8:32 PM

As Hard as it Looks

Today I completed the second of two days of training for my instrument rating, taking advantage of a hole in my busy schedule that somehow matched the same schedule hole in my instructor's calendar. So I thought I'd write a bit about what this level of training is like, something for the VFR and student pilots out there in my readership. If you are instrument rated or better, this will all be old news.

Let's examine some of the "glass is half full" parts of my training:

Cockpit Resource Management: I've always struggled with this as a VFR pilot, and have never came up with a system for keeping track of everything I needed to fly in that system. And now, in the IFR environment, I have so much more to confuse thy brain and hands. My CFI-I, Jim Hunt, has been a big help in this area, and this weekend, I finally came up with a system to balance approach plates, en route charts, checklist and notepad all within easy reach.

Checklists: Jim urged me to develop my own checklist, comprised of the usual VFR items, but also a whole new list of IFR items such as "ID VORs". Sure, a VFR pilot is supposed to do that religiously, but come on, do you actually know one that does it in the GPS world we fly in? This new VFR/IFR checklist really saved my bacon today when I scanned down and saw "brief approach plate". I quickly learned I had the ILS 16L into EUG pulled instead of the ILS 16R we were flying. Time to dig through the charts for the right one!

'Stick and Rudder' flying: There is no better way to humiliate a VFR pilot who thinks he can fly then to cram him under a set of Foggles and watch him sweat. At about 25 hours into my training, I am just now coming to grips with the concept that my eyes – looking at the instruments – know more then the seat of my pants. If I go with my gut, I seem to always want to turn right...so I have to work overtime to keep the attitude indicator wings-level.

Pitch, Power and Trim: If you think you can fly fairly well in the VFR world, and can get it on the runway each time out, you'll find out how much you don't know when you are under the hood. I am getting pretty comfortable at slowing the plane down and setting it up for an approach with plenty of time to keep things in profile. That is, when I remember. Teaching this old dog new tricks can be like watching a scene from "The Miracle Worker".

Thinking Ahead: You get really good at situational awareness really fast in the IFR training world, and a good IFR stick knows what's coming next. For instance, today I learned that all ILS intercepts given to you by ATC are 30 degrees, so if you are flying a 090 and the final approach course is 160, the controller will give you a 130 intercept. Of course, the student pilot – me – looked pretty stupid when I read back "one-six-zero until established on the localizer..." Lesson learned.
Those old guys at the airport coffee shop who tell you that earning your instrument rating makes you a better pilot are NOT kidding...it has to happen that way since there is so much more to learn and do in this world. But if you prefer a more specific way of flying, where each segment is planned to the degree, flying "in the system" is great.

I am fast approaching the day when Jim and I depart on my long XC, which will take me and Katy into Boeing Field in Seattle. BOEING FIELD! A year ago, I wouldn't have had the confidence to jitterbug with inbound 747's, or dodge outbound sleek, shiny brand spanking new 777s literally flying out the factory door at BFI. As a VFR arrival, I'd be a second class citizen, but as an IFR arrival, my blip is just as important to ATC as the blip of the -47 on short final. We are just two identical slips of paper on the Controller's console. But if the "heavy" wants to go first, bet the farm I'm going to let him!

Yeah, let's get after that...Boeing Field. Yee-haw, sign me freakin' up...maybe they'll let me pet one of the Dreamliners while I'm there...you think?

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