Monday, 24 March 2014

Instrument rating - in the bag!

The instrument rating test is often said to be the hardest test a civil pilot will ever sit, and employers are keen to find pilots who pass first time. So you can imagine how pleased (and surprised) I was when the examiner turned to me at the end of the flight today and shook my hand, saying "congratulations, you have passed."

On a gliding day, this temperature profile would be good
news, but today I could have done without that 5000'
layer of unstable air causing strong thermals.
I almost cancelled the trip because I knew a gusty and variable wind across the runway at our destination coupled with very unstable air would make the instrument approach and limited panel work difficult, and generally act as an extra stressor on the whole flight.

I expressed my concerns to the examiner, with evidence, and he told me to take five minutes to consider. My instructor (as usual) thought I should go, so I decided to give it my best shot. It was just as I expected, but I think expressing my concern was a good idea as I earned myself a little leeway on the tight accuracy limits.

The IR is a strange test really, because it ultimately comes down to the examiner's discretion. It's very unlikely that a pilot with our experience could complete the whole test within the limits and without significant errors, so technically they could fail almost everyone. Certain dangerous errors will guarantee a fail on that section, but outside of that the examiner takes an overall view of the flight. They want to see someone who is ahead of the aeroplane demonstrating they know exactly what they are doing — situational awareness.

The flight was far from my best effort. I know I missed radio calls, wandered off altitudes and speeds and other misdemeanours, some of which I was lucky to get away with. But I always knew where I was, what I was doing and what was happening next. I reckon that's what pulled me through.

Anyway that's the last big hurdle between me and my airline pilot's licence successfully cleared. The next 'real' aeroplane I fly professionally is likely to be the Airbus A320 on the base training day. No more plastic screens hiding the view, no more ancient analogue instruments and no longer as a single pilot.

Friends in one of the school's 737 simulators
The next part of the course (starting tomorrow!) is the three-week multi-crew training and jet conversion course. This teaches how two pilots work together to operate large and complex jet aircraft. After a brief ground school, we will be training on full-motion 737 simulators. That completes the training at Oxford and ends in the issue of the precious licence.

After that, a short holiday (remember them?!) and onto the type rating course, where I will need to learn everything there is to know about the Airbus A320 family, not least how to fly the beasts. If all goes to plan, I could be flying passengers on their holidays as early as July.