IFR Training Part 5
By Chris Liddell
Having been grounded in early 2020 due to Covid restrictions, I have to wait until August to get back into the air again. It's a very frustrating wait, and yet again, I need to get back into some sort of currency and revise the various elements of the IMC course.
This takes another four flights, the last of which introduces me to another type of approach - the PAR. This stands for 'precision approach radar' and is basically the military version of the SRA (see my first article). Fife is in close proximity to Leuchars Airbase, and we arrange to do the procedure during our flight.
It's basically a talk down procedure done via radar control, but unlike its civilian counterpart the SRA, uses various different terminology and two different controllers.
I get vectored out over the east coast, before being turned in back towards runway 26 coming down to the decision height of 290 feet, before going around and heading back to Fife.
Shutting down, my instructor tells me that I have now completed the IMC course, and we head indoors so he can mark up my log book to that effect, and fill in some CAA paperwork.
I have logged around 22 hours of flight by sole reference to instruments, and a total training time for the course of approximately 25 hours. As you may recall the minimum for the course is 15 hours, but various issues have added to that in my case.
The next step is to book my test! It feels slightly surreal, and reminds me of the way I felt just before doing my PPL test, but in any case, I go ahead and book up a date eight days later.
I will take the test at Dundee Airport, and my instructor has an examiner in mind that will do my flight. About three days before the date, I phone the examiner to get a briefed about the profile of the flight. Basically the flight will cover all the IMC course syllabus, with VOR tracking, basic instrument flying skills, two approaches (one precision and one non precision), and a low level circuit.
The day before my test, my examiner has fabulous news...he has become a father!
I now get allocated another examiner, who thankfully tells me to go with the profile already agreed, and it's with a mixture of terror and excitement that I head off to Dundee!
Arriving at Dundee, I meet my examiner (who as well as instructing, flies for a Scottish Regional Airline) and he suggests we have a cup of tea while we go through the necessary paperwork, and do the briefing for the test!
I go out to the aircraft, and do an 'A' check, then my examiner comes out and we get settled in.
Any sort of flying benefits greatly from preparation, and good cockpit organisation, so I have all my approach charts ready at hand, checklist and various bits and pieces. I turn the master switch on, prime the engine, yell 'clear' and energize the starter. The propeller turns but the engine doesn't start despite being close to it. No big deal - just need a bit more primer I think, so I add more primer and as I turn the key...nothing! Not even a cough!? Normally this would be disappointing, even inconvenient, but as I am already maxed out with test nerves, it feels like the end of the world!
The aircraft belongs to a large training organisation, which also has a maintenance facility at the airport, so an engineer is called in, and he tells us that the starter motor had died...
Oh great - not really what I need, however my examiner commandeers another PA28, and after another preflight, we get started up and begin the test!
One good thing about doing the test at Dundee is that I can tune and ident most of the navaids even before I start to taxi.
I get the ATIS, and taxi clearance, then position at the holding point, before being cleared for take off. I take off using runway 09 and turn into a right hand circuit, climbing out over the scenic Firth of Tay on the downwind, before tracking north to begin my first task, which is to tune into the Perth VOR and track an outbound radial for a minimum of 10 nautical miles to the north east. I climb to 3000 feet and intercept the radial, holding the track easily, as luckily for me there is little wind.
I am still visual, but we are just below the cloud base, so my examiner tells me to climb to 3500 feet and we enter cloud - no hood/foggles required! Tracking along in IMC is really cool, and despite this being a test, I am quite enjoying myself!
Having successfully demonstrated my tracking ability, I am told to climb to 4000 which takes us above the cloud layer. This is what I love - cloud surfing! - but before I can enjoy myself too much, I am told to put on the IFR hood, and we now do the unusual attitude recovery exercises, on full and limited panel.
This goes well, and next it is the dreaded compass turns! My directional gyro and attitude indicator are covered over, and my examiner tells me to turn 60 degrees to the right, so I use the timed method and this works out well. The next heading change is given, and as I roll out on my new heading I realise that I am 90 degrees out! Quickly confessing my error I calculate and execute the remaining part of the requested turn and get on the correct heading. I am not really worried by this, as I quickly realised and verbalised my error then corrected it, so I don't think I have blown it (at least hopefully not!).
"Take me back to Dundee" is the next instruction, so I track towards the Dundee NDB, for my approaches. I am required in the test to do one precision (aka 3D approach) and one non precision (aka 2D approach), so I opt to do the ILS DME 09 to start.
As already mentioned in the last article these approaches come off a hold at the NDB. The timed turns have positioned me much closer to Dundee than I would have hoped, and it's a bit of a scrabble to copy the ATIS, and get myself set up.
The procedure starts at 3000, but for the first time ever, I am told to hold at 4000... Joining the hold via a direct entry, I take up the hold, and go round, and round, and round...Finally I am cleared to descend to 3000 and begin the procedure. I fly over the NDB tacking west before turning back to intercept the localiser, and follow the ILS down to decision height. This should be (for an IMC rated pilot) 500 feet, but as we approach this height, my examiner tells me to go to the full IR decision height of 200 feet! Getting to minimums, I do the missed approach, which takes me back to the NDB and I go straight into the dreaded NDB approach.
This goes pretty well, and at my decision height of 600 feet, my examiner tells me to look out, and there is a large runway ahead! Going visual I now do a touch and go (appalling landing I have to admit) then do a low level circuit (this simulates a circle to land maneouver) at 500 feet and land on 09 in a slightly better landing than the previous one! We roll to the end of the runway, then vacate, and taxi back to the parking area. I am really maxed out, but thankfully my examiner doesn't keep me waiting and tells me that I have passed! Relief and joy come over me in equal measures!
It's been a long haul (over two years) and I feel that I have earned the rating, performing well in the test. Of course there are a few issues brought to my attention during the debrief, but overall, I feel I performed to my normal standard, which is the desired outcome. I fill in yet more paperwork, before thanking my examiner and heading back home.
My instructor is delighted, and I talk him through the test. As it happens when we were taking off from Dundee, he was approaching the airport in a C152, while instructing another student prior to their PPL solo navigation flight. He said I sounded very calm on the radio! I have received excellent instruction in instrument flying, and as well as making me work hard, my instructor has made it enjoyable, and has always been very encouraging.
So there you have it - all set up for some lovely flights and getting back to enjoying pleasure flights, I hear you think.
NOT SO! I have an issue which needs to be addressed before I can get back to the 'fun' of flying.
In the UK the PPL licence is valid for life, however you can't exercise those privileges without having a current SEP rating. The SEP rating is the 'single engine piston' and is classified as a type rating. It basically allows you to fly single engine piston aircraft of any type below a certain maximum weight. (Obviously when switching to an unfamiliar aircraft, you need to do differences training) This has two year cycles of validity, and weirdly enough, any flying done within the first year of that period does not count at all towards renewing the rating. During the second year the pilot must have a minimum one hour 'bi-annual' flight with an instructor (which is not a test, and can cover any issues as agreed between instructor and pilot), also a minimum of 12 hours of flying (at least six of which must be P1 or pilot in command) Complying with these requirements, you can get the rating renewed 'by experience'. My IMC training has lasted over two years, and I have actually logged no P1 time, so cannot renew the SEP rating by experience. Had I taken a test flight before the two year validity had expired, I could have gotten off fairly lightly, but as it has fully elapsed, I am now in a whole world of pain!
The mandatory procedure is to go to a designated training organisation (DTO) and do an assessment flight (in other words you can't do this with your best friend who is an instructor). The organisation/instructor will then decide on 'training as required' which could be anything from one more flight to as many more as they decide, before being allowed to sit a revalidation test flight, which is basically like a whole PPL skills test, the only reduction in requirements being that the navigation section is reduced somewhat.
Having just passed my IMC rating - this should be no problem I hear you say! It's a sad fact that currency in aviation can rapidly disappear, and in truth, having begun the IMC course, I made a decision to concentrate fully on instrument flying for the duration of the course. For reasons explained in my articles, my progress through the course has taken much longer than I initially expected, and during that time I had done no VFR flying at all. Off I go for my assessment flight, and to be honest my basic VFR navigation is very rusty!
I am flying the PA 28 and although I have been training in it, the flights that I have flown in it have not included airwork or a lot of circuits. The flight lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes, and covers everything I should know as a VFR PPL. My instructor debriefs me, and says that my 'training as required' will be either two short or one longer flights. I opt for the two flights, and over the next week we cover all my weak areas such as enroute diversions, visual navigation, etc. The airwork such as stalls, practice forced landings and circuits are good fun to get stuck into and after the two flights (both of which ended up being 1 hour 40 minutes plus) I am good for my test.
Yes yet another test - and I have no doubt that I won't pass this if I don't come up with goods!
I turn up at the airport on the agreed day, and do my test flight which is 1 hour and 45 minutes long.
Everything works out really well, and my examiner (who is also the instructor I worked with) passes me, telling me that it was a very good test.
Hooray! Now I can go flying for fun again - and I get two flights in which I thoroughly enjoy, before I get to Christmas 2020 - at which point we enter lockdown again!
Lockdown continues until some restrictions are eased, and now in order to go flying again - guess what? Yes you guessed - another checkout!
If you go beyond 6 weeks without flying, the organisation I rent from requires three circuits with an instructor (normal, flapless, and glide approach), and if you go beyond 8 weeks (as I my case) you need to do the circuits plus all the airwork!
My instructor is the same one as my PPL revalidation, and I suspect he finds my situation slightly amusing, but to be honest, everyone is in the same boat regarding currency, and as I know from experience, it's so easy to lose your sharpness if you don't fly regularly.
Finally I get to do some 'pilot in command' flying, and I take to the air, getting a good few flights in over the next few weeks.
It's been a long haul to do my restricted instrument rating, largely due to circumstances outside my control. I have enjoyed the challenges and have learnt a lot of new skills, and now see my flying from a different perspective. As someone told me before beginning the course - even if you don't end up doing much instrument flying, it will make you a much better pilot. I agree with this, and find my ability to hold accurate headings and altitudes has improved vastly. Having said that - I do intend to use my new rating, balanced with a healthy dose of caution!
I hope these articles have proved enjoyable to read, and informative to readers. I am very aware that being able to fly in real life is a tremendous privilege - one which I never take for granted.
On a final note - having just passed a major milestone (my 60th birthday) I bought myself a new gaming PC, and am now enjoying getting to grips with MSFS 2000! Thanks again to Nels for publishing these articles, and giving me the necessary encouragement!.
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