The day has come: my first few lessons towards the Instrument Rating (Restricted) started today!
I showed up at Take Flight Aviation this Tuesday morning at the ungodly time that is 8 a.m. and went straight into my first pre-flight briefing. After a basic introduction about the privileges and restrictions of the IR(R) rating we went straight to lesson 1: flying on instruments with a full panel.
Full Panel Instrument Flying
This was going to be my first flight under the hood, so I had to learn the basics. The basics include straight & level flight, climbing, descending, turning as well as climbing and descending turns. For each of these manoeuvres you need to know the power settings as well as the attitude to fly in. There is a handy formula for rate-1 turns, which give you a standard turn of 3 degrees/second: V/10+7, where V is your current airspeed. Thus for a level turn at 100kts you need a bank angle of 17 degrees, keep the ball in the centre, and you’ll perform a nice rate-1 turn. During climbs the angle will of course be shallower.
The FREDA check also got an upgrade: at the end after checking the altimeter setting now comes a new letter: I for Icing. Basically the pilot checks the outside air temperature and if it’s at or below zero, check the wings for ice. It’s now a FREDAI check.
There were a lot more numbers and little tricks to memorise, and after getting all of those in my head it was time to check out the aircraft, put some fuel in and put my new knowledge into practice!
The first thing to learn was to fly on instruments, but still have a visual reference outside, so I had no ‘foggles’ on. Foggles restrict a pilot’s vision so that they can only see the instruments and not what’s going on outside the windows. This was so I can understand what a specific configuration of the aircraft does and I could compare it to the visual flying that I was used to.
A few minutes later it was foggles time though. This required a bit of getting used to, and at first I was given the task to fly on a certain heading at a certain altitude and hold the plane there. Easier said than done, the temptation to lift your head and have a look outside is very strong! As expected, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and most of the time I was over-correcting any ever-so-slight deviation of the plane. It took me a bit to internalise this, but when it works it’s great!
Next were climbs and descents, which were relatively simple. Full power for a climb and 2,000rpm for a nice 400-500fpm descent. The only new thing to me was to figure out exactly which attitude I had to set on the AI. Similarly easy were turns, in which I had to set the aforementioned bank angle of 17 degrees in cruise speed, keep the ball in the centre and level off when I approached within 5-10 degrees of my new heading.
It got a touch more complex when it came to climbing and descending turns. The trick is to first set up a climb or descent, let it settle down, and then initiate the turn. During the climb, due to the lower airspeed, the bank angle will be a bit shallower for a rate-1 turn, as described above. Then, when the desired heading is reached, the wings are rolled level or when the desired altitude is reached the plane is levelled off. This can be quite interesting when both of these events happen at the same time! Thankfully that isn’t often the case…
Limited Panel Instrument Flying
Compared to flying with a limited panel, full panel flying is child’s play. The most common case is a vacuum pump failure, since those things usually last only 500-600 hours, and with it comes a failure of the AI and DI. To practice this, the instructor simply covers those instruments so that they are unreadable. The new master instrument in this case is the turn coordinator, supported by the altimeter to keep level.
To fly straight & level on a limited panel one must religiously keep the wings level and the ball in centre. This is so important that Jerry nagged me about this at least once every three seconds or so. Or that’s what it felt like. Again, this is easier than it sounds. To keep altitude a regular glance at the altimeter is required, and any deviation from the desired altitude must be stopped by either raising or lowering the nose. Only how much one would raise or lower the nose is more or less guesswork, so little corrections are required.
Climbs again are quite straightforward. Full power set, and now the airspeed requires a regular glance too. In the PA-28 that would be 80kts. Not too complicated. The regular glance at the altimeter now also check for the desired altitude. And always keep the wings level and the ball centred! For a descent I had to reduce power to 2,000rpm, and the nose would lower itself automatically for a steady descent.
As for turns, since the AI is not available as a reference, I had to refer to the turn coordinator solely. Which meant keeping a steady rate-1 turn. The big problem is to find out when to level off and finish the turn, since the DI is also not available. A rate-1 turn if executed properly gives a 3 degree pre second turn, so a stopwatch is handy here. First I had to look at the compass the read the current heading. This thing is annoyingly wobbly! Only in very smooth flight is the compass any useful, so even the smallest turbulences throw this stupid device out of balance. But once the heading is read, it’s simply taking the desired change in degrees, dividing them by 3 and that’s the time required for the turn. After levelling off it takes about 20 seconds for the bloody wobbly compass to settle, and at that time the amateur IFR flyer has already changed heading again… so another little turn is required… and so on and so on.
Climbing and descending turns work pretty much in the same way as with a full panel if you use the techniques for climbing, descending and turning on a limited panel. Again, set up the climb/descent first, and when it’s all settled, start the turn using a stopwatch.
The IR(R) rating is a ‘get out of trouble’ card for private pilots in the UK. Being a low-hour pilot, I’m really scared of flying into bad weather or into IMC, so the choice to do the IR(R) was not a big one to make. Simply flying on instruments has already massively boosted my precision in flying, and I’m sure it will make me a much better pilot in the long run!
Lesson 3 & 4 coming up soon!
Course Time: 3:00h
Under the Hood: 2:35h