Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expand Your Iceberg

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

Soon, the routine becomes a part of normal life: Early morning to the FBO for ground school and briefing the day's objectives. A few hours morning flying reviewing skills and shooting approaches. Lunch while debriefing the morning's flight. Two to four hours flying in the afternoon learning new skills and shooting more approaches. Land and debrief. Back to the hotel to study and review. Quick dinner and then a fitful sleep dreaming of radio calls, DME arcs and missed approach procedures. Repeat.

The emotional process is like going through any major life event. You feel excitement, frustration, acceptance and—finally—enlightenment and learning. The experience is equal parts boot camp, summer camp, motivational seminar and college all in one. The challenge is to keep frustration at bay, because every IFR student hits a learning plateau. The flying itself is both art and muscle memory. Templeton teaches me fingertip control and delicate rudder turns. It's nothing like I imagined, and fills me with an enormous sense of accomplishment.

Detractors say the knowledge gained in such an intense program disappears quickly. However, this is the way the military does it, and they can take an 18-year-old kid and teach him or her to fly a supersonic jet fighter in a matter of months.

Checkride Day: The oral was exactly as I expected; glad I studied! Now in the cockpit, I go through every check and task I've learned these last 10 days. "Taxi check complete," I announce. I set the radios, identify the frequencies and set the OBS knobs. My examiner asks me to perform a published instrument departure. I somehow miss the VOR but intercept the radial and enter the hold properly. My altitude is a little off, but I explain that I'm correcting, and he senses my "checkride-itis." Okay. Now to perform three approaches…no problem on the first one. He has me do a DME arc to intercept the localizer. Suddenly, he has failed my glideslope. I call out my altitude stepdowns and hit them all. I'm feeling good. Compared to the last 10 days, this is easier. Two hours later, it's over. "You passed!" my examiner announces as we touch down. My hands are shaking so hard I can hardly taxi. I want to shout.

Looking at my Temporary Airman's Certificate, I stare at the words, "Instrument Rating." AFIT took on the challenging work of transforming a basic, stick-and-rudder pilot into an instrument pilot in days instead of months or years. In the process, I forged some friendships and learned lessons about myself as a pilot. My flying has become more precise and sure. The goal of precision has become fun for me—just as Templeton and my examiner said it would. My iceberg has gotten bigger.

One can't help but feel changed after such an experience. I gave AFIT 10 days, and they gave me the world, one approach at a time.

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