The IFR Checkride

I took and passed my IFR checkride on June 20th, 1997. The test was down in Binghamton, NY, about 20 minutes away by air from Ithaca (my home base). The following are some of the highlights of event.

It Begins

Some thoughts on the IFR checkride. The flow of events was similar to the private pilot checkride: paperwork, oral, flight.

The paperwork

The paperwork phase involved checking the logbook, going over the 8710-1 form (he caught that I had accidentally checked that I HAD previously taken and failed the test before), going over the written exam report, medical and pilot certificate, etc. Other than the one typo, everything went smoothly.

The Oral part

The oral phase FELT like it ran a long time, like 2 hours or more. He asked questions on all sorts of things, weather, approaches, charts, aircraft systems, etc. We spent some time going over the charts and approach plates, with me explaining what everything meant. I had to give explanations and list things, like 91.175 when you can go below the DH/MDA. I listed the important things, apch lights, runway lights, centerline, threshold, touchdown zone, VASI, etc. I may not have listed all items, but he was satisfied. Other questions were to list and explain three types of airspeeds and three sorts of weather charts. Also, I had to give the maximum hold speed above 14,000 (I guessed right for turbojets, I knew the speed for props), and max speed for a procedure turn (I didn't know that one, 250 KIAS).

He had me take 15 minutes to call flight service, get a weather briefing for the flight I planned and (re)calculate all the times. I had done it earlier, and most of the times hadn't changed much. He had me go over the flight plan I had made up and explain why I had chosen to do things a particular way. That was when he asked a lot of questions about the enroute chart and approach plate. He had asked about how much fuel would be used, and I had only calculated the total time and gallons per hour. I told him that I hadn't done that (normally I do) and said, "if I can use my wheel I can answer your question." He was satisfied that I could do the math for that one.

He asked several questions involving primary/secondary instruments. One question was "what is the normal primary instrument for bank angle." I had the image of the attitude indicator in my head. I commanded my mouth to speak its name. It took me about a second to register that my ears heard me speak a different name: "heading indicator." The delay before I could react was enough for him to say, "yes, that's right. You know, I think they throw that one in as a bit of a trick question."

The general key to the oral part seemed to be: say just the answer and then shut up and let him ask if if he wants more information. I also felt pretty confident about my knowledge of the area.

The Pre-Flight Briefing

He told me what to expect on the next portion of the test, that there would be no unannounced emergencies; he would either tell me ahead of time what he was about to do, or tell me that it was something independent of him. He told me the order of events and what to expect, and that I would be PIC the entire time (he wanted to avoid clouds, if possible, otherwise he would have to be PIC). And generally explained how things would proceed (we would request the option, and he would tell me "not in sight" or "take a look" at the end of the approaches -- I did not know how each would terminate). He also said the oral questions would continue during the flight test portion.

I did a preflight inspection, had a snack, and was ready to go.

The Flight

We departed VFR, and he informed the ATC what we'd be doing (maneuvers, then some different approaches). After initial climbout, I went on instruments. He provided vectors, and had me do a constant airspeed climb (at Vy), straight and with turns. Then a constant rate climb and then a descent. It was actually good, as it got me "warmed up" on the instruments and things happened at a fairly slow pace (i.e., as opposed to coming in on a localizer).

We then did two steep turns, they went fine. And a little partial panel, no attitude and heading indicators. I told him that I would inform ATC about the failure, were this a real situation. He had me do a timed turn partial panel, 180 degrees. It worked out surprisingly well, as I rolled out on a heading of south. Then with a full panel (I think), we did two unusual attitude recoveries.

After that, we did approaches. The first was the ILS 16. They gave me a poor vector to final (probably weren't as careful since we were VFR) and he provided me an additional vector to intercept it (we were north of it, heading 190, he told me to turn to 210 to get it, then back to 190). I had the localizer in pretty good, though the glideslope was consistently high. At one point, I had it coming back in with a high descent rate, but then went back to a normal rate and we stayed about 2 dots too high above the glideslope. At the middle marker, he told me "not in sight" so I did the missed approach.

On the climbout, we advised that we'd like an NDB approach next when available and requested a hold at the VOR now. They approved the hold and told us they'd let use know about the NDB approach (it's NDB 34, which was going against the traffic flow at the time). After the turn, I was going direct to the VOR on the 090 radial, did a teardrop entry. Actually, since we weren't IFR, it wasn't a hold as far as ATC was concerned, we were merely maneuvering in that area. So at station passage, I told him I would normally tell ATC I was established in the hold. He corrected me that I should say, "entering the hold." I did the outbound leg, and turned to reintercept the inbound radial. It required only a minor intercept angle (we remained on the holding side, didn't cross to the non-holding side). I felt that I was doing pretty good on the hold, so I don't feel like I "got off easy", but before station passage, ATC called us to say we could get the NDB approach if we wanted it. Since those can be hard to get, and we was satisfied how the hold was looking, we discontinued it and got vectors to final for the NDB approach.

It took some time to get there, and I was tracking out progress with the #2 VOR. It gave me time to think about things, set up for the approach, make sure things were stabilized, etc. That approach went pretty nicely. We were cleared for the approach while on the 350 bearing to the station. I intercepted the 350 bearing to, established the wind correction angle and continued inbound. After passing the station, and we must've been close because the needle moved pretty quickly, it required about a 5-10 degree wind correction. I kept returning to the 340 heading to make sure things were working out. At the MDA, he told me to look, and I was perhaps 1/4 mile to the right of the runway, not that bad for an NDB approach. Did a touch-and-go, and on climbout I had to fix my hood (I had popped off one of the climbs when I lifted it) and have him take the plane. Took perhaps 10-20 seconds total, no big deal.

I took the plane, then we requested vectors for the VOR 10 approach. Winds were from 260. Again, not wonderful vectors, and I was chasing the radial, when they reported that we were over the VOR and cleared for the approach. That bit of positional information was vital to me. I took out the intercept angle, took a course heading, then gave a small intercept angle after we passed the station. Once I had established us on the course, I kept us on it. He told me to request closed traffic from the tower. I think all three of us (the examiner, me, the tower) had different ideas of what to expect. They approved it. He wanted us to do a circle to land approach, but they thought we wanted closed traffic on 10. I entered a right downwind (to the left of 10, they had advised us to remain north of the runway), and he asked how I would land on 16. I indicated the direction and how I'd make the approach and how I'd stay at the MDA. When we got to a right base for 28, the tower cleared us for a right downwind for 10 (again) which is not what we wanted. He explained what we wanted from the tower, as I kept us on a right base for 28 (realizing we weren't cleared to land on 28). By the time it was straightened out, we were abeam 28 and not in a position to land, so he requested 34, which the tower approved. The winds weren't that strong, though a definite crosswind component. That landing wasn't wonderful (not quite a bounce, but almost as graceful) but good enough. We taxied in and he did the paperwork.

The Wrap Up

That was about it with the test. Overall I think I did pretty good. I was pretty careful about altitudes and headings and most of the approaches felt fairly stabilized (I the worst was the ILS because I was too high, but I don't think I really chased it too much, which is why it stayed too high). The airspeed control was probably the biggest "problem." I made a point to climb out at Vy initially, and tried to be closer to Vx initially on the missed approaches, but I noticed in the latter parts of the missed approaches (say when at 3000 climbing to 3700), the airspeed was pretty high. We didn't do a partial panel non-precision approach. I've done them before, so I feel that I can do that, but I wasn't about to suggest one to make the test harder.

The examiner seemed pretty fair, though overall it felt a little "easier" than my private pilot checkride. I don't know if it's because I've already been through it and there was less unknowns about the checkride or if it was easier. I did feel that the private pilot examiner (which was considerably older than the instrument examiner) did have more experience and I felt that I learned more in the other test. But all in all, it went pretty well.

The First Lesson Learned After Getting the IFR Ticket

or the flight that almost was

The first lesson after getting the instrument ticket: I called up flight to get a briefing for the 20 minute trip from Binghamton back to Ithaca. Turns out thunderstorms are moving through and they do not recommend flying. They said that the first part of it would probably be hitting as I was touching down if I were to leave immediately. However, the radar showed that once these storm cells pass, in perhaps an hour, things should be ok. So, the first thing I do with my new instrument rating is to sit on my butt and wait at the FBO, checking the weather every half-hour. I knew I was somewhat tired and inexperienced and shouldn't fly in hard IFR weather, but this was a matter of thunderstorms, where no light aircraft should dare venture. The lesson was that even with an IFR rating, you still need to use proper judgement about when you can and cannot fly.

The weather in Binghamton was, of course, perfectly fine. Though I could see some nasty looking clouds in the distance. And hearing myself say, "I just want to GET HOME" was more than enough to convince me to wait. Well, that and when the FSS briefer laughed in my face at the though of trying to fly to Ithaca then. I sat around, read the newspaper, ate some apples the FBO provided, talked with the line workers. And I must admit time REALLY dragged, as I was waiting for the next forecasts to come out.

Getting Home, Finally

But eventually they did, and the radar showed the storms had passed, nothing out there now, and it'd be fine to depart. I did, and it was a very uneventful flight. Poor visibility, like 5 miles in haze, but the instrument rating did give me confidence to know that it was haze, not clouds, that I was using the VORs for navigation and had flight following, and that I could maintain VFR conditions. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing. Even in 5 miles visibility, I had a pretty good idea where I was. And even though I couldn't see the Ithaca airport when Elmira terminated the radar contact at 8 miles out, I knew where to look. And sure enough, I saw the VASI about 5 miles out (I had already contacted the tower). Got in just before dark. All in all, not a bad day.

Written on June 23rd, 1997, by FNA.