Monday, March 24, 2014

Instrument check-ride complete

This has been an interesting journey. While not getting too much in to my flying history, let me say that I have been trying to schedule my instrument check-ride since December 2013. I was cursed with bad weather that lasted until January and delayed the ride to the point of feeling the need for some refresher training.

I was able to get in the air just enough to knock the rust off and gain some more confidence. Did the confidence come from more flight time? Sort of. It was mostly the feeling of accomplishment knowing that even while fighting 30 knot quartering tail winds and bouncing my head off of the roof, I can still fly an ILS to the PTS standards and put it on the airport grounds. That might be a yawner for some but not for this rookie!

On to the check-ride......

I started by planning a flight from KPLU to KTTD and gathering all of the assorted performance related information, looking closely for reasons to be tripped up with non standard procedures of some sort. After cramming to the point of making myself crazy with stress, I showed up on the Tuesday after a week long vacation to Disney World. I was beginning to think that scheduling my ride for after vacation may have been a major mistake. The weather looked good until I arrived at the airport. The forecast was calling for improving conditions that would become flyable right about the time my oral would start. What actually happened was that it waited until an hour after my check-ride was cancelled to clear up in to a very nice evening.

Delayed until the next Tuesday, I studied some more and just tried to relax. My oral took place on Tuesday 18 Mar 2014. This process lasted about 2 - 2.5 hours and really was more of a discussion about flying. Of course there were the obvious questions the required a book answer but most were situation based and phrased as a question about a specific task along our planned route of flight. After answering the first question, your answer would lead in to the next question or probe deeper to see if you really understood the subject or if you were just reciting a memorized response. Not once did I feel like I was being set up or that the examiner was trying to play "stump the chump".

At the conclusion of the oral I was asked if I wanted to fly or not. A quick check of the weather showed that this was not going to be a good day for a flight with your local DPE. I don't remember the conditions exactly but the ceilings were below the personal minimums I had quoted during my oral and the winds were about 15 knots gusting to 28 or something with winds aloft around 30 knots at 3000 feet and nearing 50 at 6000 feet. Not exactly my idea of a great day for an exam. Rescheduled for the 25th of March and the 1st of April just in case.

The night of the 20th I was asked if I wanted to finish the test the next day due to a cancellation. You bet I said yes! After work on the 21st, I raced to the airport in terrible traffic with the stress of a full day of dealing with Soldiers and senior leadership weighing on my mind. I was actually hoping for bad weather but things were looking good. I filed my flight plan (KPLU-COTNY-SCENN-KTIW) and preflighted the plane.

Now for the gory details of the actual flight......

Things were going well except that the winds were picking up and I realized that it was going to get a little bumpy. During the run-up, the plane failed the mag check but I was able to burn it off and it passed on the second try. I received my clearance and started my take off roll. After climbing through 1500 feet I contacted Seattle departure. They responded with a similar tail number from the same school I was flying out of but never acknowledged my call. I was pretty sure that the plane they were asking for an ident had been sitting tied up as I moved out for my run up a few minutes earlier. ATC and I finally got on the same page with the DPE doing nothing more than chuckling a little. I was sure that I was OK but the nerves were starting to get moving. The plane that the controller confused me for was sitting on the ground waiting for a release while the controller thought he was already in the air.

Once we had the case of mistaken identity worked out, I asked to enter a hold at SCENN. This was actually one of the easiest holds I had performed during my training. Normally you arrive with the perfect teardrop entry but this time I was vectored to the west side of the field and entered via a parallel entry and had a pretty stiff wind to deal with. As I approached SCENN, the controller realized that he hadn't given me a proper EFC time. Idiot me decided that I had time to talk to ATC and copy the time on my board just as I reached my point. It actually worked out and  much to my surprise, I was only 5 seconds early after my first circuit. The DPE must have been as pleased as I was because I was told to request the ILS 17 approach. This approach went well and even though I was getting pushed around and bounced a bit. After conducting a low approach and going missed, I was vectored back to the localizer. This is where things started to get fun.

I started getting set up for this non-precision approach when, much to my surprise, I suffered a simulated gyro failure. It isn't like I wasn't expecting it to happen but I also had a controller that was as busy as I was. My last vector was taking me to the localizer at nearly 90 degrees but there was no follow on turn to intercept or further clearance. I asked the controller of he intended to take me across the approach course and received an immediate turn and clearance. My problem was that I was now partial panel and crossing the localizer. Not a big deal really but I did fly some S-turns trying to get back on center line. The controller didn't tell me and I didn't ask to contact tower before the final approach fix either. The tower controlled reminded me that I need to ask if I don't receive a frequency change before the crossing the final approach fix. The stress is starting to increase at this point. I was beginning to wonder if the examiner would approve of the way I was trying to deal with some of the quirky things that were going on. My approach was pretty good and I locked in 20 feet above my minimum descent altitude, started my circle to the west and made a low approach to runway 35.

My final approach was the GPS 35 approach from the initial approach fix (IAF) named FESAS. Other than the winds beating me up a little, this approach was pretty simple. Just remember to conduct a RAIM check, run the before landing checklist, and make the "approach active" call out. This was a touch and go that, even with the gusty crosswind, was one of my better landings. We canceled our IFR flight plan at this point and headed back VFR.

The last task was unusual attitudes. I won't get in to this one because by check-ride time, I'm sure that your instructor has just about made you puke and fear that the wings are about to rip off practicing these.

The DPE finally let me know how I was doing when she said that all I needed to do to pass was to get us home safely.

I am now an instrument rated private pilot.

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