Airspeed – VIDEO – How to Pass Your CAP Form 5 Checkride

Airspeed – VIDEO – How to Pass Your CAP Form 5 Checkride from Steve Tupper on Vimeo.

Here’s a video that I shot during my CAP Form 5 recurrent checkride on 11 October 2010. Although it’s CAP-intensive, there are good lessons here for any checkride.
Although both Capt Kramer and I are active CAP officers, CAP does not endorse Airspeed and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of CAP.
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Capt Force Passes CAP Form 5 Ride and Thunderbird Groove Takes Shape!

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Please check out the other posts.

I took and passed the checkride to fly Civil Air Patrol aircraft yesterday. 1.4 hours in a C-172P with Michigan Wing check pilot Tim Kramer.

There’s a lot of prep that goes into this ride. It requires familiarity with CAPR 60-1, which is the CAP bible of flight operations. You have to take and pass an online exam on 60-1 and also prepare an aircraft questionnaire for the aircraft to be flown, in addition to all of the usual stuff that you might expect to have to pass for an FAA checkride. Here’s my flight bag on the way to Willow Run Airport (KYIP). Stuffed to overflowing with the paperwork, a POH for the aircraft, a FAR/AIM, my kneeboard, my headset, and, of course, the MP# recorder. I captured audio of the whole thing for use on a future episode.

I really enjoyed heading back to Willow Run. I trained a lot there, including launching my first solo from Runway 5L. It’s nice to be familiar with a place when you’re flying to standards and don’t otherwise know what to expect.

We launched northbound to stay away from the TFR for the University of Michigan game. Once at 5,5000 and in cruise configuration, Tim had me lower the hood and fly attitude at 55 KIAS while maintaining altitude and making turns to headings. A little difficulty with altitude and airspeed coordination, but I had never flown that aircraft before and I’m not sure that I’ve ever flown a 172P before (most of my 172 time is in 172Rs).

The unusual attitudes. Nailed the nose-high. Not so much the nose-low. I have a bad habit of looking at the attitude indicator instead of the airspeed indicator first. When I looked up the second time, the attitude indicator was covered and the airspeed indicator was well into the yellow. I made the mistake of pulling first instead of immediately reducing power. Teachable moment.

Some more maneuvering and then Tim failed my engine. I ran the memory items and started heading for a field. I had discussed my unfamiliarity with the Apollo GX55 GPS (I’m most familiar with the Bendix/King KLN94 and learning the Garmin 430) in the aircraft and had decided to fly the procedures as though I had no GPS. Tim gave me a quick lesson on how to work the NRST function and we glided over to Oakland Southwest (New Hudson) (Y47). Still plenty of altitude and I picked up a pretty worthwhile technique from Tim on setting up for a deadstick landing. Tim likes to fly a figure eight perpendicular to the runway with the center of the figure-eight just short of the numbers. That way, you’re never that far from the runway itself and you simply make the decision about whether to land as you come around each time. Some hard slipping, and we put her down on Runway 25.

A short field takeoff from New Hudson and then the usual battery of landings back at Willow Run. 1.4 hours and four takeoffs and landings.

The logbook page continues to grow. I’m happy about this entry because it gets a C-172 on the page (without which the page wouldn’t have any element of what I usually fly) and because it’s another demonstration of competence, particularly competence as measured by the standards of CAP, for which I have great respect. I get a certain respect at squadron meetings for being the asst. wing legal officer and for having flown the DC-3 and gotten the Thunderbirds ride, but it was very nice to have this opportunity to demonstrate that I’m more than just a stuffed shirt and can fly to standards.

At least the VFR standards. It was enough to fly an unfamiliar airplane for the first time and enough to fly a C-172 for the first time since February (not counting the time in the 172RG at Flight 101), so I’m only checked out for VFR. But that qualifies me to fly mission transport, so I’m actually somewhat useful. And I can go get Norm or someone else who’s also Form 5 current and go shoot approaches or fly cross-country for currency in CAP aircraft.

Next up will likely be the mighty G1000 C-182, which I’ll probably do both VFR and IFR. Ultimately, I’d like to be qualified VFR and IFR in both the 172 and 182 as the medium-term goal. Then maybe train for mission pilot.

In other news, I got an e-mail from ace New York City sound guy Scott Cannizzaro with a link to the initial mix of the Thunderbird Groove (the music bed for the Thunderbirds ride summary episode). I seem to remember in the liner notes to John Mayer’s Continuum album that John thanked an engineer, saying something to the effect of “and thanks to Bob, who knows how we really sound.” Scott is very much that guy for me. From a rather skinny basic collection of tracks, he has augmented them beautifully with keyboards, lead guitar, and other very cool stuff. He’s not done yet, but what I’m hearing so far is really great. I’m going to have to work really hard on the script for the episode if it’s going to be worthy of the music.

Working title for the episode: Sometimes Alternates Fly. It’s still gestating, but parts will probably become fixed in a tangible medium before the holiday weekend is out. Really excited about how it’s coming together.

Instrument Rating Checkride – Part 2

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Welcome to the second part of the instrument checkride. This is the second of two parts covering my checkride for the instrument rating. If you haven’t checked out Part 1, make sure that you download it and listen to it. It contains background information that’s helpful to understanding some of the material in this episode and will bring you up to speed on the checkride so far.

Also, if you’re following along at home, you can download the approach charts here.

Flint RNAV Runway 18:
Flint VOR Runway 9:
Pontiac ILS 9R:

To set the stage, we’re about an hour into the checkride and we’ve just completed the RNAV approach to Runway 18 at Flint, Michigan and gotten vectors for the VOR Runway 9 approach.

As we’re getting closer to the approach course, a hand reaches in from the right and places a cover over the attitude indicator. For those not familiar with the cockpit of most general aviation aircraft, that’s the instrument with the artificial horizon that helps you tell whether you’re pitched up or down or rolling left or right. It’s a central part of the instrument scan in most phases of instrument flight.

Mary asks me if I know what that means. It could mean that the individual instrument has failed. It could also mean that the vacuum system has failed, which would take out both the attitude indicator and the directional gyro. The directional gyro is in the middle of the bottom for of the “six pack” of primary flight instruments and it tells you which magnetic course you’re on. It’s your primary instrument for bank when you’re in most phases of flight because a change in heading usually means that you’re rolling.

I clarify with Mary that I’m not supposed to assume that I have a vacuum failure for the moment. If I was supposed to assume that, I brought along my own covers so that I could cover up the DG as well.

You cover an instrument in training to simulate its failure. But, if you have an actual failure, both the regulations and common sense require that you cover the instrument. If you don’t cover it, you’ll very likely continue to keep it in your scan and you’ll even rely on its indications at some lizard-brain level even though you know that it’s failed.

So now I’m relying on the altimeter for pitch. Soon, when Mary takes away the DG, I’ll be relying on the turn and bank indicator and the magnetic compass for roll and the altimeter, airspeed indicator, and vertical speed indicator (or “VSI”), in varying degrees, for pitch.

This is an opportunity for me to demonstrate that I can control the airplane using less than all of the instruments, but is also a reminder of the redundancy of the instrumentation in the airplane and the capabilities that we still have even if systems start to fail us.

By the way, when I say that I’m looking for the traffic that approach just called, it means that Mary is looking for it. As a part of our preflight briefing, we agreed that she’d do everything that required eyeballs outside the aircraft, but that I would run the radios just as though I was looking outside. She advised me whenever she had something in sight and I handled the communications to approach or the tower.

Also, I normally fly instrument approaches with the GPS overlay, which means that, even if it’s not an approach that requires GPS as such, I load in the approach and use the moving map and other elements of the GPS display to maintain situational awareness. It’s really helpful. For this approach, which is clearly going to be a partial-panel VOR approach, Mary takes me the rest of the way old school by having me dial down the brightness of the GPS screen so that I can’t see it.

[Audio 13]

Then we get clearance for the VOR 9 approach.

[Audio 14]

Then it’s over to the tower.

[Audio 15]

You heard the tower controller tell me that I was south of course, which is fine (I was, in fact, south of course), but then she asks my intentions.

I never know what to say that wouldn’t be sarcastic or taken the wrong way. You can hear me get tongue-tangled before Mary just tells me to say that I’m correcting. I actually wasn’t that far off. The needle was still well short of full deflection and I was correcting back to the center of the course. I was still eight miles out. The controller even said that I was only slightly south.

She may not know that I’m missing two of my most helpful instruments, have the FAA in the right seat, am gripping the seat cushion tightly with my butt cheeks, and am busier than a one-armed paper hanger. But I’m clearly trying to fly a bloody instrument approach.

Do I respond, “I’m flying the VOR 9 at Flint?” That would come off as sarcastic, right?

How about “I must have had problems in my early childhood that are now causing me to pollute your airspace. I am not worthy” Still not good.

Look, don’t piss off a controller on your checkride. But what to you say even if you’re trying to be respectful?

And how would that little dig from ATC go over in other circumstances? “Say, Mr. Woods, you seem to have failed to get it within 10 feet of the pin from the fairway bunker 250 yards out with your three-wood . . . Say your intentions.”

Hose off, eh?

Okay. Rant over. I’m pretty sure that the controller wasn’t being deliberately mean. Just bad timing.

But still, I get this.

[Audio 16]

What? I looked at my approach plate, I had thoroughly briefed the approach, I still had 100 feet to go. The transponder had the correct altimeter setting dialed in. I don’t know what the problem was. But Mary could clearly see that I had nailed everything and said nothing.

Okay. Time to just fly the airplane. Things don’t go as you expect them to all the time. You have to deal with unexpected distractions. This is especially true on an instrument checkride. I’m sure that the controller was doing her best and had her screen and other information to go by. Again, just bad timing.

And I’m pleased to report that I absolutely nailed this approach. A little after the tower gave me grief about being off course, I had the needle centered, power set, crab angle established, and all of the gages were like they were painted on.

I am not used to this happening, especially when partial panel. I actually tuned and re-identified the VOR on that approach because the VOR needle was centered and not moving and I entertained the thought for a moment that the VOR receiver or instrument was broken. That’s never happened to me before. Got to like it.

Okay. Here’s the final approach. I’m at the minimum descent altitude of 1,300. I maintain this until the missed approach point, which is going to be directly over the VOR on the airport. I can tell when I’ve passed the VOR when the indicator flips and tells me that I’m now going FROM the VOR instead of TO it. That’s what I mean when I say that I’m watching for the flip.

I also re-brief my missed approach procedure here because we’re going to be flying that missed approach out to an intersection called KATTY. KATTY is off the east of the airport at the intersection of the 097 radial of the Flint VOR and the 006 radial of the Pontiac VOR. I John King all of this to Mary so that she knows that I know what I’m supposed to do.

I also go through my pre-landing checklist.

[Audio 17]

So I complete the approach and tell departure that I’m going missed. Departure clears me to KATTY and tells me to hold as requested. Mary tells me that that was a good approach and I admit to why I re-identified Flint. She also gives me back my attitude indicator and DG, as well as the GPS. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

[Audio 18]

As we approach KATTY, I describe the hold and go through my cruise checklist.

A holding pattern is essentially a racetrack in the sky. You do all turns at standard rate (which means a minute for each of the turns, and you fly your outbound leg such that you get as close to one-minute inbound lets as possible. It’s trial and error for a few turns around and you usually get it nailed by the second or third time around. Unless there’s a massive crosswind. More on that later.

Then another snag. The scattered layer is such that we can’t stay far enough from the clouds at 3,500, so we ask for 3,000. No dice. I though that maybe we could hold somewhere else around Flint and asked for suggestions. I’ve held at various places around Flint and didn’t anticipate having any problems. I was pretty disappointed about not being able to go to KATTY, though. The outbound and unpound courses would have been more or less directly into or out of the wind, making the hold a lot easier. Remember, the winds aloft are howling along at around 50 knots.

But Mary decides to go to Pontiac. Not a problem because I’ve held west of the Pontiac VOR on several occasions and that would still give me a more or less directly into and out of the wind course for the outbound and inbound legs. Again, more on that later.

[Audio 19]

Okay, remember when I alluded that Korea had something to do with the checkride?

The ICAO identifier for the Oakland County International Airport (called “Pontiac”) is “KPTK.” But the VOR is “PSI.” Unlike Flint, where the airport is “KFNT” and the VOR is “FNT,” Pontiac’s VOR is different.

All of this would be less of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that there is, in fact, a VOR with the identifier “PTK.” But it is not near Pontiac. It is not in Michigan. It is not on the North American continent. “PTK” is a VOR-DME associated with a US military airbase near Pyeongtaek in the Republic of Korea.

Mary hints that I might have an issue. I know that the VOR is off the field and that, unlike Flint, there’s a material difference between flying to the airport and flying to the VOR. But I have it stuck in my head that I need to dial in “PTK.” “PSI” does not enter my mind until approach calls me up and ass if I’m taking the scenic route.

I reply that I’m going to the VOR, but by now I’m way off course for even the VOR. You can hear the departure controller key her mic and then let go of it trying to figure out what to say.

We finally get it cleared up and I admit that I’ve goofed up with the GPS.

Here’s the thing. I had the Pontiac VOR dialed in and was good to go before I started playing with the GPS. I wanted to get an overlay with the GPS so I’d be ready to have it help me with the hold. But I ignored the VOR needle that would have told me that I was deviating further and further from course as I gave my attention to the GPS.

I still recommend using redundant instruments to help navigate whenever you can. But always do two things. Make sure that you actually identify each navaid before you decide to fly to it and then cross-ckeck those instruments to avoid making the mistake that I made.

Alternatively, carry a lot of gas. You’ll need it to get to Korea.

[Audio 20]

Mary gives me my holding clearance.

[Audio 21]

North. She said north.

Hey, it makes a lot of sense. The VOR is west northwest of the field and they’re using 9R and 9L for landing traffic. Holding north keeps us further out of the approach path – even further than if we were to hold west with left turns (which would keep us on the north side of the inbound course).

But that means that I have to hold with 40 or 50 knots of direct crosswind. Get out your crab angles, ladies and gentlemen, because Mary’s going to be looking at the VOR out of her side window on the inbound course.

There’s nothing wrong with what Mary wanted to set up. And it’s safer from a traffic avoidance perspective. It’s just that I had put a lot of emphasis on nailing the inbound times during my training and fared that I was going to be all over the closk by the time I had my turns set up.

So we get the ATIS and call up Pontiac tower to let them know that we’re going to hold on the VOR.

[Audio 22]

So we get to the VOR, turn right, and fly outbound for a minute and then turn right again most of the way back to the inbound course. I’m trying to get to the course line, but we have a savage crosswind that’s keeping us from getting to the course line. I finally get to the VOR ar just about the same time as I finally intercept the inbound course. I just flew a course that would look a lot like one leaf of a clover. I didn’t even get to start my time on the inbound course.

Not horrible for the first trip around in a howling crosswind. At least I made it back to the VOR.

[Audio 23]

A little humming appropriate to the circumstances on the way back around for another trip. I tried to hit the timer when I got to the approach course, but the button didn’t engage. It wasn’t that far off, though. The amazing thing was that I had to take a 60-degree cut at the onbound course in order to maintain the proper ground track. That means that I was making a 180 course over the ground, but the nose of the aircraft was pointing at 120. The long and short of it was that, even though the button didn’t engage, I made it to the course line and tracked it in accurately in an amount of time reasonably close to where I was supposed to be. And Mary cut me some slack for the button, probably in light of the stupendous crosswind.

[Audio 24]

We call up Detroit Approach and ask for a clearance to shoot the ILS for 9R at Pontiac.

[Audio 25]

This will be the precision approach. The other two provided no vertical guidance. I had to monitor the altitude on the approach course myself. I still have to do that for the missed approach point on this ILS, but vertical guidance up to that point is provided courtesy of the glideslope broadcast and a horizontal needle on the panel that tells me whether I’m above or below the glideslope.

Detroit Approach gives me a vector for the ILS.

[Audio 26]

As I go through the approach briefing, we talk a little bit about the ground speed. It’s still pretty blustery at altitude, but it’ll likely slow down as we descend.

[Audio 27]

I do the last of the descent checklist and then talk through what I’m going to do about the pre-landing checklist.

[Audio 28]

Then I’m cleared for the ILS.

[Audio 29]

The approach tells me to contact the tower.

We’re flying the last part of the ILS. I’m inbound on the localizer and I identify WAKEL, which is the initial approach fix for this approach, by seeing that we’ve crossed the 199 radial of the Pontiac VOR and seeing that the outer marker light has come on. I start the timer so that, if I lose the glideslope, I can still fly the approach as a localizer approach and determine my missed approach point using the time.

[Audio 30]

The altitude ticks down and I announce out loud the remaining altitude down to the missed approach point. On the ILS for 9R at Pontiac, you follow the glideslope down to 1,180 feet, or about 200 feet above the runway surface. If you have a half mile of visibility and you can see the runway environment at that point, you can land. Mary tells me to tell her when I’m 100 feet above the minimum altitude. I get to about 1,300 feet and announce that I have a hundred feet to go. She takes the airplane to let me flip up my view-limiting device and tells me to land.

For the first time in about an hour and a half, I lift the view-limiting device and can see out the window. The runway is just as the instruments advertised – about a half mile in front of me and about 300 feet below. I follow the VASI light indications on the left side of the runway and maintain the glideslope all the way to the runway and put it down competently. Not the most graceful landing ever, but competent and safe. We’re a little fast because of the winds and the gust factor and I left the flaps at only 10 degrees, which seemed appropriate given the winds.

[Audio 31]

Then we clean up the airplane and taxi back to Tradewinds. As appears to be Mary’s custom, we sit in the airplane in the middle of the ramp for a couple of minutes after shutdown and she debriefs me on how the flight went.

Then she tells me that I passed. I’m not surprised by this. I trained hard for this ride and, other than a few moments en route to Korea, it was pretty solid. I never really got more than a few dots from the approach course on any of the approaches, kept the altitudes pretty solid, managed the hold reasonably well given the crosswind, and shot the best partial-panel non-precision instrument approach of my life.

A solid checkride of which I think I’m justifiably proud.

Having had a chance to think over the experience, I have the following reflections on the experience.

I used simulators a lot in my preparation for this rating. I knew it was a good idea from the beginning, but also got a lot of assistance from Tom Gilmore’s book, published by ASA, called Teaching Confidence in the Clouds. There’s lots of good information in the book about how to best use simulators for IFR training and you can also hear Tom talking with Jason Miller The Finer Points – Episode 91.

I took about three years to finally finish this rating. I started within a few weeks after getting my private ticket, but took breaks for the birth of my daughter and at the end of each calendar year when my law practice consumed all of my time, as it usually does. I took about 60 hours of dual training by the time it was all over, the excess over the Part 141 required 35 hours being largely knocking the rust off upon returning to instrument flight after long absences and getting to the point where I was actually improving and taking a few more flights in actual preparation for the checkride than I really needed to. I don’t have any problem with having taken that long. It allowed me to meet the other commitments in my life and, after all, it’s time flying an aircraft! How bad could that be?

If you really want to progress, you need to fly about twice a week and you need to reserve enough time to get at least 2.5 hours Hobbs for each lesson, especially if you have to go somewhere other than your primary airport in order to shoot instrument approaches. I shot most of mine at Flint, about 20 minutes from Pontiac if the winds permit. Early flights should be shorter because there’s a steep learning curve but, by the time you’re regularly shooting approaches and polishing your skills, you need enough time to shoot at least four to six approaches on each flight and the usual two-hour block that results in 1.3 hours of Hobbs time won’t cut it.

Many people find the instrument rating “the toughest ticket” and it is in a lot of ways. But I actually found it easier than the private ticket. It required a lot more cerebral stuff and book learning, but I’m a better book learner than a kinesthetic learner. If you’re like me, you’ll find the instrument rating a really wonderful intellectual exercise. I’m not saying that it’s not hard work, but it’s the kind of work I really enjoy.

If, like me, you do most of your training in Class C airspace with full ATC service and vectors galore. Make sure that you go fly in less congested airspace where you’re talking to a center controller who doesn’t baby you and wants to clear you onto the CTAF of your destination uncontrolled airport as soon as possible. Out there, you’re much more responsible for your own destiny and have to be a little more on your toes.

Also, get used to flying instrument approaches into uncontrolled airports and the techniques and communications that that involves. Bear in mind that you have VFR traffic at those airports that has no idea what you’re talking about if all you speak is IFR. “Cadillac traffic, Cessna Zero-Tango-Alpha is inbound on the localizer for Runway 7 at Cadillac” doesn’t tell the VFR traffic much. Say something like “Cessna Zero-Tango-Alpha is five miles out on the localizer for Runway 7 and will be making a long straight-in approach over the lake. Cadillac.” Describe what you’re doing in a way that VFR traffic will understand. And watch for that J3 Cub with no radio. Remember that, in some cases, he could be out there in the pattern with no radio even if it’s one-mile visibility and be completely legal.

Lastly, I’ve had some of the most inspiring experience of my flight career during instrument training. Three things here. Breaking out of the clouds or coming out from under the hood at 400 feet and a half mile after not looking out the window for more than an hour and finding yourself lined up on a runway more than a hundred miles from where you launched never ceases to amaze me. Flying broadside into a big, white, puffy cumulus cloud the size of an aircraft carrier in the sky is absolutely unmatched for inspiration. And that rare and precious flight where ATC gives you an altitude where you can literally drag your wheels in the clouds for miles and miles at a time. Those experiences just don’t happen if you don’t take the leap and go after your instrument ticket.

I remember coming up through an overcast layer for the first time with Eamon Burgess and Eamon saying “This is why we learn to fly on instruments.” He was right.

Instrument Rating Checkride – Part 1

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At last! I’ve finally had the opportunity to edit the audio from my instrument checkride and I’m going to bring it to you in this two-episode series.

There’s relatively little editing here. If I left something out, it was usually because it consisted of a lot of silence or other radio chatter by other people or because it just wasn’t a very interesting part of the flight. I didn’t edit our any blunders, so they’re all here for you to enjoy. As you guys know, Airspeed is about the real experience of flight. Most of what you’re going to hear is a great instrument checkride and I’m proud enough of it to hold it out as containing stuff that you may want to incorporate into your own instrument checkride if you have one coming up. There’s only one real blunder and I’ll point it out in the second part of this series when we get there. It involves Korea. More on that later.

To set the stage, it’s October 25, 2007. This is the fourth planned session for the instrument checkride. I had to cancel the first two for weather and, even though the weather was good enough to do the oral portion on the third try, the ceiling and winds kept us from flying on the third appointment. So finally it’s a nicer day. There’s a low scattered layer at around 4,000 feet, but we should be fine as long as they don’t come any lower. Surface winds are a little brisk at 10 to 15 knots, but the crosswind component of those winds shouldn’t affect us much. The winds aloft are another story. They’re really howling from the northeast. The forecast is for 30 or 40 knots. So I’ll have to watch that.

Work and lots of other things had really intervened in my flight training and it was hard to put together a string of instrument training flights. I flew on August 2, 6, and 31 and September 17 and 24. I got a little flight time in the Otter at Skydive Chicago on September 25, but then went without flying the actual airplane for almost a month. I flew a lot of simulator time by myself, but was worried that I might get to the checkride without having flown in an airplane for a month. Fortunately, I got up in the morning on October 23, two days before, for two hours and three approaches. I had actually planned to do the checkride that afternoon after flying with by instructor, but the weather didn’t permit.

So, the morning of the 25th, I showed up pre-dawn and did my preflight, then headed over to DTC Aviation to fly an hour of simulator. Then back to Tradewinds to meet the examiner.

The airplane is a 2004 or 2005 Cessna 172R that’s outfitted with a KLN 94 GPS and a two-axis autopilot. It’s one of two aircraft on the line at Tradewinds that have non-glass cockpits but don’t have Automatic Direction Finders (or “ADFs”). On the assumption that any instrument in the airplane is fair game for the examiner, I decided early on that I didn’t want to fly any NDB approaches and resolved that I’d do my checkride in an aircraft with no ADF so I wouldn’t have to shoot any NDB approaches. For those who don’t know about NDBs, they’re “non-directional beacons” and they’re some of the most primitive navaids in the system. NDB approaches require much higher minimums and can be a pain to fly if you’re out of practice. And the FAA is phasing them out in droves. I flew the required NDB approaches in the training and I don’t have any philosophical problems with NDB approaches. But I was a raving, sleep-deprived stress monkey for weeks as I balanced work, family, and training for this rating and, if I could eliminate some small element from the list of things I might be required to do by merely selecting the right airplane, I was going to select that airplane.

Note that I could have flown an NDB approach using the GPS, but it seemed unlikely that the examiner would make me do that. I had never done a GPS-overlay NDB approach before, but I was confident that I could do it if it came down to brass tacks.

But no ADF and no NDB approaches. Tradewinds is usually very good about making sure that you get the airplane you want for important stuff like checkrides. But, just to be sure, I told Steve the week before that I was bringing a hammer and an “INOP” sticker to the checkride just in case.

In the right seat is designated examiner Mary Carpenter. Mary did my private checkride in 2004 and I really enjoy her style. She’s living proof that you can be all about adherence to the practical test standards and competence as an aviator while still putting the candidate at ease, not being afraid to laugh a little, and always managing to teach you something in the process. And I’m not just saying this because she passed me on both the private and instrument checkrides. I earned each of those passes. She just made it the objective and even pleasant experience that any checkride can be if you walk onto the ramp the obvious master of the aircraft and the examiner puts you through the required paces in a fair and constructive way.

I’ve planned a cross-country flight under instrument flight rules, or “IFR,” and we’re ostensibly going to Traverse City (KTVC), which is about an hour and a half away under the usual wind conditions. The checkride will start out with Mary giving me a clearance to Traverse City and I’ll fly that clearance just as though I were actually going there. At some intermediate point, if she’s satisfied that I could make my way to Traverse City, she’ll announce that we’re not going there and we’ll do some other elements of the checkride.

In the course of the flight, we’re going to shoot three instrument approaches. Instrument approaches are published by the FAA and they lay out the procedures and the navigation aids that you use to safely descend through the clouds to land at an airport that you might not be able to see out the window until you’re as low as 200 feet off the ground and a half mile from the runway threshold. I’ll post links to the approach plates on the website as part of the blog entry for this episode.

Flint RNAV Runway 18:
Flint VOR Runway 9:
Pontiac ILS 9R:

A few technical notes.

You’ll hear me say on a few occasions something like “I’ve got my altitude.” That usually means that I’ve identified that I’m off my altitude by some amount, but tells the examiner that I know that and that I’m correcting. I usually point to the instrument as well to reinfore that I know what I’m doing or not doing.

An approach briefing is a self-brief where the pilot goes over the essential parts of the approach out loud in order to prepare to fly the approach. You generally want to get them done far enough before the initial approach fix that you’re comfortable with the procedure and can devote your attentions to flying the approach without having to refer to the approach plate or tune radios and do other things at a time when you’re flying closer and closer to the ground with tighter and tighter tolerances without looking out the windows. My approach briefing consists of:

Tune and identify navaids
Missed approach
Button of Death (the GPS/Nav selector for Nav 1)

(The Button of Death is the bane of my existence. There are two kinds of pilots. Those who have blown through approach courses with the BoD in the wrong mode and those who will.)

You’re going to hear bits and pieces of approach briefings in the audio here. I really wanted to John King the self-briefs and checklists but one of two things usually happened. One, I got interrupted by ATC or the examiner or I looked up to find myself about to bust an altitude. Or, two, there was just too much chatter on the frequency and you wouldn’t be able to make any sense out of what was going on. But be assured that I went through each of the briefings completely, even if it didn’t make for pretty audio.

So climb into the back seat. You’ll have to slouch down so Mary can’t see you. I’ve got full fuel aboard so you being in the back seat there would throw the weight and balance all off. But try to get a peek every now and then and, if I’m off course, tap me on the shoulder toward the approach course!

We’ll pick up the audio just after I turn on the avionics master and we’ll do the rest of the start-up and pre-taxi checklist and then taxi.

[Audio 01]

As we taxi, I do some of the instrument checks. I want to see that the magnetic compass, directional gyro, turn coordinator, and the ball all respond as they’re supposed to. The “needle” part here is not entirely correct because I have a turn coordinator and not the older turn-and-slip indicator, but Don Fuller, one of my instructors for the private ticket, used to use this terminology and it just stuck.

One other thing here. I always forget to do these checks before I get to the run-up area. I have not remembered to do them this way before or since. I just happened to have my John King on as we taxied.

[Audio 02]

Here’s the runup. We’re still on the ground near the end of the runway and this is where we do the final checks of the airplane’s systems to make sure that it’s safe to fly.

[Audio 03]

Next, we’re ready to take off. I’ll call the tower and get a takeoff clearance.

Mary has already given me an IFR clearance to Traverse City to copy and I have that ready to go on my kneeboard.

We’re going to be under Visual Flight Rules (or “VFR”). I’m going to be wearing a view limiting device for most of the flight so that I can only see the instruments in front of me and, in any case, I can’t see out the window. You’ll hear Mary take the flight controls at about 200 feet off the ground so that I can swing the device down over my eyes and then I’m flying again.

The scattered layer turns out to be lower than expected, so we have to fly lower than expected.

Mary clears me to intercept a course line extending 118 degrees (that’s roughly east southeast) from the Flint VOR and then track it inbound to Flint. So we start heading for that radial.

[Audio 4]

So we intercept the inbound course to Flint and get the ATIS – or automated terminal information system – broadcast in preparation for going in to Flint’s airspace. As you can hear, Mary keeps questioning me throughout the process. It becomes apparent that all the time with the flash cards and other materials is paying off.

[Audio 5]

Mary’s satisfied with the initial part of the flight and announces that we’re not going to Traverse City. She gives me a right turn, which is probably going to be a “clearing turn” so she can look around for other airplanes and set up to put me through some maneuvers.

[Audio 6]

We’re going to do some unusual attitudes now. Mary is going to take the controls and I have to close my eyes and put my chin on my chest. She’s going to maneuver around to get me disoriented and then put the plane in a nose-high or nose-low attitude with a bank in one direction or the other. When she gives me back the airplane, I have to look up at the instruments and immediately recover the stated attitude, altitude, and airspeed solely by reference to the instruments. If I’m nose-high, I have to immediately go to full power, get the nose down to the horizon, and level the wings – In that order. If I’m nose-low, I have to pull out the power, roll wings-level, and then bring the nose back up – In that order. There are reasons for the order that I won’t dwell on here, but suffice it to say that you have about three seconds to start doing something and it had better be the right thing. I’ve only genuinely scared instructors twice that I know of and once was when I pulled when I should have pushed. Stall horn. Shouting. Hitting. Bad juju. It’s ugly. Don’t do that.

I’ve noticed that no PC-based flight training device seems to have a random unusual attitude generator for use in practicing unusual attitudes. Sure, an instructor can put you into those attitudes, but it’d be nice it the machine would just do it so you could spend a couple of hours just practicing. You really need to be able to just look up and understand all of the six primary instruments (or such of them as haven’t tumbled their gyros by that point) at a glance if you’re going to reliably do the right thing. And there’s no way of doing that without a lot of practice. I got through the unusual attitude training well enough to pass this checkride, but I’d be a lot better it I could just go use a simulator that would just throw these at me automatically.

Microsoft, are you listening? How about something in the next version of Flight Simulator? And how about you On Top guys?

Toward the end I mention that I have the “leans.” That’s IFR-speak for being spatially disoriented. You feel like you’re leaning one way or the other even though you’re flying straight and level. Much of instrument flight is learning to ignore that leaning sensation and believe what your instruments are telling you. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get the leans. But you’ll also be surprised at how quickly you get over them if you’re disciplined and train hard. You’ll still feel that leaning sensation, but the little voice in your head that tells you to obey your kinesthetic senses gets a lot quieter than the voice that tells you to get on the gages and believe them.

[Audio 7]

We also did some steep turns and other basic attitude instrument flight at that time. Basic maneuvers that allow the candidate to demonstrate that he or she can control the airplane solely by reference to instruments.

Now it’s time to go in to Flint and do some approaches. We start out by obtaining the ATIS information for Flint. You’ll note that the ILSs are out of service. I knew that ahead of time and Mary and I planned to do approaches other than the ILSs.

Mary says we’re going to shoot the RNAV 18 and the VOR 9. Each of these are non-precision approaches, meaning that they don’t have the precision of an ILS approach and that, if we were actually flying in the soup, we’d have to break out of the clouds and be able to see the runway at a higher altitude if we were going to land.

The RNAV approach is flown with the GPS unit. You’ll hear me fumbling around with the approach charts to figure out which initial approach fix we’ll probably be assigned. We’ll probably get a waypoint called FIBIN, so I set that up in the GPS as we’re waiting for the clearance.

[Audio 8]

Here’s the last part of the approach briefing for the RNAV 18 approach. You can hear that I’m holding the pen in my teeth as I read through it. Basically, the approach is a capital T. We’re going to enter the T at the right-hand side of the crossbar, proceed along the crossbar to where it meets the stem, and then turn south and fly down the stem to the runway, which is at the bottom of the stem of the T.

We’re doing a “circle to land,” which is that you’d do if you were flying an approach to one runway but wanted to land on a different runway. You might do this for any number of reasons. You might be flying in from the north but the winds are howling out of the east, so you’d shoot an approach for Runway 18 and then circle around to land on Runway 9. Or Ukrainian terrorists could have taken over all of the navaids for all runways except for 18 (a la Die Hard 2), making it the only operational approach, even though you actually wanted to land on Runway 27.

In this case, we’re going to be flying south on the approach until we get within a mile of Runway 18, which is oriented north-south, and then we’re going to turn to the right and make a quarter circle before turning left to land eastbound on Runway 9. I get to look out the window for the circling part because we’re assuming that there’s at least a mile of visibility and, as long as I stay within a mile of the runway complex, I’d be able to see the runway upon which I intended to land.

[Audio 9]

Here’s where we go part techno-cool and part smartass. There’s a feature on the KLN 94 GPS unit that calculates the winds aloft. You tell the GPS your magnetic heading and true airspeed and it calculates the wind direction and speed based on your drift. I run the calculations, both because I actually want to know what the wind is doing up there so I can set up a good crab angle for the approach and because I want to show off how much I know about the GPS. If what I tell the GPS is correct, I’m going to have a crosswind at the initial altitude of close to 50 knots. Considering that my true airspeed is about 110 knots more or less out of the east and that I’ll be flying this approach more or less directly south, that’s a monster crosswind. Mary’s going to be looking at the runway almost out of her side window. I don’t get to look at the runway for another 10 or 15 miles and more than 1,000 vertical feet, so I don’t care just now.

Anyway, I report the winds aloft to the approach controller. She seems incredulous, but admits that surface winds are getting a little brisk, too.

[Audio 10]

If you’re following along on the approach charts, I’ve started the approach from the northeast initial approach fix on the “T”-shaped approach. That’s called “FIBIN.” No doubt named for somebody’s pet hamster. From there, I fly more or less directly west and reach the intersection of the “T” shape, which is called “JUBER.” I think I went to elementary school with that one’s namesake. From there, I turn more or less directly south to the final approach fix, “CODAG.” The next communication comes when I’m just short of CODAG – Five or six miles from the runway threshold and at 2,400 feet getting ready to descend to 1,280 feet.

Now it’s over to the tower. I’m cleared to complete the approach and to do my circle to land northwest of the airport and then I’m cleared for the option to Runway 9. It’s a good time to do my pre-landing checklist, so I get that out of the way.

[Audio 11]

I get down to the minimum circling altitude of 1,280 feet and, a mile out, Mary tells me that I can come out from under the hood and fly the rest of the approach. I’m flying this approach at speeds that place me as either a Category A or B aircraft, meaning that the circling minimums give me obstacle clearance 1.3 to 1.5 miles out from the airport. We’re pretending that visibility is one mile, so I’m keeping the airplane within that one mile.

I turn right and make a counterclockwise circuit a quarter of the way around the airport and then, when I’m on the extended centerline of Runway 9, Mary tells me to descend to the runway threshold and prepare to land. On a quarter-mile final, she’s satisfied that I could make the landing and tells me to bring the hood back down while she flies the airplane and becomes my eyes again.

I call up the tower and then departure and we start setting up for the next approach – The VOR for Runway 9. Note that both I and the controller are pretty busy and there’s a momentary misunderstanding about which approach is next. Obviously, we’re going for Runway 9 and not Runway 27 and we clear that up pretty quickly. Imagine shooting an approach for 27 at normal power settings with a 50-knot tailwind! Might get me a ground track of 140 knots inbound. Maybe good at Edwards Air Force Base, but not here at Flint.

Note that I give departure control my tower-assigned heading and altitude. This isn’t standard, but I often find that departure at Flint asks me for this information. I’ve gotten so that I provide it almost automatically. As long as the frequency isn’t jammed, I recommend proactively filling in any information that controllers at that facility tend to request. Flint handles a fair amount of airline traffic and there are bigger fish to handle than me. Anything I can do to help out the controller sort out and facilitate FLIBs like me I try to do.

[Audio 12]

So that’s the first part of the checkride. Join me in the second installment for a partial-panel VOR approach to Runway 9, getting kicked off the miss for lack of cloud clearance, the hold at the Pontiac VOR and the ILS approach for Runway 9R at Pontiac. And that little part about Korea.

Back to Your Regularly-Scheduled Airspeed with Aerobatic Pilot and Red Bull Air Racer Mike Goulian

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Mike Goulian’s family founded one of the largest flying schools in the Northeast, Executive Flyers Aviation (EFA) in 1964. Michael learned the aviation business from the ground up by washing airplanes and sweeping the hangar floor. Michael started flying lessons in 1984 and soloed a Cessna 150 on his 16th birthday. He started aerobatic training in 1985 while he was still a student pilot.

By age 22, he had become US National Champion in the Advanced Category. A year later he won the prestigious Fond du Lac Cup invitational competition and by 1992 he was the top ranked US male aerobatic pilot and Silver Medalist in the Unlimited Category, an achievement he repeated in 1993. His performance earned him a spot on the 1994 US National Aerobatic Team, which represented America at the World Aerobatic Championship held in Hungary. In 1995, Mike became the US National Champion in the Unlimited Category. He has been a member of the 1994, 1996, and 1998 US Aerobatic Teams.

Today, Mike performs at airshows across the country.
He flies and races in the Extra 300 SHP.

Empty weight: 1,290 lbs.
Engine: 350hp Thunderbolt Lycoming “Reno” IO-580
Construction: Carbon fiber wings and steel tube fuselage
Speeds: Top speed, 260 mph – stall speed, 60 mph
Roll rate: 380 degrees per second

G limits: Plus and Minus 10g

He also races overseas in the Red Bull Air Races.

We caught up with Mike this summer on the ramp at the Battle Creek Balloon Festival and Field of Flight Airshow this summer.

Thanks to Mike Goulian for taking some time out to talk to us here on Airspeed.

Mike is sponsored by Air BP’s Castrol Aviator brand of piston aviation oils, Aubuchon Hardware, Avidyne Corporation, Champion Aerospace, Hartzell, Lycoming, Oxford Aviation, Sennheiser, and Tempest.

Be sure to support Airspeed’s sponsor, Gleim, and use your special promotional code, “ASPD,” when ordering your Pilot Kit to get your 25% Airspeed discount!