CAP Form 5 IFR Add-On

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A good pilot is always challenging himself or herself. And sometimes that challenge comes in the form of demonstrating the same skills that you’ve already developed, but doing it in a different forum.

As many of you know, I’m a captain in the US Civil Air Patrol. I don’t wear captain’s bars because I’m such a hot pilot. I got ‘em along with the appointment as a legal officer for CAP and I currently serve as the asst. legal officer of the Michigan Wing.

I finally succumbed to embarrassment last August and put my time and flight skills where my mouth was. I’ve been a member of CAP since 2004, but I hadn’t actually flown in a CAP aircraft until August of last year.

In order to fly for CAP, you have to start out by having all of the FAA certificates and ratings and currency that would otherwise be required in order to fly the category, class, and type of aircraft you’re going to fly for CAP. Additionally, if you’re going to fly search and rescue missions or cadet orientation flights or perform other activities, there are PIC time and other requirements. Lastly, there’s the Form 5 checkride.

The Form 5 ride is named after the CAP form that the check airman fills out during the flight and signs off if you pass.

CAP is a professionally-operated organization. You have flight release officers that act as dispatchers. You have to call and be quizzed about the tactical risk management score for your flight, the weather, the kind of flying you’re going to be doing, and other factors. Then you get a flight release number. If anything about the flight changes, you have to call up the Fro and tell him or her. And you call the FRO when you get back down so that he or she knows that you’re safe. After all, it’s CAP that would come looking for you if you went missing and it’d be embarrassing if it didn’t have as much information as possible with which to begin the search.

The Form 5 ride is to the practical test standards set out by the FAA, where applicable. And some CAP operations have additional standards that you have to meet. But even if the standard is only to FAA PTS, you’re flying for CAP and you really want to demonstrate to the check airman that you’re above and beyond regular PTS and the obvious master of the aircraft.

So, when I attended a squadron meeting in August of last year, they announced that the wing would have be gathering three or four aircraft and several check airmen and holding a Form 5 day at Willow Run Airport (KYIP) near Ypsilanti, Michigan. And I had run out of excuses. Big bad Stephen Force with his podcast and his aerobatic training and yadda yadda yadda. Okay, though guy. How about doing a Form 5?

Actually, they put it much nicer than that but they were right. It was time to go put my time and energy and flying skills where my mouth was.

Long story short, I flew a C-172P with Maj Tim Kramer, who administered an excellent ride and taught me a few things. I walked away with a new Form 5 and was checked out to fly transport missions and to do proficiency flying in CAP Category 1 aircraft (i.e. round-gage C-172s and similar).

But I didn’t do the full checkride with instruments. I went VFR only. I hadn’t flown a C-172P in a long time (if I’d flown one at all) and I was unfamiliar with the panel, especially the Apollo GPS. I didn’t feel comfortable doing a full instrument ride under those circumstances and I didn’t want to waste the check airman’s time.

But a flight with a fellow CAP officer in January really made me want to go get the IFR add-on. We flew from Ann Arbor (KARB) to Battle Creek (KBTL) and back in January. I flew there and he flew back. It had been VFR on departure from Ann Arbor, even though we had to wait for a break in some clouds and climb through a large hole to get on top of a layer at about 2,000 AGL. But, as soon as we got above the scattered layer, we were fine and, by the time we got the KBTL, it was severe clear and beautiful. I shot the ILS for 23 under the hood onto 10,000 feet of inch-deep snow. Very nice landing. Although I had no information for the tower about braking action because I wasn’t about to tough the brakes until we were at walking speed on the rollout.

On the way back, with the other guy in the left seat, that layer had been scattered turned to broken and then to overcast. It became apparent that we would need to shoot an instrument approach into Ann Arbor. Fortunately, the other guy was Form 5’ed for IFR and we handily shot the VOR 24 approach. The layer was about 400 feet thick and it was ragged VFR below, so he put on his foggles until I called a half mile out.

I really like flying with this guy and we’ve flown one other time as well. We’re planning some epic cross-countries this spring and summer. But that VOR 24 at Ann Arbor made me realize that I really needed to step up if I wanted to have this aircrew be fully functional for those cross-countries. I needed to get the rest of the Form 5 for which I qualified. I needed to go for the IFR add-on.

So Scott, a new senior member in the squadron and a new 85-hour private pilot, volunteered to coordinate a Form 5 ride for both of us. VFR for him and the IFR add-on for me. Se scheduled for a Sunday in February.

The Saturday before, I hit the sims at DCT Aviation. Anyone familiar with my Checkride Update series from the fall of 2007 knows that I flew a heck of a lot of sim in preparation for the instrument rating checkride. I’d rather have flown to prepare but it’s hard to fly reliably in Michigan in winter and I had only gotten up on two of the five flights that I scheduled in January. So sim was a must.

Then I showed up at Ann Arbor early on Sunday, rusty, but ready to give it my best shot.

All the paperwork was in order and Scott and I got through the oral at Mike’s Midtown Coney before heading to the hangar. I planned an IFR flight to Grant Rapids and Scott planned a VFR flight to Lansing. I filed my flight plan and off we went.

We preflighted and powered up and taxied to the business end of the runway, which was Runway 6 that morning.

When you do a CAP form 5 ride, you want to demonstrate aircrew skills. It’s nice that you can sit there and run the checklist by yourself, but you don’t get any points for that. I handed the checklist over to the check airman and used Crew Resource Management (“CRM”) immediately. Scott was in the back for my ride and I used him, too, to organize charts and the audio recorder.

Here’s a little bit of the audio from the runup.

[Audio 01]

Then it was time to copy the instrument clearance to Grand Rapids. Note: There’s nothing wrong with using a callsign like “Cessna Niner-Niner-Two-Charlie-Papa.” But wouldn’t you really rather be “CAPFLIGHT Two-Zero-Two-Eight?” I love using a CAPFLIGHT callsign. I’m fiercely proud any time I use that callsign. I’m telling everyone on the frequency that the US Civil Air Patrol is there and we’re either helping people or preparing for the next time we’re called on to do so.”

[Audio 02]

Even among experienced pilots, I’m a fan of briefing everything and making sure that everyone understands exactly what their roles are so there are no surprises that we can avoid. You wouldn’t think that some of this stuff would be necessary with an airplane full or rated pilots. But I think it’s even more important in an airplane full of rated pilots. I once heard a saying that the amount of intelligence in a room remains constant. Only the number of people changes. If you don’t think that’s true, you’ve never seen a lobby full of otherwise incisive and talented lawyers milling around trying to decide where to go to lunch.

So I brief everything. Out loud and the same brief every time. Here’s a little bit of my takeoff brief. They say that mediocre pilots assume that everything will go fine and are surprised when things go wrong. And they say that the best pilots assume that everything will go wrong and are surprised when everything goes fine. I try to be one of the latter. Here’s the parade of horribles that I call out before heading for the hold-short line.

[Audio 03]

There’s more, but that gives you a taste.

Then it’s time to get going. We taxi to the hold-short line.

[Audio 04]
[Audio 05]

The callouts don’t stop on the runway. I call out the most important airspeeds as I roll out to the numbers. Rotate 55, Climb 79, Best Glide 65. And I usually add “smoke on” at the end. It’s the command by the leader of a multi-ship airshow team that tells everyone to turn on the smoke system. The demo has begun. And so it has.

You’ll hear me trade the flight controls to the check airman at 100 feet AGL so that I can pull down my view limiting device. Then I take the controls back and call up Detroit Approach.

[Audio 06]

We couldn’t tune and identify the Detroit VOR on the ground at Ann Arbor, so the first order of business once I had the airplane on the vector and trimmed out was to get that taken care of. There’s a marked radial from that VOR that passes just north of Ann Arbor and my flight plan called for me to intercept it and fly it to my first waypoint, HARWL, no doubt names for Detroit Tigers broadcasting great Ernie Harwell. I tuned and identified the VOR and approach immediately cleared me to HARWL.

[Audio 07]

No checkride goes exactly as you expect it to and this was no exception. Just as I was about to get to my assigned altitude of 4,000 feet, the check airman got on the radio, during which communication both Detroit Approach and I learned that I was going to hold at HARWL.

[Audio 08]

Callouts. Checklists. CRF. If you’re sitting there with the needle all centered and taking a break, you need to ask yourself whether there are any checklists to run or other things for which you should be preparing. So here’s the cruise checklist.

[Audio 09]

The check airman states what is now clear. That I’m going to have a hold. He’s being nice. The hold that he’s giving me and for which he’s asking for Lansing Approach’s approval will be a direct entry – the easiest and most straightforward of the three hold entries.

[Audio 10]

And that’s where the recording media on my MP3 recorder ran out. Turns out that I left it on a high-resolution setting and that ate the rest of the memory.

But it was a good ride. We did a couple of trips around the hold and then headed for Jackson (KJXN). We shot the VOR Runway 6 twice, once with partial panel, and then shot an ILS to minimums.

I was really busy the whole time, working through rust. I’m still unfamiliar with the Apollo GPS that’s in the panel of this airplane as well, and that didn’t help, although the check airman was very helpful in setting up the approaches and coaching where necessary.

Long story short, I passed the ride on the hairy edge. The check airman suggested that I go out and shoot some more approaches under the hood and I agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, I’ve been up and under the hood a couple of times since with more instrument practice planned soon.

Scott rode in the back of the airplane during my ride and even shot a couple of pictures for me. After getting gas at Jackson, Scott and I switched places so he could do his VFR-only Form 5.

The last time that I was in the back seat of a C-172 was in the early 1980s when my Assistant Scoutmaster, Carl Robinson, took us up one afternoon. I’m a little older now and I weigh more, too, so Scott and I paid very close attention to the weight and balance calculations. We were within 25 pounds of max gross and two thirds of the way aft in the envelope, but within specs.

Scott was experiencing a lot of firsts. First time in a C-172R. First time doing a CAP Form 5 ride. First time flying with either me or the check airman. Probably first time flying maneuvers with someone in the back seat and all that that entails from an airplane handling perspective. And probably first time having somebody microblog his performance on Twitter. (Sorry, Scott!)

The check airman commented as we got into the plane that Scott, as an 85-hour private pilot, would probably fly an excellent ride because he hadn’t learned any bad habits yet. Yeah, that’s partially true, but, if it were me, all of those firsts would have more than outweighed any good habits.

So we taxied and took off and Scott flew an ATP-quality set of maneuvers. I sat on the right side of the back seat so that I could see the gages and it was a joy to behold. He nailed the steep turns, nailed the engine-out, nailed the stalls, and nailed just about everything else.

I highly recommend flying in the back seat once in awhile to watch someone else training. It’s great to be able to just relax and learn from someone else’s successes and mistakes. And watching Scott’s ride was particularly enjoyable because he did so well.

If you’re a private pilot in the US and you aren’t yet a CAP member, what are you thinking? The largest piston fleet on earth. All well-maintained, solid aircraft. More G1000-equipped C-182s arriving every month. Talented fellow pilots with whom to fly. And the opportunity to challenge yourself and take your flying to a whole new level of skill and confidence.

Flights like this one happen every day in CAP. It’s an organization to which I’m proud to belong.