This post is split into sections. Click/tap a heading to get started
* Seemingly the most common IR route. Exeter for an RNAV (GPS) Approach. *
Following my IR Mock (170A) last week the real deal was originally supposed to be Friday but as many of you will no doubt have experienced, the "Beast From The East" and Storm Emma both had other ideas. Given the snow and icing conditions Bournemouth Airport was closed for the tail end of last week and the vast majority of Saturday. With this in mind the schedulers had arranged my flight test for Sunday.
It was good that I finally had a date although the nerves certainly started to set in. I spent a large proportion of Saturday going over the likely theory questions I could be asked in addition to planning the routes I'd likely fly. Usually the examiners working with L3 provide the route to the operations department but given the snow closure the operations desk wasn't manned over the weekend and as such I wasn't able to get hold of any routing. That was the first cause of some stress but I simply used my noggin and planned the two most likely routes based on the weather conditions for the day. Exeter and Alderney. Out of these two options I was hoping for Exeter given I'd flown the GPS approaches there the most, presuming the examiner would be happy for me to conduct one of course. To my delight my examiner ended up asking me where I'd planned for and we both agreed on Exeter. What's more, given the CAA's encouraged use of RNAV (GPS) approaches for the purpose of flight tests over say, an NDB approach, I even got the approach I wanted to do too.
* My steed for the day, G-DOSB. Photo: Tony Guest *
Now, here's where things started to get interesting and it certainly heightened my stress levels. Problem one: Aircraft. I was booked to complete my flight on G-CTCB but on arriving at the training centre was frustrated to discover that it wasn't parked up outside. It's keys and tech log were also no where to be seen. The snow last week meant the maintenance company wasn't able to complete the works due and with operations also closed no one was really notified. Great!! I thought. I popped back inside to discover the next issue. Problem two: No operations cover. Yep, no one was in operations - at least initially - in order to help out with this aircraft concern. It transpired that one or two members of the staff were stuck in Europe due to flight cancellations over the past few days and were unable to make it into work. Eventually someone was drafted in on their day off to sort everything out, which I'm very thankful for. Good old mother nature will she ever stop causing me hassle. It's laughable now, but it certainly didn't make a happy George on the day of test as I'm sure you can imagine. Having planned all of the mass and balance for G-CTCB the night before I was then switched to G-DOSC and then on discovering it's lack of heating requested I be moved onto G-DOSB. The latter wasn't a move I felt overly comfortable with given it then cancelled the lessons of two of my peers, but.. hey, exams come first right?! So, that was that. My steed would G-DOSB and I set about replanning everything for our departure.
Ready for problem three? Air Traffic Control. A flight plan was booked for my route to Exeter but some sort of issue with the phone lines in Exeter meant we couldn't get hold of the tower there to book a slot for the holding / approaches. Thankfully this could be left in the capable hands of operations and they eventually managed to pass on a message of the inbound exam flight to the tower via other means. They'd accepted the flight plan before this event so were obviously well aware of my intention so that was good. It might seem quite melodramatic reading about it but I can assure you at the time it just felt like everything was against me before I'd even began. I think now is a good time to move onto the flight itself.
My examiner was actually a lovely guy and put me quite at ease during our initial brief. It's quite mad how much a bit of small talk can distract you from the somewhat mammoth task you've about to undertake but it really did help. After completing all of the very official looking CAA paperwork and having a flight briefing on the weather, NOTAMS etc lead by yours truly we climbed into the aircraft and got going. I'll separate the rest of this into the relevant sections of the test itself.
* The departure leg from Bournemouth up to 275° and 40 miles from Southampton *
The departure assesses everything from the initial pre-flight brief all the way to the first turning point. Thankfully I'd completed the pre-flight and theory aspect without issue but from the moment you get in the plane your in-flight setup and your pre-flight walk around is all assessed to the standard required of the test. Fortunately I managed to set up everything without any major issues and off we went for our departure to the North West. Bournemouth doesn't have any instrument departures for light aircraft so it's simply a straight line route to the North West for us to a fixed point referenced as 275° and 40 miles from Southampton. To get here we use a technique called point-to-point. Prior to this flight I'd always ended up on track about 5 miles too soon so consumed quite a bit of my capacity to ensure I got it bang on this time. My examiner was actually quite kind by permitting the use of autopilot mid-way through the climb meaning I didn't have to focus so much on fighting the turbulence through the clouds. I was also sure to bug the examiner with constant ice checks following feedback from previous lessons. I made a few silly errors in the departure segment such as forgetting the landing light on takeoff but thankfully noticed this mid-roll and quickly switched it on which saved me the fail. Furthermore, in a traditional flight I'm used to hearing my registration as my callsign which meant i'm typically a-tuned to picking up "Golf-Charlie-Tango-Charlie-Charlie" but in the exam needed to listen out for "EXAM-Five-Eight" which meant I missed a few calls here and there too.
* The en-route portion of the IR from 275° and 40 miles from Southampton to MULIT (GPS Waypoint) *
The en-route portion begins after your first turning point and ends at the commencement of your approach / hold at your first airfield. In my case this took me directly west from the above mentioned point all the way to a GPS waypoint called MULIT under the control of Cardiff controllers before then tracking south towards another GPS waypoint called ATWEL under the control for Exeter controllers. Along this leg you're primarily assessed on your monitoring of flight progress, flight log, fuel usage, systems' management, ice protection procedures, ATC liaison, timing and ETAs, your handling of autopilot and approach/descent planning. I was sure to update the earlier ETA given to my examiner during the departure segment as soon as I was permitted the use of the GPS. The GPS is way more accurate than my planning on the ground and thankfully we arrived at our first waypoint of MULIT bang on the time it said. I was prompt with providing ATC with my ETA to said waypoint and also provided my intentions to Exeter promptly too. In terms of managing the aircraft I knew I needed to descend as soon as I got to MULIT and altered my routing with ATC to avoid a segment of airspace used for parachuting / sky diving and allow for enough milage for the descent. All in all this part of the test went well without any major concerns. There was a couple of de-brief points from the examiner, but that's to be expected I suppose.
Non-Precision Approach & Missed Approach
* The Exeter RNAV for Runway 26 as depicted by the UK AIP *
Perhaps the best part of this flight was the approach into Exeter. I completed a GPS approach for Runway 27 and managed the descent quite well. I was a bit high / low at certain mile markers but the examiner was satisfied the control / power inputs I made to correct this were more than adequate. On the go-around / missed approach I conducted a Engine Failure after take off which went without any major issues although the examiner said I could've been a bit more prompt with the drills which somewhat went against what I'd been taught up until this point but never mind.
Here's the first point I slipped up. It's very frustrating as I'm convinced I'd done everything correctly but at some point I must have changed a setting in the Garmin unknowingly. In essence I was told to hold at a flight level of 50, translating to 5000ft with the altimeter set to a pressure of 1013 hectopascal. A single hectopascal of pressure is roughly 30 ft of altitude and for context on the day of the test the local atmospheric pressure in the Exeter area was 988 hectopascal. Unfortunately despite thinking I had set 1013 on the Garmin it transpired it was still set to 988. So when I levelled off at 5,000ft the actual difference in pressure setting transpired to the aircraft thinking it was 750ft lower than it was. I noticed this too late and on correcting to 1013 on the altimeter the altitude jumped up to 5,750ft. Hopefully that explanation made sense to the vast majority of you but in being 750ft higher than I should have, I gained a fail in the hold section. I have to admit this was slightly soul-destroying as it was so glaringly obvious I felt that i'd failed given the few mistakes earlier in the test too. I verbalised my frustration and said "Ohhh... we may as well return to Bournemouth as I've pretty much failed now haven't I?". The examiner replied going "No, no. It's unfortunate but it's currently a partial so lets carry on and see if you can pass the rest of this test and keep it that way". Hearing my examiner say this just made me relax. I know it's odd me saying that knowing I'd not got a first-time pass but it took the pressure off in that I now knew everything before this point had been a pass. Equally, I now knew that so long as I passed everything else I'd still get a first series IR if I completed the re-fly successfully on another date. All that remained at this point was the general handling and an asymmetric ILS approach back into Bournemouth.
This section of the flight went quite well really but as the examiner was uncomfortable conducting stalling exercises within turbulent cloud we were flying about for some time trying to break free from it. None of the poor weather was forecast either, at least at the time we were flying, so it was certainly unexpected! I conducted two compass turns, a full and base-to-final stall, some unusual attitude recoveries and the usual climbing / descending under limited panel. With this complete we head back to Bournemouth for the approach. The end was near - thank goodness.
Precision Approach & Circle To Land
* The Bournemouth ILS for Runway 26 as depicted by the UK AIP *
This is the second slip up although thankfully it comes under the same section of the assessment so still counted as a partial pass and not a full blown fail. Heading back into Bournemouth I asked for a radar vectored ILS to land and after a bit of messing around by the tower due to two airline arrivals we finally had our shot. The wind was quite gusty on the final approach making things a little more interesting and for the most part things went well. Sadly, a break in my scan towards the end of the ILS approach cost me the pass as I went outside of limits on the glideslope, corrected for it but then went out of limits on the other side. I have to say I was truly gutted about this put didn't let it get the best of me and carried on with the remainder of the low approach and go around. From here I flew visually into the low level circuit before coming into land. My landing was criticised a little bit as I floated quite a way down the runway before touching down but this could be put entirely down to me focussing so much on maintaining the published aircraft speeds for the approach that I forgot to transition my view point to the end of the runway and to prevent a hard landing lifted the nose a little bit. I could have quite easily failed the landing / circuit portion too if I'd have not maintained those speeds within limits so ultimately I'm quite happy about the landing given the significant runway length at Bournemouth but do accept his comment still.
I was debriefed by my examiner during our taxi back to the L3 CTS apron and in not knowing that the ILS and hold could be matched together in the same section was feeling as though I'd lost the entire test at this point. To my surprise the examiner informed me I'd retained the partial and would need to re-fly an NDB Hold above Bournemouth before then carrying out a radar vectored ILS. He mentioned it might be possible to fit this in within the week given his own availability but referred me to the administration in the school to arrange this. On asking the scheduling staff what the next steps were it turns out I'd need to have a meeting with a Head of Training first so we could discuss why I'd partialled it and what could be done to prevent it going forward. The examiner himself had recommended, but not required, an additional hour of training in the simulator to refine the ILS technique so I suppose this would be the subject of the discussions. All in all while I'm disappointed to have not received a first-time pass in the first-series test, no body should be under the illusion that the IR test is easy and as such I'm super relieved to have the chance to now go on and attain a first-series at the second attempt. Airlines will typically look for first-series instrument ratings so it's not all over, just yet.
Having had a day to relax after my IR I head into the centre to chat with one of the Heads of Training about the next steps. Given the various bumps in the road throughout my flight training I was slightly anxious about what this meeting might entail as it's yet another Performance Protection discussion as such. The anxiety need not be felt however as having reviewed my training file for the Bournemouth phase the training team were somewhat confident that the hiccups on my IR test were nothing more than unfortunate mistakes that could have happened to anyone. The adage "You're not the first and you won't be the last" came to mind once more.
As the examiner had recommended but didn't require an additional hour of training I was offered the choice. I could either have the additional hour and use it how I wished or simply be put back in the aircraft for the retest. Given it was on the table I opted for the additional hour to give me the highest chance of passing this IR with a first series. The deputy head of training then said to me that as I was a cadet with Performance Protection I was able to choose whether I completed this in a sim or complete it within an aircraft as my contract made no differentiation on how additional hours should be spent. I therefore elected to take an aircraft flight to get as true to real conditions as possible. The fact this support is offered and at no additional cost is once again confirmation I made the right decision in choosing this training provider. With that said though by the time I re-fly the instrument rating test, which also counts as an additional hour, my total "X Hours" will be 15. This total is above the norm for most cadets but below the maximum of 20 hours most airlines look for. Looking back to my time in New Zealand I somewhat wish I could've grasped landing the Cessna much earlier as then this total wouldn't be as embarrassingly high. Hey ho - we all learn at different rates I suppose.
Hopefully this additional flight will be booked in for the latter half of this week therefore allowing me to practice a couple of holds and a couple of ILS approaches before the retest.
* Got to love the early mornings. - Screenshot of my iPhone early in the morning. *
Having asked, very nicely, if the schedulers could squeeze my remedial flight in with one out of a specific set of instructors to ensure continuity in my training, I somewhat accepted the fact I'd then need to be up at the crack of dawn to facilitate it given staff shift patterns. This isn't a huge deal on the face of it, but given we're approaching British spring - not that you'd think it given the recent weather - it means sunrise and the tightly linked "Morning Civil Twilight" have come forward thus allowing the flying operation to start early as well. So, with an off-blocks time of 07.30am I needed to be at the training centre two hours before and wake up even earlier than that in order to get ready and drive in. While you may think that's quite a long time in advance of a flight, it's crazy how fast that time time goes when you've got to pre-flight the aircraft, complete a briefing with your instructor, file any relevant flight plans with air traffic control, hop in the aircraft, start it up and taxi for departure.
Someone asked me the typical rundown for a lesson so here was my flight timings:
|04:30||The dreaded alarm. Time to shower and get ready to leave.|
|05:00||Leave for the airport.|
|05:15||Arrive at the airport. Time for a much needed coffee.|
|05:30||Pre-flight the aircraft. Check weather, complete aircraft performance, mass and balance & fuel calculations given the days winds.|
|06:15||Meet my instructor and brief the flight. We discuss the weather and any diversion/alternate considerations given prevailing conditions, review the aircraft performance, mass & balance and any tech-logged items which may get in the way of completing the flight, i.e. anti-ice serviceability or lights being out etc. Talk over the route itself and any considerations for the approaches etc. Discuss any NOTAMs if applicable and finally touch on any threats we may experience, i.e. parachutists or gliders on our approach to Exeter.|
|07:00||Walk out to the aircraft. Complete start-up procedures and taxi to holding point.|
|07:30||Airborne. Lesson begins.|
|08:30||Landed. Lesson ends.|
|08:40||Park-up and secure aircraft. Toilet & coffee break.|
|08:50+||Debrief the flight itself. Could last anywhere from 15 minutes upwards an hour depending on what needs to be discussed.|
So there you have it. That's what a typical flight timeline might look like. Obviously this was using timings for my remedial flight where there wasn't much briefing to do at all nor in the debrief sense either given I had a clear objective. Further, a lesson to a destination is typically two hours vs the one hour airborne. We often back-to-back flights meaning if there were two separate two hour flights with the same instructor we'd both come in first thing, brief together, both fly and then be debriefed together as well. In such situations I might not then leave the training centre until gone mid day.
Anyway, back to the additional flight itself. The objective was simple: take-off, enter the hold, complete a hold or two, complete a procedural ILS with two engines, complete a radar vectored ILS approach asymmetric just in case the examiner wants to see one and then conduct a two-engine radar vectored ILS to land.
My entry to the hold immediately made this additional lesson worthwhile. It was a parallel entry and if I were to have conducted it in that manor on the retest I would've failed the IR. It's certainly a little kick up the rear to go and fill the gaps in any technique. It wasn't like I'd done anything majorly wrong here, it's I simply turned too little too late and ended shooting through the inbound axis of the hold which then couldn't be recovered in the milage I had left to the beacon itself. I was sure to look over the techniques after the lesson. What's more, the lingering easterly winds meant runway 08 was in use and I'd never really entered the hold from this direction before given we typically have westerly winds in the UK. Once i'd entered the hold though my instructor was satisfied they were to standard and we continued with the remainder of approaches. The procedural approach gave me the opportunity to get a practice in as we seldom conduct procedural approaches and typically prefer air traffic controllers to vector us onto the final approach. By that I mean, instead of increase our workload we simply prefer the approach controllers to say "Turn left 180°", "Turn left 120°" etc etc. It sounds like laziness, but ultimately makes everyone's lives easier as air traffic control can then control the separation from an aircraft and have them come in one after another as opposed to a procedural setup whereby only one plane can conduct the approach at a time.
* The G1000 desktop trainer. If available it's very useful for practicing instrument procedures. *
Having landed from the final approach my instructor said I've clearly got what it takes to pass it, just be careful not to let the entry screw up my chances. In not wanting to ruin the chances of the first series IR I spoke to operations and managed to get in to the G1000 desktop trainer room. Unlike the DA42 sims we have here we also have a device which, while primitive in terms of simulation, really does help you with honing those hold and approach techniques by carrying them out using the Garmin's. Being a quiet day I spent about 4 hours in there going over the hold entries, general holding technique and ILS approaches. Here's hoping it pays off on the day and that the wind isn't an annoying factor!
Having spent a long time in the above desktop trainer room I asked operations if it was possible to book a tower visit as I was curious to see how they manage our instrument flights from the other side of the radio. Given the weather conditions on the day were pretty poor all local VFR traffic was grounded and it provided me the perfect opportunity. Sadly I've no photos to share as ATC stuff here is kept tightly controlled but I was able to see what controller did what, when it happened, why it happened and ultimately why they asked us as pilots to do certain things. I even got the chance to meet a couple of the controller(s) who would be on shift during my re-fly. I didn't realise just how complicated things were behind the scenes for these controllers as they don't have much say in the airspace at all really. To the east they've got London's airspace and also Southampton. Bournemouth only control the airspace within so many miles of them to the North, West and South up to a certain height. Anything above Bournemouth is typically handled by Southampton Radar controllers and anything further East by London controllers based out of Swanwick. It sure was interesting to see what processes our radio calls triggered in the tower. i.e., when we call for departure clearances Bournemouth must speak to Southampton to obtain it whom then issue a squawk code and any applicable routing. That information is then handed to us as the pilots. There's lots more that goes on too but I won't bore you all. Very much enjoyed the visit though before it was time to head home for a much needed nap.
I found out in the evening that my re-fly was booked for Sunday with the same examiner who took my initial flight. Fingers crossed that the weather holds up and doesn't make life unnecessarily difficult for me.
* The obligatory post IR photo. I held on to that pass certificate for dear life in the wind. *
So today was the big day and I can honestly say that my nerves were way higher than they were for the first attempt. A pass was so close, yet so far at the same time. In wanting to feel as prepared as possible I head into the training centre for 6.30am, pre-flighted the aircraft, completed the planning and sat going over the procedures i'd be flying.. again and again and again. This probably didn't help the stress levels but I wanted to be sure to nail the flight. With a booking time of 10am my examiner was in the building by 8am and with everything pretty much planned I made the decision I wanted to go earlier to avoid the changing winds as the day progressed. At the time of departure the winds were effectively straight down the runway which provided me with a nice tailwind in the hold and thus assisted by providing me more time to get on track again although in the case of my approach it'd be a bit bumpy akin to that of my mock test.
The test essentially mirrored what I'd written above for the remedial flight, albeit one hold and one approach, so I won't repeat myself in that sense. My hold entry was far stronger than that of the remedial and the general hold went smoothly too. The tailwind did blow me outside of it but we'd much sooner be wide in a hold than narrow as they're much easier to correct. When it came to the approach, the examiner wanted me to fly it asymmetric which added to the stress levels a little bit as the wind required power changes all over the shop to maintain the tolerance above and below the 105 knots approach speed. The ILS itself was a bit of a pain to manage as a slightly gusty headwind caused my groundspeed to constantly increase or decrease and thus my angle of descent over the ground changed alongside it. This meant that damn green glideslope diamond continuously wandered and at one point got close to limits. However, small adjustments made over and over saved the day. In the final few hundred feet of the ILS the examiner took control and brought us into land. At first I felt this was him taking control as i'd done something wrong, but thank god it wasn't and on arriving at the apron he'd told me I'd passed.
YES! - What a relief!
Words simply can not describe the emotion I'm feeling today. All the stress of the last year or so has been worth it for this feeling and, while I'm yet to send off for the actual licence papers themselves, the pass certificates in my possession prove that I can now call myself a qualified and instrument rated Commercial Pilot. Otherwise known in the industry as a Frozen ATPL licence. Of course, this isn't the end of the road just yet as i've now got the Upset Prevention and Recovery flights plus the Airline Qualification Course to complete whereby the latter of which is also assessed. A former cadet told me to "Enjoy freedom while it lasts" so it seems i'm in for a stressful time with that too. But for now that doesn't phase me as I'm riding a bit of a high as far as emotions go. I may have failed my CPL but the early mornings, long days and pure focus over the past few weeks have seen me go on to achieve a 1st Series Instrument Rating to somewhat claw it back. Okay... maybe it took me a few more hours than some of my peers throughout the whole flight training phase but I've finally done it. Now to relax for a little bit before the next bit kicks off again. A few days of admin lay ahead as I now try to track down all the required members of staff whom need to sign all the relevant documentation before I can request my licence from the CAA.
Apologies for the sheer length of this post, but many of you like the detail and I've always been honest so felt it worth sharing.
Until next time,