IR part 141: Holding

The next part of the course includes flying holding patterns.

Sometimes it is not possible to make the next planned step or maneuver right away: for example, due to very congested air traffic, or rapidly changing weather. In this case an aircraft can wait some time in the air. But the airplane is constantly moving through the air to stay airborne, it cannot just stop. That is what holding procedures about: how to properly wait for the next phase of flight.

The holding pattern itself does not differ a lot from the aerodrome pattern, but both the wind speed and the airplane speed is usually higher. On the other hand, there is no climb or descend during the hold.

This part of training is mainly about how to enter the pattern, and about keeping the flight parameters (altitude, speed, course) as close to the chosen values as possible.

Stage Check

Part 141 IR course requires a proficiency check after every stage of training. Totally there are 3 stage checks and a final end-of-course check. The part 141 course also requires the strict defined lessons order, so one cannot start next stages before the previous stage check.

I have been waiting for the first stage check for three days due to the examiner availability and the weather, and finally flew it today.

Actually it should not be scary: it is not a checkride, and the instructor should not sign the student off for it if the latter is not ready. But it is a little disturbing anyway.

The student should perform the following maneuvers: steep turns, stalls, standard rate turns, climb and descend with a defined rate, unusual attitude recovery. And, of course, takeoff and landing. We also made one GPS approach as a bonus, the first one in my life.

Our chief pilot (he was my stage check examiner today) is a former fighter pilot. It’s a pleasure to fly unusual attitude recovery with him! I will definitely ask him about spin recovery training some day 🙂

We made only one hour which seemed for me to be at least two. And now I can move on!

IR Part 141: Lessons 9 and 10

It’s vital for an instrument pilot to be proficient with the airplane navigation equipment. We’re continuing with VOR and starting with GPS. We have garmin 430 in all airplanes, and its interface is not very complicated. However the main problem is multitasking: it’s not so easy to properly fly the airplane and simultaneously tune frequencies while taking with ATC.

Today we were flying 08H. It’s a great airplane with some more powerful engine than our other cessnas. Some students don’t like her flaps switch (hold, 1-2-3, release), but for me that is even more straightforward than the ‘usual’ one.

The weather today promised cloud ceiling at 6200 feet and scattered clouds at 3000 feet. Anyway I was still flying ‘under the hood’ and was not able to see anything except the instruments, and the instruments don’t show clouds. I’m already missing visual flying 🙂

I like my progress. With more experience it turns out that we enough have time to tune frequencies, push buttons and even listen to the ATIS (weather and aerodrome information). The journey is going on!

IR Part 141: lessons 7 and 8

Lesson 7 is just a brush-up of all previous lessons: mostly airplane control and unusual attitudes.

Lesson 8 is completely new though, and it is all about navigation. It contains mainly VOR interception and tracking. The theory is easy, but on practice the workload was pretty high at the first time since I had to use maps, mentally calculate some parameters, and tune required frequencies while keeping the airplane control in the allowed limits.

I’ve already had the very similar feeling at least twice during my PPL training. The first one was about starting to communicate in the aerodrome traffic pattern, and the second one was about the very first flying in CTR (controlled airspace around the aerodrome).

On the ground everything looks very straightforward, but in the air even not so many additional tasks add significant workload, since the airplane control skills are still not very strong and also take a lot of mental resources.

Actually instrument flying can be easier than visual to some extent: one village does not differ very much from another but radio aid frequency does, and it’s harder to get lost while flying by instruments. However in Florida even visual flying is not so hard since there are a lot of highways and roads running from Notrh to South and from West to East.

Today I wrote stage II check and got 85%. I am not happy with the result, and I carefully reviewed my mistakes. BTW, I have a very tricky question 🙂 Probably you know that usually SARL is less then DARL. But why is the warm and moist atmosphere is more unstable compared to the dry one?

IR Part 141: Lesson 6

Today’s weather is pretty challenging: occasional wind gusts up to 15 knots. Apart from that everything is great, and we’re going to fly at about 3000 feet where it is not so turbulent.

Today I flew another airplane, and I had an impression that is it not properly trimmed and tends to turn left. But the compass in it was more stable. The pilot’s seat was not perfectly comfortable, I felt that I needed a pillow even though I am not a very short guy (5’10”).

The previous lessons were all about controlling the airplane without any outside references. Today we started to use navigation instruments: VOR, NDB, GPS. We don’t have DME in any of the airplanes.

Apart from the navigation, we were continuing to practice maneuvers: constant rate climb and descend, constant rate turns, constant speed climb/descend, partial panel flying and compass turns without the gyro.

Wind gusts were becoming stronger, so we made only one flight today.

Today I passed the stage II written test, which mainly consisted of approach charts questions. It was exhausting: not so hard, but it required attention. My result was 90%. I know that I could do better, but I am still satisfied.

I suppose that I should take the rest of written tests ASAP and concentrate on the practical part.

Systems Failure

For every pilot it’s very important do deal with any system failure. Prompt failure recognition and corrective action can become vital, especially in a bad weather.

Today’s lesson was about flying without some instruments (it’s called ‘partial panel’). In practice it means that the instructors covered some instruments, and I had to perform the usual maneuvers: stalls, steep turns, turns to a given heading, climbing/descending to a given altitude, recovery from unusual attitudes.

The weather today was really great. It was a little bit turbulent below 2000 ft, but calm and nice above. Flying in those conditions was much easier that yesterday. BTW today night the temperature was even below zero in sunny Florida 🙂 Daytime weather is warm enough, I usually wear T-shirt. Locals do not share my opinion though.

Cessna 172 requires higher forces on the yoke for nice landing, much higher than cessna 150. Steep turns also require higher control input. It’s much better to do it consciously now – today my piloting was smoother. The basic landing principle is the same though: pull and wait, pull and wait… I love flying that airplane.

Today I also passed the first stage check and scored 88%. I am not very happy with that result, but that’s above the pass mark anyway. Tomorrow I’m going to pass the second stage check, I suppose that I am ready and it does not make sense to postpone it.

Where to Learn to Fly

For every professional pilot the first step is a Private Pilot License (PPL). The second usual step is an Instrument Rating (IR) which allows to fly in worse weather. Currently I’m at this stage, what’s next?

For various reasons I decided to learn in Europe and in the US. Australia or New Zealand are incredibly expensive and very far from me, and India or other Asian countries do not provide many options for foreign students.

European countries have a lot of flight schools. The most obvious choice was the UK: a lot of aerodromes, native English instructors, rich aviation history. But the weather and prices are not so attractive.

The second option was Spain: the weather is mostly good, the prices are reasonable. But I found only two schools there easily accepting foreign students, and Spain is still pretty far from Moscow.

I considered Germany and Austria, but they are are pretty expensive, and it’s better to speak German there.

I even checked Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Netherlands, but they are even more expensive.

Italy and Greece did not provide a lot of options too (but the climate is so good there!)

I was not completely satisfied with my results, so I started to check Eastern Europe.

Lithuania seemed to have only one school, the feedback is controversial.

Latvia did not provide any good options too.

Polish, Czech and Hungarian schools provided very attractive offers, they were pretty close to Moscow, and the weather there allows to fly most of the time. The options there were comparable, all had some benefits and drawbacks.

So, that’s what I found out so far.

Poland is probably the least expensive place to get a license, but the aviation infrastructure and culture are not very well developed compared to Czech Republic.

Hungary is also one of the cheapest place in Europe, but the infrastructure looks even worse than in Poland.

Czech Republic is a reasonable compromise. The prices are attractive, and the aviation services are comparable to the UK or Germany: a lot of aerodromes, great aviation briefing services, nice ATC/ATS.

The US is a perfect place to fly, probably the best one in the world, but there are some legal stuff to do in advance: student visa even for non-vocational training (and only limited selection of approved schools for foreign students), TSA clearance, fingerprinting. In my case it’s also at least 1 day to go there and back.

Anyway, I decided to get the Instrument Rating in the US, at least to have that experience. I contacted literally every M1/F1 (student visa type) approved school in every state. It took about a month to make a decision (I studied many factors – reputation, feedback, history, instructors, weather, fleet, location, prices), and the final option was some small school in Florida.

So far I am really happy about English-speaking environment. In Czech Republic the language was not a big deal too, almost everybody could speak English, but that ‘almost’ thing still could be a little annoying.

The weather in Florida is great, especially in winter. It summer it’s flyable too, but after about 2 pm it’s often better to stay on the ground due to thunderstorms.

Written exams preparation and aviation subjects in general are way more complicated in Europe.

Flying is great everywhere. The rules and practices are almost the same in the US and in Czech Republic: very good online (and phone) briefing services, a lot of places to fly.

Living expenses in Czech Republic are lower, especially accommodation. Talking about Europe, for me it’s also possible to drive my own car, which is obviously not an option for the US.

My personal opinion is that if one needs the EASA license, it’s better to learn in Eastern Europe. For the FAA one the US is better. If the license type is not a concern, I would prefer the FAA way.

Actually I preferred both. I want two licenses and various experience, and I will try to count as many flight hours as possible towards both set of requirements.

Why I started in Europe? Just because it’s easier and faster. Why IR in the US? The answer is different experience and one more valuable license.

What’s next? I am still not sure. Probably FAA CPL/IR/ME, then EASA ATPL theory, and then a frozen ATPL. And a new shiny job…

Crosswind

The airplane I was flying today was really great, but I cannot say the same about the weather. Crosswind and gusts up to 15 knots were not a pilot’s dream, or at least not a beginner pilot’s dream.

First of all, we made a couple of landings one of which was terminated by a go-around procedure. I just was not completely ready for this weather in a new airplane, and I decided that it’s safer not to land when we met a gust at about 100 ft above the ground.

Our school go-around procedure for Cessna 172 is not the same I used to in Cessna 150. Here I had to set flaps 10 simultaneously with full throttle. Previously in cessna 150 I was taught to apply full throttle, stabilize, the next (lower) flaps setting, stabilize, etc.

Anyway, I did not have a lot of opportunities to practice in that kind of weather, so that it was a useful experience.

My flying gradually becomes more stable, I am getting used to this airplane and instrument flying. Of course it was not ideal, but it would be foolish to expect ideal piloting after only two lessons, so I just have to practice more.

We were practicing unusual attitudes recovery. That is included in a usual syllabus in the US compared to Europe (where it is a separate course). That also will be checked on my checkride. I have to cover (or close) my eyes, then the instructor makes some maneuvers (during that you feel something similar to roller coaster riding), and then he says ‘OK, recover’. The goal is understanding what’s happening and bringing the airplane to a straight and level flight. The important detail is that all of this stuff should be done ‘under the hood’, i. e. I was not able to look outside.

My IFR hours are increasing, and I am also working on a written test preparation.

737

I’m proud to say that I flew 737! It’s so cool that I’m going to tell all my friends about it!

Of course, it was not a Boeing, it was just a small Cessna N737HW =)

Almost Boeing

Actually the airplane itself flew a little worse than the one I flew yesterday. I remembered Czech OK-STB: it was also pretty old and had a flaps switch with fixed positions (it was a Cessna 152 though). I am used to a different flaps switch: I had to push it and hold some seconds, longer time means lower flaps position.

The airplane’s takeoff run was longer, and the climb rate was less. The outside view was pretty much covered by the instrument panel so that I wanted to stand or even jump to look outside while taxiing and landing. I remembered my early driving experience with my father, when my head was barely above the dashboard.


Today we were practicing stalls, slow flight and steep turns. Everything was ‘under the hood’, i. e. wearing ‘foggles’, so it was flying solely by reference to the instruments. Initially I struggled to maintain altitude, especially in steep turns. I definitely need more practice.

When we’re not flying I prepare for the written test. I already feel rather confident since I was studying in Moscow, but it’s better to keep it up.

I Was Waiting for That So Long

All that legal stuff for studying in the US took some time, and I really missed flying. Finally I am here!

It is not easy to work with many new factors, and I had four of them: I haven’t flown since August, I’ve never flown Cessna 172, I’ve never flown under IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions – either simulated or actual), and the radio communications were a little different here.

First of all, takeoff in that Cessna differs from the one I used to: the airplane is faster and heavier. The instruments are also arranged a little differently, so it takes some time to get used to the new layout.

The flight was more difficult that I expected. I supposed that I had learned how to fly straight and level, but it seemed that it was not so. I really need more practice.

Currently I am flying with so-called ‘foggles’ which covers anything but the airplane instruments, so I cannot see the beautiful Florida landscapes. And I cannot even think about taking photos. Nevertheless, I am excited!

foggles

We landed without ‘foggles’ in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions, it means that I could remove foggles and look outside), but the landing was not perfect anyway. The approach to the runway is easier due to VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator). To be pedantic, it is even the improved version – PAPI (Precision Path Approach Indicator). The runway itself is long and concrete. Cessna 172 lands with much more ‘nose up’ attitude than cessna 150, so the feeling is different.

VASI and PAPI

I am so happy that I can fly again!