Congratulations! I heard that you called from the municipal airport to say that you passed your instrument checkride. Plus, I understand that your instructor made sure you got time in the clouds during your training and you shot some real approaches to minimums. You received good training and now you have the thinking pilot’s rating. Well done.
I advise you to please do two things: give your instructor an IOU for a bottle of champagne and schedule a session of recurrent training for six months from now. Set aside a full morning or afternoon. No, I don’t think she’ll be surprised that you want to schedule recurrent training with her. She keeps standing appointments with a lot of her former students for recurrent training.
Right now, you know your instrument procedures well. The last few times you’ve been flying the airplane, you’ve easily held your altitude, heading and speed to tighter parameters than the FAA requires, and you’ve kept the needles pretty well centered on your approaches. I know your instructor; she wouldn’t have sent you for your checkride if you weren’t able to perform better than what the FAA requires.
|After earning an instrument rating, it’s important to stay current. Scheduling recurrent training with an instructor will keep your skills sharp and help you stay safe in the clouds.|
Here’s the reality: Unless you take action, your skills are going to deteriorate. Instrument flight is like everything else we do: If we don’t do it regularly, the skill erodes. What’s worse is that our ability to self-evaluate also erodes, so we get worse and don’t realize it. That’s why I want you to set up some recurrent training. I want you to make it a habit. After all, you’ve been taking dual to improve your skills; you might as well continue doing so, just with a little more time between sessions.
Go do what you’re now legal to do—fly instruments. File IFR every time you fly somewhere. Doing so will rapidly increase your comfort level. When you’re on a cross-country flight, you’ll have time to relax a bit and listen to the pros talk with ATC. I know you’ve read the AIM, but listen to the pros and see what you can pick up as sort of a graduate education. The really good ones say what needs to be said clearly and in the minimum number of words. They don’t waste time with useless stuff. The controller knows they’re there.
Go fly actual IFR when it’s VFR underneath and file for an altitude that will put you in the clouds. You have some time in the clouds; go get some more under conditions that allow you a good way out if there’s any problem. Then make some flights where you have to shoot an approach to get in, but only if there’s a wide-open alternate available. Get used to the sound the rain makes on the windshield and how the clouds get much darker as you descend toward the bases, especially if the ceiling is pretty low. Learn about that puckery feeling you get in your entrails when you’re making an approach so that you aren’t surprised by it when you find yourself shooting an approach down to minimums on a flight where the forecast said it was going to be VFR.
|In the past few years, paper charts have been giving way to electronic charts, such as the approach plate depicted above on the Avidyne Entegra MFD screen.|
Pick out a place that interests you, and go through all of the approach plates for it. It will keep you current on interpreting approach plates quickly, something that may come in handy if you have to change destinations in the middle of a flight.
I suspect you have some sort of flight-simulator program on your personal computer. Even if it’s pretty basic, use it for practice. You’ll be amazed how fast your scan will deteriorate if you don’t fly for even a week. Simulator time may make a difference when you need a good scan as you punch into clouds and turbulence right after takeoff and discover you have a bit of vertigo.
Write down some hard and fast instrument flying tolerances for yourself. In light turbulence, how close can you hold your altitude in cruise? How about on an approach when you’re hand flying? Okay, write this information down. Now, do the same for heading, airspeed and number of dots of needle deflection on an approach. What you have in front of you is your own basic system of self-evaluation. It was written when you could pass an instrument checkride. With practice, you’ll get better and be able to fly to tighter tolerances, so for now, that list is your lowest acceptable set of tolerances. Keep those numbers in mind and make sure that you’re meeting or exceeding them pretty much all the time. If you find yourself having trouble, it’s a wakeup call that something is wrong and your skills are slipping; if it happens in the middle of a flight, you may be tired, have hypoxia or possibly CO poisoning. Having measurable standards is the most effective way to evaluate yourself, which, as pilots, we have to do.
Take a sheet of paper and write down some more numbers. First, the lowest ceiling and visibility in which you would be willing to shoot a precision, nonprecision and a circle-to-land approach in daytime. Now, do the same for nighttime, keeping in mind that the accident rate for night IFR is pretty awful. Please also write down what your night VFR weather minimums are. Got it? Great. Now, I’m going to recommend that you not do night, circle-to-land, single-pilot approaches unless the airport is VFR; they’re high-risk maneuvers that kill a few professional pilots every year.
This sheet is one that you can use as a reference to see whether your comfort level changes as you gain experience in IFR flight. It’s also an effective resource to possess when you’re considering a trip where the destination weather is going to be marginal and there’s pressure on you to go. You can pull out this list of hard and fast numbers you wrote down when you were thinking clearly, not under pressure, and were current on the gauges. These numbers, written right now, may help you make a go/no-go decision that saves your life.
Now, go schedule some flying time for yourself. And don’t forget to buy that bottle of champagne for your instructor. I’ll see you around the airport.