Ok I know it’s been awhile since I gave an update but things have been crazy! Work stuff before and after vacation has been one thing after another and my days off have been a blur between instrument flight lessons and my wonderful children. The last couple days I’ve been studying instrument approach procedures (IAP) and posting a bunch of gibberish questions on my personal Facebook page while texting the same to friends. I finally wore one down and he called me back to put an end to my dense headed confusion of the KFDK ILS and LOC RWY 23 IAP Plate; I was confused and was trying to think of it as and turn it into a VOR approach, no wonder things didn’t look right LOL.
If I can remember correctly prior to vacation and since my last blog update I had 3 more instrument lessons where we continued to practice flying holding patterns and VOR approaches. I’m still relatively new to flying the Diamond DA40 aircraft so that and getting my brain, eyes, muscle memory and coordinations down while at the same time bridging the gap between ground school book knowledge of all this instrument flying stuff all the while putting the knowledge to work actually doing the tasks in the cockpit, has been a challenge. Also due to my PIC logbook hours slowly building I’m expected to handle more and more wind and adverse conditions and be able to control the airplane to some reasonable standard. Stressful and exhausting while simultaneously rewarding.
During my last lesson we flew to an airport more than 50 nautical miles straight line distance away and I got my first taste of flying, aka shooting, a precision approach in the form of an ILS approach (Instrument Landing System). Sample of an ILS being flown using Garmin G1000. Touching down 50+ miles away allows me to log it an a cross country (XC) flight and I need a specified number of XC hours before I request my check ride with a pilot examiner for this instrument rating. Anyhow, an ILS gives you both horizontal left/right guidance as well as vertical guidance in the form of in my case a CDI needle on my glass panel avionics and a Glide Slope bar on my altitude display. Both become more sensitive as you get closer to the runway threshold and end at the optimal touchdown point. Become proficient and fly it correctly and theoretically you can fly through the clouds and bust out 200 feet off the ground perfectly lined up and seconds from touchdown. I AM NOT THERE YET.
That was prior to our 2 week vacation to St. George Utah for Laura to race Ironman St. George and visits with friends prior to going to the Grand Canyon for 3 days to hike halfway down on 2 different trials. After that it was over to Kanab with stops at several hiking locations. A few days in Kanab visiting more friends and more hiking and off-roading BLM roads prior to driving our rental camper van back to Las Vegas and a night walking the strip prior to a long commercial flight back home. Wow what an awesome vacation! I only touched a computer to download the hundreds of pictures I took and I didn’t touch my instrument study materials. Facebook wasn’t even a distraction since an internet connection was weak to non existent a majority of the two week period. SMILE FACE.
Prior to vacation I had considered and googled renting a plane for some sight seeing but disregarded the idea after a short time seeing the lack of flight schools and rental options in the areas we were staying a majority of the time, St. George, Grand Canyon, and Kanab, and figuring that they wouldn’t want to rent to a low time pilot with no mountain flying experience. At home we are at 780 msl while the St. George airport KSGU is at 4000 with mountains surrounding it at 10,500 ft. There are many aircraft performance and weather considerations to account for in that environment so I was concerned. My wonderful partner, Laura, however did not give up and contacted the awesome Fixed Base Operator (FBO, JetView) at the St. George airport and arranged for me to get a mountain/altitude flying lesson and checkout flight with an instructor one day and then rent the plane a few days later. She gave it to me as a gift certificate in my birthday card. I am a lucky man.
It was an experience of a lifetime! On a Friday I met with a CFI for an hour and went over mountain altitude flying considerations and then I flew and he showed me the local area and gave me tips on navigating the surrounding mountains and airport environment considering KSGU is a rarity we don’t have on the east coast; a large new airport with a 9,300 ft runway and commercial passenger jet service that is non-towered and also actively shared with small general aviation aircraft. You just don’t see that on the crowded east coast. Pretty damn cool for a low timer pilot like me. Then on the following Sunday I rented the plane and took Laura and our friend up for a sightseeing trip. We took off with a NW departure overflying St. George and turned right to come across the face of Red Mountain Wilderness Preserve, then NE up the corridor toward Cedar City along the Pine Valley Mountain Preserve cutting across near the little city of Pintura UT getting a good view of the Black Ridge Wilderness Area and Red Butte Wilderness Area followed closely by the southern portion of Zion National Park. If that wasn’t enough we then turned south and got a view of Caanan Mountain Wilderness area and the Sand Dues on our way back to KSGU for a textbook landing. See 10 minute video compilation of a lifetime experience; what a great birthday present!!!!! Thank you Laura Beck.
So two days after returning from vacation I had another instrument lesson and a few more things started to make sense, many more to go….. my CFI said that this week we would be flying to Frederick, Md to do the KFDK IAPs, they have a few types that we don’t have at Westminster Airport KDMW. So I spent most of yesterday looking over the 5 instrument approach procedures there and practice briefing myself, mentally ensuring I understand each and every element of each approach at least as far as understanding what the procedure aka Plate is telling me to do. Then mentally figuring out how I would set the avionics in the plane to fly the procedure and what steps I would take along the way, then mentally flying the procedure leg by leg to figure out what should be in each instrument and what I would expect to see to indicate that I am at the proper location. This is a big step forward that I must be able to do quickly while flying in order to not fall behind during and Instrument flight.
Instrument flying is really precision flying and like learning to fly all over again. You use the skills developed while earning your pilot certificate but you learn to fly precisely based on blueprint like charts and plates based on only your aircraft instruments with no visibility through the windshield. Unlike visual flight rules VFR flying you can’t know for sure your entire route prior to takeoff. You research and file an instrument flight plan but the clearance you get from Air Traffic Control ATC just prior to takeoff might be completely different and you must learn to quickly look at your charts and plates an figure out what to enter into your avionics to fly the clearance given. Then enroute ATC might change your route. Finally enroute close to your destination ATC will specify what runway and associated instrument approach you must fly to land. You have to learn to interpret all this based on a verbal clearance expressed in only a few coded words and interpret it based on instrument charts and plates and then fly the plane accordingly with no visibility outside the aircraft….. the work continues.
Here is an example of the instrument charts IFR Chart, and instrument approach procedures IAPs I’ve been studying and will fly this weekend. Wish me luck.