After weeks of preparation it was time to take my L39 Albatros check ride but there was one problem standing in my way. My instructor and myself flew the aircraft to Rimini, Italy from Prague, Czech Republic to perform the check ride in Italy since my examiner was an ex Italian Air Force F104 pilot.
Departing from Prague, the weather was pretty much on minimums and down in Rimini was more of the same. The problem was that I needed to get this check done within a two day time frame, because my instructor needed to fly back to the US the day after. So even though the weather was pretty bad we planned for a flight the next morning. Surely enough as soon as I looked out of the window the next morning the visibility looked awful. I then checked the weather and this confirmed my worries as the vertical visibility was zero and the horizontal visibility (RVR) was less than 400m. With these conditions we are unable to perform the flight as we are below minimums and thus unsafe to fly. In hope of the weather getting better during the day we decided to meet up with the examiner as scheduled at Rimini airport.
We met up at the airport and the examiner being an ex air force pilot was not too fazed about the weather and instead we continued with our oral tests and later went to plan the flight. This is where things got tricky! Knowing that the weather was only improving slightly we planned for the worst case scenario. This was a departure from Rimini airport, head to Perugia where the weather was fine to perform the required flight manoeuvres and engine failures, to return back at Rimini and shoot an ILS approach. If we were unable to land at Rimini we would divert to Ancona were the weather was slightly better and again if we fail to land in Ancona our final destination would be Perugia, where we would be landing with 20 mins of fuel. Please bear in mind that this is on a check ride and although I knew I was capable of performing this, it would still be a massive task.
About 2hrs after we met and constantly keeping an eye on the weather, the fog lifted slightly just enabling us to depart with an RVR of 550m and a vertical visibility still of zero. We headed to the aircraft and started our engines. It was already a big task taxiing let alone flying, but nevertheless everything was going smooth and I lined up on runway 13 ready for departure. Clearance was given and I started accelerating down the runway, keeping references solely on the runway edge lights as the end was not visible. Reaching rotation speed I lifted off and proceeded with a standard instrument departure (SID) and headed towards Perugia. As planned the weather was good at Perugia and we performed all our manoeuvres. That was the easy part as we now needed to return to Fogged in Rimini airport. On arrival within Rimini airspace, I requested vectors for an ILS approach runway 13 as this would give me more time to prepare properly for the approach. As we were vectored in on final, the localiser and glide slope were captured and I started the approach towards Rimini. At this point you have full trust on your instruments as you can see nothing but grey clouds outside the cockpit. The approach was nice and smooth keeping the bars perfectly on the ILS, but as we were descending towards minimums I was already preparing for a go-around as the airfield was still not in sight. Approximately 50 ft above minimums the examiner asks if I have visual to which I replied, “negative” and was about to power up, but exactly on minimums I could see the runway threshold lights. As soon as I had visual on the lights, I continued my approach and performed a safe landing and taxied back to stand. On arrival no questions were asked and I was awarded my L39 Albatros type rating. This was truly an achievement as the conditions to perform a normal flight were dreadful let alone for a check ride. In conditions like this it is imperative to trust your instruments and not to cut any corners. If on minimums I would not have had visual I would not have continued to descend an extra 20 or 50 ft in hope of locating the runway, but perform an instant go-around as it is in situations like this were people get killed.