I let both my instrument currency and my club annual ride expire in the last little while, so I had to do that. I contacted my favourite CFI, Jim Hood, and he agreed that we could get both requirements satisfied with one IPC.
I’d flown twice this spring to try to get back up to speed for this, and I have to confess that I didn’t feel ready. Both times my altitude and heading control had utterly sucked – in the course of doing 720 degrees of steep turns, I’d gain 500 feet! And in the course of following a vector, I’d look down and find myself 20 or 30 degrees off the assigned heading. And to make it even worse, doing stalls made me feel queasy. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of last year’s BFR where I had to call it off the first time after the unusual attitude recovery because I was throwing up.
While I was waiting for Jim to show up, I was sitting in the FBO copying flights from my PDA’s log to the paper log book (I’ve been really lax about that). In the other room, I could hear a local CFI with his instrument student. I should say that I’ve had one BFR with this instructor, and at the time I thought that while he is undoubtedly a good instructor for certain types of people, he was not one I’d like to take any instruction with. That happens – your personality and the instructor’s have to mesh, or you’re just not going to be able to learn from him. And sometimes students never quite grasp that they’re paying the bills, so if they’re not getting what they need from the instructor they should find another. Anyway, this student sounded incredibly frustrated, and on the verge of quitting, and the CFI’s was just not helping him. He was saying that he was having trouble holding heading and altitude, and every time he looked at the altimeter his heading would wander off, and every time he looked back at the directional gyro, his altitude would wander. The thing is, we all had that problem in our instrument training – to me, instrument training is the process of getting so you’re not totally overwhelmed by everything, and getting incrementally better so you can hold one or the other, and then you can hold them both, and then you can add new tasks (talking on the radio, copying clearances, figuring out holding entries) while still holding heading and altitude, and so on, and getting better at all of them. But the instructor just seemed unable to offer any words of advice to this guy, other than “you’re over-controlling”, and “I’m not touching the controls, so everything that’s happening is because you’re doing it”. I felt like taking this poor student aside and saying “get a new instructor!” I have a feeling that if he doesn’t, he’s going to quit out of frustration very soon.
After Jim arrived, we sat in the plane and he quizzed me about standard regulation stuff, mostly about instrument flight. Then we went out and flew two ILSes (one partial panel) and a GPS approach. We did an unusual attitude recovery partial panel while on a long vector, and flew the published missed and a hold. It’s unbelievable how much easier all that stuff has gotten with the Garmin 530W. I mean, it wasn’t too bad with a handheld GPS backing you up, and the 530 was a small increment better than a handheld in that it made it legal to fly GPS approaches, but the WAAS upgrade is incredible. Not just because it gives you the vertical guidance stuff, but also because the upgrade came with a firmware upgrade that is out of this world. When you’re flying a published hold, you don’t need to calculate hold entries, time legs, calculate wind correction, or anything. It says “turn to heading 098 in 10 seconds” and counts down. Then you turn the plane until the GPS says you’re making 098 degrees over the ground, and hold that until it says to turn to another heading. Incredible.
The only downer part was that they gave us a vector that took us inside the final approach fix on the GPS approach, and that confused the auto sequencer. Also, because of that, there was almost no time to descent to the MDA, even at 1000 fpm.
My ILSes weren’t too bad – I kept the localizer within 1 dot most of the way, and the glide slope within two dots, until about 200 feet above the Decision Height, where both the localizer and glide slope become so narrow that I was having problems staying within them. Jim suggested I make a personal minimum of DH + 400 feet until I have a chance to practice that a bit. I laughed and said that in my experience, I almost never get an approach in actual – I usually break out while being vectored. So a higher personal minimum isn’t a problem. Getting better at it will be.
I wonder if MS Flight Simulator runs under Parallels? And if buying a cheap-ass joystick and MSFS to practice approaches would actually help me fly better?