IFR Fix: 'Vertical what?'

December 20, 2013

Here’s the drill: Start a straight-ahead climb toward a VOR 5.3 nautical miles away on the 346-degree radial. Continue the constant-rate, constant-heading climb five miles beyond station passage, then enter a standard-rate climbing turn to intercept the 204-degree radial inbound to the VOR. Next, enter holding on the 184-degree radial, left turns. If you have not completed a 4,500-foot altitude gain by now, continue climbing in the holding pattern, then level off, and establish level-flight holding airspeed, remembering to adjust your inbound and outbound wind-correction angles for the changed airspeed.)

Ask 300 or so instrument pilots what would make them more proficient. You will likely get 300 or so answers. Narrow the choices down to three offered in the Dec. 9 “IFR Fix: That was the easy part” reader poll, and slightly more than half say they believe flying to new destinations is the key to proficiency. About 40 percent thought more instruction would work. About eight percent said a more capable aircraft was the answer.

The aviate-navigate problem posited above borrows the basic elements of the holding pattern from the instrument approach procedure examined in that article, presenting it as a training maneuver minus the VOR/DME approach itself, and without the Utah mountains that surround the approach and holding tracks.

It’s a useful thing about procedures you may notice while checking out IFR operations at destinations you may not ever visit: Given acceptable minimum safe altitudes, and airspace requirements, their basic elements may be adapted for proficiency exercises—at nice, safe practice-area altitudes—in your home area.

Nothing says a VOR/DME must serve an airport for you to fly a DME arc around it. As for holding patterns, a flatlands pilot who never has to climb more than 1,340 feet from minimums to holding-pattern altitude may not have flown a prolonged constant-rate or constant-airspeed track since the early days practicing basics like the vertical S.

(A pause as 300 or so voices reply, "Vertical what?")

If you see a procedural element used elsewhere that would present your proficiency with a useful test, assess its fundamentals with your CFII. Discuss whether the basic elements can be borrowed to create a safe proficiency exercise in your practice area. Add plenty of margin for the practice altitude, and give ATC a heads-up. Then during your en route climb, give that vertical S a try.