Training and Safety
Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective, and poses a provocative piloting poll question on that subject to let you see what fellow instrument pilots—newly rated and IFR veterans alike-—would do under similar circumstances. Whether the topic is a basic principle, or how to gain experience safely, or the “why” of an unusual approach or procedure, it’s all part of the conversation, as are reader suggestions for issues for us to examine.
Even a comfortable home airport can turn unforgiving if you arrive before you're ready, uncertain that you can reconfigure with your customary prompt precision.
An instrument-rated pilot who mostly flies VFR completes an instrument proficiency check on May 2. Almost six months later, the pilot tracks courses, flies three or four instrument approaches, holds, and performs other required IFR "tasks and iterations" to prepare for a flight six days later. Is IFR currency an issue?
ATC has your initial vector for the approach. The controller evenly mentions that previous traffic has diverted to the alternate, where the reported ceiling is a lofty 1,500 broken. The unspoken question hangs in the air. It's tempting, really tempting, to press onward.
Cleared for an ILS/DME approach to Runway 5R, the flight descended to 8,000 feet msl and turned to intercept the localizer. The aircraft leveled a dot below the glideslope, however, and the control input applied to correct that condition--an abrupt pitch increase--triggered a stall warning.
Do you know what instructions a flight receives from an air route traffic control center on initial call-up after departure from an airport not served by either radar approach/departure control or a control tower?
Want to get a pilot off his high horse? Ask him to tell you about Class E airspace. Not just to change the mood during a hangar session. Nowadays the topic is fair game for instrument proficiency work.
Quick, what's the textbook definition of true airspeed? Do you keep track of TAS in flight? Can you discuss a circumstance in which TAS would trigger a mandatory-reporting requirement during an IFR flight?
Whether your airport has a control tower, a contract control tower, or a tower that's scheduled to close, aviation has entered a unique phase. Instrument pilots must stay informed about developments, especially between now and May 5.
An aircraft is inbound on the 144-degree approach course toward an NDB, cleared to a holding fix at the intersection of the 224-degree radial from a VOR. There's a strong west wind. What should be the rollout heading outbound? When should you start timing the outbound leg?
Inbound from BONSS through 2,500 feet, the pilot tweaks the throttle to ensure a level-off at 1,500 feet before reaching the missed approach point on the VOR/DME RWY 15 approach to Griffiss International Airport in New York. The check pilot has not offered any hint as to whether the approach will terminate.
It doesn't matter whether your political needle deflects left or right or is centered. Unless something gives soon in the seat of government, it is time for instrument pilots to be proactive and address the effects on their flying of a newly coined aeronautical term: "the sequester."
Remember the training-text diagrams of holding patterns and entries? They carved up the approach airspace into sectors, and showed which entry was appropriate based on the heading on which you approached the fix. What if you are going to arrive at the holding fix on a boundary between the sectors for the two non-direct entries?
It's the climactic moment of every instrument approach under actual instrument conditions: When will you find the runway--or components likely to lead to it very quickly--and switch over to visual references for landing?
Checking the chart to see what lies ahead along the airway, you scrutinize an intersection 14 miles distant, where another airway crosses. There's a difference in the low-altitude enroute chart's depiction of how each airway arrives at the fix.
Here's the plan. Fly the ILS RWY 5 approach to Lawrence (Mass.) Municipal Airport via the transition from the BEDDS compass locator. A distraction could complicate the task.
It wasn't supposed to be a difficult approach. Now, as you near decision height, you yearn for a glimpse of the threshold, runway markings, or the haloed gleam of a lighting system.
You have hardly raised the landing gear when you are on instruments, en route to the first fix. Then, is that engine roughness?
A question that stirred up much debate among instrument pilot readers is now academic. Readers who pondered whether a “NoPT” notation on an instrument approach procedure to Kingston-Ulster Airport in New York was valid or erroneous will now find that the IAP has been “deleted since last cycle.”
As New Year's resolutions go, this one is a lark: Fly two friends to a class reunion in Woodstock, N.Y., in the high-performance single that your FBO has just placed in service.
An aircraft is bound for the holding fix after a missed approach at Alton/St. Louis Regional Airport. Should the pilot fly a parallel entry or a teardrop entry to the hold?
Today's routing takes you all the way to KLUTZ intersection, the initial approach fix for the LOC RWY 7 approach to the Westerly, R.I., airport. The clearance reminds you that you'd better review the IAP, because now it will be necessary to fly the full approach.
Between the worsening turbulence and the reprimand from air traffic control for a blown altitude, your demeanor is rapidly decaying from merely harried to flustered and defensive.
New Hampshire's Mount Washington can be, as the observatory there states, "the home of the world's worst weather."
Darkness has fallen as the light twin prepares for the NDB Rwy 20 approach at northern Massachusetts' Fitchburg Municipal Airport, which sits beneath a 1,500-foot overcast with two miles visibility.
What's the most important altitude depicted on an instrument approach plate?
Are you up on changes to the regulations and procedures? If you are accustomed to flying the VOR/DME RWY 33 approach to Worcester Regional Airport in Massachusetts via the Putnam VOR 034-degree radial to WUTUG, a clearance to SQUEL might strike you as erroneous.
Today's instrument proficiency check promises to be invigorating - just what you need after a prolonged absence - with an ILS, VOR, and NDB approach. That NDB approach might prove trickier than you first thought.
When someone survives an icing encounter, the person may describe ice "as large as a house brick on the leading edge, extending back on the wing for one foot."
Nothing beats touching down on a long runway that appears dead ahead at the end of a close instrument approach ... unless it's the wrong airport.
It was to be a routine flight, destination Las Vegas, where the weather was VFR, if somewhat windy. But multiple microburst alerts caused the aircraft to divert to another airport and declare an emergency.
Steep turns are exhilarating, physical, and instructive. In real-world instrument flying, "steep" has a very different meaning. But the maneuver may prove its worth at the most critical time.
Don't take a gambler's shortcut when it comes to identifying a navaid based on its Morse code.
A conventional vacuum-driven artificial horizon has its miniature aircraft's nose on the horizon, and the right wing slightly low. The directional gyro disagrees--its facial motion suggesting a left turn. The tiebreaking turn coordinator maintains a stoic, wings-level neutrality. Three bank instruments, three indications. Which to believe?
There must be a natural law to make sure that if someone writes an IFR training column discussing how to use a VOR cross-radial to nail down an instrument approach fix, a notice to airmen will pop up the next day placing that VOR out of service. That happened right here about three weeks ago. Here's hoping the notam didn't spoil anybody's practice flight.
Established toward the fix, an instrument pilot descends, levels off, and reviews the procedure's next (and final) leg. So when he checks his progress toward the fix, he is surprised to observe that the CDI remains one dot out. Then the instrument instructor points out the airport below.
The June 30 crash of a Stinson 108-3 in Stanley, Idaho, has been viewed--from an inside-the-cockpit perspective--a million times since one of the passengers posted video on Aug. 4. Pilot Les Gropp, who suffered a broken jaw (his passengers walked away), said a gust of wind lifted him into the air as he was about to abort the ill-fated takeoff.
With heartbreaking regularity, VFR pilots, often flying high-performance aircraft, continue to tangle with instrument weather despite odds that never improve for that dangerous game. Whether the result is a graveyard spiral from spatial disorientation, or colliding with terrain in a bid to escape weather, pilots keep trying, often with passengers.
What's the reciprocal of 235 degrees? What's the short-field landing procedure for the aircraft you usually fly IFR? All of that's relevant today because you are taking a proficiency flight to the serene country airfield in Chester, Conn.
Many pilots fly at their highest altitudes under IFR, necessitated by minimum en route altitudes delivering at least 1,000 feet of obstacle clearance (2,000 feet in designated mountainous areas), or motivated by the desire to top clouds or catch tailwinds.
As a dejected VFR pilot looks on, an instrument pilot walks toward an unseen aircraft, eyes on the sky. What the VFR fellow may not realize is that the other pilot may have agonized just as long and hard as he often does about whether to launch into this curious collection of clouds.
All it take is a cross-channeled radio to blockade the airspace and breed bedlam. On any IFR flight in moderate weather, pilots face the decision: Cancel aloft, possibly speeding up the arrival, or remain on the IFR flight plan to touchdown.
A pilot turns to the current page of his logbook to enter the day's data after a two-hour, 30-minute IFR flight. How much actual instrument time should he log?
You hesitate to cut off your friends' chatter as a short radio call (a Center Weather Advisory) comes and goes. Whatever. You'll have to try to catch up with that radio call at some point. But it's getting bumpy--and surprise, it's raining! Your right-seat passenger is dying to ask you what a "convective sigmet" is, but refrains because you appear preoccupied.
Of all the ways an IFR flight can get off to a rocky start, hearing air traffic control ask where you think you're going must be one of the most painful.
You have an instrument rating, and now, a distant destination. Time to book your old IFR trainer for a new kind of outing. Wait - here's a better idea. It's time to start flying aircraft designed with long-distance travel in mind.
One idea that emerges fairly clearly about instrument pilots is that the prospect of flying a real-world circling approach triggers considerable avoidance. Give pilots a plausible alternative, and circle-to-land loses.
The voice checked in with approach, reporting "out of ten for three with Foxtrot," or something like that. He received and acknowledged instructions to expect the ILS. Then the voice made a curious request. "And Approach, how about saying the localizer frequency for that."
Remember curved approaches? Pilots of a certain age recall a time when pilots flew their ILS approaches with the thought in mind that, someday, a technology called the microwave landing system would change the way aircraft got down through the stuff. Now, thanks to satellite-based navigation, GPS approaches are doing the job.
A pilot is seeking rainy-day advice from two IFR-rated friends about training for the instrument rating. When should he take the knowledge test? One says hit the books first; the other recommends getting instrument experience before taking the test. Who's right?
How do you pronounce GLADI? Does it rhyme with lady or laddie? Ask before you get there because another fix nearby may, or may not, sound similar. The five-letter "words" devised for aviation's signposts in the sky occasionally spell GRIEF for pilots.
Looking for a challenge that will tax your IFR knowledge to the limit and hone your skills, leaving you dry-mouthed and drained? Try explaining what it means to be an instrument pilot to someone who knows nothing about aviation.
Would you depart under IFR if you would be unable to return immediately and land? Even if you're a pilot whose personal minimums prohibit departure under low conditions, much learning arises from practicing an instrument takeoff with a CFII.
Lucky you. It's instrument proficiency check day! In honor of spring, this ride will also count as a rental checkout at the FBO. First stop is the classroom, where the chief instructor goes over the aircraft, then asks you to ponder this IFR scenario for any questionable elements.
The course deviation indicator stood perfectly centered as the aircraft neared the vortac inbound. Wham. Station passage. Too bad the pilot didn't notice.
Any pilot who has ever dropped a pen into the abyss beneath the seats while copying a complicated clearance immediately learns one of aviation's overarching lessons: Carry more pens.
How are things in the real world today? Give flight service a call. Tell the briefer we need weather for a trip from here to the real world and back. In the remarks section, please be sure to note when you file that this is a training flight with a focus on IFR flying under real-world conditions.
IFR Fix readers weigh in on a variety of topics through informal polls. What does the emerging portrait reveal? Perhaps a syllabus for recurrency training.
The Cessna was tracking outbound for an NDB approach, timer ticking. Stabilized on course and altitude, it seemed to the pilot a good chance to check on the rear-seat passengers, who were experiencing instrument conditions--a medium-low stratus deck--for the first time.
Whether the view-limiting device you use makes you look like a welder, a scuba diver, or a student in a college chem lab, remember that you are preparing for the time when you can't just peel off the gizmo and squint at splendid scenery.
Pilots, don't throw away your automatic direction finders just yet. As many readers of the Jan. 20 "IFR Fix: Take a left, then a right" discovered, there was a typographical error in the notes to the Waterbury-Oxford ILS or LOC RWY 36 instrument approach procedure. Instead of "ADF Required," it says "AFD Required."
What's the difference between inventiveness and error? The question arises in the context of how someone flew a procedure turn.
A pilot and his instrument flight instructor are sitting at a booth in Scud's Diner, debriefing and re-caffeinating after an instrument proficiency flight. Based on their discussion, should the CFII sign him off?
Flying IFR is a contact sport. Sooner or later you will need to contact ATC, with a strong bias toward sooner. When the plan isn't working, people can get into trouble.
Nothing makes for a fun practice session like shooting the home-field instrument approach. The headings, frequencies, and minima all are as comfortable as the proverbial old shoe. Too comfortable to be truly useful--and certainly not registering very high on the variety meter--but there's no way you'll gripe about that during today's instrument proficiency check.
A leisurely flight for hamburgers and picture-taking can get hectic if weather deteriorates. Low clouds and fog haven't reached your destination yet, but they're moving in fast on a wet south breeze. Inbound pilots are commenting on it, and your passengers are starting to ask questions.
It's been quite a while since anybody has spoken up on the frequency. "Center, radio check?" Then you see the popped circuit breaker.
The big holiday flight with the family aboard is tomorrow. Weather's only looking so-so--but you're IFR current, proficient, and eager to fly the FBO's familiar trainer. The aircraft is down for maintenance, but another--the same make and model as the aircraft you've been renting, but with a different panel--is available. Is this a go, or a no-go?
Flying along in IMC, you stop your scan on the airspeed indicator. That indication can't be right--it's 10 knots too slow for this cruise power setting.
A wise saying of instrument training goes something like this: If you cross a fix at exactly 1500Z, you should have already crossed it mentally at 1458Z.
Where's the missed approach point? Where the solid line ends and the upward-curving dotted arrow begins on the approach's profile view. But is that the only possible missed approach point? No.
Why did you become an instrument pilot? For some pilots, the rating is an essential stepping stone to other goals such as landing an aviation career, maximizing their ability to travel in a personal aircraft, or upgrading to a high-performance single or a twin.
"Breaking out" is the climactic moment on an instrument approach. Descending to minimums, there will be either a landing or a missed approach in your immediate future. Which is it going to be?
"This isn't going to work," you say aloud as you roll out on the assigned vector and prepare to shoot the approach. Good thing this is just practice. Under instrument meteorological conditions this scenario could be nerve wracking. Maybe your workload would have prevented you from even seeing the problem developing.
Practice instrument approaches give your recreational flying added value by counting the instrument procedures flown toward recency requirements, and by giving you a chance to fly approaches other than the same old home-airport ILS.