To think I began flight training March 23rd, 2016 achieving my Pilot Certificate that November and a year after my 1st flight I began Instrument Flight Training. It was March 23rd of this year that I posted on this page my 1st Instrument lesson. On Friday September 29th I successfully completed my Instrument Practical Test which included an oral examination and flight portion. I’ll start with the text from my Facebook post on my personal page; I knew a lot of people were pulling for me and I just wanted to let them know how it went. I was exhausted and even after a few days it is still sinking in what I’ve been able to accomplish and how much it will mean to my future flying.
“It will take some time for it to sink in, many months of hard work and days when I walked away from the airport ready to quit or nights studying when I though all that information just isn’t going to stick. Yesterday 0615-1500 4.5 hours oral exam/ 1.7 hour flight exam and I passed my Instrument Rating Practical!
I could not have done it without the one who believed in me when I didn’t – Laura Beck; she has suffered more than I through this process.
Also thank you Dream Flight School KDMW!”
By August of this year I had progressed in my Instrument Training to the point where I was in the Practical Preparation Stage where you once again hit the books, as if you ever stopped, studying everything from basic pilot material in addition to all that comes along with Instrument Flying. I can’t express what a relief it is to not be carrying around my study guides and mound of flashcards and always having my nose buried in my iPad containing volumes of FAA Handbooks, Circulars, Regulations, and various volumes such as the Aeronautical Information Manual & Terminal Procedures Publication. Always researching one thing or another where I have discovered a lack of understanding. At the same time I was working on the academic portion, my lessons consisted of practicing all the maneuvers and different types of Instrument Approaches to achieve a basic level of proficiency that would meet the minimum standards of the Airman Certification Standards or ACS; this document guides the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) during the Practical Test. In addition to instrument approaches my later lessons consisted of what is called Partial Panel and Emergencies. Basically how to stay alive when portions of your avionics and flight instruments stop working. This portion of training was very stressful and caused many sleepless nights and grumpy mumblings from me, just ask Laura!
I believe it was about the 1st of September that I was able to schedule my final exam called the Instrument Practical Test; an all day affair consisting of an extensive oral exam based around a flight planning scenario you are given by the DPE a few days in advance. The first available date was a month away which turned out to be a good thing since my first practice moc test given by the chief flight instructor revealed that I needed more work before I would be ready to test.
You must in the determination of the DPE exhibit an acceptable level of knowledge as detailed in the ACS in order to move on to the second portion of the test. In this second portion you file a real instrument flight plan with the FAA and fly the airplane with the DPE siting next to you while wearing a view limiting device or hood so that you cannot see outside the airplane and must fly only by reference to the instruments.
So on the morning of the exam my plan was to arrive at the hangar an hour early so that I could set up my materials and preflight the airplane. I was going to get everything set up in advance so that when the DPE arrived he would see a well prepared pilot. We had scheduled 7 a.m. so you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the school at 6 a.m. and turned down the hall to one of two classrooms and saw the DPE all set up ready to go! In hindsight it worked out well because I didn’t have time to pace around and work myself into a worried nervous mess. I just sat my bags down and unpacked while we small talked and the oral exam began……..
…….. the oral exam went on from topic to topic for over 4 hours. I’m not saying I’m exceptionally knowledgable but at least I never hit a point where I didn’t have an answer or couldn’t reply. Much more so than my Private Pilot Practical this Instrument Rating Practical was much more scenario driven so it was mostly done in the context of discussing the planning and execution of the flight scenario I was given a few days earlier. During the 4 hour period you don’t have to be 100% correct, you just have to be mostly correct and exhibit an acceptable level of competency. Of course the down side to this type of exam is that you can easily talk yourself into a failure. I really tired to methodically work through in my mind what I was saying and having done my prior practical with the same DPE helped me feel more comfortable.
What’s strange is that when you start the Practical Exam you don’t know what you’ll actually be flying provided you pass the oral portion. You have some idea based on the airports close to your location and their associated approach procedures, the current winds which dictate runway usage, and insights from your instructor during exam preparations. But in reality that’s a lot like real instrument flying; you can file a flight plan for a route you hope to get but you fly the route and procedures ATC gives you when you call on the radio for your takeoff clearance and once airborne you fly what’s instructed which often is at least partially different from your original clearance.
So after the DPE informs me that I passed the oral exam he informs me of where we will be flying and a basic idea of how we will progress through the flight. With this information in hand we break so that I can do the preflight inspection of the airplane, file an IFR flight plan with ATC, and look over my charts and approach procedures.
During lessons I often became irritated that my instructor seemed to be throwing everything at me at once; how was I suppose to absorb it so quickly and everything seem to be moving so fast – grrrrrr. I soon found out it was good preparation for this exam. From the moment we took off nothing went as I had scripted in my mind and the pressure was immense. It all seems a blur and almost two hours went by like nothing. It was so bad that I just focussed on the immediate moment and what I had to get accomplished. I had the DPE talking to me in one ear and ATC in the other all while battling the wind and turbulence unforeseen from the ground and doing my best to stay within tolerance as to headings to fly and altitudes to maintain while following the instructions on the above ILS or LOC RWY 23 KFDK instrument approach while listening to the KFDK weather on one radio, ATC on another, and the DPE; all these audio sources mixed together in my headset.
The DPE is required to test certain skills such as a Precision Instrument Approach, a Non Precision Approach, a Partial Panel Approach, recovery from unusual attitudes, a Circle to Land Approach, a DME Arc, and so forth. So for example I flew to Frederick and executed the ILS 23 approach; ILS stands for Instrument Landing System. After that I departed the area and the DPE instructed me to fly a certain heading and fly a DME Arc to a certain point. A DME (distance measuring equipment) ARC is basically where you fly a semi circle around a distant ground navigation antenna called a VOR to another point in space. The VOR might be 5 or 50 miles away but you basically fly an arc from one point to another. The catch is that I had to fly the arc by hand while programming the next approach into the flight computer and briefing the approach all the while the DPE is asking me questions. I really don’t know how I survived but as I said above the pressure is so intense it causes you to focus. You complete each task so that you can continue. Once you fail to meet the standard the DPE instructs you of such and the test is over. Therefore you focus and keep going, each task completed is one step closer to a successful exam.
My final approach was partial panel were the DPE turned off my primary flight display which contains all my vital instruments. Therefore I had to put it into revisionary mode so that my Primary Flight Display showed up on the right display instead of the moving gps map. So if you look at the picture above the left display would be blank and the right display would show whats on the left instead of the map. Once down to my minimums about 500 off the ground he instruct me to execute a Circle-to-Land maneuver instead of landing as you normally would straight in. Circling to land is one of the most dangerous maneuvers a pilot can do. Its required to be tested but in real life should only be done out of necessity and with extreme caution since accident statistics show it to be risky. Basically you use an instrument approach intended to get you to within sight of the runway threshold then you break off to one side and circle the runway complex, choosing which runway to land on, then spiral down to a landing. Below is a visual depiction of my flight based off of data pulled from my flight data recorder and processed through subscription service I’ve spoke about in prior posts: Cloud Ahoy.
Here is the same data in 3D Cockpit Mode. I didn’t have my cameras recording but this gives you an idea of what I would be seeing on my Primary Flight Display superimposed over imagery of would you would see out the front of the aircraft.
After the flight a mix of relief, exhaustion, excitement, and joy filled me as the DPE informed me that I certainly met the minimum standards and that we had some paperwork to complete. I met him inside after putting the plane away and we debriefed the flight and completed the necessary forms for my new Pilot’s Certificate with the additional Instrument Rating!
My hope is that now I will be able to gain experience as the saying goes its a “Permit to Learn” and oh how true that was and still is with the Private Pilot Certificate and now to a much greater degree with the Instrument Rating.
For anyone thinking of getting their Instrument Rating I say DO IT! It may be the hardest thing you’ve done but the rewards it offers are immense. It increases your safety margins, it makes you a better pilot because it forces you to perform complex tasks while flying with precision, it refines your decision making and aviation knowledge. Many comment that my oral exam was long and to that I say I’m glad; I only get to do it once and I want to know I’m well versed and competent. People talk about this DPE or that DPE ETC; I say I should be able to meet the minimum standards with any DPE or I need to go back and hit the books again. You should be challenged in your Practical and both mine were nothing short of thorough but fair.
So now I will be able to work on so many other things such as helping needy dogs get transported to foster and forever homes. In the meantime Laura and I will be going to an Aviation Conference in Groton, CT while also taking a little vacation after months of hard work.
Thank you all…..