Saturday, June 28, 2008

Flight Plan for the Ride

I described a flight test recently and what I didn't include was a measure of the artificiality

of the flight test scenario compared to real life IFR. While there are some pilots who are making

very short hop flights in busy airspace, and you might follow a missed approach with a different

approach to the same facility, typically real life gives you quite a length of time between after

takeoff checks and setting up for the approach. The flight test is an artificial situation where the

cruise portion of a typical flight is pretty much eliminated. This, combined with the stress of a

test, makes it much more intense.

Most examiners have a little routine that they follow. They aren't secret routines: they'll

typically tell you what they are going to ask for at the time you book the ride. They want you to do

well, and knowing the parameters of the artificial situation gives you the opportunity to prepare.

Flying a trip like that "cold" can be very challenging. A friend gave me one such trip to fly in the

simulator. It had a missed approach followed by an approach to an airport almost in line to the

missed and I was laughing at how frantically I had to work to get up and down and on the glideslope

of the second runway.

Pilots flying out of a particular airport have local knowledge tricks that can help. For example,

maybe tracking inbound on this NDB there is a shoreline effect that means if you seem to be right

on, you will lose the track crossing the shoreline about two miles before the beacon. Maybe there is

no DME to this VOR, but if you have DME hold on for this other VOR, not involved in the procedure,

station passage will be at 20.7 DME. Maybe that yellow silo is exactly 2.2 nm from the threshold, so

stay inside it during your circling approach. It helps to know the typical holds you'll be given,

even when they aren't published holds.

I now know the routines of a few different examiners in a few different provinces, but I thought

it would be fun to know more. I have a request. Send me (e-mail, please) the typical "IFR Flight Test" route

assigned where you fly, or where you did your last renewal. People in other countries can play too, but I might have outdated plates and not know the local regulations. I think in the USA private pilots don't have to renew their IFR ratings, so they might not have done a flight test in a long time.

I'm going to fly these routes in Microsoft Flight Simulator with minimal preparation, tell you all the ways I screwed up, then try them again until I do them perfectly and come up with hints. I'll have a good way to test my skills on down days at work, and we'll eventually develop a database of hints for likely flight tests.

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