Journey to an Instrument Rating
Updated: Nov 20, 2018
After more than 20 years of flying as a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) private pilot, mostly in the Idaho backcountry, I decided to embark on the journey toward a rating that would allow me to earn a little money while flying and to expand my skillset and range of experience in the air. Specifically, I was seeking a commercial pilot certificate. As private pilots, we are restricted from charging for flying and I have adhered to that throughout my years as a pilot, never accepting compensation for a flight. However, a commercial certificate is, in most cases, of little use without an instrument rating, so the instrument rating is the hurdle I had to clear before launching on the commercial training path.
In March of 2018, it became clear to me - and my peers - that our jobs in a local company for which we worked for many years (in my case 14 and in others more than 30) were going to be transferred to our plants in Asia. Rather than lament this, I decided I would take the time afforded me to earn my commercial certificate and find work in the aviation field. I decided to follow my own training recommendations in this pursuit:
Study and pass the written exam for your rating / certificate BEFORE getting in the airplane
Pay for the flight training (in the air) up front, in block, and FLY, FLY, FLY many times per week so that you don't have to "relearn" lessons from week to week
It is avoiding these two actions that, in my opinion, most impair a student's progress toward a rating or certificate. I have seen a student pilot log many hours (sometimes 70 to 100 or more) toward a private license, but fail to complete the course and checkride because they didn't complete or pass the written test. And others take two or three times longer to complete the basic training because they don't fly frequently enough. Each time they arrive at the airport, they have to learn again the lesson they completed in the last session, rather than build on it and move forward.
So, to practice what I have often preached, I purchased a "KING" Instrument course, The Instrument Pilot's Flight Manual, the Practical Test Standards, Oral Test Preparation Guide, and many others as I started down the path toward my intended goal.
The Written Test and Study Process
As often happens in life, I got behind... I had started with a pretty aggressive goal of completing my initial study / written test within 6 weeks - which should have been very reasonable. But, life intervened and it took many more months than planned. (As an aside, this is exactly what I was speaking of earlier - had I started with the flying portion, most of that would have been lost or wasted time that would need to be repeated). This was unfortunate in that it consumed much of the good summer weather I needed to complete the in-air flight training portion. But, when I was able, I resumed my program with the goal of completing my written test by mid-October.
Watching the King IFR videos reminded me of my work toward the private pilot rating, which began in 1992! Many nights of watching VHS tapes of John and Martha King walking through the questions and topics that the FAA was likely to throw at me. Here I was again, watching some of the same video content! Much of the content was new - and some was recorded in HD (High Definition), so I had the chance to see John and Martha "grow" as I had over the preceding 25 or so years. (I heard later from one of the King Schools representatives that they are re-shooting all of the sequences in HD). According to the King's (although there is apparently some dispute on this point) the FAA has changed how their policy on making the question bank available to the public, so now questions are only similar to what the FAA might ask, but the questions reviewed in the King (or any other) course are not the questions you will see on the test. While I felt prepared for the test, I didn't score as high as I would have liked or expected. I think this had something to do with exactly how the FAA is asking questions and forming answer options, which I found to be not just confusing - but actually wrong. In one of the questions, I was asked to read the instruments indicating an unusual attitude situation and describe the sequence of recovery procedures. Two of the options included "descend to your previous attitude." When does someone "descend to a previous ATTITUDE?" Is that not odd? We descend to altitudes... not attitudes... anyway - that's what the FAA wanted. In spite of these little exam setbacks, I passed the written test in early October 2018, and began preparing for the next steps of the journey to my instrument rating.
Finding a Flight School and Instructor
One asset that I did not really have was time. Between work and personal obligations, the time I had available to devote to flight training had to be applied in the most effective manner possible. And as I maintained that the best way to complete a rating is to dedicate the time to it, I had to find a school and instructor that could meet my needs in that area. To be fair, that's a lot to ask of a flight instruction institution. There are several schools that offer "7-day IFR" programs and I know several pilots that used these to good effect. However, most of these were too far away and by the time I traveled in my plane, rented a hotel room and a car, and completed the training, the cost would have been prohibitive and the time would have exceeded what I could justify with work. Fortunately, a local school and instructor agreed to work with me. And, as an additional benefit, the school has an iGate advanced simulator which can be used to log up to 20 hours toward the instrument rating. The cost for this is not "cheap," but it is reasonable, and I really don't think we can ask more than that! So, having made arrangements with the instructor and school, I scheduled time off from work to focus on concentrated flight training for a period of 10 days. Would that be enough? Would that be effective? Time would tell.
Expanding My Flightbag: More Tools Needed
I've always been comfortable flying with the basic charts and avionics, never feeling compelled to use an electronic flight bag (EFB) or even an electronic E6B (yes, still using the old whiz-wheel E6B)! Years ago I used Golden Eagle flight planning, and have over the years used Skyvector.com for flight planning as well as a great free application, Avare (highly recommended). However, the flight school recommended using Foreflight for flight planning and for IFR charts and approach plates, etc. Well... that meant a little more expense, because Foreflight only runs on the iPad, which I didn't have.
But, to accelerate the training, I decided to jump in with both feet and purchased both the iPad and Foreflight. I also purchased the STRATUX ADS-B in hardware. Okay, that was really a lot more expense, but so far very worth it. I have been repeatedly impressed by how the combination of STRATUX and Foreflight have given me better situational awareness in the aircraft, without being a significant distraction. Also, the ability to organize and manage the charts, flight plans, etc. makes information available more quickly (when proper preparation is utilized).
Instrument Training - Simulator and Actual Flights
As much as possible, I will try to include the training flight tracks to illustrate what is done on each pre-training or training flight (for the actual aerial portions... there will be a fair amount of SIM training, which won't have track records). The application I am using to capture the flight portions (see images and track links below) is a great app called "CloudAhoy." I fortunately learned about this application just prior my October 06 pre-training flight. This simple to use application simply starts at the beginning of the flight and runs on your phone during the whole flight. Stopping it at the end compiles the captured flight data and loads it to a "debrief" page on the CloudAhoy site. The amount of information captured and calculated is simply amazing. The ability to completely review each aspect of the flight in 2D, 3D, PFD / 3D views, all geo-referenced for the conditions at the time is a very powerful training tool. I definitely recommend downloading the app to your phone and using it!
October 06, 2018 - Pre-training Flight, 1.7 Hours (CFI, JH) (Orientation / Warm-up / Reacquainting with the C172 / Basic SIM IFR)
CloudAhoy Track, October 6, 2017
The majority of my flight experience in the past few years has been away from the ubiquitous Cessna 172. But for instrument training, the 172 is tough to beat.
So, I had to begin the process of getting reacquainted with the old friend - which is fortunately IFR-Certified and equipped with a good suite of avionics (Garmin 430 GPS, a pair of Garmin G5's which serve as a PFD (Primary Flight Display) and an HSI (see image). There is also a second Garmin NAV/COM and a Garmin ADS-B OUT qualified Transponder. All of which I need help learning to use efficiently before I can really take advantage of the high-intensity flight training.
This first flight back with instructor Jim Hudson was intended to help me re-establish my familiarity with the airplane - which seemed to be like riding a bicycle... mostly. I had to stop myself from reaching for the cowl-flap lever or propeller pitch control. The feel of the 172 is much lighter than I've become used to, requiring less particular attention to the pitch trim, but also needing a lighter hand on the controls. We spent a lot of time "under the hood" practicing basic maneuvers, which really brings the main issue into focus. All of my experience has been VFR and mostly backcountry flying. Instrument flying is a precision activity, but backcountry flying is a spatial and geographical awareness - as well as slow-flight - activity. Essentially, with respect to fundamental ground-based navigation skills and precision flying, I've gotten to lazy and rusty, and have to spend time focusing on these fundamentals!
October 14, 2018 - Pre-training Flight, 2.2 Hours (SP MP) (Timed Maneuvers, Procedure Turns, Holding Patterns and Entries)
CloudAhoy track October 14, 2018
This flight was a practice flight with my dad serving as safety pilot. The flight school recommended practicing several maneuvering patterns based on timed standard rate turns similar to what would be performed in normal instrument flying (procedure turns, teardrop entries to holding patterns, holding patterns, etc.).
Most of the flight was characterized by turbulence - not severe, but just enough to make all of the maneuvers fairly miserable. The image above shows multiple attempts at the maneuvers - but, the reasonably constant altitude (green line) accompanied by the wide variations in airspeed (blue line) give away the struggle I was having with holding airspeed AND altitude in constant updrafts and downdrafts.
My dad was helping me with timing the maneuvers - and in so doing we learned that the timing is important but also knowing the timing is critical - without that, I wasn't leading the rollouts from turns and ended up QUITE late and finishing the entire group of maneuvers consistently off-heading. Once we figured that out and got the timing down, I was able to fly one of the sequences correctly (we cut the 2 minute legs down to 1 minute each to save time/cost/fuel).
Looking at the pattern diagram above, it doesn't seem that it would be that complicated - and in truth, I guess it's not and something that most IFR or professional pilots would handle easily (and an auto-pilot, for sure), But managing all of the components of the maneuver, remember the turns, the timing of the turns, holding headings, altitudes and standard-rate turns, along with power management and everything else required, was a good challenge. After all of my contortions in the air... one correctly flown pattern. one. I have a long way to go!
October 19, 2018 - iGate Advanced Simulator Training Session #01, 6 Hours (CFI, TT)
If you're going to start - you might as well start big. Six hours in the iGATE simulator today with my instructor doing his best to coach me through what should otherwise be relatively straightforward VOR navigation exercises. I was not a noteworthy or standout student. Most of the day's exercises focused on basic airmanship with reference to instruments, followed by intercepting and tracking VOR radials and DME arcs. I was uniformly poor at all of these maneuvers, which is a little embarrassing.
About the simulator - the iGATE simulator is an FAA approved training device, so the hours spent today can be logged toward the instrument rating. The instructor "drives" the simulation, setting up scenarios and sometimes taking the role of the ATC voice. In the simulator, the student (me) flies - and in today's case, solely with reference to instruments. I was impressed with how the avionics function (Garmin GNS430 sim, radios, DME, glideslope and VORs, RMI, etc.) and how the progress of the student can be monitored and then shared after an exercise is completed. The snapshot above shows the various tracks I flew around the Boise VOR during our some of the DME arc exercises. No, I was not drinking before or during the training, but it sure left me feeling like I should have a drink afterward. My head was banging and clanging at the end. I found the simulator to be a difficult tool to learn, as the simulator doesn't really fly quite like an airplane. To begin with, no engine noise... It's interesting to note that I rely so much on what the engine sounds are telling me about what is going on in the plane - for example, at one point while I was concentrating on several instrument and navigation tasks, I became disoriented when the attitude and heading indicators "tumbled." I wasn't quite sure what had happened, but I had stalled the "aircraft." In a typical light GA aircraft, the engine noise as well as cabin noise would have accompanied such an event. Also, I found pitch trim and sensitivity to be very difficult to learn. But, I will have to, as I have several more hours of sim time ahead of me.
I found the experience to be exhausting - after 6 hours, I couldn't keep up anymore - so we ended the lesson feeling both tired, somewhat daunted by the navigation tasks, but also very glad to be on the way to the instrument rating!
October 20, 2018 - Solo Training Flight (1.2 Hours) (Intercept and track VOR radials, Practice Teardrop Manuevers)
CloudAhoy track October 20, 2018
After my first, rather painful day in the sim, I headed out solo to practice a few maneuvers before meeting with a flight instructor for a lesson later in the morning. This was also my first opportunity to test the new STRATUX ADS-B hardware with my iPad and Foreflight - what an eye opening experience.
To be honest, after my poor performance in the simulator, it was good to be back in the plane where I could observe my actual flight capability - which is still nothing to crow at, but a lot better than the sim! So, my solo flight would focus on a few practice holding pattern turns and tracking a VOR. While I was doing these tasks, I was getting familiar with the traffic overlay that was being provided by STRATUX. Surprisingly, there was an aircraft that I had not seen converging with me that the traffic overlay picked up and gave an alert. I was able to adjust my heading based on that aircrafts heading and speed to avoid what could have been an unfortunate "encounter." VFR see and avoid policies are appropriate and certainly still apply, but having that extra bit of information was excellent.
I was getting used to some of the VOR functions of this aircraft and had some difficulty selecting the correct radial - as the track below shows that I was both OFF of the radial at some point and also having trouble tracking it. This was completely user error and some rather poor piloting - this will have to be improved in the coming days!
On the way back into Nampa Airport, there was a lot of traffic and again the STRATUX ADS-B Traffic Overlay came in handy as I realized I was converging with another aircraft and would be a conflict in the pattern... having the ability look down and SEE those aircraft "swarming" around the airport was really helpful. I have to keep in mind that not everyone is currently using ADS-B OUT, so not every possible target is identified, so I still have to practice the habits of looking, seeing, avoiding, and communicating. (Note, the screenshot above is not from that flight, but does illustrate the targets all around an airplane!)
October 20, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.8 Hours (CFI, GH) (Timed Maneuvers, Procedure Turns, Holding Patterns and Entries)
CloudAhoy track October 20, 2018
This was an actual simulated IFR training flight, and the first flight in which I've flown actual approaches. In this case, the ILS to 10R at Boise, the LPV/RNAV approach to Runway 30 at Caldwell, and the GPS-B approach to Runway 29 (with a circling approach to land on Runway 11). Also, we performed the missed approach procedure from Caldwell's runway 30, and performed a hold before proceeding to Boise for the ILS. My instructor for this flight is a seasoned, experienced hand in instrument flying and instruction and he was able to get my head around the process, procedures, and execution of the approaches. And this was reasonably fast paced work as the approaches sometimes came fairly close behind each other. He did reassure me that in typical IFR flying, it's not so compressed, and also that I would get the hang of it... eventually!
Overall, this flight was a good experience and helped boost confidence for what needs to be learned and practiced before the checkride. While I am aware that I have a long way to go, I am more confident that I will get there! Along the way today, I was able to "shoot" my first ILS approach, in this case to Boise 10R (see image below).
October 21, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.2 Hours (SP, MP) (Timed Maneuvers, Procedure Turns, Holding Patterns and Entries)
CloudAhoy track October 21, 2018
Today I changed the training regimen slightly to accommodate my dad's request for some support at his home base, Homedale, Idaho. So, I flew from Nampa to Homedale, only to arrive just as a fall morning fog was settling over the Snake River.
This is a result of the warmer, moist air over the river mixing with cold air settling down from the land surrounding the river, and a fog forms. By the time I was touching down on Runway 31, the fog was thickening and obscuring the departure, so I would have to wait it out on the ground for about an hour until the sun warmed things up enough and burned off the clouds. That gave my dad and I time to head over for a quick breakfast!
This did, however, "burn up" some of the IFR training time I had planned for the day, so after breakfast we headed right out to do some Simulated IFR work. Once again, I focused on getting proficient with the Garmin GNS430 and the G5 panel. This involved some VOR radial tracking, a very long DME Arc (60 miles from the station means a very long interval before turning on the arc) and more holding pattern practice - this time using a timer. I didn't plan it all the way through, so my teardrop entry was to the wrong side, but that was simply because I planned to do a turn and track inbound on the same radial... it was after doing that turn that I decided to try a standard and non-standard hold (timed). So, it did seem that I had some good practice, although it should be noted that my track on the 278 degree radial wasn't right over the radial... for some reason, it tracks to the side. This is evident on Foreflight and also on my CloudAhoy track (see below), but the GNS430 shows me right on the course. As the GNS430 is the one that is IFR certified, I have to fly it... but here where the course line sits right over the radial (V500), I'm actually flying a course that is about 3 degrees off of the published heading. Strange.
(My instructor pointed out that this difference may be due to VOR error, so we will have to test that in the airplane to determine what the error adjustment should be)
October 22, 2018 - iGate Advanced Simulator Training Session #02, X Hours (CFI, TT)
This session in the simulator seemed to be an improvement over the previous simulator sessions, but still seemed much harder than flying the airplane itself. This still has mostly to do with the way the simulator "flies." The simulator doesn't have any aural feedback that would be normal in the plane, so I don't hear the small changes in engine RPM that would usually give clues to an uncommanded climb or descent that would be corrected. Also, the airplane responds differently to pitch inputs, requiring less aggressive control handling to arrest a descent or a climb. Turbulence and wind are challenging in both - no matter what.
The simulator does still provide a good platform to learn the basics of the maneuvers and gives an opportunity to practice in a low-stress environment before being in the airplane with ATC giving instructions and expecting rapid compliance.
October 23, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 2.7 Hours (TT, CFII) [FIRST CFII FLIGHT] (Slow Flight, Stalls Under Hood, Steep Turns - 50 degree bank angle, Holding Pattern Entries and Holds, RNAV Approach with Vertical Guidance-LPV)
CloudAhoy track October 23, 2018
I think, in a sense, today was a landmark day in the training process toward the instrument rating. While I have had 2 or 3 "pre-training" and familiarization flights with instructors and have spent some time in the simulator with my actual IFR instructor - this was our first flight in the air together. We were able to spend a fair amount of time in pre-flight and post-flight, as well as in the air. So, our logged 2.7 hours included another 2.3 hours of ground instruction and review. So, for those keeping track... that's a lot. I've surpassed the FAA minimum of 40 hours of dual, simulated-IFR training. But, much of that was accumulated over the previous 20 years of flying. So, what I would really consider useful toward the rating is the (to date) 20.8 hours of simulator and simulated IFR training this month.
Today's lesson was made lively by an unusually heavy amount of air traffic in the area, including commercial operations and training. So this hampered our ability to fly several approaches as we had planned, so the time was spent on slow flight, stalls in simulated IMC, and steep turns to commercial standards (50 degree bank angle).
We also spent a lot of time on holds - entries and patterns. I'm still working to understand how these work - because while the holding pattern may be conceptually simple (go around in a big racetrack) they are made more challenging by the entry procedures and the compensation for wind. Overall, I was happy with how I was progressing with the holds, but as is often the case - there are plenty of opportunities for mistakes and "helmet fires" as things become more busy and the student (me) becomes task-saturated.
October 23, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 2.3 Hours (SP SW) (Slow Flight, Stalls Under Hood, Steep Turns - 50 degree bank angle, Holding Pattern Entries and Holds, RNAV Approach with Vertical Guidance-LPV)
CloudAhoy track Part 1 October 23, 2018
Today's practice session was split into two parts, and was flown with a safety pilot (SW) who is also working on his instrument rating and on roughly the same schedule (basically, hard and fast). So, we are working together to trade off safety pilot time.
The first part of the session involved more practice with VOR tracking, which seemeed to be a little better today, and more holding patterns to build on what I had learned in the morning's lesson. Somehow, I managed to get this wrong again, as my "parallel" entry (at right) looks like a completely separate holding pattern on the "unprotected side" of the hold... while the rest of the patterns were complicated by wind (and a small amount of turbulence. After bouncing around for nearly two hours, we decided to head to Nampa Airport for a quick break and some fuel... where the flight would continue with an approach to Boise.
CloudAhoy track Part 2 October 23, 2018 [THE NEAR MISS]
For this leg of the practice session, we briefed our procedure on the ground in detail to make sure everything was understood and to also get in the habit. I planned to fly the same approach to Boise Airport that I had flown earlier in the day with the instructor. This would also involve departing to the south and tracking toward RENOL intersection before turning inbound to the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) at intersection BOYCA.
Once briefed and pre-take-off checks were complete, we departed Nampa and turned south to make a looping pattern and approach intersection RENOL from the west. On our climb out, once things were stable and we were above 2,000 AGL, I made our position call and then passed control over to my safety pilot (SW). Shortly after I took the controls again, SW made a sharp sound and pointed over the dash - it was obvious from his motion and gutteral sound that something was wrong. I took this to be an impending traffic conflict and quickly looked up from under the "foggles" just in time to see a clear silhouette of a Cessna Skywagon close by at our 12 o'clock, nose-on, rolling into a steep, descending bank to my left. Instinctively, I began a rapid roll to my right - but by then he was passing underneath my elbow - but very close. To be sure, there were many mistakes made here that could have ended much differently - but didn't. So, we all look to what we can do differently to avoid a situation like that in the future.
After settling back into the routine of the flight, we proceeded to RENOL and contacted approach and were cleared to our IAF and the RNAV Y 10R approach to Boise. It may not have been the cleanest approach that was ever flown - but, as the above image shows - it does somewhat align to the procedure shown at right... and is the first official instrument approach I've ever flown without guidance... so, I guess this is my first approach!
After a whole day of flying and busy radios, turbulence, and a near miss - I was ready to call it "good" for the evening and take some time to reflect on what I've learned and what can be done better next time.
October 24, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 2.1 Hours (TT, CFII) - Flight #1 (Slow Flight and Unusual Attitude Recovery, Partial Panel Approaches, Hold Entry Practice, VOR/DME Approach, RNAV / GPS Approach, ILS Approach)
CloudAhoy track October 24, 2018
To be honest, I'm not sure what's happened to Boise - it's not just the road traffic that has gone crazy, but the air traffic, too! On our first training flight this morning, we actually heard the controller from Big Sky Approach Control say, "... you're number nine for approaches, it's going to be awhile..."
We started the morning's lesson with some slow flight and partial panel maneuvering and also some unusual attitude recovery training. These seemed to go reasonably well, although always room for improvement. We tried to get set up for an approach, but were brushed off by ATC so my instructor set up some waypoints and sent me off to do some holds - which I immediately buggered and had to try again! Things seemed to improve after that and I had it worked out ok.
We then moved on to some approaches, beginning with a VOR/DME approach to runway 10L (closed) at Boise. With so much traffic on the approach frequency, I had a lot of distractions and had a hard time managing radios, altitude / airspeed / heading control, tuning VOR's, and communicating. But, somehow I seemed to put most of it together with a little help from my instructor.
Once established on the DME Arc for 10L, the controller immediately asked for "...two left three-sixties and then re-establish on the Arc." Perfect. It's hard enough to keep things straight as a student on the arc, but then to disorient yourself with seven-hundred and twenty degrees of donuts in the sky?
Well, I have to admit, I am SUPER proud of those donuts as they look to be ONE turn, rather than two! Don't ask me to do that twice... once re-established and nearly at the inbound turning point, I got another request for a three-sixty before intercepting the VOR course inbound to 10L. Really! Wow. I guess this was my "Donuts in the Sky" day.
On my second pass at the arc, I received another request for a three-sixty turn, making it four donuts on the DME arc today! What to do about all of the traffic?
October 24, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 2.1 Hours (TT, CFII) - Flight #2 (VOR / DME Approach to Boise 10L, GPS/RNAV to Caldwell (30 and 12), ILS to Boise 10R)
CloudAhoy track October 24, 2018
After a debrief and a quick lunch, we were back out to the plane for more air-work and practicing (again) the DME arc for 10L - no donuts this time. Then we changed venues (for traffic) and made our way to the RNAV approach to Caldwell, runway 30. This was a much more straightforward type of approach, involving flight to a fix and then turning straight in - ah, mostly much easier! Caldwell happens to have an approach to both runways from opposite directions, so we flew out to the holding fix, turned and flew back in to the opposite runway. As it was getting late in the afternoon and my instructor had another student, we acquired vectors to the Boise 10R ILS, which again, is a much easier way to fly an approach. Someone else is doing all of the hard work and the pilot just has to follow instructions! Easy enough! Wait... there's more? Flying the needles for the ILS is a little bit of a "rubbing your tummy while tapping your head" exercise that I'm still trying to figure out - along with figuring out the right radial I should be on, etc. And, while it's not quite coming together for me yet, I can begin to see how it can and will come together in the end! Confidence boosted today.
October 24, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 2.1 Hours (SP BH) - Flight #3 (VOR / DME Approach to Boise 10L, RNAV Y to Boise 10R)
CloudAhoy track October 24, 2018
And then there was the night flight with a safety pilot. Hmm...
After bouncing around in the airplane all day, fighting wind and turbulence, I met with another instrument student for a "let's swap seats / safety pilot favors" for an afternoon session. When he arrived, I had just finished flying so offered to turn the PIC / left seat (aka: hot seat) over to him, which he accepted. And, while I had been fighting turbulence all day, magically, things smoothed out and he had a good chance to fly multiple approaches to Boise, Caldwell, and Nampa. Of course, there was still plenty of traffic at all three airports, but things had calmed down considerably so that he could pass on a whole tray of donuts - but we did have some traffic to dodge at Nampa. Did I mention how much the weather had smoothed out? It was absolutely still and calm, pleasant flying!
So, after his last approach to Nampa, we circled to land runway 29... hmm.. we departed to the east, and now we're landing to the west? I should have been prepared for what came next.
After fueling, we swapped seats and headed out to 29 for our departure, under clouds with virga that had settled down to 7000 AGL. Rain had started just west of Nampa, but it was still very clear weather - and getting dark rapidly. By the time we were climbing out of Nampa to the south, it was already dark and raining - I went under the hood. From that point forward, it was non-stop turbulence with uncomfortable downdrafts and even less comfortable updrafts. You know the kind? Full-power, nose high descents? Idle-power, nose low climbs? Wings rocking from side to side... in the dark... under the hood... trying to fly approaches? I'm sure that is just a day at the office for a professional pilot, but for me, it was not so much fun! I practiced another VOR/DME to 10L and then finally set up for one last RNAV (LPV) to 10R to call it a night... Everything was going swimmingly until something went sideways and the procedure failed to sequence properly and I ended up having to do even more work to get the GPS to feed me the appropriate lateral and vertical navigation information. As backup, I had dialed in the Boise 10R ILS frequency, so that was on tap as an alternative means to stay on course... in the end, I executed a halfway acceptable approach, landing in the dark and drizzle with a thump worthy of a Navy pilot!
October 25, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.5 Hours (CFII TT) - Flight #1 (Establishing a holding pattern, GPS to Nampa, RNAV to RWY 30 and 12 at Caldwell, and a no-gyro VOR/DME approach to 28L at Boise)
CloudAhoy track October 25, 2018
For this morning's flight, we finally had reasonably smooth weather, although still some wind to contend with at altitude... with minimal turbulence, the wind was manageable and it was overall an enjoyable flight. Once again, we had a lot of traffic both on the Boise frequencies as well as at Nampa and Caldwell, ,so we were under pressure to remain clear and execute properly. I am still struggling somewhat with figuring out the best way to enter a hold and compensating in the hold for wind, but it seems to be coming along. The GPS approaches (LPV with vertical guidance, similar to an ILS) once established seem to be going well enough. So, I can say that I feel like I am progressing, which is encouraging.
Of course, there are ways to highlight big, glaring areas that need improvement and my instructor found one (likely of many) this morning. Today was the first opportunity this week to fly approaches to Runway 28L, so we returned to Boise to fly the VOR/DME to 28L. During this approach, had everything set up correctly... and then my gyros failed... oops. Now I was flying the approach with vectors, a compass, an altimeter, and a VOR. That was interesting enough as I struggled to maintain the right heading with reference only to the compass, but the added "maintain maximum forward speed" from the controller along with multiple step-downs in quick succession had me pretty quickly overloaded and flying too low. We landed after this approach for a break and discussion on what to work on next (three guesses? Yes - No Gyro VOR/DME approaches!)
October 25, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.5 Hours (CFII TT) - Flight #2 (Gyro and No-Gyro VOR/DME approaches to RWY 28L at Boise)
CloudAhoy track October 25, 2018
Following the morning's first interesting flight with no-gyro approaches, we set out to practice these again. First we worked on flying the approach with gyros, which of course was much easier. But, I realized that the rapid step downs require a much more proactive and prepared pilot so that these descents don't become too aggressive. One more time around and I felt more comfortable, so we decided to try for the no-gyro approach!
Of course, just as we failed my gyros and returned to compass, altimeter, and VOR for maintaining the flight - the approach frequency got crowded and we were vectored out into never-never land for a holding pattern. (above, you can see the hold as the little foot sticking out to the south). we made one turn and were then vectored back into the final approach course for what was a much improved pass at the VOR/DME No-Gyro approach... improved, but not quite ready for prime time yet! So, this is something to continue working on. Managing the correct descent profile to avoid the "dive and drive" effect and also keeping ahead of the plane during the approach so that I don't end up trying to "catch-up" to what is happening.
October 25, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 3.2 Hours (SP MC, CFII) - Flight #3 (Filing a flight plan, short cross country, Night IFR, Approaches, Holds)
CloudAhoy track October 25, 2018
After several years of running in different directions, I was really looking forward to flying again with my friend Matt, who is a CFII and really the best all around pilot I know. I also knew that this would not be an easy, sit-back-and-relax training flight! Matt pushes for the edge of the envelope all of the time! I knew I would learn a lot, and had he said, "let's file IFR to Seattle," I wouldn't have been surprised! But, he said, "let's file to Ontario since you haven't been there yet and haven't filed a flight plan yet." So, this would turn out to be quite an adventure for me in many ways!
After getting through the initial flight planning and filing process using Foreflight (so impressed with how the technology works), we prepped and loaded the plane. I called for my first "IFR Clearance" and worked through the "CRAFTE" process (Cleared to, via Route, at Altitude, on departure Frequency, with Transponder code, and Expect further at..."). We launched and began navigating toward Ontario using vectors to a victor airway... I was really surprised at how quickly the Initial Approach Fix at intersection EMMET arrived. In fact, it arrived so quickly, I was completely unprepared for the descent - and the controller hadn't given me a descent clearance! So, I asked for and received one and was then handed off to Seattle Center. This was just one of many lessons of the night - I, the PIC, am responsible for the management of the approach, not the controller! I should have been communicating my altitude needs much sooner. Because I was late, I had to descent at a faster than comfortable rate while trying to set up for the approach! Oops - another lesson... be AHEAD of the plane, don't squander time just looking at instruments! The rapid descent and turn inbound to initiate the approach also had me working through several activities, during which I slowed my scan and dipped below the segment MEA by 200 feet! This got the attention of the Seattle Center controller who promptly scolded me (literally) and reminded me that someone is actually watching and to a certain extent "grading" my work! On the turn-in to Ontario, I was flying quite fast - which prompted Matt to question my handling of the plane at that speed. He reminded me that I "know how to fly the plane - and know what the plane does well at 90 mph, so FLY THAT SPEED... slow down to a normal approach speed and manage the plane appropriately!" It was good advice. I began working to remember how to fly the plane at specific power settings for specific target airspeeds and rates of climb or descent. This wasn't new information, I had done this with Jim Hudson on day one of my re-initiation to the C172, but I hadn't been using that information effectively.
I announced the Missed Approach back to Seattle Center and we began the loooong climb back to 9,000 MSL and the hold. There were some wind gradients to pass through, which really made my course tracking and holding pattern work interesting. Matt once again reminded me why he is such a good pilot,
HIM "What is your heading bug set to?" ME "278" HIM "Why?" ME "I'm trying to adjust for the crosswind by flying 278 instead of the outbound course of 270." HIM "Then why is your heading 279? GET BACK ON YOUR 278 TARGET! OK, now, IS THAT WORKING to have you track 270?" ME "Umm... OK... I... Yes, I'm trying to compen... yes, ok... not, it's not working... I'll try 280..." HIM "Set your heading and HOLD IT... DON'T WANDER... SPEED UP YOUR SCAN..." ME "Do you smell smoke? I think it's coming from inside my head..."
It was another great reminder to narrow down the tolerance for error - the "error bands" that can begin to expand over time. If you're a little low on altitude, FIX IT and HOLD IT. If your heading is off a degree or two, FIX IT... I'm definitely not flying (yet) to those standards - but when I reflect on many years of flying with Matt, I realize that he is never sitting in the cockpit looking out the window. He is always pushing the envelope of his own capability, and over the years that has made him a tremendous pilot with a lot of skill, well beyond what would be seen by just logging the same number of hours.
The final lesson of the night came when we returned to Boise to fly the VOR/DME to 28L. By this time, it was fully night - and a dark one at that. The moon had yet to rise. Under the foggles, in a dark, red-lighted cockpit over a dark desert, with no moon... I was afloat in an ink bottle - I had the sensation of being absolutely motionless in complete external darkness. And my head started to tumble with Spatial Disorientation and vertigo! As we navigated to the initial approach fix, I was fighting the tumbling feeling... I thought I was prepared for the turn, but when I made the turn north to capture the DME arc and get established on the approach, I found myself completely confused by the instrumentation and fighting to orient myself. Matt attempted to help, but I couldn't quite follow his instructions. Rapidly, I began to lose the approach, at which point Matt said, "Turn to 360 degrees NOW." I realized I had already turned more than 90 degrees left, beyond 270 and was completely off of the arc! This was really good for several reasons - I had the chance to experience hard spatial disorientation and while it wasn't technically "Instrument Meteorological Conditions," it was as close as it can get.
October 26, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 4.1 Hours (TT CFII) - Flight #1 (Fulfilling the IFR 250 Mile Cross Country, 3 Stops, 3 Approaches Requirement)
CloudAhoy track KBOI - KBYI, October 26, 2018
CloudAhoy track KBYI - KTWF, October 26, 2018
CloudAhoy track KTWF - KBOI, October 26, 2018
Another milestone day on the journey to an instrument rating. After one week of intensive flight training, flying at least two long flights per day, my instructor assigned homework of developing a flight plan to comply with the FAA requirement of a cross country IFR flight consisting of at least 250 total miles, 3 airports and a 3 different types of approaches. In order to make this flight have maximum learning value, my instructor asked me to plan a round-robin flight, but in three legs, so that I could try different ways of filing and picking up clearances. The route would be Boise (KBOI) to Burley (KBYI); Burley (KBYI) to Twin Falls (KTWF); and Twin Falls (KTWF) to Boise (KBOI).
At each of these airports, I would have to fly a published instrument approach - and a different approach, so that three separate approach types were flown. As it was possible I would be landing on Runway 28 back at Boise, and no ILS was available there (at the time work was being done so the ILS was out), I elected to fly the VOR-A to Burley, the ILS to 26 at Twin Falls, and the RNAV (GPS) approach back to either 10 or 28 at Boise.
During planning, I began evaluating the weather - and while I knew the flight would be in VFR conditions, I still wanted to be as thorough as possible. I checked the overall area weather the same way anyone would - I checked local and area forecasts to get "the big picture" of what weather was developing throughout the Pacific Northwest. Then, I began to narrow down on the specific places, routes, and times I would be flying to see if there were any local patterns that needed attention. This was done using the briefing methods available online, through TAF's (Terminal Area Forecasts), and graphical weather information available publically. Finally, I collected both Outlook and Standard briefings from flight service via 1-800-WX-BRIEF. Overall the picture was clear: VFR with moderate to strong wind out of the west... this would mean a 23 - 30 knot tailwind on the way to Burley
LEG 1 - KBOI to KBYI: As expected, this was a fast flight! Due to some terrain avoidance on V4, I had to select 11,000 MSL as the altitude for the East-bound flight, so it took some time to climb to that height. However, with the tailwind, we were flying past our intersection turn toward Burley in no time, and were making about 132 knots over the ground. Not too bad for a Cessna 172. But with all of the altitude, and the tailwind, I had to come down pretty quickly, too! The lesson learned here is simple - the distance may be 60+ miles on the GPS, but you're going to cover that distance quickly, so you'd better be set up and ready for the approach, otherwise, you'll get to the Burley VOR and have to be letting down quickly to get into the pattern to land! Don't get complacent when it "seems" you have extra time... spend that time thinking ahead, planning, getting organized, checking the procedure again. On arrival at Burley, I had to circle to land, which was interesting because the approach procedure brings the aircraft quite low, so the circling procedure is an abnormally low pattern, and keeping within 1 mile of the airport can make the pattern turns more interesting!
LEG 2 - KBYI to KTWF: The second leg of the cross-country trip was much shorter and would involve a quick flight to Twin Falls, now facing a quartering headwind. So, with the shorter distance between take-off and landing, I should have had plenty of time to set-up the approach. We called Boise Radio from the ground while holding short for take-off and received our clearance to Twin Falls with a void time. I departed runway 20 at Burley, and made a circling pattern to the South and East to position us to fly to the Burley VOR and then outbound to GABBY intersection and the start of the ILS to Runway 26 at Twin Falls. This should have been a relatively simple maneuver, but I managed to muck it up! Navigating to the Burley VOR was straightforward, and I knew the heading / radial to intercept outbound, nothing new there. But, as I crossed the VOR, I made my turn to early, which had me wandering about looking for my radial! Being so close to the VOR (low altitude), I should have continued a bit further before turning to confirm that I had crossed the VOR completely and put the radial in position for a better intercept. So, another leg, another lesson! After that, we quickly arrived at the GABBY intersection, turned inbound to Runway 26 and captured the ILS. While compensating for the wind, I think the approach went fairly well and I was pleased to hit the Decision Altitude, pull the foggles, and see the runway right in front of me - always a good feeling for a student. I know it's not 'Actual IMC' yet, but it's still a good feeling.
LEG 3 - KTWF to KBOI: The final leg of the cross country would be straight back into the teeth of the wind, and our groundspeed showed it! From 130+ knots eastbound, we found ourselves at 75 knots westbound. The good news is that it was actually quite smooth at 10,000 MSL (our westbound MEA on V4). At that altitude, and under those conditions, my focus was appropriately on maintaining the airway as closely as possible, maximizing efficiency for airspeed, and getting set up for the RNAV approach at Boise. When I obtained Boise weather, I was surprised to hear that wind at the ground had slowed down somewhat, and they were now landing Runway 10R, so we set up for the LPV approach. Interestingly, this also somewhat explained why the Cessna 152 that departed Twin Falls for boise just ahead of us, stayed ahead of us the whole way! lighter wind at a much lower VFR altitude gave them the edge on speed over ground... one can only hope that the ride was much bumpier at that altitude!
Because I have to be honest, I will tell the truth of the story up front - luck does happen. During our return leg, and approaching Boise, I had to descend from 10,000 MSL to about 7,000 MSL at the CANEK intersection (altitude assigned). I set up a rate of descent with power adjustments, and then just held course and airspeed with basic controls while watching the distance count off of the GPS range to the intersection! Now, I would claim it as 100% amazing piloting skills, especially on a checkride, but a little bit of good luck brought me across the fix at 7,000 MSL just as the counter ticked to 0.00 and flipped over to the next fix on the approach! The remainder of the approach went fairly smoothly as the wind calmed down and the turbulence abated that afternoon (for once). Below, another great use of CloudAhoy, shows the final approach course (in bright magenta) to 10R and in blue and white, the course flown. A great way to debrief and evaluate! I overshoot the course slightly, corrected, and then stayed pretty much on it all the way down. This can also be viewed in 3D or in a "video" style that shows the approach as flown...
Below, again, the "glass cockpit" view from a video replay screenshot (amazing)! Showing the approach courseline (magenta) and how the approach was flown... here, the course of 102 degrees and heading of 106 degrees shows that I've drifted slightly to the right of course! There are some limitations, of course, but generally this is fairly reflective of the approach as flown. All from a little application running on my cellphone (capturing data) in my pocket. Note that ground speeds and indicated airspeeds are going to differ, so that can't be used to judge the airspeed of the approach directly. But, it is a good reference.
October 26, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 4.1 Hours (SP WW, CFII) - Flight #2 (Practice VOR-DME Approaches to 28L, Boise and night flight struggles)
CloudAhoy track October 26, 2018
After what seemed like a reasonably successful cross country in the morning, I returned to the air for another practice flight with another CFII and friend for a night flight. This would again demonstrate the challenges of situational awareness when things don't go as planned.
October 27, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 3.6 Hours (SP SE) - Flight #1 (KBOI Gowen 4 Departure, RNAV KMAN, RNAV x2 KEUL, RNAV 10R KBOI, VOR/DME 10L KBOI)
CloudAhoy track October 27, 2018
This practice flight, flown with a safety pilot, was intended to further test my ability to manage the cockpit and IFR environment without the help of an instructor at hand. In this instance, the individual flying with me was unfamiliar with the Garmin GNS430, so it truly put it all in my hands to manage! Also, prior to these weekend flights, my instructor had advised me to spend some time with the Gowen 4 Departure procedure (a typical fail point for checkrides initiating from Boise Airport) and the GPS approaches with circling to land operations. On this flight, I stretched myself as much as possible, flying 3.6 hours total and getting in several approaches, holds, the prescribed departure procedure and circling to land - on an opposing traffic runway and a busy day - probably not the safest way to learn! But, it was a pleasant (if somewhat bumpy) day and I felt much better after managing the cockpit on my own a bit! While flying an approach to Nampa airport, I requested the initial fix from the Boise VOR, which gave my passenger the opportunity to capture this photo of Boise Airport while turning over the VOR!
October 27, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 3.6 Hours (SP WW, CFII) - Flight #2 (VOR Navigation, RNAV 28 at Mountain Home, VOR/DME 10L at Boise)
CloudAhoy track October 27, 2018
This was another flight intended to provide some practice with navigation and to also fly an approach to a an airport that I hadn't previously been to with an instructor - basically to fly an approach "blind," just by reading the briefing strip and planning for it, as I might have to do in an actual IFR situation. So, once airborne, we selected Mountain Home as the destination. Of course, the approach to Mountain Home's runway 28 is from the East, which required flying quite a long way past Mountain Home (U76) before making a procedure turn and heading back to the airport!
It's hard to feel too bad about that parallel entry to the hold at ALKAL for the initial approach fix (IAF) to the Mountain Home RNAV 28. My experience thus far has been that while I know how to fly an airplane, being able to fly with precision isn't something I've always pushed myself to do - and of course, it has not exactly been a requirement for VFR / backcountry flying which requires a different kind of attention to detail and precision. Regardless, being able to see how I've 'grown' or improved over the past week and being able to execute a flight like this without coaching has been rewarding and I do feel that I am making progress. Seeing 'evidence' such as that parallel entry course to the ALKAL fix is something that technology provides that earlier generations of pilots didn't get to see.
Of course, that doesn't mean EVERYTHING on the approach went to plan! To be a little fair, there was some light turbulence, with sinking air and updrafts that complicated my approach. But, I did make somewhat of a mess of it at the end. The beginning of the approach - from the procedure turn - went quite well. But, as I neared the airport, I began to struggle to hold the glide slope and centerline of the approach, fighting with power and lateral corrections. So, as the above illustrates, I was a little "squirrely" coming down the final approach path and wandered away - I did manage to salvage it, but that isn't the way approaches should be flown! This is definitely one we don't want to see on the checkride!
Well, for as good as a free tool is (CloudAhoy) - and it really is... things don't always go right! Now, I won't claim to fly the cleanest, straightest, most auto-pilot pro-like approaches... but, I didn't fly THAT approach! I'm not quite sure what happened, but something went a little sideways with this flight's tracking profile, so it loses a little of the debriefing value. But, having said that, I am still amazed by the available technology and think that overall it has been a very useful tool for evaluating my progress / performance and reflecting on what I've done to date with the instrument training! Fortunately, Foreflight was also logging the flight and I was able to export the Foreflight KML file data to CloudAhoy, which I think provides the cleanest and best looking display and interface for viewing and reviewing flight profiles.
October 28, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 1.3 Hours (with RB) - Flight #1 (ILS 10R, VOR/DME 10L, RNAV 10R at Boise - Turbulence (again))
CloudAhoy track October 28, 2018
Weather, a late start, and time constraints kept this practice flight to a short 1.3 hours. But, in that time I was able to squeeze in another VOR/DME approach, which seem to be the most challenging - disappointing when they go poorly and rewarding when they go well! I think I am beginning to recognize some of the controllers in both the approach and tower areas, and I KNOW they recognize me. At this point in the training, I am feeling more confident and hopefully they find me less work and so are more comfortable (and less annoyed) with me in their airspace. I always make it a point to thank them for "working with me today..." I'd like to get to meet some of them sometime!
October 28, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 3.1 Hours (SP MP) - Flight #2 (Still turbulent... Holds, Partial panel, no-gyro VOR/DME 10L, no-gyro ILS 10R, RNAV 10 R, GPS 29 Nampa, RNAV 30 Caldwell, RNAV 12 Caldwell)
CloudAhoy track October 28, 2018
This was my final, official, training flight for the instrument rating, prior to "the checkride." I will likely get one or two more practice flights before the big day, but this was it, The Practice Checkride... According to my instructor, the checkride itself will most likely focus on several areas of airmanship and approach management. In the Treasure Valley area of Idaho, this typically involves flying a departure procedure from Boise, demonstrating holding patterns, flying maneuvers on a partial panel, flying partial panel approaches, and flying some of the approaches with circling to land at one of the smaller airports (Nampa or Caldwell). On this particular flight, I tried to execute as much of those operations as possible, flying numerous approaches in a partial panel environment - even with no other navigation instrumentation than a single VOR, compass, altimeter, and turn coordinator (such as the VOR/DME to RWY 10R at Boise). These were all quite challenging, but manageable - and in some ways, even enjoyable. Although, I have to say that doing all of these in a busy airspace environment and with enough turbulence to make things truly difficult (but not unsafe) was beginning to exhaust me!
The most important item I can come away from with this flight is the realization and awareness of how far I have yet to go to become a truly proficient IFR pilot, but also, how much I have learned in the past week! Going back to the initial struggles in the simulator, I am amazed at how much I have incorporated and can now manage on my own - enough to feel reasonably confident in the practical portion of the checkride... and, to have earned my instructor's ENDORESEMENT! The checkride is now tentatively scheduled for one week out, giving me a little time to rest, reflect, study, and practice a bit more for the event... more to follow!
November 02, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 1.9 Hours (SP MP) (Still turbulent... too turbulent to be useful for training purposes, really. RNAV - B to Nampa and RNAV / LPV to Caldwell, partial panel, compass turns)
CloudAhoy track November 02, 2018
The checkride has been scheduled for November 03, one day away. Today I took advantage of a break in the weather to get one final practice flight under my belt, hoping to fly a DME Arc to 28L at Boise. The weather earlier in the day had been raining, but no wind. Unfortunately, by the time I was airborne, the ceilings and visibility were improving, but at the cost of wind and a whole lot of turbulence. Too much turbulence for the flight to be really productive. Everyone says, "it's good practice." Ok, no disagreement there - but when you're trying to practice a precision maneuver to gain confidence that you're doing things correctly, having to fight through all of the turbulence is a big distraction (and annoying / tiring). Anyway, enough complaining - everyone has to deal with it.
I'm glad I had one last chance to do some practice before the checkride - flying the GPS approach into Nampa (no vertical guidance) and the RNAV into Caldwell (LPV, with vertical guidance). Also, in the turbulence and wind, my 360 turns on partial panel were pretty poor - really poor, as the image above shows! Although again, in my defense, these were done with a timer and a compass, and at one point I was unable to hold altitude within a +/- 400 foot block due to updrafts and downdrafts.
So, one more night to study and prepare... I feel reasonably confident of the practical portion and less so of the oral portion. I believe I am capable of passing - but know there are some challenges I will have.
Everyone labors over the potential performance on the checkride, and I'm certainly no exception. Each of the two major components of the checkride present challenges that any candidate has to overcome. Up to this point in the documenting of my progress toward the checkride and rating, I have focused on what has been done in practice. Here I will try to capture what I did to prepare for the checkride and my sense of "readiness" for the checkride.
Throughout the several days of flight training (and even earlier), I had been studying the material that might be reviewed during the oral portion of the checkride. And there is A LOT to study! As I considered them weak points, I focused much of my study on weather and regulations. But, regardless of preparation, it is difficult to be prepared for everything, and a few holes would be revealed during my checkride.
Study of the ACS (Formerly, PTS) Starting with the ACS (Airman Certification Standards) seemed like a reasonable approach to me - all of the expectations are detailed in the ACS, as well as suggestions for what to bring to the checkride. I familiarized myself with the contents of the ACS and made notes for where I would need to study. To be candid, there are a lot of points of evaluation, so I focused on the big categories of what would be evaluated in the air and how those should be flown (heading and altitude targets, approach precision, partial panel standards and expectations, systems knowledge / review)
Study of the Oral Review / Study-guide The Oral Exam Guide is actually a well-prepared overview of the potential questions that one might encounter on the oral portion of the checkride. It covers a lot of topics fairly compehensively and presents the material in a question / answer format that also references relevant publications (FARs, AIM, etc.) for further information.
Independent Study In addition to the ACS and Oral Exam Guide, I also used my textbooks and ASA instrument guides for "textbook" information. Also, I referred to several different prep videos that illustrate what to expect during and how to prepare for the checkride. YouTube is an amazing resource that I used to show actual checkrides, checkride perparation courses, interviews with Designated Examiners, and even for how to read weather charts, how to use Foreflight, how to use the Garmin GNS430! It's well worth spending some time looking for good quality reviews and lessons here!
Cross Country Flight Plan and Considerations Prior to the checkride, the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) gave me an assignment to plan an IFR flight from Nampa to Salt Lake City. This, it turns out, is a pretty interesting assignment for IFR flying in a light GA aircraft, such as an unpressurized Cessna 172. Below is a screenshot of the flight route I chose, which is not the most direct routing I could choose. However, here are some of the considerations that came into play: - Elevation / altitudes: several of the routes from Boise (KBOI) to Salt Lake City (KSLC) require flight above 12500 feet for more than 30 minutes, which brings into consideration the regulations / requirements for oxygen use - which we would not have on such a flight. Also, these higher elevations would potentially push us into more freezing levels where icing could occur - Alternates and fuel requirements: when planning for a possible alternate, I had to consider that the enroute portion of the flight would be easily 2.5+ hours on a 4.0 hour fuel range. Leaving 1.5 hours of fuel to reach an alternate AND have 45 minutes of excess fuel remaining. So any alternate would need to be within 45 minutes of KSLC. Unfortunately, most any airport within 45 minutes of KSLC would be likely to have the same or similar weather. This presented a lot of challenges and considerations. In the end, I selected Tooele Valley to the south and west of KSLC. This has an instrument approach and lies on the west side of a range that could contain some cloud cover that might be setting on KSLC. Another alternative would be to abandon the flight early and wait things out in Burley or Twin Falls. - Weather: of course one of the main component of the flight planning involves evaluating potential weather and hazards along the route. Fortunately, the day selected for the checkride was forecast to be VFR all along the route (no alternate required, but I planned one anyway). However, all elements were evaluated, including METARs and TAFs, enroute winds aloft, freezing levels, possible precipitation and cloud cover, potential mountain obscuration, turbulence, NOTAMs and restricted airspace. For this I used a combination of commercial weather applications, Foreflight briefing, and outlook and standard briefings from a flight service briefer. In the end, I was able to build a reasonable picture of a high pressure system, clear visibility, very high clouds, and freezing levels above the planned route of flight.
Cross checking everything. Making checklists to ensure everything is ready It would be a real disappointment to show up to the checkride and have forgotten a key piece of documentation, a photo ID, a logbook with suitable endorsements, or an aircraft logbook with no 30 day VOR check! So, I made my own checklist to make sure I had all of the documentation that would be needed, per the ACS. As it would happen, I would find out later that I left something important off of the checklist!
November 03, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 1.2 Hours (DPE AM) (CHECKRIDE: Disapproval (Failed))
CloudAhoy track November 03, 2018
If the above flight seems excessively short - it accounted for about 1.2 hours total of flight time, from engine start to engine shutdown. For those who have completed an IFR checkride, that will seem excessively short and sparse. As I will explain, the short duration of the flight was related to (at least) four failures I made in one approach. Definitely not the outcome I had hoped or prepared for. But, as you may see by the end of this post, lessons were learned.
The day of the checkride arrived, and while I felt there were some weak points in my "campaign" for earning the instrument rating, I felt reasonably prepared for both the oral and practical portions. To be honest, I felt more concerned about the oral portion of the exam, but with respect to the practical, I had a certain measure of confidence that I could manage the standards of the instrument checkride - if not like a seasoned pro, certainly well enough to pass. I had flown with three different instructors who all said the same thing, some polishing needed, but the elements and fundamentals are established. In spite of the confidence, I was not over-confident, and in fact secretly lurking was a concern about some of the approaches that I had struggled with during training. Unusual attitude recovery, partial panel, holds, etc. all seemed well within my capability, but as I would find out, a little luck and a lot of poor performance would unseat me!
The oral portion of the checkride went well enough, although I would give myself only a "B" grade on a couple of items. First, when reviewing the flight plan, I realized that I had left two key items off - one innocently, and one by oversight. My flight plan / preparation did not include a Standard Departure Procedure from Nampa, which would have been required if vectors were not available or if communications were impaired. This was my oversight, as I had prepared multiple departure procedures from Boise, but simply overlooked it when preparing for the Nampa departure. On the arrival to KSLC, I had planned my flight through the Wasatch (TCH) VOR, but had not included an initial approach fix on my flight plan - in the event of lost communications, having the Wasatch VOR as the last point in the plan would leave me somewhat short on options and leave controller scratching their heads. I had not discussed this issue with my instructor during training - or at least, did not recall doing so. However, when we discussed this after the checkride, we realized that I had included an Initial Approach Fix for all of the planned legs during my cross country flight - but that was quite coincidental! I discussed this with the examiner during the review and we moved on. Second, during a discussion about icing on the pitot static system, I reversed one of the effects of a frozen pitot tube - but as I was able to diagram the system and talk through it successfully, I was able to turn that one around. However, that should be a very easy part of the conversation and is something I studied a lot - I just let the little bit of anxiety get to me.
During the practical portion of the checkride, I would encounter on the first approach one area of poor preparation that would lead to a cascading chain of events leading to a checkride failure. In fact, there were four or five areas that sunk that one approach - all of which are sources for lessons learned.
Failure #1 - Preparation: Have the charts you are likely to need ready! Luck is a poor strategy to employ or rely on, and in this case, an oversight in planning came back to haunt me. And, if luck played any role, it was only in highlighting this oversight. Here's the background: during my training and flying out of Boise, the 10L / 28R runway was closed and the ILS out of service. As a result, I flew every available approach to both the 10 and 28 runways with the singular exception of the 28R ILS! Also, during my training, it was the approaches to 28L/R that I most struggled with and as a consequence had the most apprehension about having to fly during the checkride. This, of course, is not an excuse for not flying an approach properly, but it helps to establish the conditions before the flight. Sometime during my flight training, I reviewed all of the approach plates I had downloaded for Boise (many) and deleted several from the portfolio as they were either approaches that light GA aircraft wouldn't fly or because they were out of service. At the very tail end of my training, the 10L / 28R runways were re-opened, but I still never flew the ILS to 28R.
Now, prior to the checkride I should have verified that I had ALL of the approach plates loaded into Foreflight that I might need for the day's activities, but in the mix of all of the other steps I had to complete, I overlooked it.
Fast forward to the checkride practical. On the day of the flight, in the morning, the wind was favoring approaches flown from the west (so, the 10L/R approaches), which was welcome news for me - I could fly all of those very competently and was comfortable even with flying those as partial panel approaches. However, by the time we were ready to take off, the wind had changed, now favoring the 28 runways, which were a cause of elevated concern and anxiety for me. After departing Nampa to the south and flying a few unusual attitude recoveries, the examiner suggested contacting the approach controller and requesting - you guessed it - the ILS to Runway 28R. The only approach between Ontario and Mountain Home that I had not flown even once! What Luck! But, of course, the show must go on, right? I opened my chart portfolio in Foreflight and had a sudden panic - the plate wasn't loaded into the portfolio for KBOI / Boise! As I was already being vectored by the controller toward the approach course, I realized I was in real trouble - and pretty embarrassed that I didn't have that simple item ticked off of the checklist! (All of the Foreflight veterans are thinking, "so, just go pull it down - you've already loaded the database, it's on the iPad, no worries... all true... I didn't think of it in my anxious condition). However, I did have a backup of the paper approach plates, so I rummaged through my flight bag in the back seat and pulled it out. Fortunately, I had pre-marked that book, so I could turn to the Boise approaches quickly and I found the ILS for 28R approach. This, of course, made things much more difficult for me - my cockpit organization was out the window, my anxiety for flying the 28 approaches was ramped up, and I was running out of time!
Failure #2 - Managing the GPS and Radios: So far I was really flubbing the approach and putting myself behind the 8-ball, but I hadn't actually done anything to fail the checkride. In fact, while my planning failure above was what started the chain of events, it was still salvageable. Now that I had the correct approach plate out, I had to set up the cockpit for the approach. I quickly selected the 28R ILS approach on the GPS and selected "VLOC" on the CDI - switching over to the localizer rather than using the GPS for navigation. This was the correct thing to do. Then, I began briefing the approach information and loaded the localizer frequency into the #2 navigation radio and attempted to identify it per the normal procedure. Nothing. Just a lot of static. I tuned the same into the #1 navigation radio and attempted to identify. Nothing. I knew this had to be done, so I continued to work the problem until I noticed that I had mis-identified the localizer frequency as 111.15 rather than 110.15. I made the change and successfully identified the localizer as the correct one... but time was lost and the pressure was quickly ramping. It is at this point that I made my first actual checkride failure mistake. As I scanned the rest of the approach procedure, I noticed "RADAR OR DME REQUIRED." Hmm... This particular aircraft did not have a separate DME, so all of the VOR approaches I had flown utilized the GPS for DME information. So, falling back on my previous methods, I selected "DIRECT" to the BOI VOR and selected "GPS" on the CDI. In doing so, I undid my previous correct loading of the approach procedure into the GPS and was now using DME information from the VOR rather than the Localizer. Would I have made this mistake even if I had the approach plate loaded into Foreflight? Possibly. I had never flown an approach using the localizer for DME values (the ILS to 10R doesn't require DME). So, I reverted to what I had done on other approaches. But the truth is that I was rattled from the two big errors and didn't think it through completely. Had I continued flying with the approach procedure and "VLOC" selected on the GPS, I wouldn't have failed on that point. As it was, I had sealed my fate, regardless of what came next.
Failure #3 - Situational Awareness / Course Intercept: As the image above and below show, my intercept of the final approach course was a complete mess... why? As I was behind the airplane and struggling to catch up as a consequence of Failures #1 and #2, I lost situational awareness regarding my vector and orientation to the final approach course. For this approach, the final heading is 282 degrees and I had been vectored to 300 degrees to intercept, requiring only a slight turn to intercept. However, I was vectored to the final approach fix, which was much closer than I had expected, and even though I knew this was the case, I still had some difficulty conceptualizing how this would work. While trying to read through some of the approach details, my scan slowed down. When I looked again at the localizer / glideslope needles, the localizer was rapidly swinging across center - I was going to overshoot!
Because my mental image of how I was intercepting the localizer (image more like a 40 degree intercept, rather than a 20 degree or less intercept), I overreacted to the needles and turned sharply to intercept - only to see the needle swing all the way to the right! This confused me momentarily, until it occurred to me that not only did I have a fairly shallow intercept angle, but that I was closer in to the runway and localizer than I pictured. The sensitivity of the needle at that range and the shallow intercept angle called for an easy, gentle turn to the left to intercept. By pegging the localizer needle to the right, that was another ACS failure.
Failure #4 - Abandon the Procedure and call "missed:" Given how well things were going (meaning, abysmally), I should have recognized that the approach was falling apart called the controller, report "missed" and tried to set up for the approach again. Instead, I re-intercepted the approach course and flew the approach down to minimums. At that point, it was moot - I had already failed the approach and checkride twice and after pegging the needles, I knew it. But, I continued for some reason. This was also an issue related to the incorrect selection of the fix for DME values - as I was running off of the VOR and not the Localizer as the fix for DME, I was using the wrong points on the approach for altitude selection. An obvious safety of flight issue. After calling missed at the threshold, and being vectored, the examiner discussed the approach, the "disapproval" situation, and options. We decided to call it a day and debrief on the ground.
Conclusions and Next Steps: It's a pretty bitter pill to swallow, failing a checkride so spectacularly after so much intensive preparation. However, it's still a learning opportunity and as a "learning pilot," I had to evaluate my mistakes and try to extract the appropriate lessons. I think, in the summarized analysis above, it should be obvious to anyone what the key issues on the approach were. My conclusions, bulleted, are:
Preparation - make sure you have the proper documents needed for the flight
Briefing - READ and verify the correct frequencies and approaches are loaded
Keep Calm and Work the Problem - don't be rattled by the unexpected or unfortunate... keep working the problem and if necessary, ask the controller for a vector out of the way to give time to troubleshoot
Maintain situational awareness - keep your head in the game and keep thinking about where the aircraft is in relation to where it is going and where it should be
KNOW the equipment - I thought I knew the proper way to load the ILS for this approach, but under stress, I made a simple and avoidable mistake. It cost me the checkride this time, but in practice, that could have been a serious if not fatal mistake
Don't chase a bad approach - once it's obvious that the approach is lost, abandon it and try again. Call missed, fly to the missed approach point at altitude, and reset things for the approach under better conditions
So, the blog will continue along for awhile, as I now conduct some retraining on some of these approach issues and get another endorsement for a checkride. Disappointing. Expensive. But a good lesson.
November 10, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 2.2 Hours (TT CFII) (Practice Holds, VOR/DME 28L, Wind, Radio Trouble, VOR Issues)
CloudAhoy track November 10, 2018
A week has passed since the initial checkride debacle and I am back in the air with my instructor getting some rust (already developing) knocked off and ensuring readiness for the next checkride. Unfortunately, the realities of work, obligations, schedules (aircraft, instructor, mine), oncoming winter weather, etc. are all coming into play now, so getting the needed instruction and endorsement to retake the checkride is becoming more difficult. This is the consequence of plans gone awry.
Today's flight was intended to be a refresher on some of the more interesting aspects of instrument flying - arbitrary holding points on fixes, managing unexpected situations such as partial panel approaches or no gyro approaches, and familiarizing with the approaches I had not previously flown or flown well.
Unfortunately, we had numerous issues to contend with that interfered with "the learning process." To begin with, the intercom / radios in the aircraft continue to act up in such a way that it made effective communication a challenge. The instructor was simultaneously unable to hear the approach controller calling out traffic, while the intercom in the aircraft was so loud that he had to turn his headset completely down. We struggled to find a balance and this persisted throughout the flight. This was not a new situation for the aircraft. At one point, static was coming through the communication radio so severely, on either the primary or secondary radio, that I could not understand the approach controller and he had to switch to a backup transmitter that was weak, but readable. This kind of communication issue disrupts the flow of information and the quick exchange of instructions and requests and interferes with any training.
In addition to communication issues, we were unable to pick up and identify the Liberator (LIA) VOR from only a few miles range on either navigation radio, which made it difficult to practice the intercept / hold on a fix using two VORs for reference, which was very frustrating.
Add to these challenges the fact that the wind was increasing (to above 30 knots by the time the day ended), and we recognized that the learning had declined in effectiveness and had just become a frustration. Given the tight timeline to train and retake the checkride, this was very disappointing.
As mentioned previously, I noticed right away that although only a week had passed, I was already starting to feel the effects of proficiency and practice in the IFR operations. Entering and timing holds was still familiar, but not smooth and rapid as it had been only a few days earlier! Adjusting for wind or making smooth, small corrections while on the VOR radial or approach was not consistent, and altitude control was a struggle. To be fair, some of this was related to the stronger wind and some mild turbulence which tosses needles around or makes aircraft trim a challenge, but most of it was just losing the edge of proficiency. My VOR approach to 28L was complicated by stronger wind from the Northwest, leaving my path down the approach corridor looking rather "curvy." Clearly, more practice is needed.
November 11, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 1.6 Hours (SOLO / VFR) (Gowen 4 Departure, RNAV 10R, ILS 10R, VOR/DME 10L, RNAV 10L)
CloudAhoy track November 11, 2018
I don't think it's officially winter yet, but it is cooling down significantly in the treasure valley. This morning, I arrived at the airport at 6am and about 25F with clear skies and calm winds. The airplane, having been outside all night, was a popsicle with fairly healthy accumulations of ice on the windscreen, prop, cowlings, wings, tail - pretty much everywhere. The linemen at the FBO very kindly offered to pull it into the hangar to warm up, and I was able to put the plane on the pre-heater for about 1.5 hours. By the time the sun was up, the plane was naturally de-iced and ready to go.
Finally, the air was reasonably calm even with about 8 knots of wind from the Northeast. So, I took off solo to practice some approaches in VFR conditions on my own. I flew the Gowen 4 departure from Boise, then the VOR/DME to 10L, the RNAV approaches to 10L and 10R, and the ILS to 10R. Everything to go very smoothly with no issues. By the time I wrapped up the final approach, I had just enough time to land, fuel, and meet my instructor for my morning training flight - feeling much better about my performance.
Here is something I think can be missed in IFR training: Since all of the training is done "under the hood" to meet simulated instrument requirements, many pilots never really get to observe how the approach procedures line up to the world in a VFR situation. So, having the opportunity to fly the approaches per the publish procedures while visually indexing or referencing the approach gives some interesting perspectives. First, I really got the sense of how FAR out the approaches line up the aircraft. Obviously, in a bugsmasher 172, this can take a lot longer to fly than in a turbine single or twin which really take advantage of that room, but it was interesting to note or observe visually that the RNAV approaches to 10 at Boise start right over the Nampa Airport! While I knew that from reading maps, etc., it really helped to see it. As I flew the ILS or RNAV approaches, it was also helpful to observe how needle deflection on the localizer or lateral navigation indicator lined up with my expectation for where I should be on the visual approach. That helped me to make smaller corrections and adjustments on my approaches while under the hood. Hopefully, that will reflect on smoother approach management in the future.
November 11, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 2.8 Hours (TT CFII) (RNAV-B KMAN, RNAV KEUL, ILS 28R KBOI, VOR/DME 28L)
CloudAhoy track November 11, 2018
After my morning solo flight, my instructor and I departed again to put me through some additional training / practice. Once again, we were "bitten" by the Boise is too busy syndrome, even on a Sunday morning! My instructor had intended to feed me the VOR/DME 10L approach from the North instead of the South (the usual way I've flown it). Instead we were vectored off into "don't bug me right now" land and eventually we abandoned the idea and decided to get some additional practice on procedure turns and RNAV approaches with circling to land minimums at Nampa and Caldwell. After touching wheels down at Caldwell, we returned to Boise to attempt some of the approaches to 28 as the wind had shifted. As this was the side that I had some issues with on the checkride, it was a good opportunity to tackle the ILS and VOR/DME approaches (partial panel).
I flew four approaches to the 28 side, mostly partial panel with no Garmin G5's to help me out - relying on the compass and VOR or ILS for navigation, and other means for altitude / attitude orientation. We were still contending with traffic (as at left shows) which caused us to be extended further than we'd like, or "boxed" around to allow other, faster traffic priority. There remains many lessons to learn here and much opportunity for improvement. But, I do feel better about these approaches and my ability to fly them. One big lesson to continue to "drill in" is that the navigation frequencies MUST be attended to diligently. I was a little slow recognizing that the approach had been properly selected and set up on the GNS430, but the correct VOR or ILS frequency had not been selected yet on the #1 Navigation radio - I caught up and loaded it correctly, but it should be step 1 or 2, not step 5 or 6. So, something to continue to practice this week.
November 14, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.2 Hours (TT CFII) (Partial Panel Approaches: VOR/DME 28L, ILS 28R x2)
CloudAhoy track November 14, 2018
Things are beginning to come together more with more confidence on my part. Today we flew partial panel approaches, again to the 28 side. Interesting to note here that the 28 approaches take much longer to fly, if the entire approach is flown (meaning, not vectored to the final approach fix or an intermediate fix outside of the final approach fix but before the IAF). My assumption is that this has to do with terrain clearance and necessary altitudes (usually about 9000 feet instead of 5000 when flying to the 10 runways). We managed to squeeze in three approaches all of which went reasonably well. I was fighting the wind quite a bit in the afternoon, so I had to work harder to hold the final approach courses, but in the end it seemed to go well enough. I'm beginning to feel more confident - further ahead of the airplane - and feel that I have more time to set up the approach and make sure everything is in order before starting the approach. While it gives extra confidence, I don't feel overly confident yet - but, starting to feel more prepared and capable for facing down the checkride.
November 15, 2018 - IFR Training Flight, 1.9 Hours (TT CFII) (VOR/DME -Partial Panel- 10L, ILS-Partial Panel-10R)
CloudAhoy track November 15, 2018
This was to be my last training flight with the instructor prior to re-taking the checkride, so he had a "surprise" in store for me. Although I had flown all of the approaches to each runway at Boise airport, I had not flown every variation.
Typically, for practice the DME arcs and vectoring occurs from the south of the field, but there are, as shown on the plate below, arcs from the north as well. An acquaintance from the flying club had mentioned that, for his IFR checkride, the examiner had asked for a hold over the Boise VOR followed by the DME arc from Salla to 10L. Although he had never done either of those in training or practice, he managed the approach without issues - but it inspired my instructor to give me the same approach.
In a little more detail at right, the approach was flown from the hold over Boise VOR "as published." Hmmm... looking at the above approach procedure, there is no published hold over the VOR. I had to search around until I found another approach procedure (ILS 10R) that did have a published hold over the VOR, which was then flown. After that, the route to Salla and step down procedure from Salla to the localizer course seemed to go reasonably well. After flying this approach, followed by partial panel approaches to 10R, we wrapped up our lesson for the day and prepared again for the checkride.
November 15, 2018 - IFR Practice Flight, 3.0 Hours (MP SP) (Holds, RNAV 12 KEUL, RNAV 11 KMAN, RNAV-B 29 KMAN, VOR/DME 10L Partial Panel KBOI)
CloudAhoy track November 15, 2018
Because we had not flown any of the RNAV approaches to Caldwell (KEUL) or Nampa (KMAN) in the morning session, and I was fairly certain to get at least one on the checkride, I planned for this in the afternoon, flying with my dad as safety pilot. We began the flight from Nampa, beginning first with a hold practice south of Lake Lowell, followed by the RNAV to Runway 12 at Caldwell, from the hold at REDVE. This all seemed to go fairly smoothly, although I once again had to fiddle with the GPS programming to get the approach to sequence properly. As I had flown the hold and the GPS expected only a procedure turn, we were out of sync and I had to reprogram the approach after crossing REDVE inbound - this was probably my fault and not that of the GPS, but the programming logic in the GNS430 should be clever enough to recognize that the aircraft is still in the hold - but there were probably long discussions at Garmin and the FAA regarding how the software should function.
Following the approach at Caldwell, I set up and flew the RNAV approach via ZURMU to Nampa Runway 11. I had planned to execute a touch and go at Nampa, but the volume of traffic meant a side-step and climb out for the missed approach procedure. At this point, I was able to fly the DME Arc to 10L, Partial Panel, at Boise - and while I wanted to try more approaches at Boise, the volume of traffic, again, was such that the controller decided to vector me around quite a bit. Eventually, I gave up the idea that we could continue there and at the end of the day, was feeling pretty tired. We requested the RNAV-B to Nampa and after flying this, put the plane away... the checkride would be the next event.
November 17, 2018 - IFR CHECKRIDE #2, 1.5 Hours (AM DPE) (ILS 10R, VOR/DME Partial Panel 10L, RNAV 30 KEUL) CHECKRIDE PASSED!
CloudAhoy track November 17, 2018
After all of the training, a failed checkride, and a lot of self-evaluation on how I could improve my performance after the first checkride, the eventual checkride seemed somewhat anti-climactic. I attribute this in part to more training which moved my preparation / comfort level from the "80%" level to the "95%" level. Also, I can attribute this in part to the examiner who alleviated a lot of the pre-checkride stress as we stepped into the plane by saying, "listen, this is how this is going to go... we will do such and such approaches, the hold over here, the GPS approach here... a circle to land... and VFR back to Nampa - you'll do fine." We shook hands and I felt quite ready to finish up.
The saying goes that a plan doesn't survive first contact with the enemy - or, in this case, the weather! Now, prior to the flight and even up to the point of making my first request of Big Sky Approach for the ILS 28R, every flag, blade of grass, windsock, smoke chimney, or backyard barbecue was indicating wind from the west and landing to the west!
So, we briefed for flying the ILS 28R (which I had failed on the prior attempt) and set course to the east to line up for vectors to the ILS. I checked the Boise ATIS (favoring 28) and then contacted the controller. Big Sky approach was (surprise) busy again, so gave me only a transponder squawk code, but no request - so we proceeded. While waiting, I set up the ILS for 28R, tuned appropriate radio frequencies for the approach and the missed procedure and identified all of the navigation aids. I was ready to go and began thinking about the procedure to follow. When the controller finally returned to me, I requested the desired 28R approach, he responded, "negative, we're switching runways! Turn left, heading 310, vectors for ILS 10R." Perfect - a monkey wrench! I turned to 310 and began descending to the approach altitude while quickly pulling the correct approach procedure plate and tuning / identifying radio navigation aids for the 10R ILS approach! As he controller turned me into the intercept for the final approach course, he included, "Skyhawk 686, maintain maximum forward speed, cleared ILS 10R..." Although I prefer to fly approaches at normal approach speeds, this one turned out ok with only small deflections of the ILS needles, I reached the missed approach decision height in the right place, and we called missed approach. We then circled around to fly the VOR/DME approach to 10L with a partial panel (again, "maximum forward speed") and were then vectored to the south to begin the RNAV approach to Runway 30 at Caldwell... interestingly, both Nampa and Caldwell were still favoring the west facing runways (29 and 30), so we would not be circling to land on this approach. We flew the hold at ADEXE and began the approach to Runway 30 - but I was advised to fly this without the vertical guidance. As this is an LPV approach - I would get the glide slope indicator, but would ignore it - and more importantly, the minimums would change to the LNAV only set. I think that was the actual test - would I abandon the standard LPV minimums and use the correct set? Fortunately, I caught this and we made a safe approach in busy traffic patterns, a touch and go, and VFR back to Nampa with the checkride complete.
Upon arriving at Nampa, we found the pattern to be very busy, so we entered the pattern #3 for downwind, ahead of #4 and #5! We were behind another aircraft, piloted by a woman on her first solo flight! At the FBO, a crowd gathered on the upper deck to watch her finish her first solo in unusually heavy traffic - which she handled with aplomb. As we taxied past the FBO, we heard the crowd on the radio cheering her as she completed her last landing! Good news all around.
And just like that, it was over. The examiner completed the paperwork, took my photo by the plane, shook my hand, and my four week and 55.5 hours of Simulated IFR training, I had my ticket. I feel very good about the outcome - it's hard to complain about how things turned out. And while it would have been nice to complete the first checkride successfully, I still feel satisfied that I finished in less than 30 days! And, more importantly, I feel much more capable and competent than I did originally.
Next stop... the Commercial Certificate!