6:00am. The sky is going from a foggy orange dark to blue dark as the morning sets up, the town is slowly waking up.
Today is different from the other days, I finished my CPL training a few days ago, passed the so-called 170A exam, and it's now time to confirm that I can properly do all what I've been trained for in a professional and commercial manner, and cope with any kind of emergency.
A few hours later, after some time standing at the airport and looking at the weather forecast, I finally meet Captain Dave R. at the CAA test centre.
We both agreed we would brief and prepare the flight as we would normally do if the weather was great, and we will check it again just before going flying.
Today, our flight will take us to Colyton, a small village a dozen miles East of Exeter, in Devon.
We meet again 45 minutes later, discuss the performances calculations under today's conditions, and as we will probably land in Dunkeswell as a diversion, I also check the landing and take-off performances, as well as the mass & balance sheets. We complete the briefing with a few questions regarding Air Law and the Be76 specifications.
The forecast reveals a flyable window of around 2 hours and some decent weather to the West.
We jump in the plane, start up the engines and get the ATIS. We've got some FEW clouds at 3000ft, more than 10k visibility, which for once isn't bad at all. Taxi, line-up and take-off, and I'm soon in the cruise on my first leg towards Colyton.
Bad luck comes soon, and this is exactly what happens in real life, the cloud ceiling gets down to around 1500ft AMSL, it's overcast, there are rains showers and some nasty weather ahead. I take the decision to divert and fly on a North-Easterly heading that will get us in some much better weather. Unfortunately, the forecast are never very accurate and that's what we've got to deal with. I manage to complete all the remaining sections of the CPL Skill Test and pass them all.
Despite the navigation being cancelled, it is still a lot to do and fatigue comes to play eventually. Instrument flying, VOR and NDB tracking, partial panel, timed-turns, unusual attitudes while in IMC without the artificial horizon, stalls in approach and landing configurations, simulated cockpit fire, engine fire and actual shut-down followed by an emergency descent, all kind of circuits, engine failure after take-off, N-1 landing, aborted take-off, etc ...
I finally land the plane about half an hour before the rain arrives in Bournemouth.
Then comes the debriefing, and I'm left in some mixed feelings. That's an incomplete CPL Test but I actually passed everything we could do. A bit frustrating I must say.
The next day turns out to be absolutely awful, and I eventually cancel the test.
Finally, thursday looks slightly better. Same as two days ago, we should have a two hour window to fly VMC, and I decide to give it a go.
I've got a different examiner, a different navigation to plan of course (see below), and a cloud ceiling averaging to around 1800ft. They forecast some nasty weather coming soon so we must go before that.
We're soon flying in some smooth air at 1500ft, below the clouds on our way to Evercreech. A few miles later, the cloud ceiling is down to 1400 ft (with some high ground up to 800ft), there are rain showers on my path and it just gets really tricky. It is still flyable but it just can't get any worse. I have to avoid every localised rain shower, and maintain a 500 foot separation between me and the ground. All this while entering a Military Air Traffic Zone and trying to get back on the exact track initially planned. Evercreech is not hard to find, and I head onto my diversion the examiner just gave me. Alderhot, just North of Bournemouth airport. The weather is getting even worse unfortunately, and although the cloud base enables me to fly reasonnably high, the visibility is now down to just a few kilometers. Track correction at the half-way point as the wind seems to have increased in the meantime, and I finally end up on track and on time over Alderhot. Flight test is complete, the examiner takes control and this is it, I'm no longer a Private Pilot, I just became a Commercial Pilot (or Professional Pilot as we call it in France).