I had a flight in the pouring rain and it felt wrong! Although we’re always under the most extreme IFR conditions in the sim, flying into it in real life takes guts. The rain was obscuring the runway centreline and getting stuck behind the square of anti-icing the windscreen has. After take-off we broke into the cloud, it was solid white all around, just like in the sim. At this point I was laughing from pure excitement, it was so different than any flying I’d done before. Really exciting though and you get an amazing view at the top when you break into the clear skies above. Who needs to see the ground anyway?
After what felt like 100 sims learning how to do ILS and NDBs, recapping holds which are a bit more complicated than those we did in America and getting familiar with check-lists and cockpit set ups we were ready to start practising full routes. The first route I did in the sim was to Coventry; notorious for being the shortest route and having a tricky missed approach, if you can handle Coventry you can handle any of the routes (I mean just look at their missed approach!)
I ended up messing up in the sim and turning the wrong way in the missed approach, “busting” Birmingham’s airspace and hoping I don’t do something like that in a real flight.
The basic profile was the same every flight, you’d flight to a different airfield; the closest being Coventry and the furthest being Bournemouth. You’d do a precision or a non-precision approach, then have an “engine failure” and have to divert, sometimes returning to Oxford, sometimes another airfield first to do a procedural approach. The way we did the flights built up these aspects really well and we weren’t doing the full profiles until the last couple of lessons before the test. There’s a lot more planning involved and I always backseated Josh so we often had nearly full days at the airport. My sim trace picture shows an ILS, all within limits the glideslope's good but I was oscillating on the localiser, you need only tiny rudder corrections to keep yourself central.
The flights could be scheduled for any time of day, meaning I was lucky enough to get a full night flight in as my take off time was about 17:30. This was in the week leading up to bonfire night and was a route down to Bournemouth to do an ILS before returning to Oxford. My instructor let me do the flight without the instrument hood and the view of flying through London’s airspace whilst fireworks were going off was absolutely incredible. I think of the entire course that was my favourite flight, although being in darkness does make reading the charts and approach briefing a little trickier but just having a hand-held torch to use.
We had a break in our training, the UK was being hit by multiple low pressure systems, so it was a pain going in and being told that you weren’t flying because storm Barney or Desmond (their names are cute) means the winds are out of limits. I had about 3 weeks of cancelled flights before finally being scheduled for PT6, the last internal flight test and a practice IR profile. I was so determined to get to fly that although the winds at holding altitude were pretty strong and the crosswind was on the limit, I still decided to go. What’s more, I had my favourite (not) route; Coventry. This one is tricky because it’s so short giving little time to set up and do the required checks in the cruise, you start getting the ATIS and giving a plate brief in the climb out of Oxford. I was expecting radar vectors to the ILS but once I started speaking to Coventry Approach I was told it would be procedural and to take up the hold. This I was not expecting and needed time to think about setting up the hold on my PFD and thinking through the procedure, the examiner told me I was over the beacon now so I ended up with a very messy hold entry and rushed procedure.
Battling the winds on the ILS was tough; it was so bumpy from the winds that I had to fight the plane to keep it within half-scale. I almost exceeded my altitude on the missed approach and we decided to do the engine failure drill after I was established on the missed approach, rather than on the initial go-around which is where we’d normally do it. It felt like such a stressful ILS and I didn't have much hope that I’d passed at this point. We continued the flight, engine failure drill and general handling were fine despite the high winds and diverted back to Oxford. Again, I had to enter the hold and do a procedure, my correction for the outbound of the hold was nearly 90 degrees to compensate and my track in the procedure was all over the place, meaning I couldn't begin descending until I was established within 5 degrees, this was really tough and I did start descending then went around into a low level circuit due to the decreasing cloud base (all of this was asymmetric). I went around on my first attempt to land as I was having difficulties with the crosswind; the examiner said he’d give me one more go before taking control. Luckily I landed the second attempt but it was tough.
I think this test was my worst flight to date; I didn't enjoy it at all and felt like I was battling the plane rather than controlling it. I partialled, surprisingly on the NDB and not the ILS which I felt didn't go so well. I learnt a lot from this experience, mostly about my own wind limits and to not be too eager to fly if conditions are marginal. I got some great feedback though in the debrief and knew exactly what I needed to do for my re-test, which would just be a departure and NDB at Oxford, about 20 minutes of flight time. I still felt awful, it really knocks your confidence to have a poor flight, especially this close to my real exam. My flight partner and house mate were both really positive though and talked things over with me, that helped and I love how everyone here understands and knows what you’re going through.
The re-test was absolutely fine, I absolutely nailed the NDB and the ILS is the part I'm worried about in the actual IR test.
Before the IR you also need to complete a VFR radio test (haven’t flown VFR in a while…) and do a partial panel/unusual attitude recovery sim. I passed both with flying colours and had one flight left with my instructor before my IR. We decided to just practice an NDB and an ILS here at Oxford as I was fine with the navigation, radio and entering controlled airspace parts of the route. Most people fail on account of the ILS which takes a lot of concentration and becomes more and more sensitive the closer you are to the ground, so I was determined to show Alan I could do this. This also ended up being a night flight but I really enjoy those and as a last flying lesson it went really well...We touched down after the final approach which was asymmetric and as we were on the landing roll my ‘live’ engine cut out, thankfully we were already on the ground! That was fun to experience and Alan said I took it “like a man”. I just glanced over and was like “Oh, the right engine’s failed”. We taxied off the runway on one engine and then got it towed over to maintenance. With the mission objectives all complete, Alan informed Ops that I was ready for my IR.