Every FAA (and I suspect other aviation authority) practical test includes the dreaded “realistic distractions.” Because pilots are going to have someone, or something, catch their attention at bad moments, and we need to learn how to deal with them. The only test I didn’t have that happen was the Airline Transport Rating checkride, because it wasn’t needed. We were 1) in the weather, 2) in a twin engine airplane with no autopilot, 3) the controller switched approaches on me to 4) the only one in the book that had not been photocopied in advance so I had to fly the plane, twist around, and get the book off the floor between the rear seats, and still talk on the radio. And I was used to Jepps and the book was NOAA, so the format was slightly different. Most distractions are a bit less realistic. Except . . .
So, there I was, in the back seat of a Schweitzer 2-33 glider (OK, slow-falling brick as compared to true sail-planes.) The tow plane had been hooked up, we’d cleared the traffic pattern, and all seemed well. The instructor, all 6’2″ of him, lounged in the front seat, acting bored. The two-plane waggled his rudder, I waggled mine, and he began rolling, The slack in the cable disappeared and the glider began rolling as well. One, two, three, and the glider eased off the ground. I held it just off the pavement as the tow-plane’s tail came up, then he broke ground, and we began climbing. His job was to climb. My job was to keep him dead-center of the windscreen, halfway between the horizon and the top edge of the canopy.
“Two hundred feet.” At two hundred you announce it. From there on up, if the rope breaks, the glider can do a 180 and (in theory) land on the runway. Below 200 and it’s land in a pasture/parking lot/yard/road. If the glider is the one with the rope still attached, you’re landing even sooner.
Bang! “I didn’t do it!” and the instructor’s hands are in the air. The tow plane wheeled to the left, away from the glider, and I pushed the nose forward and reversed course to the right. The winds were light, and we were able to land on the runway and roll clear of the tow plane (who, keep in mind, is landing with several hundred feet of steel cable “rope” attached.) After pulse rates subsided and we confirmed that the tow plane was down and safe, a sheepish voice from the front of the glider said, “Um, it was me. Sorry.”
It seems that once we broke ground and all appeared to be well, Mr. Long-and-Leggy decided to stretch out. When he did, his size 10EEs hit the pull cable for the tow release and triggered it.
The second moment of mild interest came about in the same aircraft, a Schweitzer 2-33, during my glider instructor check ride. This time I’m in the front seat. The season is late spring, the setting is semi-arid, in one of those places that get chilly at night and warm up quickly during the day. The preflight went well, the briefing and ground lesson went well, and the “student” and I have boarded, and nothing untoward has happened yet. But it’s only the first flight, so all bets are off. Tow release, tow plane clear, glider levels off and it is already dang warm in the greenhouse called a cockpit. So I open the air vent, a glorified orange juice can with a hole to let air in (but with an FAA part number, so it costs $$$ to replace). Foomp flutter flutter flutter and I have a face full of miller moths. Just to add to the chaos, Mr. Check-airman in the back seat starts swatting the flippin’ things with a rolled up sectional chart, bopping me several times in the process. (I think he lived his entire life waiting to do that.) The glider never shifted, the yaw string remained centered, we found a nice bit of thermal and went from there.
Once we got back on the ground, Mr. Check-pilot said, “You pass realistic distraction. I couldn’t think of anything more distracting than that.” And the pilots added “check vents for moths” to the informal pre-launch list.
After those, even getting the leans, in the clouds, in ice, with my boss/check pilot on board didn’t faze me.