IR Part 141: Stage III Check

Stage III mainly considers cross country flights and everything related to that: weather briefing, flight planning, reading and interpreting NOTAMs, fuel, weight and balance computation and so on. So for checking these skills we should make a cross country flight too.

Today the weather is not perfect at all: there are wind gusts and pretty high thermal activity. All I can say about the weather was already said by our chief pilot after my first landing today: “What the hell was that?”. It is not easy at all to smoothly land the airplane in that weather 🙂

The third stage or the Instrument Rating course is the most peaceful and calm one. The flight planning part is essential, but one could take time during this process, and there is always an opportunity to postpone the flight if the conditions are above the pilot’s personal limitations. In other words, there are less external pressures and much more time than when you’re actually in an airplane. The workload during the enroute part is also much less than during the approach, the course assumes that the student is already mastered approaches in the previous parts. Or at least he is comfortable enough with them to not mess everything up.

So the course is almost done. I need now only an end-of-course check and a checkride to obtain my first instrument rating ever.

IR part 141: Stage II check

Probably the most important stage in the Instrument Rating course is the stage II, when the student learns to fly approaches. It requires precise and correct piloting, correct radio communications, attention, multitasking skills, and attention again. Of course, it’s important in every flight including visual piloting, but instrument flight is even more demanding.

It is not so scary as it was at the beginning, but today we have wind gusts, which makes piloting some more difficult, especially on the glideslope. I had to fly 3 different approaches: ILS, VOR and GPS. I feel still a bit overwhelmed sometimes, but more and more confident with practice.

IR part 141: Approaches

Brand-new instrument rating course student meets a lot of problems after feeling rather confident flying VFR. For example, very quick transitioning to visual approach after the words ‘runway in sight’ (when you should remove your hood and really see the runway), or calculating the optimal speed for a stabilized approach, or the stabilized approach itself. But probably the most challenging part for me was communication with ATC.

We are flying mainly in ‘Jacksonville Appoach’ area. At first, the word ‘approach’ itself is a little confusing after Europe when we’re considering some general area, but that is just a sidenote. The problem is that the controller talks way too fast and does not follow the standard ICAO phraseology. That FAA world is really different. And if I am almost OK with male controllers, I really have large problems with some lady: she speaks even faster, and her high-pitch voice challenges me even more. Of course, it becomes better with practice, but initially, especially under some pressure because of other new factors, it was pretty hard.

I have to learn more phraseology too. For example, I’ve never heard ‘Cleared for the options’ before. And again, everything comes with more experience.

We’re flying approaches in D airspace, not very busy, but it depends on time of the day. For example, once we had a holding clearance with EFC in 1 hour, i. e. in a worst case we should fly holding patterns for one hour. Fortunately in practice we asked for a VOR approach after about 10 min and got a clearance.

I strongly advice to fly in the US at least for the radio communications practice. Initially it can be challenging even for native speakers. ATC speaks fast, you should understand and comply quicker since you are usually not alone at the airspace. At the private level it does not matter a lot, but for IR it really helps to gain more experience and confidence. Moreover, there are much more controlled airports here. For example, we have at least 5 options in less than 1 hour of flight, all without landing or approach fees. Additionally, there are official GPS approach charts even for small uncontrolled airports.

One piece of advice for prospective IR students, especially non-native speakers: practice ATC. Listen liveATC, watch youtube videos, repeat phrases, try to capture the situation in the air. Probably even try to sketch aircrafts positions from some liveATC channel.

IR Part 141: Approaches

Probably the most challenging (but the most interesting!) part of the IR training program is Instrument Approaches. This is that phase of a flight when we change from enroute portion to landing, and it requires even more attention and better multitasking. In theory I know how to, but in practice it does not go so well.

Instrument Approach consists of flying by some reference track on dedicated altitudes. Sometimes it can be a published track, sometimes ATC can provide vectors (compass headings to maintain). Initially it seems that the time goes too fast to do all required stuff. I remember a very similar feeling on my first aerodrome circuits. Everything should come with more practice, but it takes time and effort.

Even without visual aids the feeling that you are in the air, and you are controlling a miraculously flying machine, is really great. The happiest moments in a human life!