back – within limits. “Take us home”, says he and back we go.

The most stressful part? not cocking it up on the way in. I’ve heard of people being failed as they pull up to the ramp for some airmanship issue or other – fortunately, I was not that guy.


So that’s it. I am the holder of a shiny new PPL (OK, I will actually hold a shiny new PPL when the CAA issue it in 10working days time). I know adventure awaits. It’s going to be a blast.