The club also requires that you do the club ride in the “highest level” aircraft that you’re intending to fly that year. So if, like me, you want to fly the club’s Lance, then you have to do the club ride in the Lance.
I like to learn on these rides, and there are a lot of different ways to fly, so I try to do each ride with a different instructor. This time, I thought I’d give Joe a call. Joe taught something like 25% of the club members their private license, and 50% of the instrument rated pilots got them with him. But Joe loves to talk, and talk and talk and talk, and I knew that would drive me nuts which is why I didn’t give him a call for my instrument training. But I knew I could take it for a few hours, and he’s a great instructor and a very experienced pilot.
The Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) said that to expect ceilings at 10,000 feet, which would be perfect, but with temporary ceilings at 2,500 feet between 9am and 11am. Well, it was 11am, and there was a broken layer at 2,000 feet, and an overcast layer at 2,500. Not good. But also not clearly impossible. So we discussed it, and decided to go out and give it a try.
The first thing I noticed was that the automatic noise reduction in my headset wasn’t working. That’s unfortunate, because it makes understanding the radios a lot harder. I could hear the intercomm perfectly, I could hear air traffic control ok but not great, and I could barely hear Joe at all when he was on the radio.
We flew out to the north west practice area. At first, my rustiness manifested itself in a desire to try and do everything at once, and failed. Trying to level off and get the plane throttled back and trimmed up and everything, and my altitude and heading went all over the place, plus I nearly killed the engine by over leaning it. Joe said “just do one thing at a time”, so I slowed down and did that. My altitude control wasn’t the best, but then again when I’m *really* flying I don’t try to level off at 2,000 feet. Then again, this is definitely something I have to practice before I go to Oshkosh, where the VFR approach pattern requires to you maintain 1,800 feet and 90 knots.
As we got out to the practice area, the clouds were higher. So we started out with slow flight, minimum controllable air speed. Hey, I remembered to put the gear override on so the gear didn’t drop and surprise me! Good for me. We sped up and did my steep turns – not great, I gained about 150 feet during two 360s, and Joe had to admonish me to go steeper at one point. We headed north, and as we got close to the lake the clouds were quite broken up. The clouds at 2,000 were almost non-existant, and the ones at 2,500 were between “few” and “scattered”. We climbed up to 3,000 feet and did our stalls. Because it’s such a big plane, we only did them to an “imminent” stall. Again, I remembered the gear override, although of course I did drop the gear as we slowed down. I was still having problems maintaining a good altitude. Joe had me put under the hood (a view limiting device that supposedly only lets you see the instruments and not out the window, although in practice you get a bit of a glimpse out the side windows) and he put me into an unusual attitude. I hate unusual attitudes with, as Vicki puts it, “the fiery passion of a thousand suns”. They used to make me badly air sick. But I resolved not to let them get to me and Joe didn’t do the sort of gut-wrenching maneuvers that my original instructor did when I was getting my private. I recovered, no sweat.
We continued under the hood, as he gave me a few headings and altitudes. At first I was making a terrible cock-up of it, frequently finding myself banking 30 degrees one way and then 30 degrees the other. He got me to slow down again and get the turn squared away before starting the climb and/or vice versa, and I got things under control better. In normal instrument flying, I would have used the auto pilot to handle the turn and hand-flown the climbs and descents until I had things enough under control to do both at once, but in a review situation you don’t use the autopilot.
He’d climbed me up to 5,500 by then, and he had me take off the hood. There was a solid layer of clouds below us. We’d been heading generally south away from the lake, and there the clouds still hadn’t broken up. At this point we were going to head back, so Joe got a pop-up IFR clearance, and we headed back to shoot the ILS. Joe was doing most of the radio work (which again, since I couldn’t hear his side of the conversation, wasn’t exactly optimal for me) and also setting up the radios for the approach “like a good co-pilot”. The ATIS was saying that ILS 4 was the approach in use, but we heard some people doing ILS 28. So first we set up for ILS 4. ATC asked us if we were ok with ILS 28, and we said we were, so we re-setup for ILS 28. Then they said that ILS 28 wasn’t going to work and they would have to put us on ILS 4. No problem, except for the constant changing of the HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) settings and radios.
I just want to say, though, for the record, that I love flying an HSI on an ILS. The HSI and the extra room between the seats make the extra money for the Lance versus the Archers or Dakota worth it even leaving aside the extra carrying capacity and speed.
ILS 4 went smooth as silk, and I kept within a dot deflection all the way down. I was out of the clouds and not wearing the hood, but I didn’t sneak a peak under about 600 feet off the ground, at which point we were talking to the tower and they asked us if we wanted to cancel our IFR clearance. (That’s a strong hint, by the way, that they want to get you out of the IFR system to expedite things for other IFR traffic.) Of course, once you look up and you see that everything is working as planned, there is no reason to stop flying exactly the same heading and power setting that were working so well for the ILS. That’s what makes ILSes so great – once you’re set up, you just fly a light touch and don’t touch anything until you’re over the end of the runway and you can gently pull back the power.
We did three more touch and goes on runway 4, and called it a day.
Then came the regulation review back in the FBO. I knew most of this stuff, although I wasn’t quite up to snuff on cloud clearances other than the standard 3 miles, 500/1000/2000 for class E. But my own personal minimums are way above what’s legal, so I don’t think that’s ever going to be a problem. The regulation review took about 2 hours, but I swear at least half of it was Joe talking about himself.
It’s over and done with. I’m now legal for everything except carrying passengers at night (I have to do 3 take offs and landings at night to get current for that again). But I definitely need some more practice.
I’m resolved to get more hours flying than I did last year, so I’ve booked a plane for 4 of the next 5 times that I go visit my kids. And I intend to do some flying on “home” weekends as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to convince Vicki to go somewhere with me again. Our trip to Piseco a few years back, and our trip to Holyoke last year were definitely the highlights of my flying “career”.