Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Instrument Training Begun!

It is hot as blazes here in the DC area, over 100 degrees and very humid. What else is there to do but go flying? I've been trying to fly a lot the last couple of days. The workload in my job is momentarily light, and there's a lot I want to do.... I want to get "checked out" in planes my club has that I've never flown before. There's a Cessna 152, which is a small, slow, 2-seat airplane. There's a Piper Cherokee 235, which is faster and more powerful than anything I've flown, more complex, and will haul a LOT of stuff. There's a Cessna Cardinal, which is similar in some ways to the Cessna Skyhawks (aka 172) I trained in, but faster and more complex. Then there's a Cessna 182. If the 172 is a Honda Civic, the 182 is a Cadillac with a V-8 engine. Faster, more complex, "drives" like a tank, and can carry a LOT more.

Getting "checked out" in these planes means more instruction -- anywhere from 1 to 10 hours each, depending on the plane.

And, of course, I also want to get my instrument rating. The requirements for the instrument rating are more substantial. I have to pass a written exam. I have to log 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument flying time, including at least 15 hours of instruction. I need to log 50 hours of cross-country flying time as "Pilot in Command," and I also need to do a long (250 mile) cross-country flight under instrument flight rules, with three different kinds of instrument "approaches." Once I've got that all done, I have to go for an oral exam and flight exam with the FAA Designated Examiner.

I was going to start the "checkout" process yesterday morning. Rich agreed to meet me at 5:30 in the morning for my first instruction in the Cherokee 235. When we got to the airport, though, it was foggy, and the visibility was not good enough for us to fly, so we spent an hour going over the plane and its various systems, orally reviewing procedures, and so on. We also rescheduled for again this morning, this time at 5 a.m. Well, Rich called me at 4:15 to say that the visibility was marginal, and we cancelled again. I went back to bed, but not for long.


Piper Cherokee 235

John, who did a bunch of my private pilot training, is going to be my instrument instructor. We met at the airport at 9 this morning for my first instrument flying lesson. Within moments after taking off, John had me put the "hood" on so that I could see only the instruments. It was very hot, and very bumpy, and it required nearly all of my concentration to keep the plane flying straight and level. Then John reached over and stuck a suction-cup cover over one of the gauges. Statistically, pilots without instrument training last about 2 minutes when that gauge fails, before spiraling into the ground. Fortunately for me, though, John had taught me during private pilot training not to rely on that gauge. I was unfazed when he covered it.

35R's Instrument Panel
Yes, you're 3,000 feet in the air moving at 120 mph. No, you can't look where you're going. Don't crash.

Then he covered another gauge, the directional gyroscope. This one made it a bit more difficult. Now, if I wanted to turn East, say, I would have to look at the second-hand on the clock and time my turn, straightening out at the right moment. It was still not a problem, but only because of a "lucky break," literally, that I'd had during my private pilot training. During one training flight with John, the directional gyroscope had broken. John had taken the opportunity to put me under the hood and practice turns without the benefit of that gauge.

At the end of the flight, John gave me specific headings and altitudes to fly. When he finally told me to take the hood off, I was about 1/2 mile from the end of the runway at Gaithersburg and 400' off the ground. I'd like to say that I turned in a "greaser" of a landing, but it was not to be. It was windy and gusty, and a gust during the flare meant a rather "firm" landing to wrap up the flight.

I had a third flight scheduled for later this afternoon. The Cessna 152 is a very small plane. If the gas tanks are full, it will only carry me and a second person who has to be 125 pounds or lighter. There's only one instructor on the whole airfield that is lighter than 125 pounds, so I scheduled to fly with her this afternoon to get checked out in that plane. Well, when I got to work after my instrument flight, there was a message from her cancelling the flight because it's too hot.

Cessna 152 - Ain't it cute?

All in all, I've only flown one out of four flights that I scheduled for yesterday and today, but I'm still happy, mostly because my instrument flight went so well today. Next time we're going to start "VOR approaches," and there's plenty of homework for me to do before then. I've put a link on the right to a chart showing my progress toward the instrument rating. I think it's going to be fun!

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