Instrument Checkride Story by David Z

I passed my instrument practical test yesterday, and here’s the story. I tell it to assist others in preparation for their checkride.

Well, and to brag a bit. 🙂

The oral began with a check of my application form, current pilot certificate, and medical. Then it was straight to the airplane logs. The examiner wanted me to prove that the airplane is legal to fly IFR. I had gone over the logs the day before, so I was able to quickly find the log entry for the pitot-static and altitude reporting inspections as well as the one for the most recent annual, which happened to also be within the last 100 hours. Then the examiner asked about the airworthiness directives (AD) for the airplane.

My FBO uses a system that calls for all of the maintenance information for the airplane to be kept in a three-ring binder. Finding the log entries is simplified, and the AD information is right at your fingertips; each AD has a single page dedicated to it, upon which is the exact wording of the AD and space for the mechanic to describe the fix and sign off the AD. Unfortunately, I had not looked closely enough at some of the AD entries, and the particular AD that we looked at was a recurring AD that, according to the text, must be inspected and signed off every 100 hours. Alas, it had been more than 100 hours since the last signoff. Before we flew, we had to get a mechanic to check the applicable aircraft systems and sign the log.

Then came the expected questions about the currency of the pilot, including the use of a simulator, and general guidelines and regulations for IFR flying. I was asked to diagram and discuss the pitot-static system (could have been the fuel or electrical system as well). What is a VOR-A approach? When should circling minimums be used instead of straight-in minimums? Is there ever any restriction on which direction a circling maneuver may be made? (Yes, when so stated on the chart, e.g., circling NA north of runways 10/28.) We looked at approach charts and enroute charts, showing that I know what the symbols means. What are MEA, MCA, MOCA, MAA, etc…? What are the ways of checking a VOR?

One aspect of the oral that I found quite interesting was the fact that the examiner asked questions that took into account the knowledge that I obtained during training for my private certificate a year ago. For example, an interesting question was a problem that was posed using an example of a real-life route on my chart, and in the airplane that I was about to fly. I was given the following conditions: I’m in a Cessna 172 at max gross weight on an airway at the MEA, 4000 feet. I’m told that a nearby airport is reporting a temperature of 102 degrees F. I’m following a route upon which I’m approaching a fix that has an MCA of 5000 feet, and another fix that’s just a few miles after that with an MCA of 9000 feet. Suppose that I lose two-way communications before crossing the first fix. When should I commence my climb? Of course, my answer was that I should be to 5000 by the first fix and 9000 by the second fix. But then, after some prodding by the examiner, I take the temperature and the fact that I’m at max gross weight into consideration, and into the airplane manual I go, and to my surprise, I find that I would not be able to make 9000 feet by the second fix if I’m only at 5000 feet by the first fix, based on climb gradient information taken from the current conditions. It was an excellent problem. And it was a very good extension of what I had to know for my private practical: density altitude, climb rates (ft/NM) at full gross weight, etc..

Another question that was interesting regards what I’d do if I noticed that my vacuum was slowly dropping. I said that I’d keep in mind that my AI and DG would likely become inaccurate, and thus I’d rely solely on the other instruments for pitch and bank information. The examiner asked me to imagine this in reality, and we came to the conclusion that everyone should carry something with which the instruments could be covered should they become inoperative. This seems like a good idea to me, because I would likely still include the AI and DG in my scan, because that’s what I’m trained to to. (Most of our training on partial panel is done with the instruments covered, eh? So why leave them uncovered if they are actually broken? And hey, there’s a good marketing slogan in there for companies that sell those little instrument inop stickers…

Another question that I found interesting was regarding the maximum bank angle at which a wet compass is still reliable. The formula that I’ve seen for bank angle for a standard rate turn is approximated by [(KTAS/10) + 7], and thus if you’re going 120 KTAS, that’s 19 degrees of bank (and more if you’re going faster). Check the literature and you’ll see that this is over the theoretical limit for a wet compass. This is good information to consider when losing vacuum; at certain speeds, one might wish to inform the controller that half-standard-rate turns would be used.

Another question was the following scenario: I take off from my home airport, which does not have a precision approach, and weather is below the lowest minimums at that airport, and as soon as I get into the soup, my alternator dies. So I have a short amount of electrical (battery) time left; what would I do? I thought that the examiner was testing my knowledge of lost comm procedures when in fact, the idea was that there is an airport nearby with a precision approach, and with my remaining electrical juice, it might be better to simply declare an emergency and shoot that approach, instead of remaining in the system and risking further problems. The point of the question was the idea of situational awareness. Always have a plan for emergencies. This, another excellent question, drove the point home.

In general, the oral was a set of questions that required analysis of the information at hand, rather than simple repetition of memorized information.

Then came the flight. Fortunately, from my home airport, there’s only one direction in which to fly where there is an NDB within a reasonable distance, so my instructor and I concentrated our practice flights in that area, and this is the direction in which the flight went. I am moderately familiar with the airways, radials, and intersections in that area.

I offered to do a VOR check during run-up, but since I had answered the questions regarding VOR checks during the oral, I only had to show in the permanent log that the VORs had been checked within the past 30 days.

The examiner gave me a clearance to fly, and I made sure that I could fly it before accepting it (thanks Roy Smith). The examiner played ATC during most of the flight. The route was unique, in that I had flown a similar one only once before. It included “…radar vectors SUNOL intersection victor 195…”, and during the flight, I was told to resume my own navigation and thus fly to the intersection, which is defined by two VOR radials. I tried to use my DME and immediately, the examiner said that it was inoperative until further notice.

There was more wind and turbulence than on any of my training flights, and I had about 20 degrees of wind correction at one point while flying the airway. I was given hold instructions and asked how I would enter the hold, then the instructions were amended to expect the VOR approach at a nearby airport.

The VOR approach went well; the wind was varying by about 30 degrees during the approach, and the controller was doing an excellent job of keeping we pilots up to date regarding its direction and magnitude. And its magnitude was strong enough to cause me to use a different approach groundspeed than I would normally use for timing calculation from the FAF to the MAP.

Next were vectors for the NDB approach. I wish I had done this approach better. I intercepted the inbound course quite well, and there was little wind correction, but as soon as I passed the FAF, a compass locator, the controller gave a wind report that made me believe that I should change my heading, and I did. In retrospect, the controller’s statement that the wind had changed didn’t mean that it changed for me right over the FAF, but I corrected for it anyway, which was a mistake. I should have stayed with the heading that got me to the fix for at least a minute — and I know this — and then corrected based on the needle indications thereafter. Thus, upon taking off the hood, I was dismayed to see the airport off to my left.

Next was the ILS, which went smoothly, even with the turbulence through a thousand feet. The only interesting thing about the ILS is that the examiner intended for me to remove the hood at DH and continue along the glideslope in visual conditions to a landing, but I started the missed as soon as my altitude was within thirty or so feet of my DH. I was just going by my experience with my instructor, which is that if he doesn’t say anything, I leave the foggles on and go missed. There are probably a variety of ways to communicate whether a landing is desired or not, and I’ll bet this is a problem with student/instructor combinations as well.

Then came the airwork. There was a vector to climb to a certain altitude given a heading, and then instructions to do a steep turn once stabilized. (After the approaches and before the airwork, the examiner allowed me to remove the foggles for a minute or so. Then I was instructed, “Put the foggles back on when you’re comfortable”, to which I responded, “Okay, I’ll put them on when we’re back on the ground”, to which the examiner responded with a laugh, “Foggles on NOW!” 🙂 I nailed the steep turn. Then the AI and DG were covered, and I did compass turns, altitude changes during turns, and unusual attitudes. After all this turning about, I was asked to show on a map where I was, and at first I read my OBS indication incorrectly after centering the CDI needle; I was off by 10 degrees, but I quickly realized that I was 10 degrees off when told to fly to intercept an airway and fly to a fix, and thus correctly stated my position moments after incorrectly stating it.

On the way to the fix, I determined the type of entry correctly, cross- checking myself with two different methods. (This is something that I learned very late in my training: I draw the hold on the chart and draw my direction of flight into it and use that to determine the type of entry. Then, if I there is enough time enroute to the fix, I double- check that with the exercise of super-imposing the 70-110-degree lines on the DG. Since determining hold entries was somewhat difficult for me, I would make mistakes somewhat frequently; this double-checking greatly reduced my mistakes.)

There was also enough time enroute to the hold to allow me to consider some of the winds that I’d be dealing with, and it was great that I thought about that because my DME and second NAV/COMM became inoperative (per the examiner) immediately preceding my entry into the hold. Thus I was using a single NAV radio to determine the fix, which was defined by crossing VOR radials, during the hold. And the hold itself was interesting because my first inbound leg was fifteen seconds long (quick: how long should your outbound leg be?), and a 20-degree correction on my first outbound leg still didn’t seem to be enough.

And then it was over. The examiner said, “Take off the hood and take me home.” And here was another way the examiner could determine whether I’ve retained my VFR abilities, too: We returned to an airport that’s under both class B and class C airspace, and thus I had to be down below the airspace by a certain point. The flight back was also an opportunity to discuss the flight and the oral portion, but I remained sure that I kept my mind fully on the flying.

In retrospect, the experience was an educational one, and even though I was nervous, I had fun! I recognize that I’m not a great, one-hundred percent proficient instrument pilot at this time, but I look forward to using the rating.

I hope this note was interesting reading and I hope that it helps those that are studying now for their instrument rating. Other stories in r.a.ifr helped me.

David Z