The final hurdle in my commercial training – the Instrument Rating. It allows the pilot to fly in poorer conditions down to a limit usually imposed by weather, aircraft limitations or minimums imposed by the operator of the aircraft. The pilot flies the aircraft with sole reference to the instruments (other than take off). In doing so, simulating IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) and operating under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) whilst transporting a passenger (examiner) to another airfield.
On the 16 December 2018, I flew my Instrument Rating Skills Test from Oxford Airport under the call-sign “Exam 52” in G-HANG. With Christmas 2018 behind us, I wanted to give my final thoughts on my commercial training and the IR Test (IRT).
The IRT requires you to enter into controlled airspace (usually en-route to your destination), enter a hold procedure, carry out one Non-Precision/2D approach (NDB/DME, VOR/DME, LNAV GPS), carry out one Precision/3D approach (ILS, LPV GPS) and one of these approaches will be carried out asymmetric (following a simulated engine failure). Some instrument general handling will also be tested. Schools will now teach Performance Based Navigation (PBN) as it is a requirement from the 25 August 2018 in the UK (Information Notice 201734). As such, to gain the PBN certification, the IRT will comprise of one RNAV/GPS approach. For me this was a 2D approach but could be a 3D approach if the aircraft is equipped with Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS).
Sometimes the IRT is described as “easier” than the CPL. I don’t believe that is accurate and should not be taken for granted. You need more knowledge to fly IFR (Air Law and RNAV/PBN); the test simulates IFR single pilot operations, therefore, the pilot needs to be more on the ball and pre-empt actions to come otherwise its very easy to fall behind the aircraft. The CPL can be a little more reactive as your flying lower and in uncontrolled airspace but is far less procedural and prone to more error. The bonus of flying IFR is: the airfields and the radio communications are expected, your route is given to you the night before and you follow well established procedures (seen on plates).
My route would take me from Oxford to Gloucestershire Airport via the “Airways” system flying at around 8000ft (FL080). This meant I would be using the same tracks as commercial airliners just over a much shorter distance.
My IRT took the following order:
- Briefing the examiner on weather, navigation routing, performance, NOTAMs, IFR flight plan(s), anticipated approach procedures and the Tech log items. The examiner will also question you on all aspects of the flight, your knowledge of IFR, RNP/RNAV/PBN and other subjects.
- Standard instrument departure from Oxford dictated by Oxford ATC clearances.
- GPS and conventional Navigation Aid tracking to reach: Mortn, Badim and Alvin waypoints.
- Preparations for current approach in use whilst enroute to GST (Gloucester NDB) – usually split into: ATIS, Plate Brief & AIDs, Approach and Pre-landing Checks.
- Enter the hold pattern – The examiner is looking for 1 good hold or an improvement in each hold; I only did one hold. Following this I was cleared outbound for the Non-Precision Approach (RNAV approach runway 27).
- Completed the RNAV approach runway 27 with both engines functioning down to MDA.
- Missed approach at Minimum Decision Altitude (MDA) into a simulated engine fire on the climb out.
- Asymmetric flight up to missed approach altitude dictated by ATC.
- The examiner now takes responsibility for Navigation and Radio communications whilst we carry out Instrument general handling (GH) en-route back to Oxford. This comprises of: full panel stalls, full and partial panel climbs, descents, rate 1 & 30 degree banked turns and coordinated turns (climbs/descents whilst turning).
- When the GH is complete, expect to route back to the original destination and carry out an asymmetric (single engined) precision approach which for me was a radar vectored ILS runway 19.
- Asymmetric missed approach at Decision Altitude (DA) from ILS runway 19 into an asymmetric low level visual circuit and asymmetric landing.
My examiner gave very little away, and after close to 2 hours block to block, I had an overwhelming urge which came out in the form of “Ok I have to ask, its killing me, have I passed?” of which I received a grin and a hand shake followed by the words “you’ve passed”. This represented the culmination of 13 months work starting in ground school to leaving as a qualified commercial pilot with all first series passes.
I will remember 2018 as the year I completed my flight training; a year of success; the year I completed a life goal and most of all, excitement of starting a new career in 2019.
Some of my favourite memories from the IR: