Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expand Your Iceberg

Plane & Pilot takes on AFIT’s 10-day instrument-rating program

My preparations for the course began three months prior to the training date I scheduled with Tony Montalte, President of AFIT. A feature of the AFIT course is that their instructors will come to you. The catch is that "coming to you" means you'll still be in your everyday environment and subject to phone calls, demands and distractions. Instead, I took Montalte's recommendation to go elsewhere and do the training away from familiar places and people. AFIT has a network of FBOs across the country that they work with to rent aircraft, or you can train in your own aircraft at a location that you choose.

I decided to combine my IFR training with some mountain flying. Montalte recommended Sphere One Aviation in Cedar City, Utah—a stellar FBO with an affordable, but basically equipped Cessna 172. The FAA is a bit anachronistic in its practical test requirements and requires IFR training to be done the old-fashioned way: with VORs. Glass can be used as long as it can replicate the VOR/OBS functions.

Instrument training in the mountains of the West means minimum en route altitudes above 11,000. Using online resources for weather and flight planning, along with studying AFIT's suggested materials well before the course, will get you past the oral exam and provide a good base for learning instrument-flying skills.
Preparation is a major key to the AFIT program. Each client is vetted beforehand to make sure he or she has the proper logged time, medicals and other paperwork. AFIT sends a list of required study materials to the student well in advance, along with a detailed schedule of the 10-day program's curriculum. Students must pass the written exam before they begin training—AFIT prefers an 80% score or better.

In my case, I ordered the King Schools Instrument Rating course and started right away. I watched the videos every night and at every lunch break. I've yet to find a more comprehensive and inclusive course. Although the King courses may not look as pretty as more modern offerings, there's something in the way they teach the material that makes it stick. I decided to cement that knowledge (and further ensure a good test score) by also taking a two-day written exam course offered by Aviation Seminars over a weekend.

Since June of 2012, The FAA has gotten wise to students simply memorizing written test answers, so they no longer publish the instrument exam questions. They've added questions and scrambled the way questions are presented. As a result, you need a solid foundation of actual knowledge or you won't pass. Aviation Seminars did an excellent job of filling any gaps in the King course. I passed my written with an 88%.

While waiting for my training to begin, I pored over the training materials like a hound on a chase. I read the FAA's Instrument Flying Handbook so many times the pages were wrinkled and stained with months' worth of snacking and note- taking. I read the Gleim Weather book cover to cover and nearly memorized ASA's Instrument Oral Exam Guide. In retrospect, my thorough preparation was of key importance—it allowed me to concentrate on flying.

Day 5: "During IFR training, your brain is like an iceberg," my instructor said over the drone of the Lycoming. "When you start training, the iceberg is small. All the things you have to remember are like penguins jumping on the iceberg. At first, there are too many penguins and not enough iceberg. So, if you add a penguin—an IFR task— another penguin has to jump off. Right now, you have too many penguins and not enough iceberg. However, after enough practice, your iceberg will get bigger."

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