Instrument lesson!

Well, I flew a bunch this past weekend and Monday and got behind on blog entries. So I will be doing these out of order. First comes Sunday’s flight: my first instrument lesson in the Cardinal! Of course, for my private pilot I needed to do three hours of instrument flight training and this was in a 172. But it has been over a year since that time. I also picked up 0.7 of simulated instrument time in a Cessna Cutlass (172RG) after obtaining my complex endorsement but this was more of a quick refresher of the basic instrument skills learned during primary training than a real instrument lesson.

I scheduled two hours on Sunday morning with Air Direct Airways CFII Doug Gale. I haven’t flown with Doug before but I know he has a lot of experience including Mooneys. I don’t think he had been in a Cardinal before and I also got to show off some of the unique features like the excellent wide doors and good visibility. Independent of the instrument lesson it was nice to fly with a different instructor. It has been around 40 hours since I last flew with an instructor and it was also a good validation that I haven’t been developing any bad habits.

First I met with Doug upstairs for some briefing. We discussed the general progression of instrument training and some resources to read up on. For a view limited device I brought my own pair of Blockalls which I received for Christmas last year. These are a bit different from the “foggle” style in that the blocking portion is dark. I like this a bit better since my eyes are pretty light sensitive and in bright sunlight you cannot easily wear sunglasses on top/under the foggles. They also feature an offset viewable portion which works better for someone in the left seat.

Demonstrating the Blockalls (at home in a self picture).

Doug also quizzed me on the various instruments which I was fully familiar with. As we went outside and completed the preflight inspection Doug showed me some additional critical things to check before any IFR flight including the pitot heat. When we checked the Garmin 430’s self test screen there was one problem to note. The self test is supposed to show the glideslope needle halfway deflected up but it was not deflected. I’ll be looking into this before we get to any ILS approaches.

It was brutally hot as we taxied out although fortunately the humidity was low – temperature 29, dewpoint 14! This is very dry for summer. With the dry air there were no clouds to block the sun from hitting the ground and it was quite bumpy as we climbed and I put on my blockalls. Doug had me continue the climb up to 4500 feet and I leveled there. The bumps got worse including one that would definitely be categorized as “moderate” turbulence – Doug hit his head lightly on the ceiling, I strained against the seat belt, and his headset slipped off his head a bit. Flying on instruments in this was definitely going to be a workout!

At least it was cooler higher up, a comfortable 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Sweating under the Blockalls I started with straight and level then turns to various headings and a 360 degrees turn. Next came climbs to 5000 feet then descending back down to 4500. The updrafts and downdrafts we kept moving in and out of made it difficult, but Doug said I was doing great. Altitudes were within 200 feet and headings within 5 or 10 degrees typically. This is actually pretty good for someone with my level of instrument experience, and Doug said he thinks I will not have any big problems working towards more instrument flying.

We ended with unusual attitude recovery under the hood. The involves me closing my eyes while the instructor pilot puts the plane into an unusual attitude – for example, nose high and turning left, or nose low and turning. Eventually he tells me to open my eyes and recover. The goal is to recover to straight and level flight without any reference to the outside world. For a nose high attitude the procedure is to got to full power, pitch down, level the wings. For a nose low attitude the procedure is to go to idle power, level the wings, THEN pitch up. This prevents a dangerous spiral if you pull to attempt to stop the dive without leveling the wings.

Between the heat and the bumps I let Doug know I was ready to be done after the unusual attitude recovery and he directly me back towards Nashua. I finally took the Blockalls off for a visual approach in to Nashua. Unfortunately due to the weather the winds were a crosswind gusting to 18 knots. With that wind and being stressed, overheated, and tired from the instrument flying I made a landing that I was less than overjoyed about but was safe and remarkably close to the center line.

We pushed the plane back (after taxiing back with Doug holding his door open) and headed in to do a post flight briefing. Doug was impressed with my instrument flying skills for someone who has had little above the bare minimum required for the private pilot primary training. He noted that my instrument flying was well within the standards required on the private pilot practical test indicating my skills hadn’t deteriorated much at all in the past year. Doug thinks this will be a relatively easy rating for me especially since I have a lot of experience dealing with ATC in the Boston Bravo airspace and using flight following. The biggest thing to work on will be speeding up my scan, keeping it consistent, and avoiding fixation.

Before taking this instrument lesson I admit I was a bit nervous about the instrument rating. You can’t easily practice instrument flying by yourself (you need a safety pilot to look outside at the minimum). But I’ve tried to be disciplined about staying on headings and altitudes in the Cardinal flying VFR and I think this has translated nicely.

In other news, this lesson marked my 50th hour of flying time in N52667. It has been a joy seeing my flying skills improve during this time and I am excited to take my flying to the next level of safety and capability with the instrument rating. Wish me luck!