The Soup Isn’t So Scary
By Hank Gibson, CFI, CFII, MEI
What private pilot has not looked up on a cloudy day and asked himself, “Am I missing something?” The answer to that is a very simple and very loud YES! There is a whole new world up there in the clouds just waiting for all pilots to experience.
Now, instrument flying is not for everyone. Some older pilots who start flying later in life who have a hard time keeping up in VFR should steer clear of IFR. There is a heavier workload in the approach environment that can weigh pretty heavy at times. Having an instrument rating and going through the training definitely makes you a better pilot, but some people just are not meant to be in the clouds.
For everybody else, welcome to the world of white.
Advantages of Being Instrument Rated
Flying by reference to instruments is a challenge that, once mastered, can be one of the ultimate pleasures in flying. Whenever a private pilot is in the pattern and, all of a sudden, another pilot comes over the radio with a snappy tone: “November Eight Bravo Bravo, visual, 23,” doesn’t envy pour into the blood?
Being able to fly IFR has numerous advantages. One is the ease of planning. When working on a VFR cross country, once he figures out where he is going, a pilot has to break out his plotter, mark the course, possibly change sectionals, pick out check points, figure out the headings, do some E6B calculations, and then some. When planning an IFR cross country, victor airways are already outlined on the low en-route chart, so all the pilot has to do is figure out which one to use. The best part is, the headings on the charts already take magnetic variation into account! Plus, a GPS direct clearance makes everyone’s job easier.
Another advantage is the priority received when flying IFR. Even if a pilot is in an old 172 blasting through a low cloud layer on an approach, usually he receives priority over VFR traffic in the pattern or someone desiring to take off. It is a pretty cool feeling to hear tower tell a Citation to hold for an N model Skyhawk cruising at 87 knots indicated (that noise you hear are the curses uttered by all corporate pilots reading this).
The phrase “single pilot resource management” is being used a lot these days (SRM for short). Probably one of the biggest advantages of getting an instrument rating is the SRM enhancement for a pilot. For those unfamiliar with the term, SRM is the pilot’s ability to properly utilize any and all resources available in any given situation to produce a safe outcome. While VFR pilots get an introduction to the different resources available in aviation, IFR pilots receive deeper instruction and have a broader knowledge base on how to utilize those resources.
The G1000 in IFR
Speaking of SRM, the G1000 is an excellent resource available to IFR pilots, especially once proficiency is achieved with the system. The GPS has the ability to track victor airways (though the VOR should always be set as a backup). All the airways in the US are actually loaded into the system.
The airport information chapter cannot be matched except with an actual Airport/Facility Directory (note: the G1000 is never ever a substitute for the A/FD. The A/FD has much more information). There are VOR frequencies, Flight Service Station frequencies, and even NDB frequencies, if the airplane is equipped.
The giant moving map cannot be beat, either. It is nigh unto impossible to get lost with it displayed on the MFD. Plus, the nearest airport information chapter is pretty handy in a diversion when time is of the essence.
As I said at the beginning, instrument flying is not for everyone. If you think you might like it, go ask your local flight school for an IFR discovery flight and see what you think. You may fly in love all over again.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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