Getting an Instrument Rating

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This page last updated on 01/26/2019.

Copyright 2001-2019 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.

My Reasons

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 4 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 hardship.

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 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 Instrument rating.  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:
    Activity Hours Cost*
    Classroom and Pre- Post-Flight Briefings 40 $3,400
    Dual Simulator (Frasca 141) 20 $2,500
    Dual Cessna (172 Skyhawk) 21 $3,000
    Solo Simulator Lab 10 $400
    Integrated Manual   $100
    Written Exam Fee   $80
    Certification Fee   $250
    Total   $9,730

    *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 my opinion.
  • 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 me.

Training Diary

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:

  • 9/9
    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 call me.
  • 9/15
    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 following items:
    • An IFR training hood or foggles.
    • A Cessna 172RG Cutless information manual.
    • An instrument oral exam guide
    • An FAA publication called the "Instrument Flying Handbook"
  • 9/16
    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.
  • 9/17
    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, $28.95
    • ASA Instrument Oral Exam Guide, $9.95
    • FAA Instrument Flying Handbook, $24.95
  • 9/24
    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.
  • 9/25
    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!
  • 9/30
    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 20 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.
  • 10/12
    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 230 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.
  • 10/14
    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.
  • 10/19
    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 just happens now.  It seems easy to stay on altitude and 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.
  • 10/21
    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'll mess the whole thing up!  I expected roll control to be the hard part and pitch control to be a piece of turned out the reverse was true.
  • 10/28
    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.
  • 10/30
    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.
  • 11/04
    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 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.
  • 11/11
    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.
  • 11/12
    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, I love flying!
  • 11/19
    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.
  • 11/21
    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.
  • 11/23
    Today I did a progress check with an instructor named Jake.  It was an incredibly windy day.  Winds 18 knots with gusts to 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!
  • 11/26
    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.
  • 11/28
    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 approachThe Localizer Back Course for Runway 35 at Mesquite. 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...
  • 12/02
    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 realistic.
  • 12/07
    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!
  • 12/10
    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!
  • 12/14
    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 I dunno...
  • 12/17
    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.
  • 12/23
    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.
  • 12/30
    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 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...
  • 1/2
    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.The Hubbard Five Departure  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 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 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..."

  • 1/4
    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.
  • 1/5
    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 32F.  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.
  • 1/6
    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.'s so hard to believe I'm almost there.  What a long incompetent road it's been!
  • 1/11
    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 TexarkanaSample Questions from the FAA Written Test, 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 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'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!
  • 1/14
    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 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 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 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.
  • 1/20
    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 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. 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 about them.
  • 1/25
    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 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 written.
  • 1/27
    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 speedA page from my logbook.  Loads of instrument training time! 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, sweet competence.
  • 2/2
    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.
  • 2/4Got a 95% on my FAA written exam!
    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.
  • 2/6
    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'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, what a journey.
  • 2/10
    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.
  • 2/16
    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 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.
  • 2/17
    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 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 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 prep work.
  • 2/22
    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 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 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 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.
  • 3/1
    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.  On shortMonarch Air Flight School Graduation Certificate final, I fixated for a few moments on the least I think it was the altimeter, and by the time I resumed my scan, the localizer CDI had developed a 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.
  • 3/2
    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 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 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 airline job.
  • 3/5
    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 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 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 1 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.

He then 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.

We headed 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.

After about 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 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 theTemporary Certificate with the Two New Expensive Words, "Instrument Airplane" 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 1 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 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:

Activity Hours Cost
Cessna 172RG Complex Checkout 2.1 $214.20
Cessna 172RG Complex Checkout - Instructor Fees 2.1 $73.50
Cessna 172RG Instrument Training Flight Time 47.9 $4885.80
Cessna 172N Instrument Training Flight Time 23.6 $1809.60
Instrument Training Instructor Fees 71.5 $2,502.50
Cessna Pilot Center Instrument Training Kit   $324.70
Maps, FAR/AIM, Yoke Clip, Hood, & Other Supplies   $189.69
Written Exam Fee   $80
FAA Check-ride Fee   $300
Total   $10,379.99

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 A/FD instead.
  • 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 me a sinner!
  • 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 pages long.
  • 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 mount.
  • 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 the effort.

Summing Up

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 Conditions

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 around here!

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 Conditions

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 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 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.