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.


Today is the Christmas Eve, and my instructor is not available. Instead of flights all the students are invited for a dinner party at the chief pilot’s home. I started to miss home atmosphere, so that cozy celebration was really good. I just want to thank our school officials 🙂

The Weather

The weather is a critical factor for any pilot. For today we were planning ILS and VOR approaches in a controlled airspace.

The forecast was pretty good and even improving: almost no wind, ceiling 4300, visibility 10 miles or more. After all preparations and a preflight check the wind became 190, 4 kt, but we planned runway 36 (the only one with ILS in that airport). It meant that we would have a tailwind, and more likely that all other traffic would use 18, and ILS would not be an option.

So, the only option for a precision approach (the one with a glideslope) could be a GPS approach with LPV, but the airplane we took does not have WAAS. It meant that we just cannot fly any precision approach.

Fortunately the airplane with WAAS was still available, and we decided to prepare a GPS approach. Instrument-wise there is almost no difference between ILS and GPS with a glideslope.

Meanwhile, the weather decided against us again, and the ceiling became 800. Definitely these were not proper conditions for a training flight, especially for the first precision approach ever for me. So we are waiting for appropriate conditions. Sometimes it just happens, and a proper decision is a part of good ADM.

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!

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.