Plane & Pilot
Friday, February 1, 2008

New Instrument Rating?

Now what?

instrumentCongratulations! 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.
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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.

instrumentTake 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.


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