The plan for today – instrument approach signoff
My target today was to get signoff on an instrument approach. I’ve done quite a few of these, and have been lucky enough at Lyneham to have had the opportunity of PAR (Precision Approach Radar – a talkdown by ATC typically only available at military airfields) as well as SRA, NDB and ILS methods. The only type I haven’t done is GPS, but that’s fairly limited in the UK and also requires special equipment in the aircraft. However none of these has been signed off by the instructor in my logbook – some wouldn’t have been good enough for a signoff, but I’m sure several (especially the PAR and SRA which are pretty easy – you just follow the instructions from ATC) could have qualified. For the IMC exam, you must either show that you have done a different type of approach than the one performed during the exam or the exam will need to include two types. Achieving this would also be a sign that I was making real measureable progress and getting closer to being test ready.
A false early start
It was another early start – my first lesson was booked for 9am in Oxford which meant leaving the house around 7am. When I got there however, the weather had closed in and the cloudbase was somewhere around 800 feet – those in the clubhouse were kicking their heels and thinking that it wouldn’t be a busy day. Although it was legally possible to fly in these conditions, my instructor didn’t like operating in less than 1500 feet just in case anything went wrong. So we had a bit of groundschool and went through the plan for the day thoroughly including a bit of recap.
EB was keen for us to do some partial panel work, especially recoveries. I explained that I was keen to work on the approach and really would like to get this signed off, rather than just do lots of holding patterns. He pointed out that a hold might well come up in the exam and I’d need to be able to demonstrate these – clearly he didn’t want to put me in for test until he thought I had mastered the syllabus. He felt that he had taught me the full course – “there is nothing new to teach you” – and that it was really a case of mastering the techniques through practice.
The cloud lifts and we are off
Shortly after 10, we rang the tower to ask for an update and heard a incoming pilot report cloudbase of 1800 feet. Explaining that we would get a traffic radar service from Brize once airbourne, EB said it was time to go. We quickly started up and taxied out for departure, remembering to do the instrument checks on the way (compasss, DI, turn indicator, slip indicator, ADF). I tested the brakes and asked him to do so also – he spotted that the right hand brake was a little down (not a major problem) – and that when testing brakes it’s a good idea to consider doing these separately.
Departing on the (unofficial) Daventry instrument departure as explained on my last IMC lesson, I intercepted and tracked the NDB outbound to the set distance and then tracked the Daventry VOR, checking the DME on both to ensure I was in the right place. This went pretty well, with EB talking to Brize and getting a traffic service. We conducted some partial panel work, including recoveries – the only aspect EB wanted to repeat was the recovery from a base turn configuration, but overall he was happy with my performance. We were in real IMC for much of the time, which is a slightly different feel from just wearing a hood/foggles. WIth Foggles you can still tell that there is some ground down below even if you can’t see the horizon or identify where you are. With cloud, its all completely surreal and closed in and you are absolutely reliant on instruments (which is the whole point of the IMC course).
We did some more ADF tracking, climbing and descending, and EB could see an improvement there. My biggest mistake on the sortie was the position fix, which I initially had almost right – using the VOR and DME – but stupidly interpreted the course incorrectly. I was getting a bit tired by then and so we decided to return.
We returned “straight in” and picked up the ILS which I tracked almost all the way down to the ground. EB reminded me that once you are visual, you should ignore the ILS and switch to “VFR flying mode”. I was pleased with how close I had been able to track the ILS once acquired. EB commented that once you have declared to ATC that you have acquired the localiser, it is an exam failure point if it then goes out by more than 1/2 full scale deflection.
Second sortie of the day
My second slot was booked for 12, and I was asked if I could manage a further sortie with just 10-15 minutes break. Although the alternative was a slot at 4:30pm, I said that I needed a longer break to recover. Fortunately, the club was able to contact and ask another student to swap slots which meant I could take a 1 hour break and then continue.
Crash, bang wallop
The second slot was to run through the Oxford NDB/DME 100 procedure, with enough time to do so twice, with a view to getting this signed off by the instructor. The pressure was on. We ran through the usual checks at the hold and were just about to call ready for departure, when I looked up and saw another school PA28 coming in to land for a touch and go. It landed on the nosewheel, then bounced hard two or three times, each time higher but slower. I saw a wheel flying through the air and realised it was the nosewheel which had broken off. The aircraft ground to a halt shortly along the runway. The pilot – a student from the same school who had been up with an instructor earlier and was now solo – called the tower to say she was unhurt, and then switched off and evacuated. My instructor wasn’t sure quite what to do – this had not happened before – and we shut down, got out and went over to check she was OK.
A minute or so later, two very large fire engines appeared on the scene and the firemen went through their standard drill. One of the benefits of operating from a larger airport is that facilities like this are on hand if you really need them. We were told to leave the area and returned to our aircraft, which we taxied back to parking. The pilot was driven back to the school and debriefed, clearly unscathed if a little shocked by the event.
I have to say full marks to the school, who were keen to get her flying again as soon as possible so she will get over it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to do so today, but I hope she returns and regains her confidence soon.
An alternative runway available
We saw a twin engine plane land on the cross runway 29, and called the tower to ask if we could use it. Once in the aircraft and requesting taxi, the tower approved us to taxi to the hold and cheekily reminded us they were down to one runway. With a crosswind takeoff on a shorter runway, I used one stage of flaps to ensure we were off more quickly. After departure we climbed and went through the 100 NDB/DME procedure twice, including once round the hold each time.
I thought my ADF tracking was a lot better than in previous sessions, and EB commented that my height keeping was also very much improved than before although still far from perfect. The hold took a little longer than the 3 minutes it ideally takes – 3:30 the first time and 3:20 the next. EB reminded me that the hold time isn’t 4 minutes, it’s 3 for the outbound/turn and inbound legs combined. The target is 3 minutes for that – starting from when you are abeam the beacon (as shown on the NDB) or wings level after the turn (whichever is later), and I should have reduced the outbound leg by a few more seconds to improve the next iteration.
After the sortie, we were able to land on runway 19 – the crashed aircraft had already been cleared and the runway was open again.
Success and progress at last
On the debrief, EB said he was happy to sign off the approach in my logbook which I was very pleased to achieve. He proposed that my next lesson should be a general refresher and go through any points I was unsure about, with the IMC test to follow ideally on the same day. I’ve booked this up for later in the month. Paul, one of the school managers, mentioned that one of their IMC test candidates had completed an ILS approach and expected to land, but had not been prepared for the go-around which the examiner then asked for, resulting in a test failure – quietly reinforcing that I should be fully prepared for such an event and really know the approach plate in detail. After all, this could easily happen in real life for any number of reasons. Something I will certainly be studying and practicing on the simulator before next time.
Overall I’m much more pleased with progress today now that the end of the course is in sight.