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* SkyVector.com representation of my return route to Alderney *
Following a long weekend it was time to return to the sim for the first of a few IR Routes Sims. I suppose you could compare these next few sims to the driving lessons where you followed the known driving test routes. The first of these takes us on a route from Bournemouth to Alderney in the Channel Islands via an airway known as Q41. The route back was flown beneath this airway to avoid controlled airspace altogether before then routing direct to Bournemouth to avoid the Plymouth military airspace off the South Coast.
When the schedule was released I wasn't actually expecting to fly this route today but one of my peers had tonsillitis (ouch!) and so I was put in his place. Turning up in the morning my sim partner also happened to be off sick having done something to his back (equally, ouch!) so with that in mind it was just the instructor and I for this one. With the sim being booked out to my instructor for 4 hours and with us now only using 2 of those it left some padding to extend my session slightly if we wanted to cover anything I was uncertain of. My instructor and I managed to squeeze in both types of approach into Alderney which will certainly be helpful when it comes to doing this route in the aircraft in a week or so.
We covered a new type of navigation today which hadn't really been covered out in New Zealand but then again, it's not really useful out there compared to UK airspace. This was point-to-point which comes in useful when navigating via NDB beacons in situations where Air Traffic Control tell you to "resume own navigation". We'd covered this in mass briefs before, but it made much more sense once completed in an aircraft environment.
I made many silly mistakes in this lesson which frustrated me a bit it has to be said. I know i'm capable of doing everything we've learnt to date but having to bring previously taught techniques back to the front of my mind and do everything else at the same time throws you off somewhat. My instructor summarised by saying my progress was "good" but I need to focus on "dovetailing" the company procedures amongst it all. With only about 8 events left before my mock IR Test I best get a move on!
* SkyVector.com depiction of my route from Bournemouth to Cardiff *
Having completed Alderney the day prior, this time I was instructed to plan for Cardiff. This sees us depart from Bournemouth to the North West and continue to fly up to EXMOR where we momentary join an airway before descending into Cardiff's airspace. The general departure was a bit tricky given it was the first time I'd flown to a user defined waypoint within the GPS which caused some confusion but, other than that, the en-route elements of this flight went without a hitch as far as my performance was concerned. My instructor even threw in a system failure or two. I was kept on my toes a little thanks to the introduction of Standard Operating Procedure steps I'd not considered before. For example, I hadn't checked the availability of GPS coverage at Cardiff and therefore as I got closer was denied both a GPS and ILS approach as a bit of punishment for not doing so. Great... the much loved NDB approach it is then *sarcasm*.
At Cardiff I completed a few NDB holds to get some more practice before making an NDB approach. This was followed by a go around for a missed approach and then a return to the RNAV GPS approach as it was now made available again. The RNAV approach itself highlighted I needed go away and refresh my knowledge of both UK and L3 Standard Operating Procedures for flying RNAV approaches as I forgot one or two integrity checks which in a real aircraft, in cloud, could be somewhat dangerous if anything was to go wrong. As stressful as it is when you do make mistakes and get criticised mid-flight by instructors, I'd much rather make these mistakes now than later in my training or career. To any reader of my blog during the Instrument Rating phase it must come across I'm a terrible pilot with all of these mistakes I'm making but, that's the whole point of the sims. To make mistakes and improve from them. I'll certainly be a better pilot by the end of them. Ultimately my instructor deemed this sim as a step backwards as far as progress, which I feel was a little unfair as it deviated slightly from the syllabus, but hey.. we won't go there. I still learnt lessons regardless.
* DA42 sim featuring a turn co-ordinator, as required by the test. *
Given the vast majority of trainees within L3 Airline Academy complete their flight training using EFIS - Electronic Flight Instrumentation System equipped aircraft, or Glass Cockpits in laymen's terms, in which do not employ turn co-ordinator instruments, the Civil Aviation Authority require L3 assess our ability to fly in limited panel conditions using them. In essence, the authority is requiring confirmation that I, the trainee, would be able to operate an aircraft in the event of total EFIS failure making use of only the traditional standby instrumentation if they were to be fitted.
* Attitude Indicator (left) vs. Turn Co-ordinator (right) *
Until this point those trainees completing flight training on the DA40, Cessna 172 and DA42 have had the luxury of a standby attitude indicator as per the left instrument above and as such would have had very little exposure to the turn co-ordinator, as per the right instrument above. The true beauty of this, and a real nicety from Diamond and Cessna at that, is that in the event of a electronics failure which renders the Garmin G1000 equipment unserviceable, the battery powered gyro-driven attitude indicator will continue to display our flight path relative to the horizon and, thus, as pilots we could maintain straight and level flight by flying the attitude references we'd become used to for that given aircraft.
Conversely, in aircraft not equipped with Garmin G1000 avionics, such as the DA20 Katana which a fair few of my coursemates flew, the attitude indicator is a primary instrument and thus its' loss requires flight by reference to other instruments. In this situation the turn co-ordinator becomes critical to keeping wings level and the aircraft flying in balance (straight). The altitude indicator becomes the important focus for ensuring we're flying level and not climbing or descending. The airspeed indicator becomes crucial for ensuring we maintain the correct speed setting for the phase of flight and finally, the backup compass [with all it's innate errors] vitally important for helping us maintain heading.
As you might imagine therefore, the loss of the attitude indicator in this situation will, without any shadow of a doubt, significantly increase any pilots workload. Instead of having to scan one or two readings on a fancy Garmin display - as I've become used to - your eyes somewhat race around the various instruments to maintain safe flight. With no reference to the horizon you'd have zero indication as to how much of an effect control input has on the nose if you were to be in cloud. Flying the aircraft blind like this is actually quite stressful and certainly makes you sweat a little.
For the purposes of the test we had to climb and descend, complete various compass turns taking into account the compass errors, and also recover the aircraft from undesirable situations such as a spiral dive or nose-high situation. We were taught these exercises in New Zealand but having never done this using solely a turn co-ordinator as reference for the wings it was a lot harder I have to say and took me a little while to get used to. What's more, the amount of control inputs I used to recover from the unusual attitudes was somewhat alarming. The examiner stated it's simply impossible for an individual to predict exactly how much an effect their input is going to have without the visual reference from an attitude indicator, but, did also explain the lack of motion and feel of the sim we used to complete the test versus a real aircraft also made a real difference here as you'd almost certainly feel G-Forces in an aircraft and adjust accordingly.
I'm pleased to say that after a 45 minute session in the simulator I passed the test and can now certify such in my logbook with a sticker given to me by the CAA-approved examiner. That's another hurdle crossed. It's mad to think that there's not actually that many more milestones left in my training at L3 before I could legally call myself a commercial pilot. How exciting!
* SkyVector.com depiction of my route from Bournemouth to Exeter via the RNAV GPS approach. *
After a rather long week by comparison to those i've had in Bournemouth of late, it was time to round it off with the final simulator of the instrument rating phase. Prior to my go I got to backseat a coursemate which provided me with a second opportunity to watch the Oxford IR Route. This was useful given the routes' proximity to London's airspace and the associated deviations we could expect from our filed flight plans as a result. My route, however, was Bournemouth to Exeter. In some respects the route follows the same initial departure and en-route segment as the Cardiff route I mentioned above, although this time we head South when we get to the airway instead of North although with that said it's only a short hop before we depart out of it on our descent into Exeter.
I was briefed prior to the sim that I would carry out an RNAV (GPS) approach into Exeter, although to mix things up a bit and increase my workload the wind was to be configured as a direct crosswind therefore allowing the instructor to only advise of the active runway at the last minute. Sods law therefore that the instructor decided to give me the opposite approach to that I'd programmed into the Garmin. It didn't take too long to change it on the GPS, but with the descent and distance from the airway to Exeter being quite short you had to be a quick thinker in order to remain ahead of the aircraft. I'm pleased that my ability to remain ahead is improving the more and more I'm exposed to IFR scenarios as it'll make my life easier down the road.
The flight was going quite well up until this point but then I just crumbled for some reason. My flying wasn't unsafe, but I just made yet more mistakes I could learn from. My instructor, acting as Exeter's Approach controller, requested I entered an en-route hold at the first waypoint of the RNAV approach and provided me with the specific bearing to it she wished me to enter. Due to misconfiguring the Garmin I lost situational awareness a little and ended up 2 miles to the south of the waypoint. The hold was flown correctly, albeit a little messy as indications weren't as I'd have expected them to be. Due to the loss of awareness I couldn't understand why I was unable to regain the inbound leg of the hold and unfortunately would've failed a real IR test for it. You have to complete the full hold and be within 5° of the inbound track, or half scale deflection for GPS, which I wasn't.
Continuing the approach I was now a bit flustered and just made minor mistake after minor mistake during the descent. It's absolutely mental how one slip up can make you feel this way and I wasn't alone as my coursemate in his own sim felt similar after making his own mistakes. Nevertheless, on the whole the approach was flown correctly to a missed approach. After the missed approach we carried out some general handling exercises. While already confirmed as satisfactory within the CPL exam, the Civil Aviation Authority require a pilot to re-demonstrate their ability to recover an aircraft from a stall - albeit within cloud - and the same applies for compass turns. After the second stall I was then given an engine failure to content with and at the time I felt my recovery of this was a right mess given I lost altitude, heading maintenance was all over the shot and it took me quite a while to run through the drills but, to my surprise, the instructor told me I beat myself up to much and praised my very quick thinking to lower the nose in order to increase airspeed and thus prevent total loss of control. Ultimately she said "Who cares if it takes you longer.... Was is ultimately safe? - Yes. Did you crash? - No.".
After this it was a return asymmetric to Exeter for landing. I felt terrible after this flight. I'd made so many mistakes it was ridiculous. Or at least, so I thought. Generally speaking the instructor did have some constructive criticism on some aspects of my flight but said these will now gradually fall into place once we get back into the real aircraft and see these routes for real. She summarised:
I don't think this flight was as bad as you felt it was - you may have been working to capacity at times, but overall you fly smoothly and to IR tolerances. You learned some valuable lessons from it - the usefulness of P2P navigation, the importance of paying attention to the gate in the hold and descending at an appropriate ROD on a procedure but, you recovered from your moment towards the end doubt after realising the beacon and DME locators didn't coincide to intercept & maintain the inbound track nicely, giving due consideration to Groundspeed and Rate of Descent which resulted in an accurately flown profile.
So there you have it. All of the sims of the Bournemouth Instrument Rating phase completed. Now it's time to hop back in the real aircraft and complete see the routes with our own eyes - or lack thereof given we'll be wearing a hood to block the view. There's not an awful lot of time left in the Instrument Rating now and it's all becoming very real so fingers crossed I'll pull it off and recover that CPL slip up out in NZ. It's very strange to think I'll soon be able to say "I'm a qualified commercial pilot" when that's all I've ever dreamt of since being a young boy. But... then it's just the job hunt to contend with although that's a story for another day.
Until next time,