Matt was nervous; that is to say, he was like every other flight student who has reached his solo stage check. He stood beside his Piper Cadet, putting on a brave face as I approached, and he was sweating. Of course, in the Florida sun, I was sweating too. Our very regimented flight academy mandated uniform shirts and ties even on August afternoons. On this afternoon, the humidity gave one the unshakeable sensation of swimming on dry land.
I gave Matt a wide grin and patted his shoulder to emphasize my goodwill. It didn’t do much good. Despite the fact that I was the kindest and fairest check airman in the whole wide world, something in my appearance must have been intimidating. Nothing would assuage Matt’s fear. Had I been dressed in a fur-lined red suit and leading a reindeer by a tether, he would still have been shivering in the tropical heat.
My heart went out to him. I knew well the power an authority figure can have over your day, affecting your outlook and your performance. Even now, I stumble just a bit when an FAA inspector shows up to ride on our jump seat. On one such visit, the ASI smiled and said, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” When he went back to stow his suitcase, my FO and I looked at each other nervously. “What do you suppose he meant by that?” we said in unison.
Matt should not have been worried. His Oral had gone well. He had obviously done his homework. He rattled off the Cadet’s limitations and the VFR cloud clearance requirements enthusiastically. He knew the aircraft systems cold. His flight planning was thorough and accurate. His instructor had assured me that Matt was his best student. I saw no reason to doubt it. “Shall we take her around the pattern?” I asked, beckoning Matt toward the cockpit. He grimaced. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.