IR Part 141: Checkride

After about 2 months of flying, studying and waiting I am going to have an Instrument Rating checkride. Actually I am very happy since I was waiting only 2 days after my end-of-course check, it is not common at all.

We’re flying to Brooksville, the controlled airport nearby with ILS approach available. The weather is not perfect for a runway with ILS today, but probably we could have a low-pass. I am planning ILS, LOC and RNAV approaches there and RNAV approach at the home airport.

I am always a bit scared of exams. It is not about confidence, but just because a pressure is higher than usual. Apart from that, there will be nothing more than I’ve already done: flight planning, weather briefing, working with charts, unusual attitudes recovery, holding, airplane control and instrument approaches. One more good thing is that the ATC in Brooksville is usually absolutely amazing.

As a result, now I am a legal instrument pilot. I have a bit strange license now: EASA PPL, piggyback FAA PPL based on the EASA one, and the US instrument rating based on this piggyback FAA PPL.

What’s next? I am going to obtain a FAA CPL to eliminate the necessity of maintaining my EASA PPL for executing the privileges of the FAA one. In other words, it will become a normal standalone FAA Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating. Then I am going to pass the EASA ATPL theory, and obtain a standalone EASA CPL. I can count my future US flight time towards EASA minimums too.

Why am I going that way? Why two different licenses? Basically to increase my chances of being hired anywhere: I am neither the US citizen nor the EU citizen, and aviation-related things are complicated in Russia. Basically our general aviation is nearly dead. I suppose that I need as many credentials and as much experience as possible. And it’s fun at the end: I love flying.

IR Part 141: The End-of-course Check

Part 141 course requires the internal school check flight before allowing students to have a checkride. Usually the school chief pilot or some senior flight instructor performs this check. In my case this is the school owner, Tom Davis.

The weather is fine today, and I have to demonstrate that I am ready for a checkride. It means proper flight planning, good airplane control, correct unusual attitudes recovery demonstration, correct holding procedures and nice stable approaches.

The most challenging part is approaches, they require precise piloting, proper estimation and performing multiple tasks at the same time. Surprisingly holding procedures are a bit difficult for me too, especially teardrop entries: heading calculation at the beginning of the procedure is not so easy when you have to stay on the proper holding side.

I believe that I am ready for the checkride, but mastering all this stuff will require much more time and constant practice. Anyway, I passed, and in some days I will have a checkride. It’s been a great journey, but it’s only the beginning!

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.

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!

IFR English

Today I passed my practical IFR English exam. In Europe it is a requirement for Instrument Rating. I don’t plan to get European IR now, but my English is pretty good, so why not? It was nothing special even in spite of the fact that I don’t have any IR experience except one flight as a backseat passenger in Cessna C172. Of course I don’t consider my flights as an airline passenger because I don’t hear any communications 🙂

In the first (written) part I had to define some terms like “straight-in approach”, “jet stream” or “alternate current”. I did not find any unfamiliar terms, and it was harder to express it than understand. After that I had to unfold some abbreviations.

In the second (oral) part I described approach plates (RNAV and ILS) and answered some questions about them, and finally there was a simulated communication with ATC.

Everything was OK, and now I have one more important document 🙂

EASA PPL Checkride

Finally I did it! To be honest, I was worrying that I would have to return to Moscow before finishing my PPL, because I did not have any possibility to stay here after the 1st of July. It is much easier to take an exam right after finishing the course because of fresh skills, and I highly desired to do it before leaving.

I got an unexpected route via Prague CTR, and I had never flown it before. During my training I was flying through another CTR in Karlovy Vary, and it happened only two times. Besides, today I had an airplane that I had flown only once on my long cross-country.

On practice everything was not so scary as it sounds. I flew as usual, I contacted a controller, and he approved my request for flying my route. After leaving a CTR I contacted an ATC one more time and reported leaving a controlled area.

I think that the most difficult part was the weather. Thermal activity was pretty strong causing a bumpy ride. I saw hanggliders on some aerodrome, and they were climbed very fast. In those conditions the approach was a little tricky: for example, I experienced altitude changing from about -5 to +5 and vise versa just in some seconds without any power adjustment. At least it was not boring 🙂

I am very happy that I made emergency landings without any stress, I was just calculating a new path and turning at a proper point. During engine-out procedures there is no more feeling that I fall like a rock.

Thus, now I have almost 60 hours and an EASA PPL. I am accepting congratulations 🙂

One More Exam

Today I had one more check conducted to sign me off for navigation flights. That check is internal, and it is mandatory for all students according to our syllabus. It was nothing special, just a usual cross-country flight using a paper chart. We flew a very beautiful route today.

I am not afraid of the navigation flights. To be honest, on one of my previous lessons, I miscalculated my heading and deviated about five miles off course, but after that I saw Pilsen, and it was impossible to get lost as it is a very big city. Of course I flew without a GPS that time, and today flight was also without a GPS. In any case, I feel that I don’t have any problems with cross-countries.

The flight was very relaxing as the wind was calm and the landscape was absolutely awesome. One more record to my logbook!

The First Solo

Finally it happened: I flew my first solo today. It is a very important step for every pilot. That day we had done more than 10 patterns with my instructor and 3 patterns with the examiner before I flew alone. The examiner was staying on the ground with a handheld radio. I was instructed that if he say “GO AROUND!”, I have to go around immediately. Fortunately, it did not happen.

My landings were perfect. I think that I never landed so great. Probably it is because the airplane is lighter with just one person aboard, or I simply tried to do my best.

I heard that one remembers it for the rest of the life. I recorded it with my action cam, just in case. To be honest, I felt that I havn’t had time for worrying: checklists, runup, taxiing, before takeoff checklist, full power, acceleration, pitching up a little bit, acceleration, rotation, acceleration in a ground effect, climbing, brakes, after takeoff checklist, trim, climbing some more, flaps, trim, climbing, turn, one more turn just before this village, level off, power cruise, trim, before landing checklist, radio call, carb heat, turn before red building, maintaining altitude, reduce power keeping level attitude, speed for flaps, flaps 10, trim, check traffic on final, turn to final, flaps 20, nose down, radio call, flare, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up…. Touchdown. Nice and smooth touchdown. Full power, carb heat off, flaps 10, acceleration, and do everything one more time except full stop instead of touch-n-go.

After landing I could not stop smiling. All day long =)