IMC Training Day #11: Back to basics

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Another new flying school

With weekend flying no longer available from Lyneham and more IMC training required, I chose Pilot Flight Training at Oxford to bring me up to scratch. With comprehensive instrument approach facilities, training school with PA28s (which I’m used to) and reasonable prices, this seemed a good choice. The downside being a 90 minute car trip each way. It wasn’t an easy decision and I serious considered both Gloucester (I ruled them out because its so busy at weekends, and I thought fitting in instrument approaches at peak times in uncontrolled airspace might be quite awkward/inefficient) and Compton Abbas (partly because they don’t have any navaids/instrument approaches themselves and partly because details of their IMC training is a bit low key – however, I learnt just last week that they are running a specific IMC training program and have quite a few interested).

Security at Oxford Airport on arrival took me a bit by surprise. You have to sign in and get a visitors badge at the barrier, then drive to the carpark (free at weekends) and walk through to the school. I walked past the smart Oxford Aviation building and round to the Pilot Flight Training  office. It has a great view of the airfield including their parking spot.

Some new techniques explained on the ground

After filling in a membership form and discussing how best to proceed with the school manager, I was introduced to my instructor – EB – short for Ebrahim. I explained that I particularly needed brushing up on ADF tracking, but clearly the new school would need to check what level I was at and work out a way forward. Hearing that I had had difficulty with ADF tracking, he introduced me to a couple of new techniques for calculating the effect of drift using the VOR dial (not using it directly as a navigation aid).

Max drift (for a PA28) is typically 2/3rd of the windspeed in degrees. i.e. if the wind is blowing at 30 knots, then the max drift would be 20 degrees. For anything 45 degrees offset or more, then apply max drift. Use the VOR dial (ignore what the instrument reading is) by setting it to the current course and visualising where the wind is coming from. Drop down to the horizontal scale to see how much drift there is (and from which side), and look horizontally across to estimate how much headwind or tailwind component.

We also discussed use of the RMI vs RBI. Different instructors had taught me about rotating the compasss card on the ADF instrument. Some prefer to leave it permanently at zero, others to align with the DI (Direction Indicator). If you leave it at zero, then it’s an Remote Bearing Indicator (RBI), but if you always rotate the card to align with the DI, then it’s a (manual) Remote Magnetic [heading] Indicator (RMI). Although you do have to remember to rotate the card before every time you change heading, this takes out some of the mental calculation involved at the time. As EB said, when under stress flying in IMC, anything you can do to reduce workload and opportunity for errors help tremendously.

A sharp getaway

He booked us out and we jumped in. The aircraft was a PA28 Cherokee 151. Although equipped for IFR – ADF, VOR, DME were all present – it had a few differences from the PA28 Warriors I’m used to. A turn indicator rather than a turn co-ordinator. Perhaps the biggest was the trim control, which is in the roof – a windy handle similar to that for a sunroof in a 1960’s car – this will take a bit of getting used to. No heading bug on the DI.

Taking off from runway 19, EB pointed out the villages and limits of airspace (its’s close to both Brize and Hinton-on-the-Hedges). On the with foggles (these were completely black, rather than the “frosted glass” style I’ve used before) and onto the instruments. This is where I realised the AI was a different format to others I’ve used – few horizontal lines to work with, but there was a mark to show where a rate 1 turn would be.

General Handling

We then ran through some straight and level, climbs and turns followed by recoveries all under full panel. I thought this went reasonably well, but certainly wasn’t perfect. I can’t say I figured out the trim control particularly well after being used to a wheel. A couple of times I had to ask EB to remind me what target heading or height he had asked me for – I think I had previously got used to setting this using the heading bug and being able to refer to it. My short term memory must be failing me when there are other things to keep track of.

After what seemed like an hour we moved on to position fixing using the VOR. Well actually EB said I could use any of the instruments available. I chose to do a VOR cross fix, which with only one working VOR meant tuning/identing two different frequencies. Not being familiar with the area and not being exactly sure of my location, I picked two without a great intercept angle. EB pointed out I should have used a combination of VOR and DME for best accuracy.

ADF Tracking

We moved on to some ADF tracking at this point. I can’t recall when exactly in the sequence of different tasks EB suggested I remove the foggles, but it was after an hour of instrument time. We ran through using the technique he’d explained earlier to handle the drift and I thought I’d got this straight in my head. For simple tracking inbound and outbound, this worked OK, but I was still unsure at times about a couple of aspects and will need further revision on it. It all seems so straightforward when using the PC simulator, then goes to pieces when in the air.


Returning back to Oxford, I had read that the circuit height was 1200 feet. I made the call to join left downwind but read back the QNH they gave me as QFE, which was wrong. They use QNH exclusively at Oxford, which means you land when the altimeter shows around 300 feet. I’ve never done this before, always using QFE, so my initial approach was a little high (well that’s my excuse anyway). EB suggested I use the PAPIs to ensure I was on the right glidepath and effectively aim to land between them, rather than on the numbers. Unlike other PA28 schools, I was encouraged to land with only 2 stages of flap. Pulled back in the hold off for a fairly gentle landing, albeit lacking quite enough left rudder so wasn’t as aligned as I should have been. The 7 knot crosswind meant it wasn’t a problem.


Taxied all the way down to the end of the runway, no intermediate exitway here, and round to the grass parking area outside the school. After the usual checks, put the covers on – they have separate wing covers here, not just the bodyframe cover found elsewhere – and retired to the base. EB suggested I prepare for some holds for next time. We’ll be doing these overhead the Westcott VOR or similar elsewhere, but using the pattern in the Oxford approach plates. He also encouraged me to revise the ADF material again, and practice on the PC simulator. There will also be some partial panel work, but sounds like we won’t move on to the instrument approaches until after that.

I’ve joined the club on their 3 month membership, which I hope should be enough to see me complete the IMC. It was a bit of a shock paying “standard” club rates for IMC training, having become used to the low costs at Lyneham.  There’s a premium for IMC instruction, but the hourly rate is still competitive with other schools I’ve been to. Before I had looked at Oxford as an option, I had expected there to be quite a price premium. It used to be the busiest airfield in the UK (busier than Heathrow) when measured by number of aircraft movements, until much of the professional pilot training moved offshore a few years ago. As elsewhere, instrument approaches will be extra – Oxford charge 18 pounds each including VAT – but at least there are no extra charges for standard landings or circuits. Visitors are charged a quite reasonable 10 pounds at weekends with free parking for cars.

Booked up a couple of further sessions. Was unable to book two in the same day (eg morning and afternoon) due to the relatively short notice. While it seems a bit of a waste of a full day which could be used for a decent landaway, the drive to/from Oxford means I should be in better shape to benefit from the training. We discussed how much more training I might need to get up to test standard. I’d have to agree that it would be difficult to give an accurate estimate, especially since I haven’t demonstrated all the aspects of the skills test and still am not fully familiar with the procedures or arrangements at Oxford. I think the most important thing now is to try and stick with the same instructor and airfield for consistency unless there is a strong reason not to.

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