IFR Cram Course Diary

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What's it like to take one of those ten-day instrument rating courses? With the ink still wet on his private certificate, Southern California pilot Yin Shih did exactly that...and somehow found time to keep a detailed play-by-play, approach-by-approach diary. Although his PIC training was plagued by unforeseen contingencies—both mechanical and meteorological—he passed his instrument checkride on the afternoon of the tenth day. Here's his story.

When I decided I wanted to fly, I did it in a hurry. I passed by Private checkride on November 3, 1995, and purchased a 1982 Mooney 231 less than three weeks later. By early December, I had logged enough dual that the insurance company would let me fly my new high-performance turbocharged retractable without an instructor in the right seat.

But knowing that I couldn't get maximum utility from such an airplane while limited to VFR operations, I decided to try the accelerated 10-day instrument rating "cram course" offered by Professional Instrument Courses. This is a diary of my PIC training experience.

Initial contacts with PIC

I first called PIC the week I bought my Mooney, after having seen their advertisement in AOPA PILOT magazine. I received a detailed information package from them less than a week later. PIC's approach is to send an instructor to your location to get you through your instrument training in about ten days. The instructor brings an ATC-610 simulator; you supply the airplane. PIC charges a flat rate of $3,250 plus reimbursement for their instructor's airfare and motel.

About a week after I received the information package, Tom Seymour of PIC calls to ask if I have any questions. In discussions with Tom, I learn that PIC sometimes has an instructor based in the student's local area. In that case, PIC only charges for mileage; savings on airfare and motel bills could be $1,000. Do they have an instructor near me? Yes, only 30 minutes away. This makes the package more attractive.

I give Tom a tentative "yes" for a late-February time frame, since I still have a good deal of cross-country time-building to do to meet the FAA requirements for the instrument ticket. Tom tells me I need to get my XC time to 45 hours and take the instrument written before the instructions starts.

Almost ready

On February 2, Tom Seymour of PIC calls. Am I going ahead? Yes. How am I doing on XC hours? I total it up and I have slightly over 40 to this point. He goes over the equipment checklist: clipboard, timer, hood, maps and plates, plane, etc. Have I done my written yet? Whoops, I've been so busy between work and building XC time, I never went to take the written. I've been getting 90's on the Gleim computer prep program, though, and I promise Tom that I'll take it in a week. He says my PIC instructor should be calling me soon.

The next day, Shel Bresin, the PIC instructor, calls and we chat about preparations. Turns out Shel is a retired aerospace engineer and a Twin Comanche owner, with over 10,000 hours. He estimates he has trained over 150 IFR students. We go over the annual and other equipment certification dates. The only thing that is close to expiring is the 24 month static/encoder check. Even though it is valid through February, he says it will be better to get the check done now in case we run into March. He also asks about my XC hours and the plane we will be using. After he learns it will be a Mooney 231, he asks me to try and get the XC time up to 47 hours since the airplane is so fast and he doesn't want to do more XC time than needed to fulfill the IFR XC requirement.

That week, I log two trips totalling cross-country 5.4 hours, and get the static/encoder certification and an oil change. I'm now up to 45.8 XC hours. If I can, I'll try to do another 1-2 hours of XC flying; but otherwise, I'm probably close enough.

I settle down with the Gleim computer exam for the weekend, running through about a dozen sample exams. I take the written "for real" on Tuesday morning with CATS and score 100%.

On St. Valentine's day, I take one more 1.1 hour XC to Apple Valley, making my total 46.9 XC hours going into the PIC course. All the preparations and requirements are now taken care of. I spend the next two evenings reading the book that PIC sent me: Instrument Flight Training Manual by Peter Dogan.

Well folks, it's show time...

Feb 16 - (PIC Day #1)

Shel Bresin showed up promptly and, after introducing himself, set up the ATC-610 (a certified simulator). The ATC-610 takes up a big hunk of desktop and includes all the usual controls/avionics for IFR flight. All the flight controls, (yoke, rudder, flaps, and engine) work as well as the navigation indicators (VOR, NDB, ILS, DME). However, the tuning functions are fake; instead the instructor can use them to position you on a grid for different approaches. We didn't do any of that today. After about an hour of ground school, discussing the principles and behavior of various instruments, we went and "flew" heading and altitude exercises on the simulator. The key principle here is to use standard/calibrated settings of power and pitch combined with standard rate turns to achieve repeatable and predictable performance. The only thing I don't like about the ATC-610 is that the pitch control seems very sensitive; I have to make a lot of adjustments hunting for the desired pitch attitude. Otherwise, the ATC-610 is very stable to "fly". Of course, Shel has the turbulence set to 0!

After the simulator session, Shel goes through my logbooks, both pilot and aircraft, and verifies the eligibility of each to fly. We catch lunch on the way to the airport. During lunch, I learn that Shel was the manager for system integration and avionics development for the B-2 bomber prior to his retirement. I asked him if he ever had a chance to fly a B-2? No, but he did spend time in the 6-axis B-2 simulator.

Finally, at the airport, we pre-flight and take off into scattered at 3-5000'. From the takeoff, Shel takes notes on climb rates, airpseeds, power settings, etc. For the first hour, we perform a number of climbing, level, and descending maneuvers and eventually arrive at a preliminary set of power and pitch settings for different phases of IFR flight: Climb, Cruise, Cruise Descent, Clean Approach, Dirty Approach, Precision Approach Descent, and Non-precision Approach Descent.

After deriving these figures, he asks me to put on the hood and we spend the next hour practicing heading and altitude changes. What a difference from the simulator! I had 2-3 hours of hood time for my private pilot training, but that emphasized holding straight and level, level climb or descent, and 180 degree level turns out of clouds; under those conditions I could generally hold 100' or 10 degrees, with an occasional bobble no worse than 200' or 20 degrees, quickly corrected. Here the exercise is to make stabilized 500 fpm climbs or descents, maintain constant airspeed, while simultaneously turning to a new heading. I feel like I am all over the sky. I just can't get it all to come together (except once) so that a 500 fpm climb/descent from say 6000' to 6500' coincided with a 180 degree turn at standard rate so that the roll out and level off occur simultaneously. I find myself too tight on the yoke, fixating on the VSI, losing my scan, forgetting to reduce power for descents...arghh!

During this period, Shel senses my frustration, decides to try a change of pace. He does the radio work and and gets vectors to set us up for an ILS approach at CNO. This is my first hand-flown ILS. I take it in at intercept with about 2-3 dots deviation on glide slope and localizer and manage to steady it out at 1 dot each below 1000' AGL. When I see the runway below the nose at the middle marker, I was grinning from ear to ear. After a landing and takeoff, we do another hour of airwork with the VSI covered up and that helps a bit. (I must not chase the VSI! I must not chase the VSI!) Finally, we get a pop-up VOR-A approach at EMT. Shel again handles the radio work for the initial vectors to the approach, but after intercepting the IAF, he pops the approach plate into my yoke clip and tells me to fly the step downs to the MDA as well as communicate with ATC and tower. We end up leveled off at 30' above MDA, mid-field off the nose, and cleared for entry to the pattern. I felt better again. Shel even asks if I have flown this approach before as we turned base.

I have two chapters of the Dogan book to read tonight, today's assignment on instruments and the one for tomorrow on IFR flight planning. We are to spend the day tomorrow in the airplane practicing under the hood. On this first day, I am excited about how much fun it is to fly an approach and find the airport under your nose; but discouraged about whether I will actually get the precision plane handling down. I am also somewhat sobered at the prospect of partial panel unusual attitude recovery and partial panel approaches after today's performance.

Total time today: Sim: 1.1 hrs; Hood: 2 hrs; Actual: none; VFR: 1 hr.

Feb 17 - (PIC Day #2)

This morning we do 3 hours of ground school before flying. First we go over the Instrument Quiz in the PIC course book, then review Jepp and NOS charts, flight plans, and the IFR Flight Planning Quiz at the end of the second chapter of the course book. (The PIC course book is based on the same material in the Instrument Flight Training Manual by Peter Dogan).

The weather is 1,300' overcast and 2-1/2 for the morning. Because Shel is planning to do more instrument maneuvering work and it is impossible to get a block altitude for maneuvering on an IFR flight plan in SoCal, he decids not to go out with a clearance to VFR-on-top until we find out where the tops were. Shel says he doesn't like requesting a clearance to VFR-on-top since it doesn't cover the situation where you lose your radio and don't get to VFR-on-top by your cleared altitude. This falls under the principle: never accept an IFR clearance without a known default in the event of a lost-comm emergency.

Since he wants to go over the ground school material anyway, we put off flying till noon. At lunch we chat some more about planes and I learned that earlier in his career he worked on some Bell helicopters and then later the T-38 and F-5. Shel and I seem to get on well as we are both engineers. I learned that he is currently flying a Twin Comanche and he also does instructing for AOPA courses on mountain flying. I can't complain about the experience that PIC instructors have and their efforts to match up the instructor with the student.

After lunch, there are some breaks in the overcast and we can see some layering at 3000' to 5000'. I now learn Shel's preferred method of getting to VFR-on-top. We file an IFR flight plan to PSP with the intention of cancelling once we reach VFR. The flight plan takes us to 11,000' which gives us lots of altitude to get clear of the clouds, and if we should lose comm, we would proceed to PSP. When we contact ground control to get our clearance, I try to copy my first IFR clearance and my pencil breaks on the first word! Nervous? Who, me? I continue to copy the clearance with the broken pencil, pressing as hard as I can, and try to read back from the impressions and scratches I made in the paper. Fortunately, Shel was backing me up! We take off and climb through clouds till we break out at 3200'. We continue to climb to 5500' and then cancel IFR.

After repeating the climbing-turns and descending-turns sequence for a bit, Shel makes a number of helpful suggestions: use thumb and finger on the yoke, stop pulling back on the yoke as I reduce power for the descent (he says this is a common unconscious habit low-hours pilots have from their traffic pattern work), use manual trim (not the electric trim), nudge the controls, stop the trends then correct the error, AND KEEP THE SCAN UP! To help me save face, he also notes that the controls on the Mooney 231 are a bit sticky and suggests that I get the A&P to clean off some of the gummed-up lubricant and relube it when I get a chance. As I try to follow these suggestions, I do a bit better.

To my chagrin, Shel now slaps a cover on the attitude indicator. We repeat the manuevers partial-panel. As I'm getting the hang of it, Shel covers up the heading indicator! Hey, that's not fair! On my plane, the heading indicator is an HSI which is electric, not vacuum driven! Shel offers no sympathy, and leaves the HSI covered. With no attidude indicator and no HSI, I have to do timed turns partial-panel while referencing the magnetic compass. After some of these we head down for a break. It's been two hours of flying, but felt like four.

As we taxi off the runway, two Stearmans take off behind us in formation (separated by 10') with wingwalkers on each one!! This was followed by a P-51 a minute later. CNO is great for stuff like this.

We take off again after a 20 minute leg stretch and continue with some more partial panel work. I'm doing okay. Not great, but okay. Of course, any time I feel I'm doing okay, Shell throws me a curve. He tells me I just put my head down "to pick up a pencil" (I did?), and by the way, the plane is now doing really wierd things. Recover! (How did I know this was going to happen?) Now Shel tells me I just lost my pencil again. (No I didn't, I have it velcro'ed... oh all right... stupid pencil!)

Well, as it turns out, partial panel and partial-panel unusual attitude recovery are nowhere near as bad as I thought they would be. After doing four unusual attitudes (and after I almost give Shel a heart attack on one—not because of a bad recovery, but because I shove the throttle in too far and overboost the turbo past redline before I scan the MP in the next fraction of a second and pull it back), I even get a compliment on good recoveries. He gives me all my instruments back and we finish up with some 45 degree steep turns. My altitude deviates about 250' on the first one...way too much...and on the last one I manage to nail my altitude within 20' all the way around the turn, only to relax too soon on the roll out and lose 80'.

After the maneuvering, we repeat the ILS and VOR-A approaches to CNO and EMT that we shot yesterday, but this time I do the full approaches, including contacting ATC, getting and responding to vectors, and following the approach plate. I'm getting a bit more confident in the approach procedures; but even though I think I flew the approaches a bit more tightly than yesterday, I was still abrupt on the controls. I've still got a lot of work to smooth things out.

My homework assignment for tonight is to work up a full IFR XC flight plan and read the 3rd chapter in the PIC course book on navigation (and of course do the quiz). I feel a little bit better than yesterday as I can see I'm getting better, but I'm still concerned whether I'll get good enough in time. For me the headwork seems to come okay, but the stick and rudder skills come more slowly. The next two days are planned as simulator days.

Total time today (approximate): Hood: 3.5 hrs; VFR: 0.3 hr.

Feb 18 - (PIC Day #3)

We start off the morning by reviewing my IFR XC flight plan which I worked up from EMT to Sacramento's SMF. Here I've begun to figure out one of the possible disadvantages of filing IFR. The mileage using a STAR, SID, and Victor Airways works out to 394 NM. On this particular route, I know I've flown it VFR with a distance of about 330 NM. The majority of the extra mileage arises from heading the wrong way for a standard departure transition and having to double back the other way. Apparently ATC will sometimes give you a routing which will intercept the desired airway, cutting out the departure transition, but sometimes not.

After reviewing flight planning, we start right off on the ATC-610 simulator, going over navigation and flying it as we worked through the chapter. This is a real advantage of the simulator, discussing a concept, demonstrating it, flying some exercises, repeating problem areas and going on to the next concept. The simulator is on and off as we switch back and forth between discussions and practice. Through the day we work through VOR course interceptions, VOR procedure turns, VOR/DME arcs, NDB course interceptions, NDB procedure turns, and the Five T's (Turn Time Twist Throttle Talk). Shel plays mock ATC and mock weather generator (setting the wind and ceilings). He gets really nasty on a couple of practice intercepts and approaches by dialing in winds of 50 knots! Again, I am surprised at how much easier DME arcs were than I thought; I'll have to see if it's really that easy in a plane.

We end up by practicing a couple of full VOR approaches (procedure turns, step downs, etc.), one full-panel and one partial-panel, and an NDB approach. In all cases, we fly the approach to the MAP and then execute the publish missed-approach procedure. On the NDB approach at the end of the day, I can't get focussed enough to figure out the wind in time and never get properly established on the inbound course—so I go right into the missed-approach at station passage without ever stepping down. This is a lesson on the dangers of flying a complicated IFR approach at the end of the day when you're tired and the visibility is crappy. This stuff isn't necessarily that hard in a comfortable chair and a quiet room, but I can see how easy it is to make a mistake. I figure that a moving map display has got to make a big difference for safety of flight in IFR.

I'm to prepare for tomorrow by reading about holding patterns and non-precision approaches (yes, we've been jumping ahead of the course book by practicing real approach procedures) and also do another IFR XC flight plan. I also have the simulator, if I have any energy left, to try some more of the NDB course interceptions which gave me trouble.

Still, Shel seems very pleased with how fast we went through the material today, and thinks we'll trade some simulator time for more plane time. After three days of this course, I have 5-6 hours of sim time, 5-6 hours of plane time, and about 14 hours of ground school; but add on top of that 2-3 hours of homework assignments each night. This is a full-time committment for the 10-day period (I sent my family off to visit relatives for the long weekend). I am working up IFR flight plans with my morning coffee and going to bed with an IFR book (a great cure for insomnia, by the way). At the same time, it looks like I will probably have gone through all the procedural training by the end of the fifth day (there isn't that much left to the course book—precision approaches and emergencies) and the remaining five days will be for building up my skill level, control, and situational awareness.

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 4.4 hrs.

Feb 19 - (PIC Day #4)

Today is a mixed bag. It starts off fine, with a review of another IFR XC flight plan, this one from EMT to SBA. Shel plans to continue to assign one each day for the next few lessons. As we go along, there is a lot of discussion of practical issues including other approaches that are similar but peculiar in some way, drawing on his experience. We then do a review of the holding patterns chapter; which went quickly. Then we try some mock ATC holds which I sketch and figure the proper entry. No problem.

Next, the ATC-610 gets turned on and we start off to fly some VOR, NDB, and intersection holds. My first one is a VOR hold, which gets sketched on a pad as a Shel calls the clearance while I fly. No problem figuring the direction of hold or entry, which is direct. As I enter the hold and turn to the outbound leg, I watch the To/From flag flip and the the CDI swing back and forth. Wait a minute, the CDI says my turn ended up on the unprotected side of the inbound leg. Check the OBS, yes it's right. How the heck did that happen? That must be some wind! I take a cut in course back to the protected side, but after the minute is up, I don't make it back to the inbound course in time for the inbound turn. Since I am still past the inbound leg, I overturn by almost 90 degrees to try to reintercept the inbound course. (I should have made a teardrop in the opposite direction back to the protected side to reintercept rather than turn even more to the unprotected side, but I only figured that out later.) I reintercept, but now I only had to hold a 10 degree crab and it's in the wrong direction! What is going on? It seems as if there's a 50-100 knot wind on the outbound leg and a 10-20 knot wind from the opposite direction on the inbound leg. That's obviously impossible. I know I'm in trouble.

Shel has gotten out of his chair at this point and is standing behind me. I can almost feel his eyebrows rising. He watches me make one more turn to the outbound leg as I crank in a rediculous 50-degree crab angle. I am still losing ground, getting pushed to the inbound leg. Finally, mercifully, he stops the simulation. I am expecting him to tell me that he did something really devious and I didn't figure it out. But no, Shel is as confused as I am!

Can we figure out what my path was? Well, I don't understand what happened, but we sketch out what the ground track must have looked like and it made a nice pretzel. Shel agrees that my ongoing corrections were appropriate (except for that continued turn to the unprotected side) and is actually sort of impressed that I kept up with what was going on. Well, to make a long story short, after we fiddle with the wind settings and fly a few more holding patterns, it looks like the ATC-610 has learned how to simulate miniature cyclones overnight. Depending on which direction you were flying, the wind really was shifting in direction and speed from 10 knots to 50+ knots! I fly these tests as real holding pattern exercises but with the hypothesis that the sim is making variable winds. After we verify this over 3 more holds, Shel gets tired of watching me play and he makes a call to PIC in Connecticut. After a couple of calls back and forth, they locate another ATC-610 in San Jose and arrange for it to be FedEx'd to us tomorrow.

We can't go out flying because the weather here in SoCal has turned from overcast/drizzle to continuous rain, low ceilings, and very limited visibility. Light IFR might have been okay for training, if we could get clear between layers for VFR, but this was "hard IFR" with some PIREPS indicating multiple layers, fog/haze, going all the way up to 31,000'. We spend the rest of the afternoon finishing up the non-precision and precision approach work groundschool. (Fortunately, I had read ahead and done the exercises.) Finally, at the end of the day, we fly a couple of ILS approaches on the ATC-610 as we figure out a final approach course that only got hit by a 10 knot wind. I botch the first one by waiting too long to get into landing configuration and destabilizing the descent in the middle of the approach. The second one is flown as a localizer back-course initial segment with a procedure turn to the final approach course and that works out nicely, including an entry to a holding pattern (yes the crazy winds are still there for the hold) for the missed approach after DH.

Because of the simulator problems and bad weather, our total time today is a little short, but we have almost all of the remaining course book stuff out of the way. All that remains is a short chapter on emergency procedures. The rest will be simulator, flying, and test prep. The weather guessers expect that the weather will be equally bad tomorrow, so hopefully the simulator will get here without delay.

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 2.6 hrs.

Feb 20 - (PIC Day #5)

Heavy rain continues in Southern California. We discuss yet another IFR XC flight plan, SBA to BFL to EMT. I give Shel the correct answer to the go/no-go question: we're grounded! We have visible moisture (that's an understatement), freezing levels below the MEA's, and confirmed icing PIREPs.

The replacement simulator arrives at 10 a.m. by FedEx as promised. We unpack it and set it up; there are a few problems initially because of a rudder adjustment, but it settles down pretty quickly after Shel figures that out. After setting the simulator up, we finish the coursebook chapter on emergencies. That's it for the book work: there is nothing else left on procedures or regulations except for oral exam review. We break for lunch.

During lunch we talk about different kinds of emergencies and what to do about them. Shel tells me the story of his own in-flight engine failure single-engine over mountains in night IFR. (Obviously he survived.) He had departed Van Nuys and was climbing over the Tehachapi Mountains, headed for the San Joaquin valley. As he climbed, the oil pressure dropped. He immediately pulled throttle to low power, initiated a turn, and told ATC he was heading back for Van Nuys. Before he could complete the turn, the engine seized. He then established best-glide speed and fortunately was able to clear the mountains as he came back in over the San Fernando valley. ATC suggested that he look for a freeway and that a helicopter was going out to meet him. He was at about 4,000' when he broke out and was able to spot Interstate 5. One side was crowded, but there was a break on the other side, so he lined up for that and made a successful dead-stick landing. Unfortunately, on the roll out, a drunk driver plowed into the plane, causing the insurance company to write it off eventually. They determined afterward that an oil line had ruptured. This incident is why he now flies a twin.

After we got back from lunch, we go right to the simulator and start flying VOR and NDB holds. We get a half dozen of those in. Then, Shel sets up 3 or 4 VOR approaches to MHR and STS, flown as full approaches with missed approaches. Except for one time when I use the bearing rather than the radial and began the turn in the wrong direction, it all goes pretty well.

Shel would like to continue with the basic airwork when we get back in the plane, but again this requires good weather so he can go VFR as safety pilot. If we don't get enough improvement in the SoCal weather tomorrow, we will forego more refinement of the basics and get to work on actual approaches, holds, etc. In that case, we will file IFR and go for it.

Now that we're halfway through the course, Shel tells me he anticipates finishing on time. He will call about scheduling an examiner for Monday afternoon, February 26—day 10! We're a bit behind in hours because of the bad weather and the simulator problem; total sim time is about 11.5 hours and total hood time is about 5.5 hours. That means we have 23 more hours to make the required instrument time, of which about 8.5 hours could still be simulator. Since we're taking tomorrow as a break day, that leaves 4.5 days until checkride to get the time in!!

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 3.4 hrs.

Feb 21

Shel and I take a break.

Feb 22 - (PIC Day #6)

After our short break, we resume with a quick hour on the simulator. This is primarily to do some NDB approaches, which I hadn't done yet in the sim, and also for Shel to pick me up as my car is in the shop for a couple of days. The weather has cleared up a lot after a three-day rainstorm that put about 6" of rain into the rain gauge. After running through three NDB approaches, Shel compliments me on flying them well and suggests that I might consider going for a flight instructor rating in the future. (In view of what came later, I don't think he would have made that suggestion had he waited until the afternoon.)

After pre-flighting the Mooney and getting a transponder code, we take off VFR and head to the PDZ VOR. On the way there, Shel calls ATC and arranges for a 7-mile DME arc around PDZ starting at our inbound radial. I am a little late making my turn to start the arc and end up at 6.4 DME, but after delaying my cuts a little on the next 20 degrees, I was able to work it back out and hold the arc between 6.9 and 7.2 NM for the next 50-60 degrees. After that, we do a refresher sequence of airwork: climbs, descents, change of headings, partial panel, etc. We then request the NDB approach into CNO for a break and lunch. Intercepting the inbound course from the NDB isn't too bad, but I am so busy handling the plane, I neglect to start the timer at the FAF (NDB passage), so I don't know where my MAP is. Five T's, five T's...

During lunch at Flo's diner on the field (a popular SoCal aviation hangout), we review my IFR flight plan for EMT-TRM-MYF-EMT. Between this plan, and the previously worked-out segments which constitute a trip from EMT-SBA-BFL-EMT, we have a choice of two IFR long XC's, depending on the weather. During the recent storm, freezing levels got down to 5-6000', so having that choice might help on Saturday. Oh yes, the current schedule is: today and Friday: airwork and approaches, Saturday: long XC and more approaches, Sunday: work on weak spots, Monday morning: polish, Monday afternoon: checkride. That is if I don't fall apart before then, and if Shel can find an examiner.

After lunch, we head out again, this time to do holds. VOR holds, NDB holds, intersection holds, parallel entry, teardrop entry, and (my mistake) direct entry. Shel asked ATC to give us holds (which is probably like asking a boxer if he would like to take a free punch). We are on a heading of 290 and ATC gives us a non-standard left turn hold on the 080 heading to a VOR. Well, I had shown Shel this visualization on the heading indicator I had worked out. If the inbound radial of the hold is within 70 degrees on the right hand side of the current heading, then it's a teardrop entry. If it's within 110 degrees on the left hand side, then it's a parallel entry. If it's neither, i.e. it's behind the current heading with respect to the tilted reference line, then it's a direct entry. If it's non-standard left turns, then flip left for right when doing the visualization. If you do it right, then you shouldn't have to draw out the hold. I had been very careful in describing it to specify the inbound radial. (You saw this coming, right?) Well, in the midst of setting up for this hold, I invert heading for radial and convert a tear drop entry hold into a direct entry hold. Sigh.

I redeem myself a bit by doing the next two holds correctly using the same technique, though Shel says he'd still be happier if I drew the holds to figure them out. He then requests the VOR approach into CNO for another break. Well, this approach just completely falls apart. I've not reviewed this approach plate before and don't get all the salient data out of it in time. I overshoot the approach course, have to come back, don't slow the plane down in time, desperately try to stabilize it, bust the altitude minimums, forget to time for the MAP, and basically do just about everything wrong. I am about 30 seconds behind the plane the whole way down, and never quite get caught up. About the best thing I can say about this approach is that Shel didn't have to take over the controls. Flight instructor material, indeed!

I am thoroughly depressed after this performance and Shel goes to work to rebuild my confidence. He "finger flies" the ILS, VOR, and NDB approaches for CNO with me to make sure I become more familiar with them. He reviews the 5 T's again (5 T's, 5 T's). He suggests a relocation of my timer to a more visible spot. He indicates that on the next flight he will ask for "the option" on each approach so we can make a full stop landing if I need a break between approaches. He also suggests that the 90-knot final approach speed we had chosen might make the plane harder to handle and suggests we try a slightly higher speed of 100 knots. He also suggests we double-check the power settings we had come up with as I was spending an awful lot of energy correcting the plane. Now I know that my airmanship still leaves a lot to be desired; under instrument flight, I still overcorrect and take several adjustments to damp out a bump. Since today is awfully turbulent (cold front passage, lots of puffy cumulus above us), I have been working really hard, much more than necessary. But Shel thinks that between my rough skills, turbulence, and skewed power settings, I may have more than I can handle.

So we go up again and spend a few minutes in climb, descent, and level flights redoing the calibrations and using the higher approach speed and we come up with some different numbers. We try an NDB approach using the new numbers. Good. We try the VOR approach, good on the procedures, but I am a little sloppy on the heading and end up misaligned with the runway by about 1000-1500'; still safe and within limits for circle-to-land. Then we try the ILS approach and that goes off well. With those three under my belt, I begin feeling less hopeless, and Shel decides we should call it a day. So we head back for EMT and shoot the VOR approach, which also goes smoothly.

Okay, so I can probably do approaches if I'm not flustered and behind the plane. But I've got to smooth out my plane handling and burn the procedures into my neural patterns if I'm ever going to pass the checkride. As a final confidence building remark, Shel points out that 5 hours of maneuvering is a lot of flying and apt to be tiring. On the way home, I ask Shel if he had ever advised someone to quit or if anyone had ever cancelled mid-way through the course because of burnout. He says there was only one instance, where the pilot just couldn't seem to get the airwork down and consequently couldn't manage the approaches. I may have stacked the deck against myself by starting the course with just over 100 hours (Shel hasn't had anybody come closer to the 125 hour minimum, and only two others in the 125-150 hour range) and learning IFR in a complex high-performance plane while I'm still learning the plane.

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 1 hr. Hood: 5 hrs.

Feb 23 - (PIC Day #7)

A very long day with some airwork for the first flight and three other flights with multiple approaches. The plane and fate get in their licks also.

The first flight starts with an 8-mile DME arc around the PDZ VOR for about 200 degrees of tracking. On this long an arc, I have a slightly harder time estimating the cuts to take for wind as it comes at the plane in shifting directions. I am still able to maintain 7.6 to 8.2, but I do so by easing in or out as much as 30 degrees off the optimal tangent heading to the arc radial and I didn't anticipate the changes as they come. After the arc, we do some partial panel, timed heading changes, and partial-panel unusual attitudes. We then do the VOR approach to CNO. (Shel seems to like CNO as a break stop because it is convenient to the Lake Matthews practice area for airwork and has ILS/VOR/NDB approaches.) Still having troubles with heading and pitch.

The second flight we fly the VOR approach to Corona, during which I bust the minimums we had set before the flight. The MDA was 1500', which is what I went to, but there is lots of VFR traffic out of it at a TPA of 1500' and uncontrolled, so Shel wanted to use 1700' as the MDA. With the plate in front of me, I forget about the revision and fly to the published MDA. Then we go on to POC for a VOR approach.

On the missed from the VOR approach at POC, we are climbing out when we get a warning call for incoming traffic. The inbound plane, a Bonanza at 2500', also gets a call to watch out for us. As Shel tries to spot the traffic, I am still holding us in a climb on the missed approach course. We are climbing through 2500' and Shel still hasn't found the traffic, when the POC tower controller (who has radar) vectors the Bonanza to the left. (Remember the avoidance direction with two converging planes? Each goes to the right...) About 5 seconds after the vector is issued to the Bonanza, Shel grabs the yoke and pushes it down hard. So hard I hit my head on the ceiling. So hard we lose 300' in the blink of an eye. So hard I almost don't hear the first expletive I've heard from Shel (who is a very courteous, well-mannered type): "S**t!!"

After recovering and settling down, we then do the VOR approach to CCB, another uncontrolled airport near POC, and make a full stop landing for lunch. Naturally, I am curious as to what had happened. Shel explains the situation, as I've just summarized it (I hadn't paid as much attention to the traffic calls as usual since he was the safety pilot). I then ask how close was close? 200', 500'? The answer: close enough to 0' that it wasn't worth measuring. I see...or perhaps it was just as well I couldn't see. Death wisping by unseen; this is IFR. Do I really want to do this?

After eating lunch, relaxing a bit, and clearing out some of the adrenalin, we file an IFR flight plan from CCB to SNA. Shel guesses that a northerly wind would mean the ILS back-course is active at John Wayne in Orange County, which is precisely what we get. On the climbout, Shel lets me stay visual for an extra 5 minutes, and I take the opportunity to demonstrate to him that I really can hold heading to 2 degrees and altitude to 20 feet, at least visually. Now why can't I do that on instruments?

As we get vectored to the ILS back-course at SNA, which comes in over the Pacific, we get that infamous call: "Mooney 63 Whiskey, keep your speed up if able, 737 behind you on the approach". Okay, we hve a 737 breathing down our back, so I keep the speed up at 110 knots. This is not a speed we had calibrated, so I am playing around with it a bit. (I also forgot that the maximum flap extension speed in a Mooney 231 is 112 KIAS, so we aree awfully close to exceeding the rated speed.) I am trying to fly the back course localizer in when I realize that I am holding so much left bank to stay on course, that my hand hurt. I mention this to Shel and he looks over at the wing and exclaims: "you don't have any flaps down!". Excuse me? I look down at the flap indicator, there it is, 10 degrees down. I ask him to look over at the left side, and the flaps are down on that side! Retract flaps quickly! The flaps really don't slow the plane down that much, so maybe we edge up to 112 or 115 knots.

In a Mooney? The fastest I've ever landed my Mooney before was at 90 knots and I vow never to make that mistake again! The nice, docile final approach speed for a Mooney is 75 knots over the threshold, anything more and you can eat up miles of runway in float. I ask Shel what the runway length is at SNA. 5700' he says. As I go visual and get a look at the situation, I start pulling power and pitching up to get the speed down. I end up over the threshold at 90-95 knots. Well this seems manageable enough that I think I can take a shot at it. I float down the runway and I just hold it off and let it bleed off airspeed until we finally touch down and we exit on Taxiway J; which, looking at the airport diagram, looks like about 4200'.

On the ground, we test the flaps, and they extend and retract fine. What's going on? It turns out that there is enough slop in the right flap linkage compared to the left flap (which was tight) that the air loads pushing against flaps result in a 5 degree difference in their positions, thus a net roll moment! This had apparently been present before, but less noticeable at the lower airspeeds we'd been using. At 110 knots, the forces required to counteract the roll moment increased significantly enough that I couldn't help noticing. But I had been flying approaches with this defect this whole time! No wonder I was having trouble holding headings on approaches. (Well, it makes a nice excuse.) After discussing this a bit, we decide to try doing the approaches with flaps retracted and a bit less power and see if we can still hold 100 knots.

We take off and head back to CNO, where we do three ILS's in a row. The second one is a poor job by ATC: we are vectored to intercept the glide slope inside the OM! The other two are better. We land, and discuss whether the no-flaps approaches are working for us or not. There is nothing very conclusive, other than that the no-flaps configuration really does result in a somewhat easier time holding the ILS course than before. We try to contact a mechanic to see how much work is involved in tightening up the flap linkage, but everyone is closing up for the weekend.

We take off again and do the VOR and NDB approaches to CNO and then return back to EMT with the VOR approach as usual. The Mooney, however, decides not to cooperate. Not content with presenting us with the flap problem, we now discover that the cowl flaps won't retract in flight, but they work fine on the ground. Our guess is that an over-center knuckle has shifted slightly and the extra pressure at airspeed locks the mechanism in the over-center position, preventing the retraction mechanism from pulling it past center. Flying with the cowl flaps open requires more careful engine management and probably knocks 10-15 knots off the airspeed, which is not fun if you're trying to do a XC.

We'll figure out tomorrow if we're doing a XC or can get a mechanic to look at the plane first. Shel mentions that the majority of his courses have had some kind of mechanical trouble that interrupted or threatened to interrupt the schedule. In the meantime, Shel also tells me that we had a possible time slot for an examiner for Monday afternoon.

Total time today (approximate): Hood: 6 hrs.

Feb 24 - (PIC Day #8)

What a day! Just as everything seemed to be coming together, it all fell apart in a completely unexpected way.

I get up at 7:00 to check the morning weather summary from DUATS for a flight EMT-SBA-BFL-EMT. The weather is VFR, but there are lots of clouds building up and a Pacific cold front is coming from the west and an Arctic cold front is coming from the northeast and they are threatening to mix it up. Freezing level is forecast at 8-10,000 in SoCal, but at the front it's as low as 4,000. We have a basic "go" for the planned departure and route times, but the weather is deteriorating. Fortunately, on the last of the planned legs, we will be heading away from the advancing front and it is not forecast to get bad till late evening.

I meet Shel at EMT at 8:30 in the morning and discuss the situation. I notice a tab on the cowl flap retraction knuckle is slightly out of position, we adjust it and tighten the nut and decide to see if we can retract the cowl flaps on climb-out. If we can, we will continue flying. The airports we picked for the IFR XC all have nice long runways, and it will not be an problem to land the Mooney flaps-up. I am discovering a different technique for landing Mooneys, which is good experience.

We take off, and the newly-adjusted cowl flaps work fine so we continue on to SBA. The wind direction favors the VOR approach to SBA rather than the ILS and I had dialed in and set up ahead of time. The descent profile goes fine and I am holding things pretty well. My only problem is I was holding 1000' for some margin against the MDA of 920', but we hit a couple of bumps of turbulence and despite my best efforts and the 80' fudge factor, the altitude gets as low as 890'. When we land, the tower advises us that there was a puff of smoke and suggests it might have been the brakes. We stop and check the undercarriage and don't notice anything peculiar in either brake/wheel area or exhaust/underbelly area. I mention that it might have been me accidentally holding brake as well as rudder when we landed as there had been a strong crosswind component, and we chalk it up to that.

We depart SBA for BFL. This involves a significant climb to 9000' to cross the coastal range with an almost immediate descent for only a 70 mile hop. We are in actual IMC for a good chunk of this climb and Shel has me take off the hood. (We had been in actual for about 0.2 hours before this, but I never knew the difference as they were for just a few minutes here and there and so Shel never found it worthwhile to call my attention to it, though he showed it to me today in the logbook.) After all this training, this experience in actual is not as disorientating as I had found in my first IMC experience when I was training for my PPL. I do manage lose 200' and deviate from airway centerline by about 2-3 miles as we cross RZS, but that is because I discover I had put the wrong flight plan on my clipboard and I didn't know the outbound heading from RZS and so have to dig out the enroute chart or correct flight plan. We get the ILS into BFL and there is a nice stiff wind blowing, but almost straight down the runway. Again, I have everything dialed in and planned out ahead of time, and this approach also goes well until I let the plane fall 3 dots below the glide slope just before DH because I hadn't fully compensated for the 10% slower ground speed. Shel pulls my hood before I have a chance to correct, and I land visually.

At BFL, we call FSS to check on the weather and they indicate that the front is currently between FAT and BFL. On the basis of this information, we decide to skip lunch at BFL as originally planned, and file back to EMT immediately. This climb is once again to 9000', but a slightly longer leg. We request and get the NDB approach to EMT and again I have everything set up on the radios and dials before we even took off (pre-planning and anticipation seemed to be making all the difference) and the NDB is fairly decent, though I have to make a big heading correction (a no-no) toward the end due to a gust.

So I finish my IFR XC with a fairly respectable performance, yes a couple of flubs, but none so serious that it warrants more than gentle admonition versus exasperated frustration. Shel suggests I might be tired and wants to know if I am up for further flying; I tell him I will let him know after lunch. We have a nice relaxing two hour lunch, during which Shel grills me on typical oral questions. One of the questions is how long is a VOR check good? That reminds me we need to start a log for the VORs in my plane. At the end of lunch, Shel suggests that a quick flight over to POC (they have a VOR ground check point) would take care of that test. I feel up enough for a single approach to POC. Well, of course Shel isn't going to let me get by with just one, we are going to do one coming back to EMT too. Okay, two. By the way, hadn't I said I wanted to top the tanks at CNO? (They have really inexpensive avgas.) Okay, three. But that's it!

So we file and fly the VOR approach to POC. Everything set up again and pre-planned, and it goes like clockwork. Shel sounds pleased. We do the VOR check (one was dead on and the other was 2 degrees off), log it, file for CNO, and make the NDB approach. Again, it goes very well. Shel is sounding really pleased. I am starting to appreciate how much preparation, pre-planning and anticipation make the approaches go 10 times easier.

Last flight of the day from CNO, we plan the usual VOR approach back to EMT. Do the runup, get our clearance, take runway 26 and start the takeoff run.

Shel: Was that a pop?

Me: I didn't hear anything. Was it that bump we took a second ago?

Shel: I'm not sure. I thought the engine backfired.

We are at 70 KIAS, time to take off or abort. We take off.

Tower: Mooney 63 Whiskey, be advised that you were streaming black smoke or oil on takeoff. State your intentions.

Shel and I both utter the obligatory expletives (not on the air) as we heard and felt the engine beginning to get rough. It was going to go!

Shel: Tower, we're heading back.

Tower: Roger, 63 Whiskey, cleared to land, any runway. (Another classic phrase I got to hear for real. Tower then went to work clearing planes off the runways or sending them on go-arounds).

Me to Shel: Uh, if you can, I'd like you to take the plane. (I have 130-140 hours, Shel has over 10,000. I'm not proud.)

Shel: Okay, I've got it. (He's not stupid.) We're going for runway 3. (It's a 130 degree turn, we were at 2-300', but the engine was still developing some power, we didn't know how much or for how long).

Me: (Watching the turn, we were holding altitude, we were getting lined up with runway 3, we were going to make it... Gear!) Gear down?

Shel: Gear down! (I toggle the gear switch, and I had an anxious moment waiting for the green light to come on. It went on.)

Now, we have another problem. The airspeed and altitude that we carefully preserved in the turn are now our enemies. We are high and fast as we cross the threshold. Fortunately, runway 3 is over 6000' long, and we use up about 5000' of it before we are down to taxi speed. We shut the engine down voluntarily as soon as we turn onto the taxiway. We were down. I have survived a real engine failure—through the great foresight of making sure I had a 10,000-hour CFII/ATP on board when it happened.

My sick Mooney is now resting in a hangar at Chino waiting for a full evaluation. Popping the cowl reveals at least a blown cylinder. It could be anything from a new cylinder/piston to a full engine overhaul. Considering what happened, I'm inclined to go for the full overhaul, even if it's only one cylinder. I'm not sure I can bring myself to trust that engine again. The failure was probably aggravated by the numerous throttle cycles the engine has had to go through for this training, but that cylinder has shown up weak (but over 60) on compression tests before; and I suspect would have gone sooner rather than later. It's going to be at least 2-4 weeks before the plane flies again and with a new engine that has to be broken in for the first 50 hours, I'm not going to want to put on the kind of abuse that got put on the plane in the last few days. Besides I now want to add speed brakes and an engine monitor to the plane, to help avoid a recurrence.

What do we do next? I don't know yet. I actually don't need any more flight time. The flights from EMT to POC and POC to CNO got me over the 20 hour minimum. I could make up the other hours as simulator time. But I need a plane to fly the checkride and I need time to get comfortable in it and to know how it flies. Shel and I will discuss it tomorrow. Tonight, I'm going to celebrate the lack of physical pain and try to anesthetize my wallet in preparation for the major surgery it is about to undergo.

Total time today (approximate): Hood: 3.5 hrs.

Feb 25 - (PIC Day #9)

After yesterday's dramatic events, my concern is to try and let as little of this go to waste as possible. I can't do anything about the plane, the repairs are going to be what they are and I'll have to deal with that when I find out how bad it is. But, this training process (which is prepaid) is peaking right now and if I let it go, I might not get back to it for months and it might take a lot of hours to get proficient again. So, I've decided to just plunge ahead and try to finish the rating and not let the time and money go to waste.

Shel arrives at 8:30 and we calculate how much more time I need at this point. I have just over 50 hours of XC (including the IFR); just over 20 hours of hood time in the plane; about 15 hours in the simulator; and about 135 total hours. So I meet all the time requirements, except I am 5 hours short on total instrument time. We proceed to the simulator where we do some practice approaches for warm-up then go to partial-panel approaches. After 2.5 hours of simulator work, it is lunchtime and we head down to the FBO where I worked on my PPL. The Piper Warrior that I first trained in was my preference for a substitute plane, but it was missing an ADF antenna and its VOR was still 40 degrees off (which I discovered on my PPL checkride—they never fixed it). I had been checked out in Cessna 172s and 182s and one of the 172s was in fairly decent shape with dual comm, dual VOR's, GS, LOC, ADF, transponder and encoder...and it wasn't signed out for the next three days.

So, we take it out for a test flight. An annoyance is that one of the nav radios has a missing units digit in the display; so you have to index to the point where it crosses over from 10x.yy to 11x.yy and then count up or down. This also forces you to ident the station, since the procedure is error prone—but of course, identing is always good. The VORs tracked within a couple of degrees and the ADF looked like it was working fine. So we begin calibrating its various profiles for cruise, climb, descent, approach, etc. After an hour of this, I go under the hood, and Shel does a quick run of airwork with me: climbs, descents, 45 degree turns, partial panel, partial-panel unusual attitudes, etc. The plane feels fairly decent. On top of this, the 172 has the advantage that it is about 20% slower than the speeds at which we calibrated the Mooney; we were getting speeds at 80-100 knots rather than 100-132 knots. Thus, I will have more time and will correspondingly be less rushed, which is good of course.

We decide to do one approach of each type and make sure there aren't any surprises in the radios or indicators. We go over to CNO and get the ILS approach first and fly that down; the glide slope and localizer work fine. We then get the VOR approach and check both VORs for tracking and intercept and those also work fine, though I was unfocussed again and flew through the approach course before Shel began tapping the VOR. (Hey, I had 4 hours sleep last night!) I decide to call it a day and request the NDB approach to EMT and fly it very respectably, holding the NDB to within 3 degrees and getting all my step-downs and times. We decide to go with the 172 for the checkride.

We will do a day of approach and holding work tomorrow in the 172. After today's time, just an hour or two tomorrow and I will meet my minimum time requirements in all categories. Tomorrow will give me some more time to become familiar with the 172, and after that it is up to me.

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 2.5 hrs. Hood: 1.5 hrs.

Feb 26 - (PIC Day #10)

When I get up this morning, I look out the window and it looks like a really nice day. Shel shows up and says he has an approach he wanted me to try, HMT (Hemet). To him this approach is an acid test of whether or not you truly understand NDB approaches. It starts off with an intersection between an NDB and a VOR, followed by the interception of a bearing to the NDB, followed by a course change outbound from the NDB, with a very short time to get on-course for the final approach segment, then the missed approach is a climbing turn on a heading with an intercept of another bearing from the NDB, and then entering a hold defined by the fix of the intersection of the VOR and NDB. Add fairly steep descent profiles and some real terrain and I see why he uses it as a test. He sets it up on the simulator and I succeed in pleasing him by catching every nuance of the approach. A good start to the day. Unfortunately my feeling of satisfaction was short-lived.

We then proceed to EMT where the 172 is waiting for us. Once we get in the air, I discover that it isn't a very nice day at all, with lots of turbulence. We start off in the practice area again, where we do some more timed turns and 45-degree-bank steep turns. Shel then has me shoot VOR approaches into L66, POC and CCB. On the approach to L66, I forget to time from the FAF and I am holding heading very badly. Into POC, I am late intercepting the initial segment. And into CCB, I don't get slowed down in time and I don't estimate a correction for the extra speed, so thought I was a mile out when I was actually almost entering downwind. In all, I blow it badly on all three. Part of it is the turbulence, but Shel later demonstrates that the turbulence is actually throwing the plane off course or altitude a lot less than I am; I am just overcontrolling.

After introducing me to the examiner at CCB, Shel has me file IFR to CNO and we do the ILS in. Again, I lose it and almost drop out of the glide slope. I would have, except we intend to land and Shel doesn't want to do a missed approach, so he takes over and gets us back on the glide slope and course and gives it back to me. Once we land, I discover the winds are varying from 210 to 300 and gusting from 15 to 25 knots, and there are clumps of puffy low-level cumulus all over the place, so it isn't a terribly good day to fly a precision approach. But as Shel points out, you have to be able to get it down even when its turbulent. You probably don't have enough fuel to wait for it to settle down and it might get worse.

I am getting thoroughly demoralized at this point and am very quiet during lunch, which Shel notes. Afterwards, we stop off at the repair shop that has my Mooney. They had pulled the oil filter and cut it open, and though there was a slight amount of visible metal flaking, there were no ferrous flakes, so the blown cylinder may not have damaged any bearings, crankshaft, rods, etc. The mechanic also did a compression check on the other cylinders and they came up mid-70's. So now I have to make a decision about just replacing the cylinder, rings and piston, and other miscellaneous parts, or to go for a full overhaul or reman. The shop will get me costs on the different options later this week. I am not inclined to trust the engine, but it would be nice to put off a full overhaul for another year. Tough decision.

After lunch, we go up again, and Shel wants to do some holds. I blow the first entry, and to rub salt in the wound, Shel points out that it was exactly the same entry and hold I blew the last time. The next one is good, and Shel is complimentary about the wind angle correction I crank in and the inbound/outbound length correction. After the holds, he has me do the ILS, VOR, and NDB approaches into CNO. The wind has stabilized direction a bit, but it is still blowing/gusting strongly. I am able to do the three approaches acceptably this time and he is more satisfied with my flying. Finally, on the NDB approach we land and refuel. As we look around we can see clouds all over, rain showers to the west and northeast, and the snow level in the mountains down to 1500'-2000'. So on this flight, we get a full IFR clearance rather than just class C service back to EMT, just in case.

Shel gives me the choice of the VOR or NDB approaches into EMT. I say I am tired of NDBs so I opt for the VOR. As we approach our assigned altitude, he pops the no-peekies over the attitude and direction indicators, and I hve to fly the approach partial panel. Thanks a lot Shel, you just couldn't let my last approach with you be an easy one, could you? Fortunately, the air has settled down a lot along the route to EMT and I finish up with a pretty much perfect partial panel approach.

With this performance, I think Shel decides I am probably as ready as I am likely to be in the near future...and that I could pass the checkride if I would just settle down. So he says it was a "go" for the checkride—he is willing to sign me off.

Total time today (approximate): Sim: 0.6 hrs. Hood: 3.5 hrs.

My total actual/hood/sim time before checkride: (approximate): 44 hrs.

The Checkride

Shel had signed me off, done the paperwork, and now it was up to me—checkride time. I fly to the examiner's office at CCB in the Cessna 172. The weather is calm and cool.

When I get there, the examiner is out flying but he has left an IFR XC for me to flight plan, with a specified destination weather (guaranteed to make me flight plan an alternate). I sit down, pull the Jepps and a flight plan sheet, identify the most obvious route and call the FSS for a weather briefing. In actuality, the visibilities and ceilings along the route are pretty nice, but the killer is forecast showers combined with freezing levels SFC to 4000'. Sigmets are out for heavy rime ice. The conditions are prevailing, not just local, so no alternate route was any better. I go ahead and do the flight plan including alternate, but I note down that the flight is a no-go as far as I was concerned.

While I am working this out, the examiner sticks his head in to make sure that I have gotten started and then goes to his office with my application, flight log, aircraft logs, and other paperwork. I finish fairly quickly as the route was familiar from the IFR XC I had actually flown. While I am working, he reviewed all the paperwork. (Shel was very meticulous in double-checking that all the requirements had been met.) He then takes a look at my flight plan and asks me various questions about the route, fuel, alternate, etc; pretty much as expected. I point out that I would not fly that plan today for the reasons stated, and he was satisfied with that.

He then has me open up the enroute chart and makes sure that I know the various symbols. He does the same for a sample approach plate. The oral then skips on to some miscellaneous questions about requirements to maintain instrument currency, VOR check methods, instruments required for IFR flight, etc. My guess is that my written test score created a pretty good initial impression and he is skimming a variety of subject areas quickly and making sure that my knowledge is commensurate with the score. Satisfied with that, he cuts the oral exam off after about 30 minutes and tells me to go file an IFR flight plan for our departure with a destination at CNO. He advises me that he intends to fly the ILS and NDB at CNO, then come back on the VOR approach to CCB. I call FSS and file, then pull the plates and charts.

Now that it is flying time. I am anxious, but I try to follow Shel's advice to me before the checkride: slow down, keep the scan going, and 5T's. I begin following this advice by taking some deep breaths and deliberately slowing my walk out to the airplane. I do a simplified pre-flight, but emphasize flight controls, engine oil, and instrument checks, and indicate to the examiner that the initial pre-flight had been more thorough, but these checks on a second flight of the day should catch any real problems and he seemed to accept that. We taxi to the runup area and call for our IFR clearance and release. After being advised of a 5 minute delay, I take the opportunity to double-check the radios, OBS settings, and ID'ing the stations. Since the stations came in on the ground, that saves a task that would have been done in the air. I also have the ILS approach to CNO up on the yoke clip and the CCB VOR approach topmost on my clipboard in the event of an emergency return. These are all organizational nuances that Shel had taught and I think the examiner noted them.

We get our release and we take off. He has me put the hood on at 50' and we proceed to our transition point. Along the way, we get a couple of altitude amendments, a heading amendment, and finally radar vectors to the approach course. The air is a lot bumpier than when I first arrived, but not as bad as the day I was all over the place. I am really focussing on keeping the scan up, managing airspeed, and using the attitude indicator. The climb and headings are being held well within tolerance. While we are flying to the VOR, he shoves some approach plates under my nose and asks me what type of holding pattern entries I would fly for them given my current heading. I give him the right answers. I slow the plane down one vector before intercept, and when I get the vector for intercept I am pretty stable and am able to turn on to the localizer with the needle centered in the doughnut. Intercepting the glide slope, I wait till I have the glide slope centered. then pull power for descent and keep one dot above the glide slope. I do lose the localizer briefly out to 2-3 dots, but a couple of small heading changes bring it back to one dot and that's about where it stays when I hit DH+80'. (I can hear Shel saying, "don't wait for DH, you'll bust through it for sure".) At this point, I apply power for a missed approach, and the plane descends to DH+50' then gained a positive rate of climb as I continued to clean it up.

We head back to the VOR for the missed approach hold and then request the NDB approach. The ADF is already set up to the NDB (which is the LOM on the ILS), so all I have to do was to set the VOR for an intersection as a backup to NDB station passage as the stepdown fix. So far, everything has gone well...I've felt ahead of the plane, and I haven't gotten flustered. As we are vectored to the approach course, we are cleared direct to the NDB and cleared for the approach. The direct course we are on is within 5-8 degrees of the approach course and within 4 miles of the NDB, so I then made a pragmatic decision and use the time and a few quick heading changes (all within +/-5 degrees) to set up my bracket and crab for the approach course rather than strictly maintain the direct course. We pass over the station as I began the descent with the wind correction angle already cranked in. I hold it close enough to what it should be that the examiner actually tells me that he thinks the ADF is off a bit and to look up and see why (we were 1000' north of centerline despite the steady course).

Again we are outbound on the missed approach and the examiner requests the VOR approach at POC. Wait a minute, POC? I thought it was CCB. Did I hear wrong or did he spring this on me? We are climbing and getting vectors to intercept the approach course as I reach toward the backseat to try and find my Jepps. Fly the plane first, hold attitude and heading. I finally get a hold of the Jepp binder and pull it into my lap, almost knocking the examiner's headphones off. I force myself to slow down and continue scanning the panel, while I flip through looking for the approach plate. I finally locate it and succeed in getting it out of the binder and up on the yoke clip without any significant deviations. I quickly dial in the VORs and OBSs and ID'd them as we get a vector to intercept. Once set up, the pace slows down again and the approach goes off very easily. He calls off the approach just before the VOR (one mile short of the airport). A brief bit of airwork and some more partial panel work, which was anticlimactic (I think he decided that I really knew what I was doing—little realizing how sloppy I had been just the day before), and he tells me to take off my hood and head for CCB. I know I had passed, but he hasn't said so yet. (Oh, please, don't let me screw up a VFR landing after all these hours of IFR!) I land safely and, as we taxi to transient parking and stop, he reaches over to shake my hand. I had passed my IFR checkride!

During the debrief, the only two things he mentions are: (1) I began my left turn on the NDB missed approach late, which calls for a climb on runway heading to 1400' then a left turn whereas I had delayed to 1700' before I began the turn; and (2) I have a tendency to bracket the turn indicator for a standard rate turn (roll-in, roll-out, roll-in, roll-out)—the natural result of paying more attention to the turn indicator rather than the attitude indicator. Of course this is not a good practice, that will require improvement on my part; but at the same time, I have to give some credit to my lack of emphasis on the attitude indicator with doing well correspondingly on partial panel work and partial panel approaches.


Would I recommend PIC? Well here's sort of an answer. It's not for everybody. I'm glad I got my rating, but I'm not entirely sure I would do it again this way. Not because PIC didn't do their job as promised—they certainly did. But despite the minor miracle of taking a 100-hour pilot and getting him IFR rated in 10 days, this particular pilot almost burned out. On the morning of Day Ten, I almost didn't care whether I passed or failed. Fortunately, I pulled it together for the afternoon checkride.

Is there something special about the PIC course? I think the two most important factors were the instructor himself and the effective use of a simulator. I don't know what the other PIC instructors are like, but mine clearly loved flying and was a great pilot and teacher. To the extent that PIC has better instructors to assign, they provide more value. The simulator is also a great help for pilots who might have trouble visualizing some of the more complex procedures: entering a hold, intercepting and holding an NDB bearing, flying a DME arc, etc.; giving them lots of chances and repetition. For some other pilots, like myself, who are lucky enough to find that easy, more time might have to be spent in the plane because their flying skills aren't commensurate with their navigation or visualization skills.

Despite the fact that the one-time bill is hard to swallow ($3,250 + airfare/motel [if needed] + plane), I have decided that it is probably less expensive than the slower piecemeal method offered by most FBOs. Think about this: Shel was with me 9 hours a day for 10 days; about 90 hours of work for him! That only works out to $36/hour, plus you get to save up to 20 hours of airplane time by using the simulator which is included in their price. Figuring $50/hour for a plane, this is a savings of $1,000, or an equivalent credit of $11/hour on the instructor's time, putting him at $25/hour. That's what I paid for instructor time at my FBO, so PIC's is really a pretty fair deal—if you can manage to pay it all at once.

But, you must be COMMITTED. This is going to take 10 days of full-time attention. If you have a wife or girlfriend (or husband or boyfriend), they had better understand this and be supportive. You cannot be returning pager calls or thinking about work. Get rested up beforehand.

And don't try to write a daily diary like this one that can cost an extra hour of sleep!

My impression is that PIC is the ideal course for a pilot who has a few hundred or even a few thousand hours under his belt, is very comfortable in the plane, and just needs to focus some time and energy to get their rating. Or perhaps the short version, 3-5 days, for the IFR student who has put in 50 hours of training, 2-300 of total time, but can't quite finish up.

It is probably a good idea to be very comfortable with the airplane you intend to use. I made a lot of work for myself with my high-performance Mooney; the Cessna 172 was a lot easier to handle and so left more time to manage the approaches. Also, when you get your XC time, don't just work on heading and altitude maintenance like I did. Work to understand the plane's behavior, responsiveness and performance as you change the operating conditions, not just what you have to do to maintain the operating conditions.

At the same time, don't use your own plane—use somebody else's. The kind of engine cycling that you go through practicing approach after approach is very abusive, particularly if your engine is turbocharged. As I found out the exciting way.

If you practice with an IFR simulator, practice for real. Don't just fly the approach for fun. Fly the approach plate, change the plane configuration as you would in real life, make sure you run through the 5 T's at each appropriate point. Do it for real because you want to get the habits ingrained.

While I feel that I really do know what I am doing, I also know first-hand how easy it is to lose it when the workload increases in IMC. I recently participated in a discussion group about the validity of "personal minimums", with some pilots saying that personal minimums didn't make sense: i.e., if you are rated for IFR, then you should be able to fly to the published minimums. Now that I have been through this and gotten my rating, I agree with the concept of personal minimums. Yes, I can technically fly to published minimums, but I think my "margin to overload" is lower now than it will be when I have more experience. Thus a progressively decreasing threshold, to increase your initial safety factor, makes a lot of sense to my way of thinking.

Well, that's my story. Time to fly for fun again!