Sunday, 1 May 2016

Instrument Rating - Passed!

The day is here, I'm the first of Alan’s students to be taking the test so I feel like a bit of a guinea pig, I'm also the first flight of the day so although that means I have an early start and need to A check the plane, there’s not too much time for the nerves to settle in. I also wanted to get there super early to make sure I did all the planning perfectly.
  •        Weather checked (METARS and TAFS)
  •          NOTAMS
  •          AIPS
  •          Flight Plan filed
  •          Nav log and route map done
  •          Mass and Balance done
  •          Aircraft checked out (Full A check)
  •          Documents signed

I have a briefing with the examiner at 0800 and he goes through the profile of the flight. He seems really friendly which puts me at ease straight away. The weather isn't looking too great; the cloud is low, though still above minimums and the wind is strong (though not as strong as on my PT and it’s straight down the approach as opposed to across it). I decide to go and get it over with, my route is down to Bournemouth, which I've only been to at night time but I'm so glad, as it’s the longest route there’s plenty of time to get set up during the cruise.

I'm allocated the call sign ‘Exam18’, I need to remember this as it’s different than my usual ‘Oxford 54’ though I am told that ATC are a lot more helpful when they hear the word exam. The examiner gives me 10 minutes to get in the plane, and do the before start checks. All that’s going through my head is “this is it”. Once we start taxiing and I give my first "Exam18" call to tower I feel much better, I'm doing the same thing I've done pretty much every day over the past 6 months. The departure out from Oxford goes smoothly and ATC are helpful; I get my clearance into the A airway early so that’s one less thing to worry about…then my airspeed and manifold pressure start to drop.

Having simulated icing in the simulator many times I acknowledged it early and did the de-icing checks. As I'm wearing the hood I cannot look myself at the wings or stabilator so have to ask the examiner to check for icing, usually this is done every 10 minutes during the cruise when in IMC and low temperatures. However, the problem doesn't feel sorted so I ask him more and more frequently, eventually he just tells me to check myself as the icing is building up pretty fast, we were in moderate icing. Thankfully, I keep on top of it and the cloud clears as we approach Southampton. The examiner tells me not to do any more icing checks and I'm relieved. Bournemouth ATC is also really helpful and starts radar vectoring me early so I start thinking about the ILS. In my head, I'm thinking if I can do a good ILS then I’ll pass, I'm a lot happier with the NDB approach back at Oxford.

(Thank you Lucas for the flight radar trace of my exam! Although it says East Midlands, it's definitely Bournemouth) 

It’s windy around Bournemouth but feels mostly headwind and this drags out the ILS to the low minimum altitude. I aced it, the localiser and glideslope deviation bars barely moved and I was so proud of myself, the go-around and engine failure drill felt like second nature. The examiner took control as he needed to find a break in the clouds for general handling. Luckily we found one and managed a few manoeuvres before diverting home to Oxford. I got the hold entry I was expecting and was cleared to proceed outbound “whenever I was ready”. 

The asymmetric procedural NDB was fine, conscious of remaining within the 5 degree margin before descending as my PT6 had taught me. However, the cloud base was rapidly dropping and about a mile before minimums I had to request a low altitude circuit of 800 feet (super low compared to the usual 1500 feet). However, being an exam I was granted it and finally got around to land. I was absolutely exhausted at this point and just wanted to get on the ground, hence my landing wasn't my best or smoothest.

Once parked back on the apron the examiner turned to me and said “Your landing was a bit rough” Oh no. “Yes, I'm so sorry….”
“Do you promise never to do that again?”
“Of course, sir!”
“Good, then you've passed!”

He was toying with me and started laughing. I was so relieved. The whole thing had gone so well, I did get some pointers in the debrief and he could tell I’d never experienced icing before but said I handled it pretty well. He also said he was impressed with how I handled the strong winds at Bournemouth (again, thank you PT6 for teaching me how to deal with the wind!). Feeling triumphant I stayed around the school being congratulated, I even got a hug off Alan, and waiting for the other guy to come in who’d just done his IR as well. He had to finish his early due to the low cloud base preventing him from doing the asymmetric circuit, I landed just in time. This also means my instrument flying phase is over and I get a nice break over the Christmas period before starting the MCC in the New Year. I went home that evening and surprised my parents as I was done ahead of schedule and so ecstatic that I'd passed it! 

My Dutch course mates had already finished theirs and do the MCC in Holland which is a shame, saying bye to them was sad and AP365 now only had 3 members left.