Passed the IMC Skills Test

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After 6 months of training and having completed the full IMC syllabus twice (at different flying schools), I was getting to the stage where I just wanted to finish this off.

Weather initially looked dubious

The weather at home wasn’t good – dark clouds and impending rain. A quick look at the weather report for Oxford showed winds from the North – giving me some concern that the airport would be using runway 01 (which doesn’t have an ILS nor allow training instrument approaches due to confliction with Brize Norton airspace). However a quick call to the flying school confirmed they were still landing on 19 because the surface winds were so calm.

The 90 minute drive to Oxford took me through changing weather including some nice sunny patches. I was in a very much better frame of mind than the previous day and more hopeful of being able to take the test.

On arrival, the examiner, who I’d met the previous day, was at pains to put me at ease.

Test went according to plan

I won’t do through the test procedure in great detail, except to say that all the required elements were run through including full and partial panel, tracking, position fixing and returning by tracking the ILS. After such extensive training, a lot of this seemed second nature and it didn’t catch me out. I was very pleased with how closely I tracked the approach which we continued down to 200 feet so I could see how it would look (on the clear understanding that this isn’t the minima that an IMC pilot should consider using).

I believe that the main criteria the examiner was looking for was whether I could safely fly on instruments and follow radar vectors to an ILS (or similar approach aid) for a let down should I get into trouble. It didn’t feel that he was checking to see if I was at the level of a full instrument rating quite yet. My instructor had been very thorough and patiently covered almost every eventuality of what could come up during the test, so this put me in good shape to meet the test standard.

Nonetheless, I feel I did deserve to pass and would be confident of flying safely in IMC, although I’m not intending to go looking for trouble.

What this entitles me to do

The rating permits me (in UK airspace) to fly out of sight of the surface, in or above clouds, (outside controlled Class A/B/C airspace) which is pretty much most of where I’d want to go.
I would be allowed to take off with a cloudbase as low as 600 feet and a runway visual range of 1800 metres
It doesn’t allow me to fly in clouds in Class A/B/C airspace (although the permitted minimum visibility is reduced) or in Airways.

In practice, this means if it’s a cloudy day I could choose to fly above the clouds to get somewhere and land at  (non-major) airport with instrument approach. This will mean I could decide to go flying on days where previously it would have seemed marginal – someone said it increased their “dispatch rate” from 50 to 75%. You still wouldn’t go if there was bad weather (heavy rain, fog, strong winds) or a low cloudbase – although it might be legally permitted, it’s nice to know you have some height when breaking out of the clouds before landing if your engine conks out.

A long slog

In total, my IMC training has taken 31 hours of dual instruction of which 24 hours instrument time. Probably a record!! (the minimum time is 15 hours, which is achievable). In part this was down to a range of factors – change of instructors (I had four), difficulty scheduling training slots (after a days work wasn’t a good idea), changing to a different school (which takes time for them to assess you) and a new airfield (learning a new set of aids/procedures).

My licence rating application form and logbook will be posted out to the CAA tomorrow – I can’t officially use the rating until they send me it back in print – and I will be asking around for other pilots in the club to share some IMC practice with me.

The main thing is to keep in practice so that it won’t catch me out should I need to use it for real.

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