My worst failure came from using GPS in an airplane, not a car.

I was taking my checkride for the private pilots license with an FAA examiner and we had just finished all the parts of the test (landings, emergency procedures, navigation) and finally got to the instrument part of the test. This part had me wearing ‘foggles’, which let me see just the instrument panel but blocked my view outside the window. The task was to maintain attitude, airspeed, and altitude while I navigated back to the airport. I asked if I was allowed to use the GPS (in addition to the VOR), and the examiner said “Use all your available resources”.


I entered “GNV” into the GPS, intending to navigate to Gainesville airport. I should have entered the full identifier, “KGNV”, rather than “GNV”, which was the code to the VOR beacon, 8 miles south of the airport. I was doing great on the approach from the south, until I realized how close I was getting to what I thought was the airport.

Aircraft aren’t allowed within 4 miles of the airport without first talking to the controller, so I became increasingly panicked as I tried to comply with the examiners requests to change altitude and heading under the hood. I thought, for sure, that he was testing my ability to navigate in the airspace under stress, and that if I didn’t call he would fail me.

I went from calm and confident to panicked and blundering as I stammered out a call to Gainesville tower, telling them that I was just on the edge of violating their airspace.

It took some back and forth on the radio and with my examiner as I gave hurried, but bogus, position reports. He finally said “Son, take the foggles off and look around you!” I saw that we were way outside of town over the prairie, well outside of the airspace.

We made our way back to the airport in silence, with the awkwardness a sure indication that I needed to re-take the test. I blurted out something about the bogus GPS, but didn’t actually realize that it was a user-input error until later.

Somehow, the examiner took pity on me and forgave the mistake - I passed!