IFR Mastery Series: Scenario-Based Training

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PilotWorkshops says IFR Mastery is the best way to keep your head in the game when you aren't flying.

You have a new glass panel airplane that will surely enhance your IFR flying, but you are not instrument current or proficient using the new equipment. You are planning an important business trip in the new airplane but are concerned you may have to file IFR. Add in some pressure to get there with challenging weather conditions and you have the recipe for an interesting scenario.

Another pilot has recently stepped up to a faster airplane that is capable of flying at higher altitudes. Even though he received transition training to build his operating proficiency in the new airplane, he discovered a significant gap in his IFR knowledge while on a routine flight at higher altitudes.

You are planning the "trip of a lifetime" to the Bahamas with your family. This is the reason you bought your well-equipped IFR airplane in the first place. First though, you need to have a few maintenance items taken care of by your local mechanic before the long flight. The day before the trip, you pick up the airplane from the maintenance shop and return it to your home airport. It's a simple, 20-minute flight—what can go wrong?

These are just a few of the learning scenarios presented by Pilotworkshops.com in the IFR Mastery series, a scenario-based online proficiency training program that's earned thousands of subscribers since its inception in 2005. The learning material at PilotWorkshops is presented by a team of nationally recognized flight instructors and industry experts who present actual and potential IFR flying scenarios in an online format that's available for Apple iOS, Android and Windows PC.

Interactive Proficiency Training 

PilotWorkshops.com was founded by Mark Robidoux who while studying for his instrument rating realized there was limited amounts of proficiency training available online. Instead, there was plenty of material that could help students pass the checkride but that didn't necessarily help a pilot maintain proficiency, especially when he or she is away from the aircraft. Using his expertise and experience from working in the high-tech web technologies industry, Mark started and grew PilotWorkshops.com.

The PilotWorkshops material includes audio and video workshop libraries and contains the Airmanship Series, offering tips for general airmanship, with tips for perfecting crosswind landings, night flying and managing nervous passengers, to name a couple.

There's also the IFR Proficiency series, offering tips for improving instrument skills, while the Aviation Weather workshop focuses on analyzing and understanding preflight weather planning and making inflight weather decisions.

According to Robidoux, the flagship IFR Mastery series is a specific product designed to keep the IFR pilot's head in the game and maintain logical decision-making skills. IFR Mastery is a monthly, subscription-based program, where staff instructors present one specific flight scenario per month. Based on the information that's presented, users practice desion-making skills much like they would if they were faced with the scenario in a real aircraft.  Each month, subscribers get an email reminding them when a new scenario has been added to the site.

What Would You Do?

The first step in completing a workshop is to watch a briefing video that sets the stage for the IFR flight scenario. This is essentially a synopsis of the mission to be flown, to include the aircraft type, location, routing, weather and other specifics that should immediately get your mind thinking of potential traps. PilotWorkshops tries hard to make the scenarios as realistic as possible (some were derived from real NTSB reports).

A scenario might include vivid language like "You're planning to fly your wife and daughter to SeaWorld in Orlando in your Cirrus SR22 so your daughter can fulfill her lifelong dream of swimming with the dolphins."

On the screen, you'll see a photo of a smiling young girl swimming on the back of a dolphin. As creepy as it may seem, it helps to present the real-world scenario of the pressures that tag along with completing a family trip, including the mention of a time-critical reservation at the destination, requiring that you and your family arrive by a certain time. It's easy to become engaged—and feel the pressure—by simply watching the scenario unfold on the screen.

This particular scenario continues by describing the filed IFR route from takeoff out of Charleston Executive airport in South Carolina to Kissimee, Florida, and includes the outlook briefing as it might look the night before departure, which includes ground fog and drizzle at Charleston, but forecasts good VFR shortly after departure and along the planned route. 

The scenario then advances to the morning of departure, and has you and your family driving to the airport in dense ground fog and arriving at the airfield where visibility is 1/4 mile with light drizzle, fog and a ceiling that's 100 feet, with a matching temperature and dewpoint. With tops at 2000 feet, takeoff is doable but leaves little wiggle room for your landing limits in case something goes wrong immediately after takeoff. Reporting stations within 100 miles of the departure airport show the same weather conditions.

Next, the scenario has you (after already delaying the departure) rushing your family into the Cirrus to get airborne to make the now tight reservation at SeaWorld—with your daughter strapped in the front seat—and a nervous wife in the back. After a rushed takeoff and while climbing through 300 feet, the passenger door pops open, creating a hurricane inside the cabin of the Cirrus, with rain water dripping on your crying daughters head. At the same time, your scared wife frantically ask what you are going to do (they even show a picture of a frightened wife nearly in tears over the situation).

Based on the information that was presented in the briefing—including reference to the SR22 POH that suggests reducing airspeed to 80-90 knots with an an open cabin door, yet also suggests a speed of 100 knots for flying precision approaches—you are given a list of options of how to best manage the situation. In the case of the unsecured cabin door, the options are:

1: Try to get the door shut and latched as soon as possible (which would get you to SeaWorld in time for the reservation)

2: Request a quick return to Charleston Executive Airport (which is just at landing limits and jeopardizes the reservation at SeaWorld)

3: Request a diversion to Charleston International Airport for better weather (missing the reservation at SeaWorld)

4: Continue on course and land at the nearest VFR airport to secure the cabin door (also jeopardizing the reservation).

Poll Your Answer

You then select your choice of action to the scenario using a live polling feature on the website, where you'll get instant feedback and get to compare your choice with those made by other members.

After making the selection on how you would handle the situation, you watch the instructor's analysis video and learn which option they chose and why. The instructors provide step-by-step instruction for each scenario and offer a detailed explaination of their own process for completing the flight.

In the scenario of the Cirrus with an open cabin door, instructor Wally Moran explains that continuing to the closest VFR airport to secure the cabin door is the best option. That's because with a reported ceiling of 2000 feet, you could soon climb into the clear (which stops the rain water from falling on your daughters head), cruise at the reduced airspeed that Cirrus recommends with an open door and fly a visual approach to the next VFR airport along the route (flying an instrument approach to minimums at a slower airspeed than you're accustomed to flying—with the distraction of scared passengers—is too risky, argues Moran).

While this option may seem to be the most logical, Moran notes that it's tempting to try and close the cabin door in flight because it seems to be the easiest way to solve the problem. On the other hand, he makes a good point in saying that he's never had success in closing a door in flight, and trying to do so at low altitude—in the clouds—is a recipe for disaster (confirmed by a photo of charred Cirrus wreck that appears on the screen). 

Hangar Talk

A useful resource is the virtual Hangar Discussion area, where you can discuss the scenario in a web forum format and also listen to the instructors' roundtable discussion. Here, the instructors discuss the situation among themselves and might offer differing advice on how to handle the situation.

In the Cirrus scenario, one instructor suggested declaring an emergency and ask ATC for radar vectors to shoot the approach at Charleston. Another suggested staying out of the clouds and avoid flying the approach to minimus at a slower than normal airspeed. Whatever the suggestions, the roundtable promotes additional thoughts and offers more suggestions on how to handle the situation. The roundtable also promotes useful discussions from other members on the forum.

The instructors also participate in forum discussions, creating a high quality forum experience. Speaking of high quality, the audio for each workshop is recorded in a professional studio and professional graphic designers create the onscreen props, so the production quality is quite good.

Completing any workshop qualifies you for credit in the FAA WINGS pilot proficiency program. The final step in the process takes you to a completion form that PilotWorkshop can submit to the FAA for credit.  Robidoux noted that Pilotworkshop submits over 400 WING completions per month.

The IFR Mastery series costs $19 per month, in addition to the optional $199 new member fee, which provides access to all of the scenarios in the library (there are close to 40 scenarios in the IFR Mastery series).