Powered by Lycoming

About 80% of general aviation aircraft fly using Lycoming engines. Clearing the trees at the end of the runway. Leaving 4500ft for 6500ft. Maintaining airflow and generating lift across the wings. All are impossible without a reliable engine. Lycoming powers my training aircraft and so fuels my quest for a private pilot certificate. This blog is a record of my thoughts and experiences on life, flight, and learning.

23 October 2008

IFR Training

Well, I’ve been pretty busy at work and at life recently, so this blog entry is a little bit of a catchup. Over the last month, I’ve started instrument training, and it’s given me some additional excitement to look forward to when I strap on the ol’ set of wings. Now, I absolutely love flying, but over the last 240hours of VFR flying, I’ve been delayed, frustrated, and had those days where you check the weather about 100 times, hoping beyond hope that the current conditions will improve just enough for me to travel 50NM and catch better weather just...out...of...reach. Also, most of my flying is done in support of my professional life, and it’s just rather inconvenient to be on the phone with customers or vendors discussing the weather and whether it will stay nice for our visit (like they really care). There are also the last-minute changes in plans, like leaving the night before or at 4AM instead of 7AM, to beat a low-lying cloud front that is coming in.

I’m not naïve. I know that an IFR ticket is not a guarantee for smooth, on-time departures and arrivals. You’re faced with a whole new challenge when it comes to weather, icing, and potential disorientation – the stakes go up considerably. However, I will be able to fly on those days when the weather is just not quite VFR, or when all I need to do is punch through that overcast layer to find sunlight and avoid bouncing along in the muck below.

Lesson 1 – Checkout & Orientation
This lesson was basically an orientation flight. I had called in to the local flight school to schedule IFR training, so I didn’t know my instructor, and she didn’t know me. So, she needed to find out if I really was ready for IFR training, or if I was living in this alternate universe where 50hours of Microsoft Flight Simulator equals simulated instrument cross-country time. After a whirlwind tour of the Columbus, OH Class C airspace, she determined that 1.) I could fly the airplane without crashing or doing anything stupid, and 2.) I could talk to ATC without stuttering and hogging the airwaves, to wit: “Ahhh…Cleveland...I mean…uh…Columbus Approach….Diamond 470DS….ahh…..with Yankee….umm…..request flight following into….ahhh….Oscar….Sierra……Zulu….I mean, Uniform…Zero-Delta-Sierra.” (followed by silence as the controller silently stuck his Inexperienced GA Pilot Voodoo Doll full of pins) “Aircraft calling Columbus Approach, say again?” Well, all that to say, my instructor found me a suitable candidate for IFR training, and so we made plans to meet again soon.

Lesson 2 – First Approach
It was a nice warm fall evening when I took to the skies to attempt my first instrument approach. We were flying the VOR-A approach into Newark-Heath (KVTA). We briefed the approach on the ground, and then my instructor had me fly a circuitous path in the sky to see if I would get all muddled up. I didn’t get too muddled, just busted my altitude a couple of times (Precision flying is HARD!), and then she put me into the VOR-A wringer…without the aid of a nicely loaded approach procedure on the G1000. So, I had to do something that I haven’t done for 150hours…..fly to a VOR and track a heading exactly. VFR flying really doesn’t demand the same level of precision, and I’ve had LOTS of non-precision VFR flying experience. It was a tough approach, because there was a pretty stiff wind from the south at about 25knots, which would routinely switch to an 18knot wind from the north west at or around the target altitude of 3000ft. This made for some tough needle tracking. I would be correcting for about 30 degrees right, and then I would overshoot and have to correct for 15 degrees left….it was totally crazy, and my armpits were very sweaty. This was some tough flying! I have to say that the result was a little less than satisfying. This approach was a circling approach, and so I didn’t end up looking down the runway, but rather overflying the field at about pattern altitude. I landed and zipped home to go read my new Instrument procedure book.

Lesson 3 – Old Technology
After starting my training in the 2006 Diamond DA40-180 with a G1000 glass cockpit, I was saddened to learn of an incident involving the propeller and some foreign objects. Long story short, N470DS was out of commission for about 8-10 weeks with a prop strike and subsequent engine inspection. However saddened I might be, I had just had my appetite whetted for this new challenge of instrument flying and so I arranged for rental of a C172SP. Though equipped with a GPS and two VORs, this Cessna 172SP was old technology compared to my usual candy-ass G1000 cockpit. This lesson involved several back and forth VOR approaches into Zanesville, OH (KZZV), where the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) is the VOR located in the center of the field. So, my instructor had me fly the VOR-22 approach, then the VOR-4 approach, then the VOR-22 approach. She was very kind and tried to point out all of the positive things that I did. “Your procedure turns were really great and you didn’t make any wrong turns.” Thanks. Fact is, I stunk up all three approaches. Big time. I couldn’t center the needle to save my life. If you had a GPS track of 785SP that evening, the airspace around Zanesville would’ve looked like a 3-year old got hold of a big black crayon and scribbled all over the town. I was off to the left, then overcorrecting to the right, then back on track again. It was truly painful. My only remotely saving grace was that I didn’t butcher the LOC-9 approach into Newark. I think that gave my instructor just a little bit of hope that I might actually get it.

Lesson 4 – First ILS approach
Newark’s G1000-equipped C172SP came out of the avionics shop, and so I was flying back with my electronic crutch, the wonderfully powerful G1000 avionics suite. This was a morning flight, and it was simply a absolutely perfect day to begin flying. Calm winds, beautiful sunrise, low mist, brilliant fall colors – truly one of those days where you feel so blessed to see the world from the air. At least, this is how my instructor saw the morning. I was staring into the G1000 screen with my home-made foggles, desperately trying to salvage my future as an IFR pilot. The calm winds and smooth transition from surface winds to winds aloft really helped. We flew the ILS-22 approach into Zanesville twice that morning, and I didn’t do too badly. Of course, flying approaches with the G1000 is pretty sweet – there is a tremendous amount of situational awareness, what with the wind components and the estimated position and altitude trends. I was really stoked when I took my foggles off at the Decision Height point on the approach, and there I was, about 1mile off the threshold of 22, dead-nuts on the glideslope! I knew that the ILS was a precision approach, but I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic reveal. It was pretty cool, and I want to do it again soon. After that little personal triumph, we flew the GPS-27 and the VOR-A approach into Newark before landing. It was a good lesson. I’m sure that the next time I fly, it will be gusting and bouncing all over the place, but I was grateful for the success in the cockpit today. I’ll be crammed into the meat grinder soon enough.