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Copyright © 2001-2018 by Russ Meyer
"Instrument flying, I had concluded, is an unnatural act, probably punishable
by God." - Gordon Baxter
After 16 years as a VFR pilot, I finally decided to take the plunge and earn my
instrument rating. This is the saga of my efforts to
accomplish this monumental undertaking. I document my struggles here for
others who may someday pass this way.
I feel like I need to have justification for anything noteworthy that I do.
It has to make sense to me, otherwise I just feel like a complete
whistle-britches. I know this seems like a fatal character flaw to some,
but I've come to accept and embrace that part of myself over the years.
For a long time I flew Cessna 172s. The plane fit our needs, and my family was small enough to squeeze into one without problem.
We used to pile into the airplane and fly up to Washington to see our families.
It was really great and actually cost less than when we flew commercial and
rented a van! The arrival of my third child changed all that. We
outgrew the airplane and that was the end of our family trips.
We thought that from now on, we would just jump into the van and drive to
Washington. I took a close look at this plan and it turned out to be
not-so-hot. It's a solid 4½ day drive, one-way.
That's nine days of driving to spend one week with her parents and one week with
my parents. A trip like that would completely blow our 3 weeks of vacation
per year. We would have to drive straight
through because there just wasn't time to see Yellowstone or what have you.
Nine days strapped in a car seat would really be tough on the little ones too.
It looked doable but posed a definite hardship. Then Jane's parents moved
to California. That really complicated things. It was easier to
justify a trip to Washington when we could see both sets of parents. Now
that they were split up, there would be no way we see them both on the same
trip. Instead of seeing a set of parents once every two
years, we would have to visit only once ever four years (alternating trips
between parents). That just seemed like too long between visits.
Jane and I both wanted our kids to know their grandparents at least a little
bit. We toyed with the idea of Jane driving to California and spending a
couple of weeks. I would then fly commercial out to rendezvous with her and drive
the family to Washington. We'd spend two weeks with my family then drive
back. Adding up the time meant Jane
and the kids would be on the road about 10 days. The kids would be away
from home about 4-5 weeks. That's just too much for little kids...neither
Jane nor I thought that was very wise. Maybe when the kids are in their
teens or something, but pre-schoolers need to stay closer to their nest.
At least that's the way we look at it. Sheezh, this driving plan just seem
unworkable. The distances were too far and we really didn't have enough
vacation time to swing the whole thing. We were kind of resigned to just
biting the bullet and flying commercial. That meant airline tickets for
six people and a rental van. I've done this a couple of times and
transportation costs alone are about $3500. It's a strain on the budget,
and we just can't do that every year. Even every other year it's a
I began to think of trying to find a way to fly it
myself again. If I did the flying, we wouldn't need a rental van at the
destination because the relatives could pick us up...at least I think they could. In addition, I could devote some flying money to the endeavor
and that along with vacation cash would make enough available to do it every
couple of years. With the airplane, we could spend about 1.5 weeks with
both sets of parents and only have about 4 days of travel overhead. We
could do the whole grand tour in one trip! I began looking for a 6 place
airplane to rent. Preferably something with fixed gear like a Cessna 206
or Cherokee 6.
I finally found a Cherokee 6 for rent at the North
Texas Flying Club. The hourly rate wasn't much more than I was paying for
a Cessna 172 at Flight-Line. It looked like I was in business! Then I began thinking. On the previous trips to Washington,
I had to do some scud running with the Cessna 172. The Cherokee 6 is a
bigger, heavier, faster airplane. In my mind, you just don't scud run
in airplanes like that. They are meant to be flown on instruments when
conditions are bad. To fly an airplane like that properly, I pretty well
convinced myself that the pilot (me) needed to upgrade to a commensurate skill
level. Besides, it just didn't seem prudent to continue scud running with
the whole family on-board. If I learned anything from those trips to
Washington, it was that marginal weather will always be present somewhere
along the route. Better to be prepared. Still, I put off getting an
It would take a lot of work, and I really wasn't in a hurry.
One day, as I was approaching my 40th
birthday, Jane told me she thought I should do something special to celebrate.
Something I really wanted to do. I couldn't think of anything. What
I really wanted was to own an airplane, but that was absurdly out of reach.
Jane suggested that I get my Instrument rating. I don't know, it just didn't seem
like a lot of fun, but she kept working on me. I've always dreamed of flying
the Atlantic and an Instrument rating would be required for something like that.
In addition, the rating would open the door to flying the Cherokee 6 back west. I
thought, "I'm 40 and I only have maybe 25 good flying years left. If I am ever
going to do something like fly the Atlantic, I need to start taking some
positive steps now. Maybe an instrument rating would be a way to push the
dream forward a little." I began getting excited about it. After a
couple of weeks of thinking, I decided to do it.
Shopping for Training
I had a really great experience when I got my private VFR rating. I
just went out to Vista Field in Kennewick, Washington and talked to the guys
behind the counter. They set me up with their full time instructor, Chad
Heims. We started flying right away. Within a month, Chad started a
6 week ground school course. The ground school was very thorough and
blended with what I was learning in the airplane. It all worked together
as an efficient training curriculum. I wanted to find something like that
for my instrument training.
- American Flyers - The only place I knew of that had training like I
wanted was American Flyers. They're a big time Part 141 school out at
Addison airport. I drove out one day during lunch and talked to a guy
named Knick Curtis, their Director of Admissions. He gave me a brief but
thorough description of their curriculum. It sounded really good.
It included an instrument ground school and flight training all integrated
together into comprehensive program. We toured their facilities.
They had everything, even a couple of great Frasca simulators. It was
time to talk turkey...what's the cost? Knick gave me a sheepish look and
said "$9,730...but most of our students spend $10,000 to $10,500." I
tried to put on my best poker face, but I'm sure I looked stunned anyway.
Holy cow, $10,500! It's a great program, but <gasp> the sticker shock...
I thanked Knick, shook his hand, and told him that if I could swing the
finances, I'd be back. OK, OK, calm down. Just note the data point
and move on. In terms of quality of instruction and speed of getting the
rating, American Flyers was tops. Here's their cost breakdown:
|Classroom and Pre- Post-Flight Briefings
|Dual Simulator (Frasca 141)
|Dual Cessna (172 Skyhawk)
|Solo Simulator Lab
|Written Exam Fee
*Note - American Flyers did not itemize these costs. I took a guess
based on information gleaned from other instructors. To wit, the line rate
for their instructors is $85/hr and they charge $40/hr for the Frasca
simulators. The other stuff is based on an educated guess, using numbers
from similar training programs.
- Flight Line - Some time ago I had asked my old flight instructor,
Oscar, about an instrument rating. Oscar was not rated for instrument
instruction, so he referred me to Larry Ratliff. Larry had been Oscar's
instrument instructor, and Oscar had nothing but high regard for the man.
If I went this route, it would be more difficult to get the rating. I
would have to independently arrange for all the separate pieces of my training
and bring them together coherently; the ground school, flight instruction, FAA
tests, and FAA check rides. I would have to tackle the ground school
either by studying at home or taking a 3 day crash course at American Flyers.
I'd have to arrange to take the FAA written test myself. I could then
hire an instructor, like Larry, and have him teach me how to fly instruments
in the airplane. No fancy simulators like American Flyers or anything.
All of it would be "on-the-job" training, and the airplane cockpit is not
exactly the best classroom in the world. Lots of distractions and noise.
This way of instructing is known as part 61 training. I consider this to be second best in terms of quality. I contacted Larry
and met him at the airport. He briefed me on the things I would have to
do. I sensed he was a good instructor, but he was only interested in the
flying part. He had little interest in guiding me through ground
instruction. I told him American Flyers had quoted the whole ball of wax
at about $10,000. He seemed genuinely shocked. He said training
with him would get me through at a cost of $7,000. Uugh! I
had been thinking it would cost about $4,000. Guess ratings have
become more expensive the last few years. Still, $7,000 seemed a lot
better than $10,000.
- North Texas Flying Club - The end objective of all this fooling
around is to be able to fly the Cherokee 6 on long vacation flights. I
would have to spend 15 hours flying it with an instructor, just to earn the
privilege of taking it out on my own (club insurance rules). If I had to
do that, I might as well combine it with my instrument training. I could
take some of my training in the Cherokee 6 and kill two birds with one stone.
The club had instrument instructors, so I decided to check into the option of
getting my rating through the club. Besides, the club had much lower
rental rates, and the cost of the airplane is a big part of the overall
training costs. I called Garry Ackerman, one of the contact guys for the
club, and explained what I wanted to do. He hooked me up with several
club instructors. I talked to each one and received pretty much the same
story. I'm on my own for ground instruction and book learning, but they
were anxious to do the flying with me. I just felt I needed more support
in ground instruction than that. I really began to feel that some sort
of integrated flying school curriculum was the way to go. I am
sure I could flub through the instrument written and oral tests by just
reading books on my own, but it would sure be a lot easier with some
structured flight school type of approach. I don't want to just flub
through the academics either. Mastering the knowledge part is just as
important to safe flight as operating the flight controls. I just felt
these guys were minimizing the academics of the rating...not a good thing in
- Monarch Air - One day I was talking to the Treasurer of the flying
club of which I am a member. He mentioned that the club had a rental
agreement with Monarch Air. They're a big Cessna Pilot Center at Addison
airport. I had become dissatisfied flying out of Flight Line. They
used to have a great selection of Cessna 152s, 172s, etc. Now, about all
they rent are high priced 172SPs. Their rates are very high and I had
been looking for alternatives.
My flying buddy, James, and I decided to trek to the airport during our lunch hour
visit Monarch. James was thinking of getting a rating and I wanted to
see about renting there. Maybe I could also discover something about their
instrument training curriculum. We walked in and met a flight instructor
named Rick. He took us on a tour of their facilities and spent a good
bit of time explaining their training curriculum. They're a part 141
school, which suited me fine. Rick estimated the cost of getting
instrument rated to be about $5000 ± $1000.
Hmmm, that sounded pretty good. I also discovered they had a Cessna 210
for rent. Man, that is a real cruiser...a 175 knot, six place, hot-rod.
Perfect for long distance trips with the family. Overall Monarch had a
sharp operation, but their planes were a little old and tired. The
decent rental rates more than made up for the oxidized paint though!
- Classic Aviation - One Saturday
afternoon, James and I stopped by Classic Aviation out at Addison. We
talked to the head guy there. He was a real salesman. He said they
were qualified as a Part 141 school, but he thought that type of curriculum
was kind of hokey. He steered us toward Part 61 training. Of
course Part 61 training requires a greater number of instructing hours,
garnering more $$$ for the FBO. They have access to a fabulous
instrument simulator and that was a strong pull for me. In the end, I
was just kind of turned off by the whole encounter. His approach to
training seemed a bit slip-shod, and I definitely felt like I was just another
sales opportunity. As we sat in his office, getting interrupted by
important calls on his cell phone, I got the opportunity to scan his
bookshelf. There were at least as many books on salesmanship and
marketing as there were on aviation. Hoo-boy!
Well, after all this shopping around, I stopped for
a couple of months and
mulled over what I had discovered. I came to the
conclusion that Monarch had the type of flight school I liked the most. I felt
I could get solid training there. Their rental rates and the cost of
getting the rating were middle-of-the-road, but that was OK. They seemed
to have about the best value for the buck and hour invested. At least for
On September 9th, 2003, I went out to Monarch and
bought their Instrument Training Kit. It's a computer based training
system, which is not really what I started out looking for, but everyone is
doing it these days. I decided to give it a try. I left a note there
for Rick, asking that he give me a call. The remaining part of this saga
is recorded as a diary below:
Went to Monarch and bought their basic instrument training materials.
They call it a CPC kit. It cost $324.70. I left a note for the
flight instructor I met out there a few weeks earlier, Rick, asking that he
Rick finally returned my call. I explained that I wanted to get an
instrument rating and fly the Cessna 210. We discussed the best way to
go about that. We decided to do two flights in the Cessna 172RG to
qualify me for a complex rating. At that point I could decide whether to
proceed with my instrument rating in the 172RG or switch to the 172SP.
We discussed what other materials I might need. He suggested I get the
- An IFR training hood or foggles.
- A Cessna 172RG Cutless information manual.
- An instrument oral exam guide
- An FAA publication called the "Instrument
After going over flying the instruments in my head and memorizing procedures,
it became clear to me that some kind of flight simulator would be very
valuable as a procedures training. I mail-ordered a CH Products yoke,
rudder peddles, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 for $263.58. It
sounds like a lot of money, but if it shaves just 2 hours off of flying the
airplane with an instructor, it will have paid for itself...and I can practice
instrument procedures at home.
I went out to Monarch and purchased the supplemental items Rick suggested.
I wound up getting an ASA Jiffyhood rather than foggles. Total cost was
$83.14. Here's a breakdown, just for grins:
- ASA Jiffyhood, $12.95
- Cessna 172RG Cutless information manual,
- ASA Instrument Oral Exam Guide, $9.95
- FAA Instrument Flying Handbook, $24.95
I met Rick at Monarch for the first of my two 172RG check-rides. We went
over systems, airspeeds, and carefully preflighted the airplane. The
plane was not in the greatest shape. The volume knob was missing from
the first radio, and the second radio was inoperative. The ADF long-wire
antenna was missing...heavy sigh. I kind of wondered whether I would be
able to do all my training in the plane. It took
a long time to get through all these preflight items and exceptions. I was going pretty slow because it
was all new to me and I didn't want to miss anything. By the time we got
in the air, we didn't have time to zip over to another airport, so we just
stayed in the pattern at Addison and shot touch-n-gos. All the new
systems made flying the pattern much more demanding. There were many
more things to configure and a lot going on. I felt a little
overwhelmed, but not like I had been when I was getting my private rating.
We flew 0.8 hours and by the end I was starting to get it down. The
plane cost $102/hour and advanced instructor fees $35/hour.
So, an hour of instrument instruction in the 172RG will run $137/hour. I
figure I should be able to get through the course in something like 50 hours,
so the training costs should run about $6,850.
Met Rick at Monarch and we spent about 10 minutes going over a few questions I
had. We piled in the airplane and went to McKinney to shoot touch-n-gos.
The pattern was very busy with no two approaches alike. Extended
downwind here, S-turns on final there. A lot of hackin' around.
The landings all came out OK, and I think I did pretty well. We
returned to Addison with an additional 1.3 hours on the Hobbs meter. I
felt comfortable enough with the plane to use it in instrument
training. I could accumulate a bunch of
retractable time while getting the rating at the same time. Before leaving we set up a
flying schedule through October. Twice a week...I'll have to study hard to keep up!
Met Rick at Monarch. While preflighting the plane, he asked me questions
about instruments, etc. We also found the left navigation light
burned out. Technically we can't fly at night with it inoperative, so we
hustled to get out of Addison as soon as possible. We were off by 6:15
PM and were determined to make it back by 7:30. As we departed the
airport traffic area to the north, I put on the hood and Rick started
giving vectors. He would give me heading changes then later some
altitude changes. I had trouble sorting out the propeller and
throttle controls. I kept trying to throttle up manifold pressure before
adjusting the prop. Rick chastised me a couple of times, and I
eventually caught on. After a while, he started giving me heading and
altitude changes at the same time. That is supposed to be a "Lesson #2"
thing, but I was glad to get the extra challenge. I figure I did OK, but
things kind of got away from me a couple of times. Once I found myself
over 20º off heading, and another time about 250
feet off altitude. Pretty sloppy I thought. I had practiced with
Microsoft flight simulator before the lesson. The airplane was generally
easier to control than the simulator, especially in roll. The actual
instruments were easier to read and the scan seemed almost (but not quite)
second nature. The lesson went better than I expected and
to top it off Rick talked me through an ILS approach to runway 15 at Addison. It
was a lot of fun, and I managed a very smooth landing. One of those
landings where you can't tell when the tires touch the ground...just a slight drag to indicate tire spin-up on contact.
Very cool. Rick said I did pretty good and it really lifted my spirits,
but rationally, I think he probably tells all his students that. The
next flight is Sunday afternoon, and I am really looking forward to it.
I think I'm going to like flying instruments much more than I anticipated.
Got 1.3 on the Hobbs and about 1.0 simulated instruments.
Finally flying again after an almost 2 week gap. Two of my lessons were
bumped because someone else needed the 172RG for a check-ride. If I had
been training in one of the 172SPs, I could have just taken another plane.
They only have one 172RG, so I can expect occasional problems like this.
We took off at 8:00 PM when it was already dark. Rick gave me vectors for
an hour; turn to 230º and descend to 3600
feet at 500 feet/minute while holding 90 knots. Over and over.
These vectors can be a handful to manage. I notice that I usually do
pretty good for the first 20 minutes, then start messing up. I think
couple of things are happening: 1) At first I'm doing pretty good, so I
slack off a bit and 2) I get a bit fatigued with all the mental gymnastics.
Anyway, the second 20 minutes are usually a bit rough. I usually chastise myself
and straighten up so that the third 20 minute period turns out OK. After
the hood work, we headed to McKinney and did some night landings. Got
night current by doing full stop landings. Rick said my landings were
really good. We headed back to Addison and finished up. Rick said
he was ready to give me my complex endorsement, but I felt I really needed a
few more hours of practice. It was a nice complement though.
On this flight we did lots of partial panel work. The attitude indicator
and heading indicator were covered, simulating a vacuum system failure.
All the turns were done using the magnetic compass, and boy, is it squirrely!
Lots of whacky turning errors that you have to compensate for. It was a
handful. We did some more night landings at McKinney. It was a lot
of fun. Good therapy after an especially bruising day at work.
More partial panel work and turns to headings with the magnetic compass.
I pretty much have the magnetic compass thing down cold now. I've also
noticed that my instrument scan has become almost automatic. I don't
have to think about it so much...it just happens now. It seems easy to
stay on altitude and heading...at least while straight and level or when
making turns. Throw in simultaneous altitude changes and I'm still a bit
off, but improving. We finished up with a couple of go-arounds at
McKinney and a simulated engine failure on final.
Tonight we did some complex vector work. Turn to a specified heading
while also climbing to a certain altitude at a certain rate, all the while
holding a particular airspeed. Stuff like that. I find it very
challenging to keep all the needles where they need to be. There is a
lot going on. After the vector work, we did steep turns while on
instruments. Rick demonstrated a couple then I did 4 or 5 myself.
It was easier than I thought it would be. One thing that is hard about
it though is holding altitude during the turn. If the airplane ever
starts descending while in the turn, it takes a LOT of pitch-up and power to
arrest the descent. Man, you sure don't want to allow the airplane to
get into a descent when doing that maneuver...it'll mess the whole thing up!
I expected roll control to be the hard part and pitch control to be a piece of
cake...it turned out the reverse was true.
Steep turns, unusual attitudes, and power-off stalls under the hood. I
did pretty good with unusual attitudes. For some strange reason, I
always seem to do really well with unusual attitudes all the way back to my
VFR training days. They seem very intuitive to me. My steep turns
were better than before, but not stellar. My stalls were fair.
After going through all these, we repeated them all again with the attitude
and heading indicators covered. That simulates a vacuum system failure.
After that, we headed to McKinney to shoot some touch and goes. Rick
pulled the throttle to idle just after mid-field on downwind. I
immediately pulled up to best glide speed for our weight, 67 knots. I
extended downwind a bit too far while fooling with the engine restart
procedure. By the time I turned final, I was too far to make the runway
and had to go around. On downwind, Rick pulled the throttle again.
I was ready this time. I immediately pulled up to best glide and turned
onto base early. I waited as long as I could to deploy the gear so the
extra drag wouldn't steepen our angle of descent. I was still short of
the runway and had to go around again. We decided to try it a third time
and pulled the throttle abeam the runway threshold. I immediately
pitched to best glide and initiated a continuous turn to final. At the
same time I lowered the gear. Everything seemed OK and I thought we were
going to make it. It was a windy night, and as we got within about 100
feet of the ground we descended through some wind shear. This just about
doubled our descent rate. I was about to give it the goose and go
around, but Rick said "This will be close!" It seemed like he still
thought we had a fighting chance to make the runway. That induced me to
stick with the approach another 7-8 seconds. I was getting really
uncomfortable because, although we might have made it, we were below
glide slope. It was night and I was afraid we could tangle with some
unseen obstacle in the gloom. That's all I needed to do is get hung up
on some telephone wires! I chickened out and said "We're going around."
We headed back to Addison. Overall, I was pretty rough on my flying
skills. I just felt "off" somehow, and nothing was really coming out
right. After the flight, Rick said I was ready for the first of three
stage checks. On a stage check, you just go up with another instructor
who independently verifies the skills you've learned. I got set up with
Rick's room-mate, Kevin.
Went up with Kevin for my first stage check. We didn't get off the
ground until 8:45 PM. It was a very windy night. Winds generally
16 with gusts to 25 knots at the surface and a steady 40-50 knots at 4000
feet. There was a good bit of turbulence below 2200 feet as the wind
churned over the ground. We went up to 3500 feet and began practicing
maneuvers. To my surprise, Kevin didn't make me put my hood on. We
did a little bit of vector work, changes in airspeeds, slow flight, stalls,
unusual attitudes, and partial panel work. At one point, we turned the
plane into the wind, dropped flaps and gear, slowing until the stall warning
horn came on. It looked like we were just hovering there. After a
few minutes, we called approach and asked about our ground speed. Their
RADAR indicated about 10 knots! Cool. We pulled up the gear and
flaps and resumed normal cruise. Kevin had me don the hood and covered
the attitude and heading indicators as well as the airspeed indicator.
He told me to slow until the stall warning horn came on and to hold that
airspeed, altitude, and heading. It was very challenging, but a lot of
fun. During unusual attitudes, while he was horsing the plane around and
my eyes were closed, he covered the attitude and heading indicators. He
told me to look up and recover. I was shocked for a moment to see the
attitude indicator covered, but quickly shifted to other instruments and
brought the plane to level flight. Man, that was cool! We went to
McKinney and shot touch and goes. Because of the gusty wind, I had my
hands full managing the plane through the flair. During one attempt,
just as I was in the middle of my flair, Kevin reached over and snapped off
the landing light. No problem...I practice night landings without the
light all the time. I landed just fine and felt so good about that.
Boo-yah! We headed back to Addison and Kevin said I did really well.
Man I just felt great, especially since my last flight was kind of rough.
Rick and I went up and practiced a couple of steep turns. I did only
fair...sometimes I nail it and other times I'm all over the place. The
steep turn on instruments is the one maneuver that I just can't seem to
master. It's kind of frustrating, especially because this are supposed
to be one of the easier maneuvers...at least that is what Rick says. On
this flight we also practiced VOR operations such as orientation, intercepting
and tracking radials, etc. I think I did pretty good on the VOR part.
Tonight we practiced copying clearances, departure procedures, intercepting
and tracking VOR radials and NDB bearings, constant rate climbs and descents.
The lessons are much less stressful now than they were in the beginning.
I have the basic instrument scan and control down pat. The
idiosyncrasies of the 172RG are becoming second nature too. No touch and
goes at McKinney this time. Just lots of air work.
More copying of clearances and practicing departure procedures. We did
some vectors, climbs, descents, and unusual attitudes both with full
instruments and partial panel. We did a lot of intercepting and tracking
VOR radials and NDB bearings. It was a great night for that kind of work
due to the blustery north wind. It was running about 25 knots at 3500
feet. I had to maintain healthy wind correction angles to track the
bearings. We rounded out the evening with a couple of touch and goes at
McKinney. These were challenging because the wind at the surface was 9
knots gusting to 22. I was very happy because all my landings came out
fine. Rick even pulled the engine in the pattern on one landing attempt.
I managed to get it down and stopped on the runway; no problem. A first
for me! Things went just swimmingly...man, I love flying!
Holding patterns! At least that's what we set out to do. I managed
to twist almost all of them into broken circuits and mangled turns. I
was not feeling very well for some reason. I thought I might be getting
sick. Although I held my altitudes and headings very well, I was about
20 seconds behind the airplane during the pattern maneuvers. A pathetic
showing. In two hours of pattern work, one came out spot on and two more
were passable...the rest were trash! I had one minor victory in that I
cleverly recognized reverse sensing while tracking the inbound course after a
teardrop entry on one pattern. I immediately reset the OBS...and Rick
didn't even have to tell me. All in all a mediocre night of flying.
More holding patterns. These came out much better than the ones I did in
the previous lesson. There was about a 25 knot southwest wind at
altitude and that made running the patterns a challenge. We had to carry
large crab angles to maintain inbound and outbound courses. The heading
indicator had a terrible case of precession. It would precess almost 30°
after a 180° standard rate turn, making it difficult to roll out on the desired
heading. Rick and I had to work constantly to match the thing up with
the magnetic compass. We then buzzed up to Bonham VOR and flew
some DME arcs. These came out OK too. A bit off but not bad for my
first try. I flew about three steep turns on instruments and these were
not too good. These steep turns are just a killer for me...they're
supposed to be an easy maneuver. I just can't understand what I'm doing
wrong. It's kind of depressing. We then did a few unusual attitude
recoveries, on which I did well. We ended the lesson shooting a VOR
approach into McKinney. On departure from McKinney, I just happened to
be scanning the engine instruments when the fuel gauges drop abruptly to zero.
I was pretty sure it was a loose wire somewhere. I checked all the
circuit breakers and found nothing amiss. We toyed with making a
precautionary landing back at McKinney since it was only about 5 miles
downwind. After a bit of discussion, we convinced ourselves that it was
a gauge problem and proceeded on to Addison. Nevertheless, I kept
an eye out for places we could land in an emergency. My next lesson is a
progress check with another instructor that Rick will set me up with. After that we'll move on to approaches.
Today I did a progress check with an instructor named Jake. It was an
incredibly windy day. Winds 18 knots with gusts to 33...at least that is
what ATIS said. Jake called me about 2 hours before the lesson and asked
if I wanted to call it off. I really wanted to go and thought I could
handle the winds on takeoff and landing. Besides, a high wind at
altitude would really put my holding pattern and DME arc work to the acid
test...not that I really felt that confident. Besides, if the wind was
too much, we could try it again the next day, and I really needed the
practice. During preflight and taxi the winds didn't seem that bad.
Our takeoff roll was only about 400 feet and we were at 500 feet AGL just
after mid-field. Jake had me track the 46°
radial off the Cowboy VOR outbound. We went to the SLANT intersection,
28 DME out and held northeast of the fix. This called for a teardrop
entry, but I got confused as to which side of the radial to do the pattern on
and turned the wrong way. Jake corrected me and I immediately got back
on course. The pattern worked out beautifully...the best pattern I have
ever run. I was well ahead of the plane and had everything clicking.
Even the wind didn't throw me! I had practiced holding at this very
intersection on the flight simulator at home for about an hour before the
lesson, and it really helped. After three circuits, we headed to Bonham VOR to do some DME arc work. Jake had me track inbound on the 180°
radial to 15 DME, then track an arc to 212°. The tracking went well.
I was dead on most of the time, but there were two occasions where I was
briefly 0.2 miles off the arc. Not too bad since it was only my second
time doing an arc and the wind was 30-40 knots from the northwest. Once
on the 212° radial, we got set up for a VOR approach to McKinney. That
went pretty well. We broke off the approach early and turned back north.
We did some partial panel unusual attitude recoveries, and I aced that too!
We then did some regular and timed turns to magnetic compass headings which
went pretty well. On the way back to Addison, I asked Jake if I could
try a couple of steep turns since those had been giving me so much trouble.
I had been thinking a lot about why those turns were so hard for me. I
began to think that I was chasing the altitude and VSI needles too much and
wasn't using the attitude indicator as my primary instrument during the scan.
I wanted to try the turns again, using the attitude indicator as the primary
instrument backed up by the altimeter and VSI. When I did this, my steep
turns came out almost perfect! Yes! I
really feel like I licked that problem once and for all. I was so
relieved. Back at Addison, we shot the ILS approach to runway 33.
Jake let me do the whole thing. The wind was really bouncing us around
but I managed to keep the localizer and glide slope needles within one dot of
where they should have been. In the flair, a big gust of wind knocked us
way to the right of centerline...almost to the runway edge lights. I
gave it a little power and floated down the runway, banking the plane against
the wind to drag us back to centerline. Power to idle brought us firmly
to Earth. I have to admit that landing was a bit more exciting than I
would have liked, but it was fun nevertheless. I really feel like I aced
this progress check. Yeah!
Today we flew over to Mesquite municipal airport and flew the localizer 35 and
localizer 17 back course. We would fly the 35 approach, do a missed and
track outbound for the 17 back course. We did this about three times,
logging six approaches, then headed back to Addison where we shot the
localizer 33 approach. The only objective was to become familiar with
the approach procedures. I did OK, although I tended to chase the
localizer needle all over the place rather than just flying a stable heading.
I managed to get the localizer needle at full scale deflection a couple of
times (technically requiring a miss approach). It just seems really hard
to control the airplane that precisely on instruments. I suppose it will
come with practice.
Rick called in the morning to say he was stuck in Houston and wouldn't be able
to make our flight. He offered to set me up with another instructor
named Nicholas. I had cleared my schedule, been studying hard, and was
all ready to fly so I said OK. I really wanted to keep making positive
progress. I met Nick at the airport at about 4 PM. Nick and Rick
had spoken on the phone. Rick had explained to Nick that I was supposed to do ILS approaches, the
localizer back course 35 out at Mesquite, steep turns, and partial panel work.
We took off and headed to McKinney to shoot the ILS 17 approach. This
turned out OK, but I was still doing S-turns down the localizer beam. We
climbed straight out of McKinney headed for Mesquite. Enroute, Nick
asked me to brief him on the ILS 17 at Mesquite. I got out the
approach plate and did the briefing. I got the radios and everything
else all set up. At one point in this effort, I let my instrument scan
slow down and drifted 25° left of course. We shot the ILS
approach just fine, then set up for the localizer back course for 35.
This I performed OK, but was a bit rough on altitude and heading precision.
The approach ended with a full scale needle deflection as I drifted off
course...but I was within 0.6 miles of the runway threshold. We headed
back to Addison and shot the ILS 33, which came out pretty good. My
landing was decent...a good greaser. In the post-flight briefing, Nick
chastised me for sloppy heading control. He hammered on it pretty hard.
It was a little tough to hear, but it sure got my attention! He went on
for a good 10 minutes about how poorly I divided my attention between the
instruments and something like briefing the approach or setting the radios.
He also got on me for not leaning the mixture during cruise. I thought
that was a little gratuitous because we never climbed above 3000 feet.
The book says you shouldn't lean unless you are higher than 3000 and besides,
it was a cold night and the air was denser than usual. I don't think I
should have leaned. Bah! His last ding was that I left the
cowl flaps wide open. I explained that I did this because the cylinder
head temperature gauge was inoperative. I had discussed this with Rick
and we decided to leave the cowl flaps open because there was no way to tell
the effect of flap settings on head temperatures. We felt it was better
to run the engine a little cool rather than risk overheating the heads.
Nick said it was a cold night and I could have closed the flaps with no
adverse effect. Probably true but I wasn't very comfortable doing that.
Summing up, I think he made a very good point about my heading and altitude
control. It was a sloppy embarrassment. I think Rick had not been
pushing me to clean it up because I was incrementally improving. Still I
had the ability to fix those problems now, and by all rights I should. I
really took that to heart and am determined to do whatever I can to nail altitudes and headings
from now on. During my flight, Nick had forgotten to do the partial
panel and steep turn work. He didn't sign-off the flight as complete.
I would have to finish up with Rick. That was a bitter pill! I
really wanted to get this lesson under my belt. I felt kind of upset
about that but consoled myself that I had at least had some good approach
practice and perhaps some needed chastisement. Ah well...
I have been practicing instrument approaches using Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Man, that program is great. It's a pretty accurate simulation and is
just terrific for instrument approach practice. I've been trying to use
it to reinforce what I've been learning about approaches and to nail down heading and altitude control.
Over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten better flying approaches on the
simulator. In fact, I had them down cold. Well, I found out
tonight that there's a difference between proficiency with the simulator and
proficiency in the air. Rick and I headed out to do partial panel work,
steep turns, and approaches. My partial panel work was OK. I was a
little slow in the recovery from partial panel unusual attitudes, but it was
passable. After that we did about 8 steep turns and I blew every one
of them! I just can't believe it. It is so exasperating.
What the heck am I doing wrong? How come I can ace them with Kevin and
Jake but blow them so bad with Rick? I am beginning to hate steep
turns...they're supposed to be easy for crying out loud! Next it was
over to McKinney to do ILS and localizer approaches. We did the
localizer 17 first. It turned out OK, but my heading and altitude hold
was sloppy. Arrrgh...I had that mastered on the simulator! It was
tougher in real life. We went ahead and did a touch and go then headed
back out to do an ILS 17 approach. This went OK, all the way up to the
final approach fix where I forgot to put the landing gear down.
Furthermore, I did not discover my oversight until I was at decision height
and even then Rick had to point it out to me! We headed back to Addison
and did an ILS 15 approach. This worked out fair, but I was all over the
place during the approach. Too high, too low, too far right, too far
left, almost lost both the localizer and glide slope at different points in
the approach. Pathetic, but in the end, I came out right over the runway
threshold...due more to dumb luck than skill. After taxing off the
runway, Rick looked over at me and asked, "Well, how do you think you did?"
I just looked at him...I was pretty deflated. He smiled and his eyes
twinkled. "Sucked," I said. He laughed. "I suck but I'm
learning," I said. "Good," Rick said. "Which is good...the 'I
suck' part" I said, "or the learning part?" "The learning part," Rick
said. Rick is such and encouraging guy! He made me feel that my
performance tonight was tolerable and that we'd hang in there until it was
polished. Later on, as we were going over the flight, I asked Rick, "Am
I below average." Rick said he thought I was doing about as well as
other people at this stage. He said he felt the same way I did when he
was at this point in his instrument training. He assured me that my
skills would improve with practice. That was a big relief! If those other
people can eventually get through all this and become competent instrument
pilots and I was no worse at this point, then maybe I could get through OK
too. I know it probably sounds silly, but that comment by Rick really
buoyed my spirits. You know I've never felt this discouraged about
flying before. Even when I was getting my private rating, I just showed
up to the airport and did whatever my instructor asked. When I was done,
I went home happy. I didn't worry about how I was doing. Now, I
really sweat it. I feel like I've got to nail every flight or I get
bummed out. Maybe I've got some stupid unrealistic expectations or
something. I guess I desperately want to ace this stuff because someday
I'll be shooting an approach with the whole family in the airplane.
Maybe that's what it is...I'm carrying around this feeling of responsibility
that is worrying me too much. Maybe if I just relax and try to have fun
like I did during my private training, things will work out OK. I'm
obsessing over trying to be perfect and it's robbing my joy about flying.
I've been studying, flying the airplane, and flying the simulator so much that
all I dream about at night is the CDI, altimeter, and attitude indicator.
I think I need to adjust my attitude and expectations...they're just not
It was a windy day for flying. Winds 12 with gusts to 22 but mostly down
the runway. Rick and I went up with the goal of doing VOR approaches.
We shot the VOR/DME-A approach into McKinney. This worked out pretty
well. Rick really drilled me on the three requirements to land after an
approach: 1) you must have runway environment in sight, 2) you must have
the flight visibility prescribed on the approach plate, and 3) you must be
able to make normal maneuvers to descend and land. He also repeatedly
pressed me that I should put my landing gear down at the final approach fix.
During the last flight I once forgot to do this, and had I continued the
approach, I might have landed gear up. After the VOR/DME approach we did
an ILS approach. This worked out OK too! The first time I was
actually able to do a halfway OK job with Rick in the airplane! We then
went back and shot the VOR/DME approach all the way to a touch and go.
After that we headed back to Addison and shot the ILS for runway 15. We
were knocked around in turbulence a bit, but I managed to pull that one off
too. After the flight I was so happy. I felt that maybe my skills
were finally beginning to gel a bit. I was so relieved. After my
last two flights, I was beginning to think that maybe I wasn't cut out for
this kind of flying. Rick seemed to think I did marginally OK, which is
good enough for me!
Rick and I went out to Mesquite and flew the localizer back course for 35 and
the ILS 17 a few times. I can feel it getting better. I actually
feel like I'm getting ahead of the airplane. In the past, things just
seemed like they were happening so fast that I always felt 3 steps behind
where the airplane was. Now I feel like I am just about keeping up with
the speed at which events are happening. We finished out the evening
with an ILS approach to runway 33 at Addison. It worked out OK. I
think things are starting to gel...Rick seems less aggravated too which I take
to be a tacit recognition of progress!
Rick wasn't able to make the lesson today, so he set me up with a guy named
Jack. I met Jack and he went over some of the stuff we'd be doing
today...NDB approaches. Seems like most instructors knock NDB
approaches. They don't seem to like to do them and shun them as barely
adequate to the job. I've always been fascinated with the idea of NDB
approaches. All they require is one 20 watt low frequency beacon and you
can fly instruments into virtually any po-dunk airport. Seems like if
you could really master using NDBs, it would open a lot of airports.
Also, I just sort of like the simple technology used for NDB approaches.
It was state of the art in 1935 and flying an NDB approach seems sort of
romantic in a way. I lucked out because Jack thought they were really
cool too. Rick always sort of knocked them and I got the feeling he
really didn't like to do them. Anyway, Jack and I launched with the
mission of doing NDB approaches. The nearest NDB approach (besides one
at Addison) is at Mesquite. We toodled over there and got set up for the
approach. There were about six airplanes in the pattern and our approach
put us at odds with the traffic flow. As we got within about one mile of
the airport, we had to break off the approach early. It was scary...guys
were entering and leaving the pattern from all different directions. A
Cessna 210 broke into the pattern, cutting across our nose about 1/4 mile in
front of us as we were executing a missed approach. He then overtook
another guy on downwind and turned base in front of him. The 210 then
proceeded to tangle with a guy on long final...I lost track of what was
happening after that. What a nut house! We shot two NDB approaches
followed by a localizer approach to runway 17. After that we broke off
and headed back to Addison, shot the runway 15 ILS, and shutdown for the
night. There was some stuff we were supposed to cover on lost
communications procedures that we didn't cover, so Jack deferred that for
completion next time. Overall the NDB approaches were kind of a wash
because we had so many deviations for traffic. They seemed to go OK, but
Rick and I went out to finish up the last lesson and practice approaches.
We shot a the VOR/DME-A approach out at McKinney. Rick was providing me
with vectors and cut me in close to the FAF. It took me a bit longer
than normal to get established on the final approach course and by that time I
had overflown the FAF. I salvaged the approach, but it was a bit rough.
I got behind the airplane and struggled to catch up. Next time around,
Rick vectored me out farther and gave me more breathing room. That made
all the difference and I nailed the approach. After that we did a
localizer approach to runway 17 which went off without problem. Next
Rick wanted to do an NDB approach. There is no published NDB approach
for McKinney, so we just used the LOM compass locator and made one up for
ourselves. I flew this approach, but had a rough time getting
established and staying on the final approach course. Rick cheated a
little and referred me to the localizer...something seemed a little off about
that NDB approach and I never quite figured it out. We chalked that up
to the fact that we just made up the approach. Rick said that the final
approach course for an NDB approach with the localizer probably wasn't the
same as the localizer course. That didn't seem right to me because the
LOM is directly under the localizer course. Hmmm... Ah well, we
shrugged it off and headed back to Addison. Rick just counted that made
up NDB approach as a localizer approach anyway. Back at Addison, I
attempted to shoot the NDB 15 approach. Approach control was giving us
vectors to intercept the final approach course and was thrashing us all over
the place. After we were handed off to Addison tower, the tower jacked
us around some more and then told us to use all possible speed on final to
alleviate a traffic spacing problem behind us. That threw off our MAP
timing and just generally gummed up the whole works. We landed OK and
taxied off. I really felt that my approaches were firming up
nicely...not fabulous but tolerable. Rick seemed a little concerned, but
I don't know what about. He said he wanted to shoot some more approaches
before he signed me off for my progress check. The next progress check
is more like a pass/fail thing. I get together with a stage check
instructor (not Rick). This stage check guy grills me orally on various
topics, then we go shoot approaches. If I pass muster, I can go on with
my training, if not, I have to keep practicing approaches until I get them
right. I don't mind shooting more approaches...I think I can use the
practice. I'm in no hurry. I want to get it right.
Rick and I got together and went over some topics orally. This was to
practice for the oral portion of the stage check coming up. We then went
out and shot a bunch of approaches at McKinney. We did an ILS, two VOR/DME-A
approaches, and a localizer approach. We finished up with an ILS 33 at
Addison. I pretty much nailed them all...oh yeaaaah! Rick said he
was happy with what he saw and cleared me for my stage check. He set me
up with Jake.
Got together with Jake. Jake was all business. We immediately
began the oral portion of the stage check. I was expecting about an hour
of intense grilling. Instead, Jake quizzed me on a few light topics for
about 15 minutes. He said he was satisfied that I had the material
nailed, so we went flying. As we were getting the plane ready, he briefed
me on the plan. We would head out to McKinney, shoot an ILS and a VOR/DME-A
approach, then head back to Addison for an NDB approach. I mentioned
that my previous experience with NDB approaches had been a little light.
In fact, at this point I had only attempted 3 legitimate NDB approaches and
all of those were horked up because of traffic or whacky vectors. Jake
said, "All the more reason to give one a try." He was right, of course.
Out at McKinney we shot an ILS to runway 17 and went missed. We then
headed north and did a VOR/DME-A terminating in a touch and go. We
headed back to Addison for an NDB 15 approach. As usual, ATC vectored us
all around. I got behind the airplane and the approach went to pot.
It ended with the airplane lined up for landing just fine, but not without
some verbal coaching from Jake. After landing, Jake said he was willing
to sign off my progress check but that he thought my NDB approach was not the
best. He said that had this been a real test with an FAA examiner, I
would have passed, but the NDB approach was marginal. After thinking it
over a while, he suggested we go out and shoot three or four NDB approaches,
just to make sure I had them down. That sounded fine by me, but it meant
he would not sign off the progress check as complete. I didn't fail the
progress check...at least not technically, but Jake definitely found a gap in
my training. Looking back, I can see how this gap developed. I've
never once shot an NDB approach the way it is really supposed to be done.
Jake and I were badgered by traffic out at Mesquite and Rick and I never
really spent much time on it. Yep, it was a hole all right. I was
very gratified that the training system worked. The progress check was
there to detect and eliminate deficiencies and it did. Jake and I plan
to get together and hammer on NDB approaches on Sunday, 1/4. I have my
first instrument cross country with Rick on 1/2. I wonder how Rick will
react when he checks in with Jake about the progress check. Hmmmm...
Rick and I got together at 4PM for my first instrument cross country. We
had planned to go to Waco, but when I checked NOTAMs during preflight, I found
the Waco airports were pretty much off limits. President Bush was at his
ranch in Crawford and they don't like airplanes buzzing around when he's
there. It's a side effect of 9/11. I had worked up an alternate
flight plan to Tyler just in case. Rick suggested that we go to Tyler
instead, an I was so happy to be able to produce the flight plan for it.
Rick went over my flight plan and noted that I had picked a departure
procedure intended for jets; the Garland 1 departure procedure. He
suggested the Hubbard 5 procedure.
I looked at the procedures side-by-side and found they were virtually
identical; so much so that I didn't have to change my flight plan. I
called the FSS and filed for the flight. We went out, fired up, got a
departure clearance, and took off. The enroute portion of the flight was
very easy. The hardest part was communicating with air traffic control.
They talk pretty fast and I am not really sure what to expect from them.
I fumbled with the radio calls but got better as the flight progressed.
Rick asked me what approach I wanted to shoot at Tyler. I sort of wanted
to do the NDB approach since that is what Jake felt I needed to practice.
At Tyler we set up and did the NDB to runway 13 with a circling approach to
runway 22. We landed and taxied to parking. I called to close my
flight plan and to file a new one for the return trip. The guy at the
FSS said the tower had already closed the flight plan for me. Rick later
told me that the tower always closes IFR flight plans for you. Cool!
We hopped back in the plane and took off for Addison via the Dumpy Two STAR.
This went fairly well all the way up to our descent into Addison. At
about 2200 feet we picked up some rough turbulence. I was trying to
shoot the NDB approach to runway 15 and the turbulence was just knocking us
all over the place. Up and down 75 feet, right and left 15 degrees.
It was a real challenge to keep the needles where they needed to be.
After turning on to the final approach course, I somehow allowed the heading
to get off 30° to the left. I have no idea how
that happened. It just seemed to instantly jump to the left...I must
have had an attention lapse or something. Still, I got the airplane back
on course. I also managed to allow the plane to descend below our
minimum descent altitude of 1160. We got down to 1000 feet before I got
the trend reversed. Some of it was turbulence and some was my
inattentiveness. Overall, the approach was kind of a bust, although it
felt more solid to me...I think I am getting more comfortable with NDB
approaches and stuff is beginning to gel. I still get the feeling that
Rick is exasperated with my puzzling lack of proficiency on some things...like
NDB approaches. He says I did a good job and all, but I think some of
that is BS. He would prefer that I have it nailed by now. I feel
pretty humbled by this whole instrument rating thing. It tough...at
least it is for me. I mean, I'm working pretty hard on it and a lot of
what I am trying to do seems at the perimeter of my ability. Sometimes
during approaches I feel like I just can't think fast enough to "keep all the
plates spinning." I think I will eventually master it all, but man, it's
rough. I think I am struggling with it for one of the following reasons:
- I am older and am not able to think as fast as
I used to. (keep all the plates spinning)
- I am older and it takes me longer to learn
things than it used to. (slow learner)
- I am more fatigued with work and life than I
used to be. (got more worries and responsibilities)
- I have some kind of degenerative brain
disease. (everyone thinks this as one time or another)
- I am just not as good a pilot as I thought I
was. (pretty convinced at this point)
- Rick is not the best instructor for me.
(some antidotal evidence seems to support this view)
- The rating is just hard to get and I am a
typical student. (this is what Rick keeps telling me)
- The rating is harder than I think it is and I
have unrealistic progress expectations. (possible)
I honestly do not know which one of these is
true. I suspect they are all true to some degree. If I dwell on
it, it will frustrate the daylights out of me. I've kind of thrown my
hands up in despair and decided to just have fun. I keep thinking of the
fish Dory in that Disney movie, "Finding Nemo." She just kept on
plugging no matter what happened...she didn't analyze everything...just kept
pluggin'. "Just keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming..."
A cold front is in the process of blowing through today. The ceilings
are about 800 feet, winds out of the WSW at 23 knots with light rain.
Jake called and cancelled our flight. We'll try again Monday evening.
By 5:30 PM I was out at the airport getting the plane preflighted for my NDB
approach checkout with Jake. It was cold...right at 32°F. The wind
was 10 knots gusting to 23 out of the north. I was freezing as I stood
out in the wind inspecting the airplane. Brrrrrrr! Finally ready,
Jake and I piled in the plane just after 6:00 PM and buzzed over to Mesquite
to shoot the NDB 17 approach. My approaches were pretty rough at first,
but by the the time we were done they looked much better...even decent I'd
say. I had a couple of misconceptions about how to use the ADF which
Jake corrected; after that it didn't seem so hard. There was a lot of
turbulence due to the blustery wind. We were getting knock around enough
that I had to constantly work to maintain heading and altitude. As the
evening wore on, the atmosphere cooled allowing scattered clouds to form at
2500. As the evening became colder the clouds lowered until we finally
had to throw in the towel and head back to Addison. I had managed to get
six NDB approaches under my belt, doubling my total lifetime number.
Back at Addison I shot the ILS 33 approach and it came out OK. We taxied
in and secured the plane. Afterwards, Jake said I did a great job and
that he felt I had the NDB approached nailed. He said the ILS approach
was great too and that if I did approaches like that on the FAA check ride, I'd
pass with flying colors. Wow...that's so hard to believe because I still
feel like a rank amateur at this stuff. Wow, I can't believe it.
Next up is partial panel approaches. This is basically doing approaches
simulating a vacuum system failure; no attitude or heading indicators.
I'm schedule to do this with Rick tomorrow, Tuesday the 6th.
Rick and I went up tonight to practice partial panel approaches. Partial
panel means the vacuum instruments are covered to simulate vacuum system
failure. The vacuum instruments are the attitude indicator and the
heading indicator. Instead of relying on these instruments, you have use
less accurate instruments; namely the turn coordinator to keep the wings level
and the magnetic compass for heading control. We flew out to McKinney
and did the localizer 17 approach and the VOR/DME-A approach. These went
pretty well. Finally we made up an NDB approach using the localizer 17
LOM. This turned out to be pretty tough. An NDB approach isn't all
that accurate anyway, but throw in a partial panel and a pilot who can barely
do an NDB approach in ideal conditions, and it starts getting ugly. It
was kind of a mess, but Rick appeared satisfied. We headed back to
Addison and shot the ILS 33 approach. I ended up high on the approach,
but didn't bust glideslope. We landed and taxied in. It was fun,
but I don't really feel entirely competent. I told Rick that I figured I
could at least take off, go cross country, and land somewhere all in
instrument conditions without killing myself...but hey, that's quite an
achievement. Next up is my long cross country, then after that some
polishing of approaches and refresher work. Then it'll be time for my
instrument written and the FAA check ride. Wow...it's so hard to believe
I'm almost there. What a long incompetent road it's been!
Did my long cross country. Rick and I had originally planned to go to
Waco, Tyler, then back to Addison. President Bush was at his ranch at
Crawford and the P49 restricted area was in force. That pretty much
knocked Waco off the list. They're only letting scheduled airlines in
and out of a 30 NM radius of Crawford...that includes Waco. Even then,
the airline guys need special Secret Service briefings to be allowed in.
I noticed that Waco would be off limits the night before our flight. The
only other reasonable flight was Texarkana, Tyler, then Addison. I
noticed that Rick was angling to fly to airports with a tower and precision
approach facilities. Texarkana was the next closest option that was far
enough away to qualify for the long cross country. I planned our flight
accordingly. When I got to the airport, Rick and I discussed the flight. Rick OKed my Texarkana
flight plan, so we filed,
got our clearance, taxied out, and took off. We flew the Hubbard Five
departure procedure with the Texarkana transition. The flight was fine.
We had about an 18 knot tailwind and trucked right along at 147 knots ground
speed. I shot the ILS runway 22 approach...it came out OK, although I
got a couple of dots off the localizer occasionally. I was a bit rusty
after only a few days of not flying! We did a touch and go then headed
for Tyler via victor airways. At Tyler I shot the VOR/DME for runway 22.
That turned out OK too and we landed for a break. After foolin' around
for about 20 minutes, we saddled up and headed back to Addison. We
wanted to file and fly the Dumpy Two STAR with the Gregg Country transition,
but both the FSS and later ATC gave us all kinds of grief over it. They
acted like they didn't know what to do with us because we were coming from
Tyler rather than the Gregg county airport...yet this had been the same
approach Rick and I flew just a week before. Hmmmm...ah well, after some
confusion, we got it cleared up and flew the transition as desired. On
arrival at Addison we flew the NDB 15 approach. It was kind
of a mess...I just didn't fly it right. Kept getting off course and wasn't correcting properly. These NDB approaches are killing me! I
apparently don't I have them mastered yet, that's for sure! Rick was not
impressed either. I'm really trying though...it's tough.
Intellectually I know what to do, and I could explain how to shoot an NDB
approach, but it's different when you are in the plane. I don't have
them down well enough to nail them every time when I'm actually flying them.
Rick told me to start studying for the written exam. They have some
testing software on a computer there at the flight school. I am supposed
to take the test and pass with a 90% grade three times in a row before they
will sign me off to take the FAA written exam for real. I need to start
working at it hard. Man, this instrument rating is sucking up the time!
Rick said we should start flying 172Ns instead of the 172RG in preparation for
the FAA check ride. We went out in a 172N tonight for my last official
training class. This was just practice approaches on partial panel.
Rick covered the attitude and heading indicators and we flew the whole time
without them. The approaches were kind of loose. I had my
altitudes nailed pretty well, but my heading was wandering a bit. It's
because I had to use the magnetic compass. The magnetic compass points
the way like a drunkard emerging from a two bit bar. It sways and swings
around. It gives you false readings if the airplane is banked or
oriented along a north/south line. Still, with all that, I think my
approaches were OK. Rick said I was doing fine too. Finally, to
round out the evening, we shot the dreaded NDB approach for runway 15 back at
Addison. Everything was going OK and ATC had given us a heading of 180°
to intercept the final approach course of 154°. I know this sounds odd,
but with everything going on in the plane, I find it difficult to subtract two
numbers in my head. I was thus engaged, trying to figure out the number
of degrees between our present heading and our final approach course.
Rick was babbling in my ear about something and I just vapor locked.
Rick was talking so much that it just overloaded me. I couldn't do math
in my head, listen to him talk, work the radio, control the plane, and
maintain situation awareness all at the same time. I was kind of tense
because I knew we were getting close to the point where we needed to turn onto
the final approach course. Finally Rick said something that sounded a
little urgent. I heard the tone in his voice but not what he was saying.
Somehow, in this weird sort of overloaded stupor, I interpreted this as
meaning Rick wanted me to turn now to the final approach course.
So, without really consciously knowing why, I turned. Rick instantly
corrected me and explained what we were going to do and how to recognize when
to begin the turn. Suddenly, it all made sense again...my brain lurched
into gear. Now I knew what was happening. I flew the rest of the
approach, and although it still wasn't a very good, Rick said he thought it
turned out OK. Back on the ground, Rick asked me what I was thinking
when I turned prematurely. At the time, I had no explanation for it...it
kind of mystified me too. After thinking about it all evening, I believe
I understand what was going on there, but it's weird. It's kind of like
all of a sudden throwing molasses into a gear box. It seems like the
forward momentum of my thought processes gets trapped in this tar pit and just
thrashes to get out...or better yet, it's like playing in the surf and getting
hit with a really big wave. You get tossed around and around until you
have no idea which way is up...you don't know which way to swim or what to do
next. All you can do is sort of feel yourself being spun like in a
washing machine. What happened to me on that NDB approach is exactly
like that only in a mental sense. Everything is coming at you at once
and suddenly you are overloaded. When my brain hits its input limits it
just chokes. Everything seems to fly past me and I can't seem to
reestablish points of reference to get my mind turned right side up again.
My brain has just reached its capacity to handle the waves and it flips over
getting thrashed and tumbled. This has happened to me on several
occasions during my instrument training. It's hard for me to tell, but
my brain seems to go on-hold for a few seconds...something between 5-15
seconds. During this period, I am so overloaded that I just can't do
anything...I essentially choke. I wonder what it looks like from Rick's
perspective...maybe it looks like I've gone catatonic or something. I
can only imagine. As I get more familiar with instrument flying, it
happens less often. I can see how pilots can get overloaded like this in
bad weather and the instruments just stop making sense. They choke and
the airplane breaks up. It can happen to anyone and it's sobering to
know it can happen to me so easily. I have almost never come across this
type of situation in everyday life. It's happened to me about 4-6 times
during this instrument training. It's a scary thing because up to now I
haven't been able to see it coming or recognize a situation where I am
approaching overload. If it were to happen to me in the clouds during a
demanding approach in bad weather, it could get real ugly. Hmmm, I need
to think about this and at least learn to recognize when I am in danger of
getting mentally overloaded. I'm glad to have discovered this now.
Throughout this whole instrument training effort, I have been continually
humbled by discovering my own limitations. It's easy to remain cocksure
of yourself if you never test your limits. Boy, I sure have discovered
some of mine.
Rick and I went up to practice approaches and other miscellaneous things just
so my skills would stay stay sharp. First up was a partial panel
VOR/DME-A approach out at McKinney. It all went pretty well but I wasn't
holding my altitude very well. The FAA standards say to hold approach
altitude to +100, -0 feet. Well, I got myself about 100 feet too low a
couple of times. Seems like my first approach is always a little rough.
Next we shot the ILS 17 and that went OK up to short final where I managed to
develop about a ½ scale needle deflection.
That in itself wasn't so bad, but I was snaking back and forth, up and down
flying corkscrews around the localizer and glideslope needles all the way down
the approach path. Sheezh...it was just sloppy. After that we made
up an NDB 17 approach using the McKinney LOM and that came out fair; nothing
to be proud of though. Finally to round out the night we shot the ILS 15
approach into Addison and that came out pretty good. Overall it was
about a B- performance. Rick said I did pretty good. As he and I
talked about my performance, I realized that two things were plaguing me:
1) my instrument scan was just not moving fast enough and 2) I was too
spastic in my handling of the airplane. In fact, looking back over my
instrument training, I can see that this has been a systemic problem all
along. My scan slows down and/or I fixate excessively on one instrument;
meanwhile something else is going to pot. The instrument scan is a basic
skill and it has been drilled into me from the beginning that I must
keep my scan moving without fixating on any one instrument. That all
sounds good and I had really been trying to do that, but I just wasn't doing
that for whatever reason. Couple this with my nervous, jerky control
inputs and you had one truly amateur instrument pilot. Yep, these things
were definitely an Achilles' heel. I was determined to do something
Rick and I were supposed to fly today but the winds did not cooperate.
They were 16 knots with gusts to 35 and 80° off the runway heading. I
thought we might have a chance of flying, so I headed out to the airport.
I got out there about 2 hours early to do a practice written exam in
preparation for the real FAA test. While I was taking the test, Rick
walked in. Too windy for flying was the verdict. In addition, Rick
wasn't feeling very good...it seemed best to just can the flight. I
pressed on with my practice test and got a 95%. Cool! Rick wants
me to get at least 90% on three tests in a row before I attempt the FAA
Went flying with Rick to do some approach practice. We headed out north
of McKinney and did some steep turns. These had been my nemesis early in
my instrument training. For some reason, I aced almost every single one
this time! YES! It seemed much easier to control the turns now
than it had been...Rick said it was likely my skills were sharper due to all
the hood time I had accumulated. Whatever it is, I don't care...I am
just immensely relieved to be able to do them. I hope I can repeat that
performance next time...I haven't been exactly consistent with these things.
After that we went did unusual attitudes which turned out fine. For some
weird reason, I have always been good at unusual attitudes...go figure!
We then shot the VOR/DME-A approach out at McKinney. That went OK, but I
spaced out and stayed at 2500 feet well after the approach dictated a descent
to 2100 feet. Not that horrible, but one of those stupid-idiot moments
to which I've grown so accustom. Another bit of sloppiness was beginning
my descent 0.3 DME too late. Again, not a big deal, but kind of a
disappointment for me. I was determined to speed up my scan and handle
the airplane with more finesse this time! We terminated the approach
with a touch-and-go followed by a full ILS 17 approach. I tried to relax
and just stay alert. I was thinking well ahead to what was coming next
and keeping my scan moving. The ILS approach came out almost perfect!
We flew the published missed approach procedure and did an NDB hold at FLUET.
My hold was virtually flawless, although on initial approach to FLUET I let my
altitude wander 100 feet too low. Dang-it! After that we headed
back to Addison and did the NDB 15 approach. For the first time, I felt
fairly confident that I knew what to expect out of the NDB approach and stayed
well ahead of the airplane. I was relaxed and understood all that was
happening. The approach came out really well and ended with a good
landing. Rick was positively beaming! Oh man, please don't let
this be a fluke! I want to believe I finally have it down cold...I
want to believe so bad! Rick said he thought I was ready for
my checkride. I've got to finish my written test first though. I
am so encouraged. For the first time since I flew with Nick back on
11/28, I feel rather competent with the airplane...and I like
it. I don't want to lose that feeling man! Oooooohhhh yeeeeeeeah...sweet,
Rick and I went out to McKinney to practice approaches. First up was a
simulated NDB 17 approach using the FLUET NDB. We were approaching from
the southwest so it required a full procedure turn. After crossing the NDB outbound, I turned
north to parallel the outbound course. We were a
bit east of the outbound course, so I turned northwest to re-intercept it.
I screwed up tracking the outbound bearing because I failed to turn back onto
the outbound course after we had intercepted it. I just kept on going
northwest until Rick corrected me. So stupid...I should have been aware
of this and anticipating it. I just wasn't thinking of what I had to do
next, rather I was completely focused on the coming procedure turn.
Anyway, after that the rest of the NDB approach went pretty good. We
went missed and headed out to do a VOR/DME-A approach. This went fine
with one exception. Rick had just vectored me onto the final approach
course. As I was turning to intercept it, I was simultaneously
descending to the prescribed altitude for the initial approach segment.
Rick started talking to me about something or other, firing questions at me,
and I got distracted and descended about 150 feet below the target altitude.
I am not suppose to descend below the prescribed altitude at all.
Had I done that with the FAA examiner, I would have busted my check ride!
The rest of the approach was fine except I ended it slightly west of course.
No biggie though. We terminated the approach with a touch and go, then
turned around to do the localize 17 approach. This turned out pretty
good, except I was up and down a bit on glide slope and ended the approach a
bit high...not too bad though. We did another touch and go then departed
for Addison. Back at Addison, we shot the ILS 33 approach and it turned
out great. I was never more than about 1 dot off glide slope or
localizer the whole way down. Perfect! Rick was very pleased.
The only critique I might make of myself is that my radio work with approach
was kind of lame, but I got the essentials communicated. Rick said he'd
like to fly one more time before he sent me off to my final stage check.
I had been studying quite a bit the last few weeks, trying to get ready for
the written exam. I took several trial exams out at Monarch just to
gauge my readiness for the written. Rick wanted me to get at least a 90%
grade on three of these trial exams before he would give me an endorsement to
take the actual FAA written. Over the course of two weeks, my trial exam
scores were 88%, 95%, 97%, 87%, and 98%. Close enough...Rick signed me
off. I went to an FAA test station at Addison airport called Laser
Grade. I took the test and got 95%. I was so relieved to get that
out of the way. The test cost $80.
Rick had suggested that I take the CFII written test too. The test comes
from the same bank of questions and if I ever thought about becoming a
Certified Instrument Instructor, I would need to take the test anyway.
He said that as long as I had worked this hard to get to this level of
proficiency, I might as well take the test. The test results are only
valid for two years, so if I don't actually get a CFII rating in the next two
years, I'll have to take the test over again. I figured it would be
unlikely that I'd go for the CFII, but what the heck...it's only $80 to take
the test and I am not under any pressure. I decide to do it. I
took the test and got a 94%. All I've got left to do is fly with Rick
one more time to polish my skills and do a progress check with another
instructor. If those go well, I'll be up for my FAA check ride. I
can't believe I am almost done...wow, what a journey.
I had caught a cold and wasn't feeling 100%. I was supposed to go flying
with Rick. At the airport Rick and I discussed whether to go or
not...the ceiling was down a bit and I wasn't feeling well, but I wanted to
give it a go. Rick and I went up with the objective of polishing my
skills. We tracked the 46° radial outbound
from Cowboy VOR to the SLANT intersection. Rick had me hold northeast
with left turns. I entered the hold with a teardrop entry and rolled the
OBS around to 226° to re-intercept the 46°
radial inbound. We crossed the holding fix and started turning outbound
when Rick had me break off the holding procedure. He said he had seen
what he needed to see; that I had recognized the need to spin the OBS around
to a reciprocal course. Rick turned me east and requested four steep
turns. Every one of them turned out pathetic...altitude all over the
place. Curse those stupid steep turns! We headed out to do the VOR/DME-A approach at McKinney. During the turn to the final approach
course, I let my altitude get about 100 feet too low! Arrrrgh!
I've noticed a pattern on this particular approach where I let my altitude get
too low as I initially turn and intercept the final approach course.
Intercepting a VOR radial takes more time than intercepting a localizer.
As a result, I go ahead and start the descent while I am still in the
interception turn. I get three things going...the descent, the turn, and
the interception process. I start missing stuff. Specifically, I
usually allow the descent to continue too long and blow my altitude. I
either need to be super alert at this critical point in the approach or spread
things out over time. For example, I could simply not begin my descent
until I am established inbound on the approach. Anyway, the rest of the
approach turned out OK. We went missed and got set-up for the ILS 17
approach. This went OK, except I was snaking back and forth all the way
down the localizer. Still, not too bad. We did a touch and go then
headed for Addison. We shot the ILS 33 into Addison. I was a bit
behind the airplane on final and started my "localizer only" miss approach
point timer about 15 seconds late. No real biggie though. Again I
wandered back and forth down the localizer beam. It wasn't really all
that bad, just ±3 dots maximum on the CDI. Still, the object is to get
on the beam and stay there all the way down. On the plus side, my
glideslope tracking was spot on. Back on the ground, Rick cut me some
slack, especially since I wasn't feeling 100%. Still, I am well aware
that the altitude excursions are a serious problem...and those darned steep
turns! As Rick was going over the steep turns and what was wrong with
them, Rick said something that really hit home. He was telling me not to
worry about watching the heading indicator or anything like that. Just
concentrate on the attitude indicator and the VSI. I realized that I had
been fixating on the heading indicator. I had been focusing way, way too
much attention on the wrong instrument. I should have been looking at
the attitude indicator, the altimeter, and the VSI. I've probably been
told this before, but this is the first time it actually registered! I
was determined to try that next time.
Rick and I met for some more polishing. During preflight, I found the
rear position light burned out, the right flap jamb nut loose, the oil level
low, and water in the gascolator. We got a mechanic out to look at the
flap and tighten the nut. I drained gas until no water remained.
We let the light and the oil go. The oil level was low but tolerable.
We took off and tracked the 46° radial
outbound from Cowboy VOR to SLANT intersection. Rick had me hold
southwest. I allowed me to do a direct entry into the hold. After
turning outbound, I rolled the OBS around to 226°. I suddenly realized
that I didn't need to do this...I should just keep it on 46°
for the inbound leg. I had been so used to doing this OBS twiddling that
I had performed it as a matter of habit. I was relieved to have caught
it before the turn back inbound. After crossing the holding fix on the
inbound leg, Rick had me break off the holding procedure. He turned me
east and requested several steep turns. Ah, this time I was going
to spend the bulk of my scan looking at the attitude indicator, the altimeter,
and the VSI. The turns came out pretty good. I got 50 feet low on
the first one, but pulled it back up to altitude. We did two others that
came out even better! Had I finally found the elusive secret to
success with these things? We'll see...if I can do them well next time,
then maybe I'll believe it. We headed to McKinney to do the VOR/DME-A
approach. I got all set up for the approach. Rick covered the
attitude and heading indicators to simulate a vacuum system failure. He
then vectored me to
the final approach course. I was watching my altitude like a hawk and
everything was going well. As I intercepted the approach course, I
descended to 2100 feet and held it. I didn't forget anything and
was well on my way to a great approach. Rick reached over and rapped a
knuckle on the altimeter. "What altitude should we be at," he asked.
"2100," I replied. "What altitude?" "2100," I said suspiciously.
"You're supposed to be at 2200, right," he asked. I looked at the
approach plate...it clearly said 2200 feet. I felt an involuntary groan
come out of me and my shoulders slumped. How, why, how can this be, it's
not fair... How can I be so stupid. Look, all I am trying to do is
descend to 2200 feet and hold it...why does this particular approach, at this
particular point always eat my lunch? Sheezh, the one time
I actually hold my altitude like I should, I hold the wrong stinkin'
altitude. If I had just made a mistake and been shooting for 2300
feet it wouldn't have been so bad, but no, I had to shoot for 2100 feet.
I am not even supposed to be 1 foot lower than 2200. Ah, ah, ah...I
can't stand it! Rick urged me not to let it get to me. He said I
still had a good approach going and urged me to keep it going. I got
back on the job and the approach turned out OK. We went missed and
headed back out to do the localizer approach. The published missed
procedure has us turning left away from the airport, but the tower wanted us
to turn right. That put us in a hurry to get set up for the localizer 17
approach. We were over the outer marker outbound before I got all the
radios set up. I was really feeling rushed. I planned to use the
#1 NAV to track the localizer and had the DME set to the #1 NAV. As we
were going outbound, Rick said we should use the #2 NAV for the approach
because it did not have a glideslope needle. We switch NAV #1 to Bonham
VOR and dialed the localizer into NAV #2. Rick uncovered the attitude
and heading indicators as I tracked the localizer outbound. We did the procedure turn and
everything was going well. As we came over the outer marker inbound,
Rick noted that we did not have the marker beacon audio in our headphones.
In the rush to set the radios, I had forgotten to turn the marker beacon audio
on. He also chastised me for setting the DME to the #1 NAV when it
should have been set to the #2 NAV. I was confused for a second then
realized what happened. The DME had been set correctly, but when Rick
switched the radios, I didn't go back and set the DME to use NAV #2.
Actually, Rick had kind of interfered with the way I had the radios set and
that had thrown me. I really do not believe that was my fault.
Still, Rick chastised me for it. Yeah, I guess I should have noticed it,
but it wouldn't have been a problem in the first place if he hadn't been
dorking with the radios. I don't know if Rick even recognized his roll
in the problem...ah well. At least I got one thing from this
incident...if anyone touches any of the radios, I'd better review all the
settings to make sure nothing has been fouled up. The rest of the
localizer approach went very well and Rick said it was the best one he's ever
seen me do. We terminated with a touch and go then headed back to
Addison. We shot the ILS 15 into Addison, but the approach wasn't very
stable. I was too high, too low, a little left, a little right.
Nothing really wrong with the approach, just not good form. Ideally, the
approach should be "dead-stick." The needles are where they should be
and you are just making minor, imperceptible changes to stay on track.
The controls stay pretty still, not a lot of jerking around...a "dead-stick."
Still, the approach would have been acceptable on a check ride. After
landing, Rick asked me how I thought I did. I think I did fair, but I
think Rick was not so impressed. He told me I was chasing the CDI
needles down final, using them as inputs for course corrections. Well,
first of all, I don't think I am doing that. I am trying to hold a
heading and rate of descent using the heading indicator and VSI. Second,
I have to look at the needles to see if any changes in heading or rate
of descent are necessary, so yeah, I am looking at them. I was getting
confused...Rick seemed to be saying don't look at the CDI needles, but do look
at them to see what you need to do. I spent some time talking with Rick
about this, trying to figure out exactly what he meant by "chasing the
needles." What I took away from that discussion is that I am
over-controlling the airplane. I am making excessively large control
inputs that set up this pilot-induced-oscillation across the localizer and
glideslope. I should make smaller changes. I think that is what
Rick meant by "chasing the needles" although he never really communicated it
that way, but I got the message. This is nothing new to me. I know
I am supposed to make small changes, and yeah, I had sort of slipped into this
bad habit of making excessively large changes. I find in instrument
flying that I can understand something but, for some reason, can't put it into
practice. Very frustrating. Makes me feel kind of stupid.
Rick said he thought I was ready for my stage check, but I felt another
practice session would be good. Rick seemed kind of relieved that I had
suggested that and quickly agreed.
I took a long lunch away from work and headed to the airport for another round
of approach practice with Rick. We took off and headed for McKinney.
First up was a full ILS 17 approach. I went through that just fine.
No mistakes, held my altitude very well, and made small corrections to stay on
localizer and glide slope. Rick said nothing. After that we went
out and did a partial panel VOR/DME-A approach. There was a strong,
gusty south wind and that made the ride below 2400 feet very bumpy.
There was some significant vertical movement to the turbulence and it was
trying to throw us up and down 100 feet or so. Despite all that, I flew
the approach and stayed pretty much on altitude, although I had to monkey with
pitch and throttle a lot to do it. With a satisfactory VOR/DME-A
approach under my belt, we turned back for the FLUET NDB for a full localizer
approach. I did that one very good too. On short final, I
developed a ½ scale CDI deflection to the right, but
I kept cool. I alter course about 2° left and brought the localizer
gently back to center. We terminated with a touch and go, then headed
for Addison. Back at Addison, Rick wanted me to shoot the NDB 15
approach. I handled the radios and everything. It all worked out
great...on short final I was right on the approach course heading with the NDB
needle pointing directly on our tail. The runway should be directly in
front of us. Rick had me pull off the hood and look up. Holy cow,
we were probably ¼ mile to the left of the runway! I got us lined up and
landed OK, although we floated a bit down the runway. Rick said he was
watching the instruments through the whole approach and everything looked
fine. He said NDB approaches were just kind of inaccurate, and that this
kind of thing happens sometime. He assured me my technique was fine.
Man, if that is what can be expected from an NDB approach, it is not very
confidence inspiring. I think I executed the approach dead on...needles
aligned almost perfectly, and we were still way off. Hmmm...wonder if I
could improve it with practice. In the computer lessons, they had a
video of a guy shooting an NDB approach to minimums and he came out right over
the approach lights. That just seems more like dumb luck than skill,
especially if the equipment is this inaccurate. Sheezh! When we
got back on the ground, Rick was positively beaming! He praised my
airwork and said he was very impressed. He said, "Whatever you did to
get ready today, just make sure you do that for you progress check!"
Well, I hate to say it but I didn't do anything but shoot about 4 approaches
on the simulator at home the night before...and each one of those approaches I
screwed up royally! I don't know exactly why things went so well today.
I was trying to be less spastic with the controls and was trying hard to hold
heading and altitude. I also concentrated on my scan so that I was
looking at the correct instruments for different phases of flight. So,
maybe it was just focusing on the basics: make small changes early,
heading and altitude are king, and keep your scan moving on the right
instruments. Could it be that simple? Maybe. I sure hope I
can repeat that performance. I'll have to do it twice. Once for
Jake on my stage check and again for Norm on my FAA checkride. I'm
supposed to fly with Jake on Sunday for my stage check. It'll be about
45 minutes of oral and two hours of flying. Jake wants me to plan a
cross country to Fort Smith, Arkansas, just so he can review my cross country
Completed my final stage check with Jake. I got out to Monarch at 4:00
PM. Jake and I sat down for about an hour and went through the oral
portion of the test. Jake asked me questions about several topics, and I
answered each one pretty well. Jake had asked me to prepare a flight
plan to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We went over that flight plan and Jake
OKed it. I had used a departure procedure that called for a minimum
enroute altitude of 11,000 feet over one segment. I thought that was
excessively high since there are no obstructions in the area greater than
about 2500 feet. Jake agreed and said he had puzzled over that same
thing before. He suggested that I just use victor airways during my
actual checkride and explain why I didn't use the departure procedure.
That way, I would be able to specify a more realistic altitude for a Cessna
172 over that route. Made sense to me. Jake said he was satisfied
that I knew the material very well. We headed out to do some flying.
Everything during the flight was basically the same as Rick and I had done.
We tracked outbound on the Cowboy 46° radial. Jake had me hold at the
SLANTT intersection. About 3 minutes before entering the hold, I slowed
to 90 knots. The Airman's Information Manual recommends doing this and
it's a little detail that I think Jake liked. Jake asked me to hold
northeast with right turns. That made it a teardrop entry and would
require that I roll the OBS around to a reciprocal heading of 226° I
correctly did all of these things. Outbound I had been holding a wind
correction angle 15° to the east. I took that into account when I
executed my teardrop entry and when I rolled onto the inbound course, I was
within ½ dot of the 46° radial. Oh yeah! We arrived at the holding
fix at 1 minute 32 seconds. On the outbound leg, I compensated by only
going outbound for 40 seconds. The next inbound leg came out to 53
seconds. Sweet! Jake was pleased, so we headed east to do some
steep turns. I did three steep turns, but they only turned out fair.
They were OK but my altitude control was not as tight as it should have been.
Still, Jake seemed to think it was good enough...I managed to roll out on
heading and within about 30 feet of my original altitude, although I almost
got 100 feet off during the turn. Kind of a weak showing. After
that we headed for McKinney to shoot a VOR/DME-A approach. Jake was
providing me with vectors to the final approach course. While I was
flying the last vector, Jake covered the attitude and heading indicators to
simulate a vacuum system failure. The CDI needle came off the peg and
started crawling to the center of the dial. Jake had not yet cleared me
for the approach, so I was not permitted to intercept the final approach
course or descend to the appropriate altitude for this segment. Finally,
when we were about 1 minute from intercepting and then overshooting the final
approach course, I queried Jake. I said that I would have expected ATC
to clear me for the approach by this point and would probably call them up to
ask about it. Jake was very pleased...this had been a test! He
immediately cleared me for the approach, allowing me to intercept the approach
course and descend. I tracked the approach inbound really well...it was
one of my best VOR approaches. It all went swimmingly! At the
missed approach point, we turned right and headed for the FLUET LOM to do an
ILS 17 approach. I was rushed to get all the radios set up. I was
just finishing an auctioneer version of the approach briefing when we came in
over the outer marker outbound. Whew! All the radios were set up
right...I had checked everything. I even had the localizer dialed into
the #2 NAV and identified, just in case NAV #1 failed during the approach.
Because of traffic, Jake had to bring me in 1000 feet higher than normal
through the first half of the procedure turn. Still, the approach went
well, and I was able to get down to the appropriate altitude by the time we
turned inbound. Everything was stabilized and going well. As we
approached the outer marker, Jake flipped the frequency of the #1 NAV and
announced that I had lost the radio. Hey, no problem, I already have NAV
#2 up and running. It was a seamless transition. Instead of a
decision height, I now had a minimum descent altitude of 1000 feet and a miss
approach point of 1.2 DME. I made sure to flip the DME to the #2 NAV.
The approach went very well, even though I got about 2 dots off at one point.
Jake told me to look up and the runway was right in front of us. We did
a touch and go, and headed for Addison. Jake had me handle the radios
and everything on our trip back to Addison. It all went very well, we
shot the ILS 15 approach. That went very well too, except I forgot to
slow down and wound up shooting the approach about 15 knots too fast.
Not really a big deal, but poor form. I just spaced out and forgot.
As we were taxiing in, Jake said my approaches looked absolutely great!
He said I was more than ready for my checkride. Yes! After
shutdown, I secured the plane while Jake went inside to write up the
paperwork. When I got inside, I was surprised to see Rick there. I
think he must have been waiting for us to return. He asked me how it
went. Thumbs up man! Jake said I did everything very well and
especially the oral portion. That kind of surprised me because I didn't
think it was that exemplary...OK, but not great. Do other people do
worse? Yikes, I hope not! Jake said one of my steep turns was a
bit rough, but he didn't seem to think it was a big deal. Rick said the
FAA guy, Norm, doesn't usually have his checkride candidates do them anyway.
Fine by me! Rick said he would get me set up with Norm as soon as
practical. He also said we would probably fly 2 or 3 times more just to
keep my skills sharp until Norm can get around to doing my checkride.
Well, that is two times in a row that I have done a good job all around.
I told Rick that I was cautiously optimistic that I had a good trend going.
It does seem much easier now...it only takes significant mental effort now
rather than the paralyzing amount of concentration it used to take just a few
weeks ago. I sure hope I can keep this streak of good luck going.
Rick and I went up to do some approaches, just so I could stay sharp. We
did a VOR/DME-A out at McKinney. That turned out very well. We
terminated it with a touch and go on runway 35, then climbed straight out for
a full ILS 17 approach. The ILS approach went OK, but I was a little
late on my turn to the final approach course and ended up about one dot to the
left of course. I tracked down final, just a little left of course
almost the whole way. I was again late in starting my descent after
glideslope intercept and stayed about one dot high through the whole approach.
final, I fixated for a few moments on the altimeter...at least I think it was
the altimeter, and by the time I resumed my scan, the localizer CDI had
developed a ¾ scale deflection to the right. I
made a 10° correction but it was too late...I lost the localizer needle and
had to go missed! I believe that is only the third time that has ever
happened to me. If this had been a checkride, I would have failed!
We went missed and headed for Addison. There I did an ILS 33 approach
and it came off very well; the only thing wrong with it was about a 2-3 dot
localizer deflection to the right on short final, 100 feet above decision
height. Not too bad, but I think I fixated on the altimeter again.
I was watching for decision height and let my scan slip. Rick seemed to
take it all in stride. I knew what I was doing wrong even before Rick
pointed it out to me. It's been eight days since I last flew, and I can
feel the rust beginning to form. I think I'm just knocking the scale
off. Rick seemed to agree. Back on the ground, Rick and I made
plans to fly a couple times this week. I'll have to fly one time with a
guy named Judd because Rick will be out of town. My checkride is
scheduled for Saturday, March 6th, with an FAA examiner named Norm.
I'll go out at about 8:00 AM for a two hour oral followed by a two hour
checkride. I am actually looking forward to it. I'll be so glad to
get this all over with! Rick also gave me my graduation certificate from
the Monarch Air flight school.
Rick was out of town and arranged for a guy named Judd to go up with me to
practice approaches. I took some time off work and got out to the
airport at 1:30 PM. Judd asked me if there was anything special I wanted
to practice. I requested a DME arc to the VOR/DME-A approach out at
McKinney and steep turns. I was rusty with the arc mechanics during the
last arc I flew with Rick. Also, steep turns have been my Achilles' heel
all along...I really should practice them whenever possible. Other than
that, the plan was to run the usual sequence of approaches out at McKinney.
After takeoff, I tracked the 46° radial outbound from Cowboy VOR and did a
standard holding pattern at the SLANT intersection with a southwest outbound
leg. The hold went very well; I nailed the courses and leg timing.
We made a couple of circuits then broke off and headed north, direct to Bonham VOR. I did a 15 NM DME arc to the
west when we got to the VORTAC.
It came off great! I stayed within 0.1 NM of the arc distance and had
everything clicking. Interception of the 212° radial outbound from the
VORTAC got us established on the VOR/DME-A final approach course. The
whole approach was superb! I was really cookin' today! We
terminated the approach with a touch and go. There was a 10 knot direct
cross wind blowing with gusts to 14 knots. The landing was great!
Judd said, "Man, that was a textbook landing!" Oh yeah, I was hot today!
Back in the air, we turned and did a full ILS 17 approach. It
turned out well, although I got about 2 dots off the localizer at one point;
no biggie though. We went missed then headed for Addison. Back at
Addison, I did the NDB 15 approach. It also turned out well...one of the
best NDB approaches I have ever shot at Addison. Something seems screwy
about that Addison compass locator. If you're on the final approach
heading with the ADF needle directly on your tail you should be exactly on
course. The problem is, at Addison, these readings will actually put you
about ½ mile to the east of the final approach course! I can't tell if
that's just the nature of NDB approaches, some calibration problem with the
ADF receiver in the airplane, some ground interference in that area, or just
bad piloting technique. I sort of suspect there must be some local
interference that pulls the ADF needle to the east about 2 miles from the
runway threshold. Anyway, today the NDB was behaving itself and
everything worked out fine. Back on the ground, Judd said he thought I
did an excellent job. When he was filling out my logbook, he exclaimed,
"You have 500 hours! I can't believe you have that much time! Wow,
you've been flying since 1987! Wow! No wonder you fly so well."
A couple of the instructors have remarked that the 500 hours I have is really
impressive. I find that so odd...I don't think that is much time.
I thought you had to have 2000 to 3000 hours flying time before anyone
begrudged any measure of respect. Maybe it just seems like a lot of time
to them because they themselves haven't accumulated many hours. Most of
the instructors out there are young and have only had their tickets a couple
of years. They are instructing to build time and get a shot at an
Took the afternoon off work to do some flying with Rick. I'm trying to
stay polished for my checkride tomorrow. Rick also wanted to go over all
the paperwork. I got to the airport at noon. Our plan was to do
the usual thing. After takeoff, I tracked the 46° radial outbound from
Cowboy VOR and did a standard holding pattern at SLANT. The hold was a
total mess. We made two circuits and I couldn't manage to get my courses
or leg timing stabilized. Almost a complete bust. It was very
windy and bumpy today and that was throwing me off a bit. Also, I felt
very bleary because I have been putting in a lot of long hours and late nights
at work. Ah well... We went on to the Bonham VORTAC to do an 11
DME arc. The plan was to intercept the 212° radial for the VOR/DME-A
approach to McKinney. The time came up to turn onto the arc and I turned
the wrong way! I had not properly maintained situation awareness and
thought I was west of the 212° radial when I was actual to the east. Sheezh. I turned back the correct direction and got established on the
arc. The bumps were throwing us up and down about 100 feet and it was
really wearisome to continuously fight them. Throttle up, throttle down,
pitch up, pitch down, bank left, bank right, etc., etc...exhausting. The
arc was OK, but I managed to get 0.4 NM off the arc one time. Not my
best showing. We intercepted the 212° radial and executed the VOR/DME-A
approach. It actually turned out pretty good. We did a touch and
go on runway 35 in about a 9 knot right crosswind. Rick took the
controls on climb-out and I got set-up for the Localizer 17 approach. I
tracked the localizer outbound; when you do this you have to be careful
because the localizer CDI is reverse sensing. That means it is giving
you course correction information backward. You just have to recognize
this and act appropriately. Everything went well through the procedure
turn and I got established on the localizer inbound. We tracked down the
final approach course just fine until just before the final approach fix.
For some strange reason, I began to interpret the localizer CDI as reverse
sensing. I kept putting in course corrections backwards and in about 15
seconds I developed a full scale CDI deflection. Rick asked, "Where are
you going? You're turning the wrong way." Arrrrrgggghhhhhh!
How could I be so stupid! What is wrong with me? Technically, I
have busted the approach and must go missed, but Rick tells me to just go
re-acquire the localizer. I do that and the rest of the approach works
out fine. Rick said, "Let's terminate this with a full stop landing.
We'll get out, take a breather and settle down." Amen brother! We
got out, went inside the FBO, got a drink of water, munched on some free
popcorn, and sat around for 10 minutes. The popcorn really helped...I
hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. I think my blood sugar level
must have been low or something. The popcorn really perked me up.
We got back in the plane, took off, and kept shooting approaches. We did
two more localizer approaches, an ILS 17 approach, and one more VOR/DME-A
approach. All the approaches turned out OK...not great, but tolerable.
I don't remember royally screwing anything up. We headed back to Addison
and shot the ILS 33 approach. That approach was only fair. I let
the localizer develop a ½ scale CDI deflection before I caught it and started
feeding in corrections. I was making small corrections to pull the CDI
back, but it crept up to a ¾ scale deflection before I got it stopped. I
managed to re-centered the CDI and was on glideslope by the time we arrived at
decision height. Rick chastised me for being slow to catch the CDI
deflection. He also suggested that I be more aggressive about stopping
the CDI when it gets close to a full scale deflection. The root cause of
the problem though is not catching the deflection in its early stages.
After landing, I could tell Rick was a little worried. I had done a
number of things that could have resulted in checkride failure. My
performance seems really variable. Some days I'm hot and other days I
really tank. Today I was just beat and malnourished...but my performance
is too tweaky and sensitive to these things. I should be performing more
solidly. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence to go out and bore
holes in the clouds. I have noticed that when I have problems I am
usually flying with Rick. The problems are always related to just dumb
mistakes...I know what to do but just have a "brain fart" for lack of a better
term. Sometimes the problems are related to a slow scan and/or fixating
on one particular instrument. I also think there is a psychological
factor here too. I almost never make mistakes like these when I fly with
one of the other instructors. I think I watch what I'm doing more
closely when I fly with someone else. I am more alert and try harder.
I relax around Rick and slack off...not consciously though. Anyway, back
on the ground we spent about 1½ hours going over paperwork and oral test
questions. Everything was in order and I was all set. Rick told me
to bring $300 cash for Norm's fee. Norm is the FAA designated examiner.
At first I thought Rick was kidding, but he was serious. Norm required
$300 in cash! Well first of all I guess I had a misconception about how
much money the checkride would cost...I thought it would be something like
maybe $100. I hadn't really thought about it. I figured I'd just
write a check. $300 cash was kind of a shock. Anyway, tomorrow is
the big day, and I am just a bundle of nerves! Rick tells me I am the
first instrument student he has had go from start to finish with him. He
has helped other guys finish up a rating they started somewhere else, but
never start-to-finish like this. I tell him I'll try to end it as a
cherry on top of his ice cream Sunday! Later than night Jane and I
dropped the kids off at church and went out to eat with our friends, James and
Liz. It was a lot of fun. I also had to stop by the bank and
withdraw $300 for Norm. By the time Jane and I picked up the kids at
church and got home, it was 10:15 PM. I had to get up by 5:15 AM to get weather and
complete my flight plan for Norm. I was due out at the airport at 7:45
AM. I stayed up and finished the weight and balance calculations for my
checkride the next day. I really felt like I should study some more, but
just run out of time. By the time I get to bed it is 12:30 AM. I toss and turn all night in a half-sleep, filled with strange,
anxiety ridden dreams of airplanes and checkrides. I get up about three
times in the night just because I'm so keyed up.
The Check Ride
March 6th, checkride day! This is it. This is what all this work comes down
to. The next four hours will determine the fate of all this effort.
I finally haul my carcass out of bed at 5:15 AM, exhausted
because I couldn't sleep. Too tense! I scramble to
get everything ready. I am so tired, I know I am moving slow, wasting
what little time I have left. I get weather and complete my wind
calculations and flight plan. I was hoping to go over a few things I've
been weak on, but I run out of time. Oh well, if I don't know it now,
nothing can save me!
I jump in the car and rush to the airport.
There I find Norm already waiting. We sit down and go over my paperwork.
Everything is in order. Norm regaled me with numerous interesting tales
of his aviation exploits of the last 50 years. That guy has a lot of
experience! He was there as the airline industry matured and has seen it
all. I was in awe. What a privilege to be flying with a guy like
that! Best of all, his casual demeanor really settled my nerves.
We have a couple of hearty laughs about little aviation idiosyncrasies, etc.
The whole time he is slowly paging through my logbook and making encouraging
comments like: "Hey, Sydney, Nebraska. I landed there in a C-46
back in the winter of 1948. I landed downwind in a snowstorm with 40
people on board plus the flight crew. I had a hard time getting the
airplane stopped. When we finally stopped, I felt really good because I
thought I did a great job. I opened my side window and was shocked to
see the fence at the end of the runway about 50 feet in front of the nose!
We had almost crashed and I didn't know it." Man, that made him seem
like a real person while at the same time earning my respect for the vast
experience he has.
Norm asked me if I had any questions before we started
the oral. I asked him a few questions then we got into it. Most of
his questions were related to weather in some way; they were mostly couched in
something like a "story problem" format. That was great for me, because
I always loved story problems in school. He asked questions like "Say we
were going to go flying and found a convective SIGMET in force. What
would we do?" Correct answer: Don't go 'cause there's
thunderstorms out there. What if it's just a plain old SIGMET.
What if it's just an AIRMET? What if icing is forcast? He asked me
some more direct questions about instruments. We went over the vacuum
instruments, the pitot/static system, anti-ice equipment, etc.
turned his attention to our flight plan; again his questions seemed to center
around weather. What if we discover a cold front with thunderstorms
approaching our destination airport the same time we are...what do you do?
What if we discover our destination airport is reporting wind shear greater
than 15 knots...should we approach and land? What if advection fog is
moving in from the south, how would that alter your plans. If there is
fog at the destination but the sky is clear, can we land? What if the
visibility is great at our destination but the clouds are 1900 broken, do we
need to file an alternate? On and on like this. The objective of
this probing seemed not only to see if you knew the regulations but
whether you could apply them. Throughout the oral, the main
thing he seemed to be looking for was sound aeronautical judgment. He
was looking for a cautious, wily weather sense. A recognition of the
airplane limitations and a healthy suspicion of the weather. That makes
sense since weather is a factor in about 50% of general aviation fatalities.
One zinger question he asked was to name the UHF radios on board the aircraft.
Rick had warned me about this the day before and I prepared for it last night. I was able to give Norm a complete accounting: VHF - Nav,
Comm, Marker Beacon; UHF - transponder, DME, glideslope; LF/MF - ADF.
Norm was very impressed, which I suppose is good, but the only reason I was
able to nail it so well was because Rick had tipped me off.
Norm said he
was very impressed with my knowledge and that I had passed the oral. I
was expecting it to last 2 hours, but we were done in 1 hour. He spent
the next 30 minutes answering various questions I had. Next stop, the
airplane...oh please let this be one of my good days! I wasn't very
confident because I had so little sleep, but I had perked up during the oral.
Adrenalin I suppose. Anyway, Norm explained what he wanted to do:
track the 46° radial outbound from Cowboy VOR, hold at the FINGR intersection,
fly direct to Bonham VORTAC, he'd give me RADAR vectors to the VOR/DME-A for
McKinney, go missed then the ILS 17 at McKinney, missed again then the LOC 17
approach, then back to Addison for a plain old visual approach. Sounded
good to me...not an NDB approach anywhere...and all this just like I had
practiced with Rick.
I got the plane ready and we took off headed northeast. It was very
bumpy; we were getting knocked up and down, but not as bad as Rick and I had
experienced the day before. I intecepted the 46° radial and tracked it
to FINGR. I did one circuit in the hold and it came out absolutely
perfect...flawless! What a great way to get started! Norm was
so impressed, he just waved me on after the first circuit.
toward Bonham VORTAC. Remembering how I messed this up with Rick the day
before, I kept careful track of our position...I was not going to turn
the wrong way! Everything went great. I got established on the
VOR/DME-A into McKinney and flew it perfectly. The worst thing that happened was
getting about 2 dots off course for about 1 minute; no biggie at all.
Norm asked me to finish the approach with a full stop landing. I began to worry, had I done
something wrong? I landed and Norm directed me to the ramp in front of
the FBO. He wanted me to get the airplane shut down as soon as possible. Oh man, I
must have done something wrong...I racked my brain trying to think what it
could be. I had no idea...I concluded that it must have been something
to which I was totally oblivious. Most likely a stupid brain-fart again!
Oh man. I shut down the airplane and took off my headset. I sat for
a minute as Norm fumbled with his safety belt. Finally I turned to Norm
and asked, "Did I do something wrong?" "Not at all," Norm replied, "I've
just got to the bathroom." OOOHHHH...heh, heh...that's great! I
told Norm I was afraid I had done something to bust the checkride. "Not
at all. You're doing great. In fact, you're flying up to
professional standards. It's a pleasure to ride with someone that flies
as well as you." "That really means a lot coming from a guy with your
experience," I replied. I was so relieved! Whew.
15 minutes, we were ready to go again. When we got back into the
airplane, Norm said, "Hey, you're doing so well, let's just skip the rest of
the stuff we were going to do here and head back to Addison. You can
shoot the ILS 33 there and we'll call it good. I've seen enough to know
you've got it down." My jaw just dropped! This was unanticipated
and almost without precedent. I was being let off easy...Norm was just
waving me through the gate. I could only fail the checkride now, if I
completely blew the ILS 33 approach into Addison. The ILS 33 has always
been good to me...it was my lucky day!
We fired up and headed for
Addison. Everything went well. The only exciting moment was when
approach dropped us onto the final approach course almost on top of the
glideslope intercept point. I had to descend rapidly to avoid blowing
the intercept maneuver. I managed to get down in time to appropriately
capture the glideslope. The localizer and glideslope stayed within 1½
dots of center the whole way down, and most of the time they were dead
centered. Yes! I landed pretty well and taxied off the runway.
Norm turned to me and said, "How does it feel to be a new instrument pilot?!"
Well Norm, it feels mighty good, mighty good indeed! Rick had taught me
to turn off the transponder and reset it to VFR, 1200, after getting off the
runway. I did this as Norm and I were taxiing in, and it seemed to
really impress him. He said, "That is very excellent, what you're doing
there. That's something a commercial pilot would do so the next person
in the airplane doesn't take off squawking the wrong code. I am very
happy to see that." Well, I can only thank Rick, because he is the guy
that showed me. All this time, it has seemed like a little detail to me,
but Norm seemed to really value it.
After taxiing in and shutting down, Norm headed
inside to write up the paperwork while I tied the plane down. When I got inside, Norm and I went over
the paperwork. He then issued my temporary airman certificate with
two new words on it, "Instrument Airplane." Man, the effort and
resources behind those two little words! I thanked Norm. "It's a
pleasure flying with someone that flys as well as you." That sure means
a lot coming from a guy like Norm. He made me feel like I was a pretty
good pilot. That was really refreshing after all the stupid things I did
during my training. I sure hope he's right! The flight instructors
gathered round to hear the details. They seemed surprised that Norm did
such an abbreviated check ride. Maybe he wasn't feeling well or
something. Nick, the instructor that had chastised me back in November
for such poor heading and altitude control, said that Norm had enough
experience to tell in 5 or 10 minutes what kind of pilot you were. Nick
said he must have skipped through a bunch of stuff because he could tell I was
a good pilot. Nick seemed entirely genuine in his comment. I was
just so surprised by all this...I mean, I was convinced I was not a very good
pilot after grinding through this curriculum...now I don't know what to
think. Oh well, I'm just glad it's all over.
The Total Cost
Before I started training, Rick said I could expect the rating to cost $5000
± $1000. He assumed I would be flying Cessna 172SPs. I really wanted
to start building some retractable time, so I opted to fly the more expensive
172RG instead. That increased my cost, but only slightly. Had
I done all the training in a 172SP, the cost would have been about almost
exactly the same. (The 172RG is only about $5/hour more expensive than the
172SP.) In the end I wound up spending about
$10,000 on the rating. If I had flown 172N models the whole way
through, it would have cost about $8800. I had trouble mastering some of
the maneuvers. My steep turns were always weak and I regularly made
mistakes on approaches. Some things about actually flying the maneuvers
were never really very well explained. I struggled with some maneuvers
until I figured them out for myself. That took additional time. I
also wanted as much instruction as I could get and did not rush the job. I
actually asked Rick for more flights on several occasions when he was willing to
let me continue. I wanted to get it right and was willing to pay a little
extra to allow that to happen. About the only way to do the whole thing
for $6000 max (as Rick quoted) would be to fly Cessna 172Ns and take no more
than 46 hours of flight instruction to master all the maneuvers. That's
tough to do unless you can focus almost all available time and energy on the
effort...or if you are rather gifted. Just having to commute from Addison
to McKinney to shoot approaches adds about 30 minutes to each flight. If
you could fly based out of McKinney to begin with, you would accumulate a
substantial savings. Below is a table summarizing my total actual costs:
|Cessna 172RG Complex Checkout
|Cessna 172RG Complex Checkout - Instructor Fees
|Cessna 172RG Instrument Training Flight Time
|Cessna 172N Instrument Training Flight Time
|Instrument Training Instructor Fees
|Cessna Pilot Center Instrument Training Kit
|Maps, FAR/AIM, Yoke Clip, Hood, & Other Supplies
|Written Exam Fee
|FAA Check-ride Fee
I think any typical student flying out of Addison in Cessna 172s is
realistically going to pay a minimum of $8000 for a rating like this. The
actual cost is more likely $9000 - $10,000. I just don't see how a normal,
part-time student with a day-job is going to pull it off for less. If you
have any kind of outside commitments (like being married, have kids, a demanding
job, etc.) it's going to take you longer. That's just the reality of the
situation. I feel the value for the money was OK at Monarch...not great,
just OK. I compare this to the instruction I received from Chad Heims when
I got my Private. Now that was a lot of bang for the buck! The
training I received at Monarch was solid; not spectacular, but good enough.
The primary weakness of the curriculum is in how to work the air traffic control system,
particularly on cross country flights. I spent a huge amount of time
flying approaches and holding patterns. That is good, but I have never
seen a pop-up clearance, composite flight plan, or any number of myriad cross
country techniques demonstrated. I think that is a gap in the training.
I can probably flub through on my own and learn over the years, but I am now in
a position of approaching it with a lack of confidence.
I would recommend Monarch to anyone getting a rating, but I
believe American Flyers is probably just as good a value. I can also see
the value of doing Part 61 training because you would not have to spend time
working on things you have already mastered. You can spend that time on
things you need to learn. Part 141 training runs you through a structured
curriculum where you must spend a certain number of hours doing something like
holding patterns. You have to do it even if you are a natural pro at it.
The curriculum says you have to, and that's that!
During my training, some things I bought proved invaluable and some were a
waste of money.
- View Limiting Device - You must have some kind
of view limiting device. I bought an ASA Jiffyhood. It was cheap
and did a great job. The only problem is that the Jiffyhood is rather
large and cannot be folded up for storage in your flight bag. A set of
foggles would be easier to store and transport. If you don't mind
wearing the foggles, get them rather than some type of hood.
- Oral Exam Guide - You are going to have to go
through up to two hours of oral grilling with the FAA examiner. The
Cessna Pilot Center material gives you a good general background, but I do not
believe it really prepares you very well for the kinds of questions you are
going to get on the oral. I bought the ASA "Instrument Oral Exam Guide,"
and it proved quite valuable. I read through the whole thing, and felt
well prepared for the oral.
- FAA Written Exam Guide - You are going to have
to take the FAA written test. Just like the oral stuff mentioned above,
the Cessna Pilot Center (CPC) material is general in nature and isn't
specifically focused on getting you through the written test. You could
probably pass it just with the knowledge gained from the CPC, but it would be
a tough go; your score will probably not be stellar. I bought Gleim's
"Instrument Pilot FAA Written Exam" guide. I worked through every
problem in the book, about 450 pages worth of actual problems from the FAA
written test. There weren't many questions on the actual FAA test that I
wasn't familiar with. I was able to take my written test with
confidence. I knew I would do well and pass.
- FAA Airport/Facility Directory - I flew for
years and never even cracked one of these things. I had a subscription
to the "Flight Guide" instead. During my training, I had to stick my
nose into an A/FD on several occasions. I became intimately familiar
with the thing, mainly because questions on the written test referred to it
and I was expecting some question during the oral exam too. I learned to
really appreciate what was in there. It is compact, cheap, has a wealth
of data in it, it's available everywhere, the whole book is regularly updated
(no pages to replace), and you don't have to pay a yearly subscription.
I think I'm going to drop my subscription to the "Flight Guide" and use the
- FAR/AIM - You've just got to have one. The
FAA examiner is going to ask to see it. It's the examiner's Bible and he
is going to want you to demonstrate your reverence for it...even if you aren't
a true believer. Better get one and pretend you care. I did need
to crack it a few times, but it wasn't absolutely necessary. Having one
is more for show in my opinion...I know that's sacrilegious...call me a
- FAA Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards -
Better get one and study what's in there. Almost all of the FAA
examiner's oral questions come from this book. I had one, but didn't
even read it. I didn't realize this was basically an oral exam table of
contents. Wish I had realized that beforehand...I think my instructor
tried to tell me that, but it didn't sink in. Anyway, make sure you have
one and can talk about the topics listed in there. It's only about 25
- Approach Plates - You are going to have to buy
some, either NOS or Jeppsen. Here's my 2¢ worth...get the NOS plates.
The Jeppsen plates are real slick and seem less cluttered, but in the end it
just doesn't have much bearing on what you do in the airplane. You get
used to whatever plates you have, and what kind of paper they are printed on
or the symbols they use just isn't a big of a factor. Balance that
against the fact that NOS plates are available everywhere, they are very
cheap, the whole book is regularly updated (no removing obsolete pages), and
you only buy plates for the regions where you'll be landing. You spend
less money and get the same mileage. A much better value. Spend
your money on flying, not fancy approach plates.
- Yoke Mount - Holds your timer and has an
approach plate clip. It keeps your timer and approach plate right in
front of you. I found it very helpful to keep the cockpit organized.
- Timer - You will need to have a timer.
Many planes have one built into the dash, but the timers in different planes
work differently. Get a timer, learn to use it, and stick it on a yoke
- MicroSoft Flight Simulator with a CH Products
Yoke - Fabulous for practicing instrument approach procedures. It more
than paid for itself in the flying hours it saved me.
Of Dubious Value
- FAA Instrument Flying Handbook - My instructor
urged me to buy this book. It is definitely a good book and has some
good tips. In the end, it just plain did not help me in getting
my rating. It makes interesting reading, but your instructor is a better
source of information and technique on instrument flying. You don't need
to buy it; save the $25 for flying.
- Kneeboards - They hold a pencil, piece of scratch paper, enroute chart,
and approach plate. They strap to your knee. These came from the
military where pilots we shoe-horned into tiny cockpits without much room to
store things. In the kinds of airplanes we fly, there are plenty of
pockets to hold a clipboard, pencils, charts, etc. You don't really need
this stuff right in front of you all the time. Just get a plain old
clipboard and use that. It's cheaper and does the job just fine.
- Holding Pattern Entry Computers - I toyed with buying one of these.
I decided not to and just memorized the pattern entries; it's not hard.
When you are actually flying the airplane you can ill afford to spend time
fooling with a holding pattern computer. Your concentration has to be on
the instruments...I just don't think you are going to get much use from one of
these. You won't have enough attention to spare. Besides, I asked
my instructor how many times he had ever been told to hold in a piston single.
"Not once," he replied. In fact, he didn't know anyone who ever had.
All the more reason not to spend the money.
- CH Products Rudder Peddles - I bought a pair of these for my flight
simulator. Most of the time they sat on the floor under my computer,
totally unused. They were expensive and contributed virtually nothing to
I'm glad I got the rating. I worked very hard and discovered some of my
own limitations. It was really difficult, but I stuck with it and now have
a great sense of accomplishment. I think it has made me a better pilot,
and I don't have to be scared of clouds any more. I hope I get a chance to
really use it someday. Now about those commercial and glider ratings...
Epilog, Part 1 - My First Flight in Actual Instrument
I really wanted to get my new rating "wet," but also felt it wise to have
Rick along with me the first time I went into the clouds. I spoke with
Rick about it and we both kept an eye out for some good instrument conditions.
Descent instrument conditions are not easy to find in Texas during the spring.
If the ceiling is down, it usually means there are also thunderstorms lurking
nearby. Thunderstorms are bad news for light airplanes!
Saturday, April 10th dawned cold and rainy. Rick gave me a
call and asked if I wanted to get some actual instrument time. I quickly
agreed. Rick got a Cessna 172SP schedule for us at 2:00 PM. I got
out there at about 1:30 and had the plane preflighted by the time Rick arrived.
Rick showed me how to file a flight plan for approach practice. After
filing, we clambered into the plane. I dialed up ground control and got
our instrument clearance. We taxied out and took off.
Immediately after takeoff, Addison tower called and asked for a "base
report." I had no idea what they were talking about and glanced over at
Rick. He just shrugged, "We on crosswind...what's he talking about base
for?" Finally, another plane piped up and said, "Cloud bases are about
1200 feet AGL." Oh, they meant cloud bases...ya learn something everyday
We climbed higher and higher...the cloud bases were getting pretty close.
I was about to do something that 16 years of VFR flying had pounded into me was
forbidden. A quiet wave of panic washed through me. Suddenly we were
in it! I became quite calm. I didn't look outside, I didn't want
to...I was afraid I'd get disoriented or something. I just focused on the
instruments and tried not to think about what was going on outside the
windshield. I noticed Rick was also watching the instruments intently.
Finally, after about 5 minutes, I started to relax. Hey, this wasn't so
bad. In fact, it was almost easy. I asked Rick to take the controls
for a while. I had never been in a light aircraft in the clouds before.
I took my time looking around. We were between layers. Wisps of
cloud wisked by giving a sensation of speed. It was very cool. Not a
lot of time to look around though; time to get back to business.
Approach control gave us RADAR vectors to join the VOR/DME-A approach out at
McKinney. I shot the approach and it went well. We then did an ILS
17. Soon after joining the localizer inbound, I became distracted and let
the needle get to practically a full scale deflection. We got back on the
localizer and shot another ILS 17 approach. I paid much more attention on
this approach and it came out fine. We then went out and did another VOR/DME-A
approach and headed back to Addison. Back at Addison, I shot the ILS 33
approach and it came out virtually perfect. A great way to finish up my
first flight in actual instrument conditions!
Overall, it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. It was
almost exactly like my training. I was very satisfied that all the hood
work had been a good solid imitation of the real thing. I did notice was
that it was very easy to get distracted by what was happening outside the
aircraft. As we flew in and out of clouds, rain, and changes in lighting
condition, the natural thing to do was look outside to see what was going on.
Not a good idea! I forced myself to ignore what was happening outside and
focus exclusively on the instruments.
Below are flight plan and cockpit notes from my first flight in actual
instrument conditions. Click on them to see a larger picture:
Flight plan for multiple approaches at McKinney. The conditions were low enough that I had to file Dallas Love as an alternate.
Cockpit notes from my first IMC flight.
Epilog, Part 2 - My First Solo Flight in Actual Instrument
On Friday, May 1st, a cold front came through north Texas and brought with it
tornados and severe thunderstorms. By Saturday afternoon, the front had
pushed well off to the east, into Louisiana, leaving low ceilings and misty
skies in its wake. I watched the weather closely all day and by 3:00 PM
decided the weather was good enough to safely do a short cross country to Tyler,
Texas. I should be in the clouds for a decent portion of the route.
This would be my first instrument flight without an instructor. I was
anxious but felt fairly confident.
At Addison, the wind was 15 knots with gusts to 23 about 30°
off runway heading. Skies were broken at 1200 feet, overcast at 2000.
The conditions were forecast to improve both at Addison and Tyler in the next
few hours. As I checked my radios before departure, I discovered the DME
was inoperative. That's OK, the approach procedures I was likely to use at
Tyler didn't require DME. With the winds the way they were, I expected
Tyler to give me the VOR RWY 31 approach. Without the DME, the only way I
had to identify the Initial and Final Approach Fixes would be by using cross
radials off the Frankston VOR. No big deal, but the workload on approach
would be higher. I toyed with aborting the whole flight, but I should
be able to handle this. I decided to give it a go and proceeded to launch.
Takeoff was kind of squirrely with the winds and all, but it was manageable.
After takeoff, I climbed through a wide opening in
the clouds to my enroute altitude of 5000. I found myself in clear air
with blue sky above and an undercast below. So far, no problem. With
a strong northwest wind on my tail, I made great time to Tyler. Fort Worth
Center handed me off to Tyler approach control. Tyler approach asked me to
descend to 2200 feet. I entered the soup at 3300 feet and stayed in it as
I leveled off. I could occasionally glimpse ground below through breaks in
the clouds. I was vectored around for what seemed like 10 minutes before
approach finally dropped me onto final approach course for the VOR RWY 31
approach. Everything was going well and the approach was stablized.
I was apprehensive but felt confident; this wasn't much different than scores of
approaches I shot during my training. Approach control was also vectoring
a twin coming in behind me who was much faster than I. As a result, they
asked me for maximum speed. I increased power and edged up to 120 knots.
When I looked at the CDI, it was ½ scale deflection to the
right. I immediately altered course to center the
needle. How did things get so screwed up so fast...I must have become
momentarily distracted as I increased speed and let my scan slow down. I
was beginning to pull the needle back to center when approach called me and asked my
intentions. I was puzzled and could not fathom what he was getting
at...besides, I had my hands full getting the approach straightened out. I
just told them I wanted to land...I mean, isn't that self-evident? The
controller said I was 1 mile right of course and offered to give me vectors to go
missed and try again. I declined because I almost had the needle centered
now. Besides, there was no need to go missed just yet. As I
understand it, on a VOR approach you have to develop a full scale deflection to
go missed prior to the FAF and a ½ scale deflection to go missed after passing
the FAF. With a frustrated tone in his voice, he handed me off to tower.
I contacted the tower just as the CDI needle centered and was feeding in
course corrections to bracket it. By the time I had finished with the
tower, I had overshot the course and was two dots to the right!
Blast...this approach was going to pot! I got the needle close to
re-centered, within 1 dot, as I passed over the final approach fix and began a
descent to the 1000 foot MDA. I broke out at about 1200 feet and saw the
runway 3 miles ahead. I was slightly right of course and made the rest of
the approach visually.
As soon as I landed, I had time to think about my
performance on the approach. It was pathetic...I think that is the worst
VOR approach I have ever shot. Usually I nail these things. I think
my apprehension about the flight had something to do with it. Everything
went to pot when approach asked for maximum speed...I think that threw my scan
off. At no point was I outside the protected area of the approach, but it
was just unacceptably sloppy. By all rights I should be able to fly the
approach better than that! Ugh...well, I need this kind of experience to
get better. That's why I'm out here doing this stuff.