Your Instrument Proficiency Check: Nailing It

Things happened. You let your instrument proficiency lapse. Now you've got to take an IPC. Treat it as a challenge that you can master and have fun in the process.

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You’ve had your instrument rating for a couple of years by now. The first year you didn’t have any trouble keeping current to fly IFR—you were out there just about every week “flying in the system” as you called it. The new hadn’t worn off your rating; you knew that you were just a baby instrument pilot. You were determined to get some seasoning and experience. You did. FAR 61.57 said you had to have six instrument approaches, “holding procedures and tasks” and “intercepting and tracking” electronic courses within the preceding six months to be legal. You had so much more than those minimum requirements that it was funny. You got to the point where you were proficient enough to shoot an approach right down to the published minimums in driving rain or fog without elevating your heart rate more than a little.

But then, near the end of the second year after getting the rating, you looked at your logbook and noticed that you hadn’t had the hood on in the previous six months enough to have shot six approaches. You weren’t IFR current for the first time since getting the rating. You promptly shanghaied a safety pilot, grabbed the hood your tablet with current charts and plates and got current.

Now it’s coming the end of year three since the rating. That promotion at work changed your life more than you could have imagined. There was the move to a different town that seemed to take forever; you and your spouse seemed to be devoting every spare moment to running the kids back and forth to their myriad activities when the two of you weren’t doing the renovations on the cool old house you’d bought. You just plain hadn’t had time to get out to the local FBO and get checked out and it was way too far to drive back to your old, friendly, familiar airport to fly there.

An hour after driving home the last screw in the last light fixture of the renovation project, you and your spouse are sitting on the deck with cold drinks, celebrating your collective success. She looks at you and says, “I know you’ve had a hard time with all of upheaval because you haven’t been able to go flying. I think you better get back at it. It’ll be cheaper than sending you to a shrink and probably more effective.”

You pull out your logbook and within moments do the forehead slap—it’s been more than 12 months since you were last instrument current. You’re going to have to find an instrument instructor and take—cue the melodramatic music—an Instrument Proficiency Check. An IPC. Pretty much a full instrument checkride … from cold turkey, rusty pilot status. Great.

Now what do you do?

Breathe

First, take a deep breath. You can’t fail an IPC. It’s like taking a FR—if you don’t meet the standards you just don’t finish in that session. You don’t get ever get a pink slip or a logbook entry saying that you’re a hopeless incompetent who shouldn’t be trusted with airplanes and other sharp objects. You get a logbook entry for that session that describes what you did—it’s just dual instruction.

You do a quick check of 61.57 and find it says that: “The instrument proficiency check must consist of the areas of operation and instrument tasks required in the instrument rating practical test standards.”

OK. You’ve done that before; you can certainly do it again. After all, when you were flying regularly the year after you got the rating you were performing at a level well above the minimums specified for the checkride. It’s just a matter of flaking the rust off and getting yourself back up to speed.

Over the next week you drag out the stuff you used to study for the instrument rating and you call the local flight school to schedule instrument dual toward an IPC with one of their instrument instructors. At the time of the call the instructor you’re going to be flying with is up flying, so you ask that she give you a call to discuss a strategy to get you back into flying at a competence level that will get you through an IPC—and a FR while you’re at it.

You download the FAA’s Instrument Proficiency Check Guidance booklet from www.faa.gov and make sure you’ve got access to the publications it recommends you review such as the FAA’s Instrument Procedures Handbook, Instrument Flying Handbook and Aviation Weather Services. No sweat, you’ve got those from your rating days and most of it is available for free on the FAA’s website. You check the FAA’s website to download the Airman Certification Standardsfor the instrument rating. They’re new since you got the rating, so you’ve got some reading to do. You also update the charts on your tablet and start looking over the ones for the airports in the area.

Strategy

About that time your instructor to be calls. You discuss your situation with her and over the course of 30 minutes come up with a plan to get you introduced to the way the FBO operates, the local airport and the airplane you’ll be flying. It’s similar to what you’d been flying, so it’s going to be more getting the cobwebs out than transitioning to a new type airplane. She suggests, and you agree, to two or three VFR flights—with accompanying ground instruction—to get you comfortable VFR. That will also get you through a flight review. Immediately after that she’ll put you in front of one of the desktop simulators at the FBO so that you can inexpensively start getting back on the instrument procedures horse. She tells you that the sim won’t handle a lot like the airplane, but that’s not important; the idea is to get your IFR brain awake and planning ahead as you do some holds and approaches.

Next you’ll get back in the airplane, under the hood and start doing all the old familiar stuff: steep turns, slow flight, stalls, intercepting and tracking, holds, approaches, emergencies. As you hit the acceptable performance level for each of the tasks involved you get credit for it—she says that the IPC isn’t going to be a formal checkride but rather a series of three or four flights during which you’ll review and practice the instrument flying stuff you’ve done in the past and reach acceptable performance. Some things you’ll nail first try, some will probably take several times to nail down accomplishing them within acceptable guidelines for speed, altitude and heading.

Over the course of the next two weeks you do just as you and your instructor planned. You find that you make a new group of pilot friends at the FBO and nearby coffee shop; you are mortified at your first few landings—and little mollified when your instructor tells you that her concern is directional control, which you did well, and that the smooth touchdowns will come. They do. By the end of the third flight you’ve done all the VFR maneuvers acceptably, planned and started out on a cross country and diverted to a different airport and handled a string of simulated emergencies. You get the flight review endorsement in your logbook and, because you’ve got some extra time that day, sit down in front of a desktop flight simulator and your instructor starts reintroducing you to flying an airplane by reference to instruments.

On the ground you talk weather, the limitations—time delay—of the radar display on your tablet, equipment failures, regs, ATC procedures and the dozens of other items an instrument pilot needs to know well.

The Evil Gene

You have two sessions with the sim and then it’s into the airplane where, after two flights you’ve raised a sweat several times as you’ve concentrated on keeping needles where they should be and have demonstrated all of the requisite instrument tasks well within tolerances, filed an instrument cross country, flown part of it, diverted and shot an approach to landing. You’ve missed approaches, landed from circling approaches, handled equipment failures and simulated emergencies. During all of that, you’ve handled the numerous scenarios involving deteriorating weather and equipment failures that your instructor threw at you. Your instructor has demonstrated that she can sense when your workload is getting a little high and has the evil gene given all instrument instructors by then tossing in yet another problem for you to deal with—failing the com radio you were using, announcing that you’re collecting ice or some other nefarious issue. You show that you can handle it. You’re feeling as you did two years ago when you were on top of the instrument flying game.

After parking the airplane from the last flight the debrief includes having you write down your weather minimums—given how you evaluate your skills right now—for precision, nonprecision and circle to land approaches, day and night. She does the same for you, as part of her evaluation. You find that they are similar and that yours are more conservative—which she says is a good thing.

Your instructor makes the IPC endorsement. Then she throws you a curve—she has you pull out your calendar and schedule a time six months down the road for another IPC and FR—and she tells you that this one will only take you one flight and a half a day of time because you will be flying regularly between now and then. She also points out that professional pilots take recurrent training every six months—so you should be doing the same. You agree and schedule the IPC as you pay the bill for the flight you just completed.

Your instructor shake your hand, compliments you on how well the training went and wishes you well.

You walk out. The sky is a little bluer than it was. Everything around you seems to be a little clearer, sharper, better defined and you realize that you feel better than you have in months.

Rick Durden is a CFII, holds an ATP with Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation type ratings and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2.