EASA Instrument Checkride

I completed my competency-based instrument rating course and recently got my night rating. The examiner was able to squeeze my exam into his schedule on Sunday, and the weather was perfect, so I had my checkride today.

It was my second attempt since previously the attitude indicator failed in the school Cessna 172, and we were not able to make a flying part.

The practical part seemed less difficult than in the US. There were some important moments though: for example, in Czech Republic transition altitude is only at 5000 feet, and usually students have to change the altimeter setting during the checkride.

We flew from Roudnice to Karlovy Vary and back: LKROLKKV-LKRO. Our airport is uncontrolled, so we picked up our IFR clearance in the air after take-off. This time instead of following my route I had vectors from the ATC. The important part is switching to the standard pressure after 5000 feet. We climbed to FL80.

Before and during the descent it is important to switch the altimeter to QNH before that transition level, make an approach briefing, set the avionics and get the weather. I got the ILS29 approach, and then GNSS11 with circle-to-land for 29. After the approaches I had to depart visually and climb to FL80 again even though we flew to the East – ATC assigned that level for some reason. Since we were in a piper, I had to switch tanks, and it’s better to have some airport in sight while doing that just in case.

The rest was pretty straightforward: descent, cancelling IFR clearance, closing IFR flight plan and visual landing.

I outlined the following important moments:

  • DO NOT forget about a transition altitude and transition level! In the US we usually fly below them, but in Czech Republic transition altitude is generally at 5000 feet;
  • do not forget about the second altimeter when changing altimeter setting! Forgetting to do that will be a fail;
  • my examiner asked to set both NAV1 and NAV2 for the ILS approach. I used to set NAV2 for the missed approach, but Karlovy Vary does not have a VOR for a go-around, so better to not waste NAV2 and use it for a cross-check;
  • request for descent could be made without desired altitude which means that we prepare for landing according to the flight plan and leaving the assigned flight level;
  • circle-to-land must be made by timing only, not just staying in the safe area with a runway in sight;
  • don’t forget to report departure time during flight plan activation in the air;
  • it is essential to make a start-up request at a controlled aerodrome;
  • IFR clearance should be requested before taxiing;
  • non-precision approach can be made using the DME or GPS for measuring distance to the airport instead of timing;
  • DME is pretty common in Czech Republic;
  • always fly the airplane: keep the course and altitude, follow the glideslope, never fly below DA/MDA without 100% assurance of safe landing, properly estimate holding entry, know the airplane instruments of the particular airplane.

Basically the checkride went as a usual flight. It is even possible to get the examiner involved – for example, ask to set the second altimeter. But in that case it is also essential to check that it was really set properly – some examiners could check your PIC skills by intentionally failing some tasks 🙂

I also prefer to verbally comment all my actions. It clearly shows the intentions and situational awareness. It could also highlight wrong decisions though, but I suppose that it will help in future while acting as a crew member. For example, some of my basic callouts were “airspeed alive”, “positive rate, no runway – gear up”, “we have L, QNH 1016, RW in use 29, slight headwind, no crosswind”, “gas – left, undercarriage – gear down, mixture – full rich, props – full forward, seatbelts – fastened, please check yours”.

As a result, I have the fresh EASA Instrument Rating 🙂

EASA Intrument Checkride: Nice Try

Yesterday I got my EASA NVFR (night rating), and today I manage to schedule my IFR checkride. It does not make sense to wait if the examiner is available and all lessons are done.

Usually students fly to Vodochody or Karlovy Vary for instrument checkrides because these airports are controlled, and they have published instrument approaches.

I got the route to Vodochody. The airport is very close to our flight school, but the instrument approach route is almost as long as the one to Karlovy Vary. Probably the picture will tell more than words:

Planned route to Vodochody

Route to Karlovy Vary is much more direct:

Planned route to Karlovy Vary

Oral part was much easier than the FAA one.

Practical portion finished during a runup check: the attitude indicator failed to level. This instrument is essential for IFR, and this airplane was the only IFR-equipped Cessna in our school. We also have a P28R (Piper with retractable gear and more powerful engine), but our school requires a checkout for any new type, and the examiner was not able to wait for it.

The examiner agreed to fly with me on Sunday, and I decided to get checked in P28R just in case. I was not sure that the ADI will be fixed by Sunday, and wanted to have a backup.

So I scheduled a checkout flight for this evening. The airplane is a complex one: it has a retractable gear, flaps and constant speed prop. It also has a 200 hp engine, so it is faster and more stable in the air. But it requires to think quicker. There were also some more differences like HSI (Hrizontal Situation Indicator) instead of conventional CDI. And this piper is more expensive.

I have a very strong feeling that we will use this airplane for my checkride. And if I get the route to Karlovy Vary (which is very likely since Vodochody tower is usually closed on Sunday), the total cost will be almost the same as in Cessna due to less flight time. This piper is really faster than our diesel C172.

Wish me luck!

EASA Instrument Rating: Level Up!

So, the blog is alive, and I still keep going.

Any professional pilot path starts from the PPL (Private Pilot License). After that you’re good to go by visual cues all by yourself. In Europe only day flights are legal (night rating should be obtained to fly at night), in the US you’re allowed to fly at night as well. The course is usually from 40 to 60 hours with a theoretical and flight tests at the end.

Then in the EASA world you need a night rating. It’s 5 flight hours, and it does not require any formal exam apart from a green light from the flight instructor. With this rating it’s possible to fly at night.

The next step is usually the Instrument Rating (IR). Typically it is the most expensive part of the training. I already possess the FAA IR, and now I am ready to add the EASA IR to my EASA license.

Normally the EASA IR program includes at least 45 dual flight hours, and requires 50 cross-country hours as a prerequisite.

Foreign IR holders (including FAA IR) can go through the competency-based IR program. Formally it is at least 40 instrument hours, including 10 hours in the EASA-approved flight school, at least 25 total dual instrument received time, and up to 30 PIC IR hours.

The ambiguous point is how the national CAA interprets dual flight instruction (whether FAA instruction counts or not). And the key difference is that dual received time cannot be considered as EASA PIC time (FAA allow to log PIC time in some cases).

In my case I need 10 hours in the EASA flight school since I already have the rest including passed ATPL theory. But it’s really hard to find a school which is interested in doing CB-IR: usually it’s much easier for them (and more profitable) to sign you up for a complete instrument course.

I found the school in Czech Republic (it’s Aviaticky Klub).

So I am flying again, again in a Cessna 172, again by instruments. Now it’s a diesel version. In Czech it is not required to use a view-limiting device, so I can also look outside. The adventure is starting!

FAA IPC

It is essential for every pilot to be not only current but proficient. Without practice skills degrade and can even fade away some day.

That’s why FAA requires BFR (Biannual Flight Review) for any type of flying and IPC (Instrument Proficiency Check) for instrument pilots who did not fly enough instrument procedures during the last 6 months. To be more specific, one needs at least 6 instrument approaches during previous 6 months to act as a PIC for flying IFR.

If a pilot do not have the required approaches, and it is less than a year since a pilot was current, it is still possible to fly the approaches under simulated instrument conditions with a safety pilot. Safety pilot can possess just a PPL without Instrument Rating since the flight can be conducted under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions).

After a year if the requirements are still not met a pilot must pass an IPC with a CFII (Certified Instrument Flight Instructor) or a FAA examiner.

It is different in Europe where the Instrument Rating must be just renewed every year with an examiner. Another difference – in Europe during training of flight tests one should just fly under IFR, even in VMC without view-limiting devices like foggles or hood.

My FAA IR currency already expired, and I decided to regain my skills and pass an IPC. I still don’t have a EASA IR, and I have no idea where I can find a FAA CFI in Europe, that’s why I decided to fly to the US. It could be even less expensive due to flight hour prices.

What can I say about it? More flying is better! And it always pays off to renew theoretical knowledge. I greatly recommend to take some courses from https://www.faasafety.gov (a lot of them are free!) and use these books.

During all this ATPL theory preparation I really missed flying. So good to take off again!

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: Long Cross Country

Every student pilot should have a long cross country flight during his training course. It does not mean that you should really cross the entire country, of course, but there are some requirements to the flight legs. The requirements depend on a particular course (private, instrument or commercial program).

Instrument rating requires a flight of 250 nautical miles with instrument approach at each airport and three different kinds of approaches (according to FAR § 61.65).

We flew through an airspace B (controlled airspace above Orlando International airport), it was an interesting experience.

In the US there are all types of airspace from A to G. For example, in Czech Republic we can find G, D and C for general aviation, but here D usually means a small regional airport. Large international airports are usually have B airspace. I like this article for a quick airspace review in the US: Airspace – AOPA. And that is how the airspace in Czech Republic looks like. Looks less crowded, doesn’t it? And we can also keep in mind that there are only about 5 controlled airports in the entire country.

Finally I have some pictures: my instructor took them near Orlando International and St. Petersburg International airports. Looks amazing!

IR Part 141: Cross Country

The 3rd stage of the course is almost entirely about cross-country flying. This means that the student must prepare and safely conduct the entire flight to some remote airport (more than 50 nautical miles from the departure airport).

First of all, I’ve never created a flight plan before. Of course, I was preparing mass and balance, weather briefing and fuel, but I’ve never done the plan itself. Fortunately it is relatively easy in the US and can be done online.

The most challenging parts for me are still approaches and ATC, especially IFR clearances. The flight itself is relatively easy, just instruments monitoring and keeping all flight parameters inside their limits.

We had some issue with our flight plan though. I used 100wsbrief.com for filing, and it uses EST timezone by default. I used to UTC for my logbook records and all related services (like weather), and as a result our plan was filed for 5 hours later. We had VMC, so decided to continue in simulated IMC with the instructor as ATC, and changed our flight plan for the way back to our airport to get a proper clearance.

I still have to work on my approaches to better keep the glideslope and my approach path. The enroute part is OK.

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.