Instrument Checkride by Mike Wei

I waited for two weeks for this checkride. My DE, Peggy Naumann who flies with the United Airlines, was doing simulator training at Denver. She was the same DE who did my private checkride. I considered her to be those type of DEs who believe judgement and flying safely are a whole lot more important than some artificial number in the PTS.

I called the DE the night before for the x-country information. Surprisingly, she told me she wouldn’t give me that ahead of time and wanted me to plan it right on the checkride. I didn’t consider this much of a problem since x-country planning in IFR is much less work than planning it VFR using DR and pilotage. Also I consider it to be a good practice to plan it on a computer or DUATS. Instrument flying is about utilizing all the possible resources to reduce the pilot workload so the pilot can do something more important, like making a good judgement on weather condition.

On the day of the checkride, I got the 172 that I flew a lot, N737WG, and gave it a thorough pre-flight. I even asked the line guy to clean the windshield. No less than three CFIs told me the stories of someone get busted by having a dirty windshield. I generally thought it was another urban legend but I didn’t want to risk anything on *my* checkride. Later during the flight I asked my DE about this windshield business, she was very shocked that a DE would bust a checkride for such a thing and saying she would never do that.

The oral portion was extremely short, like on my private checkride. The DE spent a lot of time preaching me the difference between what’s legal and what’s safe. The plane we got has current VOR check, but all the three prior VOR checks were done “dual air”, i.e. checking one VOR against another and 4 degree difference was within legal limit. The DE told me, according to the FAR there were five different methods for the VOR check, which are VOT, ground checkpoint, designated air checkpoint, airborne prominent landmark check, and dual-air, with the accuracy of the VOR check decreasing along the list. She considered dual-air to be the least accurate since you could have one VOR off by 10 degree and another off by 12, and still checked out legal. She asked me if that’s the case, would I feel comfortable to shoot an VOR approach to the minimum.

So the oral exam was more of a final ground lesson about good judgement before she would cut me loose into the clag all by myself. I had a great respect for her. Peggy has been a DE for over 20 years in NJ and did countless checkrides. I’m pretty sure she turns out safe pilots.

I planned and filed an real IFR plan from Caldwell to Trenton, a very short route. Got into the plane, did an extensive instrument cockpit check, and I went ahead to get my IFR cleareance. Now this is something that I could show off. Trained in Caldwell right in the middle of NY airspace, I was used to the rapid fire cleareance given by the controller which always seems to be totally different than the one I filed. About a second after the controller finished reading the cleareance, I shot back the whole cleareance at an even faster speed. The cleareance was like this “N737WG, clear to Trenton, after takeoff left turn 180, radar vector to Solberg, Biggy, victor 3 to Mazie, direct. 2000 expect 4000 after 10 minutes, departure frequency 119.2, sqwak code upon release”.

We waited for about 10 minutes for the IFR release, which was pretty normal for IFR departure at Caldwell. The sky was about 5000 scattered. The forcast called no turbulance and pretty calm wind, but the turbulance part was very off. It was quite turbulant. Three months ago I would call it moderate but after flying much worse turbulance in my IFR training, I called it light right now. Holding altitude wasn’t easy. More than once I had to pull the throttle to idle and push the nose down just to hold the altitude without being pushed up by thermo updrafts.

I did an ILS 4 into Trenton. ILS was my strong point. I was always very good at ILS and my very first ILS during the training was a perfect one down to the minimum. Somehow the ADF needle was a bit sticky when we passed the outer marker. I heard the marker beacon came off, but the ADF needle didn’t flip even after about 10 seconds. I decided to start the timer and get down. We went all the way to the minimum and did a low pass. Canceled the IFR plan and VFR back to the north.

We did some airwork. A partial panel timed turn, a few steep turns, and recovery from unusual attitude. The DE put on what she called the “torture device”, and covered the AI and DG for the unusual attitude. No sweat, I always do this partial panel, thanks to Roy Smith for the advice of relying airspeed and TC for unusuall attitude recovery ’cause the AI might be tumbled.

After the airwork, we did an VOR-A approach to central Jersey airport. That approach requires an holding pattern at its IAF to line up with the final approach course. When I homed in to that VOR, I found I was about 70 degree off the outbound course, so I could do either teardrop entry or a direct. I chose the direct entry. It turned out to be a little bit too tight when I turned inbound, but I managed to line up with the inbound course before passing the VOR. I tear-drop entry would have be better in this case. The approach went pretty well with needle right centered.

We went back to Caldwell for a NDB-A approach. The ADF however didn’t seem to work very well. The needle was stuck every now and then. We managed to finish this approach, and I showed her that I knew how to track an ADF bearing and make proper corrections. Peggy, on the other hand, gave me another lesson about the confidence on avionics. She asked me if I would be confident to use that ADF on a real-life approach in the clag. I said no. She then went ahead and emphasized again the importance to have good judgement, and knowing the difference between what’s legal and what’s safe.

That was it, after we landed, I became an instrument pilot!

Mike Wei