After 13 years of VFR flying in Canada, I decided to get my Instrument Rating. I had two main reasons behind this decision: I wanted to learn something new and I wanted the added flexibility an instrument rating gives you.
I met with the Chief Flight Instructor at the Calgary Flying Club in the summer of 2005 and at that time picked up all the information, books and older copies of maps and CAPS that I’d require. In October 2005 I started the actual training. Just over a year later, in November 2006, I did my instrument rating flight test and passed.
Below is a list of links to my entries regarding various lessons throughout my training. It was my original intent to document every lesson I did, however, a lack of time has prevented me from doing that. If I manage to find some time to spare, I will try to eventually update this list with the missing entries.
Entries: (newest entries last)
- IFR Preparation
- Introduction to the Simulator (lesson #1)
- Timed Turns & Rated Ascents/Descents (lesson #2)
- Navigation Aids (lesson #3)
- NDB Holds w/ Wind (lesson #13)
- NDB Holds w/ Wind (lesson #14; aka #13 continued)
- Approach Briefing (lesson #15)
- VOR Approaches (lesson #16)
VOR Approaches(lesson #17)
VOR Approaches(lesson #18)
NDB Approaches(lesson #19)
Localizer Approaches(lesson #20)
Localizer/BC Approaches(lesson #21)
ILS Approaches; DME arcs(lesson #22)
IFR Flight Planning(lesson #23)
- INRAT Exam
IFR Simulated Cross Country(lesson #24)
- IFR Cross Country #1 (lesson #25)
- IFR Cross Country #2 (lesson #26)
- IFR Cross Country #3 (lesson #27)
IFR Cross Country #4(lesson #28)
- IFR Pre-Flight Test
- IFR Flight Test
Current status: training completed (12 Nov 2006)
Sim Time: 22.6 hrs
Flying Time: 15.0 hrs (10.9 hrs hood; 0.8 hrs actual)
Long story short: I did my Instrument Rating flight test and passed. But to actually get the test done took me four attempts due to the weather. The previous three times I showed up at the airport only to have the ceilings at Calgary International drop to 200 feet, which would be fine if it was summer and the freezing level wasn’t close to the ground level. In any case, today the weather held nicely and I was able to get off the ground, fly from Springbank to Calgary, do my hold and approaches and return back to Springbank.
The flight test went as expected, which was pretty much on par with my pre-flight test. And both flights were carried out as laid out in the Flight Test Guide on the Transport Canada website. I won’t bother listing the questions that the examiner asked as they won’t ask you anything you won’t have learned in your training. And I suspect that every examiner is different and has their own list of ‘stock’ questions that they ask.
The flying part of the ride was done on one of the Calgary Flying Club’s Piper Warriors, thus I would be getting my Group 3 Instrument Rating. Since the clouds today were far above the service ceiling of the Warrior the test was done using a hood, which Transport Canada mandates that you wear the entire flight. And that was fine by me since the more instrument time I have to practice, the more confident I feel with instrument flying. I was the PIC for the flight so the examiner talked only when necessary, and since I didn’t need to ask him any questions, the only time he really spoke was when he needed to to give me instructions like when to put the hood on or when to finish holding.
Each skill on the test is marked on a scale of 1 to 4, where 4 is perfect and 1 is all bad. You can read the complete details of the 4-point Marking Scale on the Transport Canada website. Any skills marked as a “1” will result in a re-test of some kind, either a partial or complete. For me, my marks were all 3 and 4, except for my NDB approach which I was given a mark of 2 for flying 125 feet too high during the procedure turn. Overall the approach was successful but the deviation resulted in a lower score than I would have liked. But overall, my pass was an acceptable 81% which is well above the required 60% for a pass.
Flight time: 1.7 hrs
Instrument time: 1.4 hrs (hood)
Life is hard. Unless you have no friends or family, are single, can run efficiently on four hours or less of sleep and have enough money that you don’t have to work, it seems that everything gets in the way of what you really want to be doing – flying. And that’s how it’s been for me. Don’t get me wrong though; I love my life. It’s just that for the past two months (yes, I said two months) it has been impossible to get my IFR pre-flight test done. First there was a trip to Prince George for my brother’s wedding. Then it was off to Kelowna for my sister-in-law’s wedding. Then there was job turmoil, followed by a new job. The Nav Canada decided that between staffing shortages and various construction (or whatever other lame excuses they published in the NOTAMs), that IFR training flights around the Calgary airport were out. Joy.
I actually almost got the pre-flight test done two weeks ago, but then Calgary Terminal decided on a bizarre blackout period and doing the flight would have required flying at hours that normal people should be sleeping during. So that was out. But today, a miracle happened and the flight was a go.
My instructor for the entire training up until this point has been Jason, but today I flew with the club’s chief flight instructor. Not because of scheduling or because Jason was fed up, but because Jason has taken a job with Borek Air. Jason’s going away party was last night, but because of today’s flight I kept the rowdiness to an unusual minimum.
During a late breakfast at Melrose on 17th, I called Calgary Terminal and booked a training slot. Because the entire flight takes place within Terminal’s airspace and because it’s a training flight, it’s not enough to simply file an IFR flight plan. That way, Terminal can decide that they’re too busy and simply deny your request. But today, as I said, I lucked out and was given the 1900-2000Z slot. I then filed an IFR flight plan for Calgary/Springbank to Turner Valley NDB (TV) to THIRD (a non-compulsory reporting point) to Calgary VOR (YYC) and back to Springbank, with a hold at THIRD and two approaches at Calgary.
The flight went pretty much as expected, with being vectored around for the first bit before being cleared to proceed to TV and on to THIRD. Once I got past TV and was established on the way to THIRD I received my hold clearance which had me holding north of THIRD on V301. The hold on the north side threw me for a bit of a loop as I was expecting to hold south – lesson learned; don’t anticipate anything more than you’re given. If you’re told to expect a hold at point X, you can try and figure out what the orientation of the hold might be but don’t let that mess things up when you actually receive the clearance.
Then it was on to Calgary International for two approaches, an ILS on Runway 28 and an NDB on Runway 16. The ILS approach was fine, though I initially tuned the wrong frequency for the approach. Other than that, I kept the localizer pretty much centered and the glideslope pretty close to center for most of the approach. At the decision height the runway was right there in front of me – very satisfying. But a little disappointing at the same time; runway 28 is a great runway to spot planes as it overflies one of Calgary’s bike/blade/walking paths. As this was likely on of the few times I would actually fly this approach I was hoping to sneak a peek out and see if I was overflying any people on the path. Instead, I was forced to wear the hood [of shame] for the entire approach, only peeking at the decision height to see where I was. After that, I was vectored around the NE part of Terminal’s airspace to get setup for the ILS for runway 16, which we actually did the the NDB approach for. The approach was likely my best NDB approach ever, given the favourable light winds. At the MDA the runway was right out in front of me. As we went missed we crossed over the path of an incoming Dash-8 on short final for Runway 10; very exciting (and draining) to be doing training at CYYC during the close-to-peak times. Then it was back to Springbank for a regular landing without the hood [of shane].
After landing I had a quick debrief on the flight. Essentially the flight was good, I just need to ensure I double check my frequencies and stay on top of resetting the heading indicator (which, in my defense I got out of the habit of doing due to all my time in the club’s 182 which has a slaved HSI). And, the best part of the day is that I have the club’s sign off on doing the actual Transport Canada IFR flight test.
Flight time: 2.1 hrs
Instrument time: 1.6 hrs (hood)
There was no simulator work today. Instead, we spent the entire lesson in the classroom talking about navigation aids, specially VORs and NDBs. My logbook shows 11.6 hours of hood-based instrument time, thanks mostly to my private licence and a night rating. Whenever possible I try to use VORs and NDBs for navigation so their use isn’t foreign to me. So I figured I’d be in good shape.
However, up until this point when flying I have either tuned the aid to find out what radial (or track I’m on) or maintained the current heading until I ‘ran into’ a specific radial. This was the first time that I had been forced to think about how to properly intercept a specific radial and what the TO/FROM flag would be showing. Or in the case of the NDB, how to intercept a specific track on both fixed and non-fixed card ADFs.
We went over the limitations of the various nav aids and the proper way tune, identify and test them. We then discussed how the VORs and NDBs function and, using a giant, magnetic VOR and NDB receiver, went through how the various nav aids would react based on the aircraft’s relative position. I think this is probably the most misunderstood part of navigation and there is a lot of information on the Internet to help. The best resource I’ve come across, thanks to my instructor Jason, is Tim’s Air Navigation Simulator. The Java-applet based simulator allows you to select the nav aid type, set them as desired and then move an aircraft around, either by dragging it with the mouse or by ‘flying’ it. Everything is done from a top-down view and overall it’s a great tool for getting your head around nav aids.
The club’s Cessna 182 is still missing a working ADF. As such, NDB approaches are out if we use that aircraft, so today’s lesson will be in the IFR Warrior, C-GXHO, again. Although that means everything will happen at a slower speed, the worst part of doing IFR flights in XHO is that XHO only has a single VOR as the second one is slaved to the GPS, though that slaving seems to be broken anyway. The 182 was my preferred aircraft to do the IFR flight test in; it has an HSI slaved to an external compass, a second VOR and, when it works, an ADF. Two VORs make testing easy, makes it possible to triangulate your position and makes it easy to follow Victor airways which aren’t straight. And two VORs also makes it easier to anticipate the interception of a specific radial. So, two VORs is good, one is much less good. The IFR Warrior has a moving map GPS instead of a second VOR, though the GPS is not approved for IFR use. So it’s basically useless in this case.
So I have decided that as a result, I will most probably do my flight test in the Warrior. All told, that may work out for the best anyway. I have tewn times as much time in the Warrior as I do in the Cessna 182 so that will mean that I will likely be far more at ease in the Warrior than in the 182. Though, since I want to fly the 182 more in the future, I will plan on taking future tests in the 182 (if I haven’t convinced myself to buy my own plane by that point). And the Warrior isn’t all that bad; it’s just a different aircraft for IFR than the 182.
After preflighting XHO, I gave my flight plan to instructor Jason who looked it over briefly and then told me to go file it. For the first two flights, Jason had filed the plan with FSS so this would be my first time filing an IFR flight plan. The results were good, as I’ve noted in this separate entry.
The flight path was pretty much the same as the previous IFR flight, with a hold over the Red Deer NDB followed by an approach. At the MDA, I took off the hood and saw runway 34 at CYQF and as per Jason’s instructions did a touch and go, which resulted in a rather steep short final given our height relative to the distance to the threshold. I then climbed out and followed the missed approach instructions, and calling up Edmonton Centre on the way back to the beacon. The plan was to then head to the Calgary VOR, where we wanted to do another approach.
Edmonton Centre cleared us to the Calgary VOR, at which point I told the controller that we’d like to do an approach at Calgary International after which we would cancel IFR and proceed to back to Springbank VFR. That seemed good enough for Centre and luckily Calgary Terminal was feeling nice (it seemed to be a good karma evening all around) and upon reaching Calgary Terminal space, we were vectored west and then cleared to intercept the localizer for ILS 16.
Once again, I kept our approach speed on the high end (around 95 kts) to help Terminal manager the other around us, which I think they appreciated. At one point, when we were number one for landing but still perhaps eight miles or so from touchdown, there were two commercial flights behind us, who were given their sequence numbers of two and three right after each other. I think the number two jet had noticed that they had flown through the localizer already and knew we were a training flight because he asked the terminal controller in a snide tone, ”Any idea when you are going to turn us?” The controller, without missing a beat, replied in a friendly, yet somewhat cheeky manner ”In just a few more miles… it’s for traffic.”. Jason and I looked at each other and snickered.
The rest of the ILS 16 approach was good except that we got a late clearance for the actual approach and I had to drop quite rapidly to keep the glideslope from going full down deflection. But everything worked out and when I looked up at the decision height runway 16 was right in front of me.
For those who are curious, you can see my flight on FlightAware.
Flight time: 2.5 hrs
Instrument time: 1.9 hrs (hood)
The ADF in the club’s Cessna 182 is confirmed now as completely non-functional, so today’s cross country flight was done in the IFR-certified Warrior, C-GXHO. As per normal, I preflighted the aircraft on my way from the CFC parking lot, ensuring that all IFR-required instruments functioned along with all lights and the pitot heat. Then I headed inside to give instructor Jason my flight plan so he could file the IFR flight plan. Today’s flight would be CYBW direct QF (Red Deer NDB) direct YYC (Calgary VOR) direct CYBW, with a hold over QF and approaches at Red Deer and Calgary International. But our entire plan depended on us getting into the air as soon as possible as Jason needed to be back in 2.5 hours to teach ground school.
After receiving our clearance and doing the run-up, I experienced multi-pilot cooperation for the first time. Normally, Jason acts as a typical instructor/mentor; I do everything and he watches over everything and makes sure to point out my good/bad points. But today, due to our need to ensure a speedy takeoff, Jason took control after the run up, doing the talking and taxiing to position at runway 16 while I completed the last of of the pre-takeoff checks and worked all the avionics. I am able to do a little of this when flying with Ali, as she is confident enough now to hear something on the radio and change frequencies, transponder codes or altimeter settings. But because I am still the only trained pilot per se, and thus PIC, I always end up double checking all her actions. But in today’s flight, cooperation between Jason and I was fluid and instead of a potential five minute delay we were able to sneak a expedited takeoff before another aircraft turning short final.
Since we didn’t need to cross Calgary Terminal’s airspace to get to our destination (unlike my last flight), getting airborne and getting pointed in the right direction was much faster and easier since we could skirt the western edge of Terminal’s space. Then it was direct to the Red Deer NDB for a ten minute hold, which went okay. Then I shuttled down from 8,000 to start an approach, which was less than stellar but on a good note I learned how truly important it is to be stablized on an NDB approach before reaching the FAF. In my case, due to winds, I was well off the published inbound track such that a 30 degree or so turn was required at the FAF in order to line up with the runway. Add to that the fact that I was still struggling to get down to the proper height, the approach was a great example of how not to execute a proper NDB approach.
After going missed on the approach we tried to get an approach in at Calgary International, but Edmonton Centre informed us that Calgary was too busy to bother with us so we cut the flight short, cancelled IFR and headed direct Springbank. And Jason made it to his class with minutes to spare.
Flight time: 2.1 hrs
Instrument time: 1.8 hrs (1.5 hrs hood; 0.3 hrs actual)
Today’s lesson was my first cross country IFR flight. It has always been my plan to do my flight test in the club’s Cessna 182; partially because it has better instruments (an HSI), partially because it flies faster and mostly because I plan to spend more time renting the 182. It’s faster, has a better useful load and is a great airplane. So, as such, today’s flight was in the 182.
I preflighted the plane as per normal, though I did a quick check of all the instruments we were going to need, tuning in the VOR and ADF to ensure their functionality. I didn’t see any reason to discover a problem with them after starting up and taxiing to the run-up area. Then I headed inside to give my plan to instructor Jason, since he would be the one filing the flight plan. Our planned route today was CYBW direct YC (Calgary NDB) direct 5V (Drumheller NDB) direct YYC (Calgary VOR) direct CYBW. We would be doing a hold over 5V and approaches at Drumheller and Calgary International.
The flight started out with a 10 minute delay as Springbank Tower waited for Calgary Terminal to slot us into their plan. ”Welcome to the world of IFR,” commented Jason. After takeoff however, our time in Calgary’s airspace was uneventful, with us being vectored around, which was no big deal as that is pretty standard when doing any flying around the Calgary area. The only difference was that this time I had the hood [of shame] on to keep me from peeking out the window. We were cleared direct to the Calgary NDB, which we did and after giving a position report (which although wasn’t required since we were RADAR IDENTIFIED was done for practice), we were cleared direct Drumheller [NDB]. And that’s when things went wrong.
I tuned, identified and tested the ADF for Drumheller and took up a heading that the ADF pointed to. Except that the heading seemed about 20 degrees too much to the north. And when the Calgary Terminal controller cleared us again to go “…direct Drumheller now” I was pretty sure that the ADF was steering us off course. A quick check of the VFR-only GPS confirmed what we suspected; the ADF was not functioning properly. At all. But since we weren’t sure if it was just a distance thing or what, we decided to continue on to Drumheller to see if we could still get in a hold and an approach.
Unfortunately, the ADF continued to act up and upon our arrival at Drumheller, we simply turned around and requested a clearance back to the Calgary VOR. In hindsight, Jason should have asked the Centre controller for a DME hold using the Calgary VOR. That said, I did get some instrument practice and I was able to fly through some cloud, all be it for perhaps 15 seconds, for which I was able to remove the hood. It was very cool to look out of the aircraft and see nothing but white. Very cool indeed.
Upon our return to the Calgary Terminal area, we were cleared to intercept the localizer for runway 16 and cleared for the ILS 16 approach. I intercepted the localizer perfectly, and kept the speed up until the FAF, but overall the approach was erratic in terms of speed and course. But at the decision height when I pulled off the hood, the runway was within limits for a safe landing. So, overall, I would say that it was a good first effort, especially since I can only get better with practice. We then went missed on the approach, cancelled IFR and flew back to Springbank. Overall, a great first IFR flight.
Flight time: 2.0 hrs
Instrument time: 1.3 hrs (hood)
I wrote my INRAT exam this morning at the Transport Canada offices, which are located at Calgary’s Airport Corporate Centre. It’s a nice building but with no parking specifically for the building’s visitors (that I could find) I was forced to park in the airport parkade at a cost of $18.00 for the morning. To me, that seems like a deterant to anyone wishing to setup shop in the building, no matter how nice it is. Of course, it’s not like TC cares how much I have to pay to come visit them. Though, CFC is in the process of getting set up so that all TC exams can be written at the club instead; as of this blog entry you can do your private and commercial but not the INRAT (yet).
I considered taking the actual AeroCourse class but decided against it as I could not justify the cost (I’m a frugal kind of guy). And I figured since I was spreading my training out over many months, I’d have sufficient time to do all the required reading and study. Instead, I opted to purchase the AeroCourse workbook, which contains hundreds of sample questions broken out into various categories. I did most of the questions late last year after doing all the reading and then spent the majority of my time studying the areas that I was weak in. Then I redid most of the questions again last week in preparation for writing the INRAT.
A friend of mine who recently finished up his instrument rating bought the Instrument Rating 2005 books authored by Michael Culhane The texts have a Notice to Users which is very specific in what users, flying schools, clubs and instructors can do with the books but I’ve always felt that, other than copying, you should be free to do with a book as you see fit after you’ve bought it. That aside, I realize that this isn’t like a fiction novel in that the texts only really appeal to the people who decide each year to start their instrument rating in Canada. And given that there are an average of 2500 people issued Canadian pilot licences each year and only 14,400 pilots with instrument ratings, I suspect that there are not more than a few hundred people who start their instrument rating each year. That’s a relatively small market. So I can understand where Mr. Culhane is coming from.
There were several errors in the 2005 version of the Ground School Course book and although updates are available online, neither my friend nor I realized that until afterwards. That said, there was only one posted correction for 2005. There was also very little current information on GNSS and GPS approaches and overlays, which is a pity since both my friend and I ended up with six and four questions respectively on the exam dealing with GPS. Most of the sample approach templates were more than a few years old, which would be okay if the CAP style hadn’t changed. But the look of the CAP has changed, and if you are going to pay a premium for a book like this, I think the book should be as current as possible in all respects, and for me, that means that the sample approach plates should look exactly like the actual CAP plates. Since I read the Air Command Weather Manual and the Instrument Procedures manual first, I found the information in the ground course text to be basically an ultra condensed version of those two texts, plus the AIM. So if you are looking for a Cole’s Notes way to study then you can try the Culhane book. But my suggestion is to go out and buy the AeroCourse workbook (and no, I don’t have any relation whatsoever to AeroCourse), especially if you are the learn on your own type, and do the reading from the actual sources (IPM, ACWM and AIM). It’ll take more time, but I think you’ll find that you’ll learn more and get far more detail. Plus your goal should not be to simply pass the test but instead to learn the material such that you can safely act as PIC under IMC, and at the same time, pass the INRAT.
On a semi-related side note, here’s an interesting press release from ATP, whom Culhane tried to sue over some free exam questions that ATP had made available online. And there seem to be a lot of people with strong feelings on Culhane and his books.
This was the first real exam I’ve written since I graduated from University of Calgary in 1997. And like all the exams I had to write there, I was incredibly nervous despite all the studying. But, yes, I passed.
Update: In a message from Mr. Culhane, I’m told that the 2006 version of the Instrument Rating books have been re-written and have more current information. I can’t vouch for that, however, as I haven’t seen them but go and check it out for yourself. My comments above are based on the 2005 version of the texts only, not the latest, now available, 2006 version. And for anyone who might criticize me for using a 2005 book part way through 2006, yes I realize that I was using an older book. But when I started studying, it was 2005. I read the Instrument Rating 2005 books in 2005. And last time I checked, there were GPS (now GNSS) approaches in 2005. In fact, there were GPS approaches in 2004, since I have an older CAP 3 from 2004 with GPS templates in it.
Today’s lesson was simply a ground brief on approaches. Yes, approaches. Finally. In talking with my instructor Jason today, it seems that my thoughts on people quitting were right. According to Jason, most people that start IFR training but never finish end up stopping somewhere in their holds training. Good times. Did I mention I’m happy to be past that part of the training? Of course, I suspect that there will still be holds in my future sim training, but at least that will just be part of an approach now.
Approaches, in a sense, are the easiest part of IFR flying as everything is basically spelled out for you on the appropriate CAP; outbound on this heading, turn this direction for the procedure turn, descend to this altitude here, etc. Granted there are various methods for starting the approach after reaching the initial fix but everything after that is written down on the CAP. And if you don’t follow those instructions to the letter, not only are you breaking the CARs but you risk running becoming one of those CFIT statistics, especially in mountainous terrain.
That’s not to say that expect approaches to be easy. Although you need to review the approach plate before starting, you need to be sure that you are at least one step ahead of the plane so that you aren’t fumbling around from one step to the next. And thus far, staying ahead of the plane has been my biggest challenge.
This afternoon’s work in the simulator continued where we left off last lesson; NDB holds. Only now we’ve added realism… wind, that is. I think I’ve now reached the point where people who never finished their IFR training most likely stopped at. Why do I think that? Because for the past 5.1 hours in the simulator all we’ve done is drive around in circles. Or in this case, racetrack patterns disguised as something cooler by calling them ‘holds’. That’s not to say that I am bored or that I am the master of all things hold related, but I can see now why people might quit. This phase of the IFR training is boring, monotonous and, at times, frustrating.
The thing with holds is that whether it’s a VOR, NDB, DME or some other fix, essentially it’s all the same. The other things that change are the entry method, the instrument(s) used, and the crab angle. The entry method used depends on your heading to the fix relative to the outbound heading in the hold. The instrument(s) used depend on the fix type. And the crab angle depends on where the wind is coming from and at what speed. Everything else is the same. But that didn’t stop me from turning the wrong way on an offset entry to a non-standard lefthand turn NDB hold. Made worse by this magical wind that seemed to be blowing from whatever direction would make my predicament; or so it seemed.
My problems are partially due to two week time lapse between lessons. It’s hard enough to make headway at one lesson a week, but one lesson every two weeks is almost impossible. But by the end of the lesson, I was getting back into NDB holds and holds in general. And more importantly, I was starting to be able to handle holds with wind. Alsa, based on today’s overall performance, Jason decides that next lesson we will do a few more NDB holds before moving onto approaches.
Sim Time: 1.4 hrs