Monday, November 17, 2008

My latest project comes to a happy conclusion...

You may have noticed that I've been somewhat absent of late. Part of this (but not all) was due to the fact that I had significantly increased the heat on a project that had been languishing for way too long (and writing a book and working and....). Today that project has come to it's happy conclusion and I am glad that it's complete.

That project is the acquisition of my instrument rating. I got my private pilot certificate many many years ago. As you will find on other posts in my blog, I gave it up for a while and then took it back up about 4 years ago with the purchase of my first airplane, N7598U. After I bought my airplane I decided that the next step was to get my instrument rating. So about 3 years or more ago I started on this long journey.

Over 3 Years, 5 instructors and one stressful check-ride later (some stress self-induced and other stress of external sources) I can now happily report I am an instrument rated private pilot!!! I took my check-ride today with Lynn French out of Salt Lake City Number 2 airport (U42 for the aviation minded). Lynn passed me and I think probably immediately issued a NOTAM to warn the flying world, "Watch out! Freeman has his rating".

So, the morning didn't start too well. While waiting for Lynn to arrive (he was flying in this morning from Colorado) my instructor Randy and I were checking out the log books for the airplane I was going to use. As I was reviewing the logs, I discovered to my horror that the attitude indicator was out on the airplane I was going to take. Holly Smortals! The "sister plane" to the one I was going to use was supposed to be in by 10am. So, it would be coming in while we were doing the Oral and we could take the sister plane out for the exam. Ah.... Joy. Flying in a plane I have not ever flown in for my checkride. It's a sister plane, sure.... yeah.... right....

Lynn owns a bed and breakfast in Colorado with his wife, and I am given to understand that he has his own private strip and a number of different airplanes. So, at the outset, I am jealous of Lynn! :-) Lynn is your quintessential check pilot. Hours out the ears, asking great questions, providing great insight and making me sweat the pre-requisite amount during the process (check the PTS, there are sweat requirements). I enjoyed the Oral with Lynn though it was not quite what I expected.

First, I was nervous so I'm trying to answer questions, and the words are coming out of my mouth a mile a minute. I'm also trying to give "textbook" answers, and Lynn is looking for more practical thinking. Me? Practical? Common! That caused some communication mis-understandings on my part at first. Once I settled down, I think I started to get it. In the end the Oral was a great learning experience and I'm the better pilot because of it. I think I'd have done much better if it was just a regular conversation and not an Oral/Check-Ride. Everyone said "Just have fun.... don't stress"... yeah, right. They do not know me. I don't stress in emergencies (like window iced over in unforcast and unexpected icing, and loosing my alternator all at the same time while flying from Chicago to Salt Lake City)... I handle those things OK I think. It's TESTS that I don't handle well. Tests of any type.

So, after the Oral, Lynn and I load up in the "Sister" plane. The airplane actually starts (yeah, there is a good sign) and I set the radios and so on. As I'm setting up the GPS the bells began to ring for the theme of the flight, "WE CAN'T MAKE THE GPS WORK!! BLAST IT!!". Up until the very end (where we figured out how to do the GPS approach for U42) we were sunk with respect to getting the approaches to work in the plane. Now in retrospect, I think I know how to have done it but that does you no good when you are on the flightline with the engine running and an examiner on the clock.

Lynn and I flew to Provo where we shot our approaches. We did a hold at FFU, did a DME ARC (part of the ILS and VOR/DME approach) and did our thing. My approaches were, frankly, pretty lame. They were within limits but I've done much better in the past. Lynn was very patient with me (I think he recognized I was nervous) and I'm thankful for that.

Finally we did some unusual attitudes and headed back to U42 where he finally managed to get the GPS to work and we shot that approach.

All in all, I was exhausted when we landed. When Lynn told me I passed I just wanted to jump up and down and shout to the heavens. Over 3 years of hard work, countless money and occasional frustration came to a fruitful end with my new rating, Insturment Airplane.

Wow.... now I need a nap!


Don Burleson said...

Hi Robert,

Ah yes, those terrors under the hood, I remember it well!

No way I would fly IFR in a single engine prop job . . .

Too dangerous!

Robert Freeman said...

Hi Don!!

>> No way I would fly IFR in a
>> single engine prop job .

A good thought. One main reason I went for my ticket is to become a more proficient pilot. The practical test standard for IFR are pretty demanding.

There was a pretty good article on single engine IFR in flying about a year or so ago. I think it was a Collins article. As I recall the article talked about how single engine IMC accident stats are actually better than twin engine stats. Catastrophic engine failures are actually pretty rare nowadays too. I know that I'm a stickler for maintenance on my Cessna and my Mooney.

I also think there are certain cases where single engine IFR are pretty safe. For example, I had a time when I was in Little Rock, Arkansas where the ceiling was about 400 AGL foot overcast. PIREPS called the tops at what would be equivalent to about 3000 AGL. Also, it was severe clear about 120 miles to the North.

So here is a case where IFR makes sense to me. You take off IFR, pop out of the tops and do VFR on top until you run into the severe clear. I think the odds are pretty good for the engine over 100NM or so.

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