Instrument Refresher (sort of!)

Had the afternoon off work today, so planned another flight with Reg as it seemed like a good idea! We had planned to go for another local bimble, heading out to the West to the Severn bridges, then North to Hereford and back via the ridge at Great Malvern. Sadly, the weather put paid to this, so we had to cancel the flight.

It seemed like the ideal opportunity to get some more IMC practice, so I gave Matt a call, and we arranged to meet at Lyneham later in the day. The plan was to head up into some cloud and just get a bit more experience of IMC conditions in case I ever meet them on my travels.

Typically, by the time we met at the Flying Club, there was barely a cloud in the sky! Matt had cancelled a Night flight with someone on the basis of the days earlier weather, so we were both a little disappointed at how the weather turned out!

Anyway, we decided to go for it anyway. The plan was for us to try to find some cloud to fly through, or failing that for me to fly with reference to the instruments in VMC, with Matt acting as Safety Pilot. Matt gave me a useful revision brief on Instrument Flight, including recovery from unusual attitudes while on instruments.

Lyneham were using runway 06 today, so this was also useful for me as I hadn’t yet used that runway. The taxy to the hold from the Flying Club is a fair old drag, crossing the entire airfield past the control tower. I think this is probably the longest time I’ve spent taxying in my (admittedly brief) flying career so far!

All checks at the hold were normal, and we were given our departure clearance, asking us to stay below 1500 feet until clear of the zone. The reason for this became clear as we rotated, with a Hercules returning into the visual circuit above us as we took off. We headed out to the North West, and still there wasn’t a cloud to be seen.

So, Matt had me drop my view to the instruments, and we revised the basic instrument flight that is covered as part of the PPL. I practiced some level rate 1 turns, as well as climbs and descents simulating climbing up out of cloud, or descending below it. Matt also used this time to demonstrate G-VICCs auto-pilot, which while relatively basic could come in useful on longer flights, or indeed if I ever did stray into cloud inadvertently.

Matt had me close my eyes as he took control, and he manoeuvred the aircraft around while doing this, before putting it into an ‘unusual’ attitude before giving me back control. During his briefing Matt had told me that the first reference instrument should this ever happen should be the ASI. If airspeed is decreasing, apply full throttle. If it’s increasing, pull the throttle to idle. Once this is done, reference is transferred to the Artificial Horizon, to first roll wings level, and finally sort out the pitch to get the nose back on the horizon. Once this is all done, power is then adjusted to cruise once the airspeed reaches its normal range.

For the first one, Matt put me in to a banked climb, so I first had to apply full throttle, before rolling wings level and lowering the nose to the horizon. I was a little keen reducing throttle back to the cruise before the airspeed had built back up again, but otherwise it was a good recovery. The next one was a banked descent, verging on a spiral dive. Recovery for this was almost the exact opposite, bringing the throttle back to idle to prevent excessive speed, before again rolling wings level and gently raising the nose back to the horizon. Finally the throttle is advanced back towards cruise setting as the airspeed decays back to the normal range.

After all this was finished, we spotted a small cloud out to the North West, so we headed towards this and repeated the basic exercises while actually in cloud. It only took us perhaps 5 seconds or so to fly through the cloud we found, but even in that short time it’s surprising just how easy it is for the body’s normal ‘balance’ mechanisms to convince you that you’re not flying as the instruments tell you. Also there was noticeable turbulence within the clouds, which means it’s more work keeping the aircraft flying straight and level. We flew straight and level once, then practiced 180 degree turns to head back out of the cloud, before calling it a day and heading back towards Lyneham.

Matt contacted ATC and asked if we could carry out an SRA (Surveillance Radar Approach). This is one method of approaching an airfield when in instrument conditions, and involves a very high workload on behalf of the Controller. It was the first time I had used it, so it was a useful exercise in what to expect should I ever need one for real.

In an SRA, the Controller guides the aircraft onto the extended centre line by passing heading changes to the pilot. Additionally the Controller will indicate when the descent should start, and then regularly pass new target heights as the aircraft approaches the field. I carefully followed the Controller’s instructions, although at one point he asked me to “Come left 3 degrees to heading 067”. To Matt I then responded “You’ll be lucky!” receiving an amused chuckle in response. At one point I allowed my height to get slightly below the ‘target’ given by the Controller, but a slight levelling off for a few seconds soon brought this back in.

At 600 feet we simulated breaking through the cloud base, and I looked up to see the runway virtually dead ahead of us (slightly to the left but now easy to correct and get back on the centre line) and I made a slightly high approach. I could pretend this was deliberate so that we didn’t have to coast down the entire length of the runway at taxying speed, but I wouldn’t be being strictly truthful!

There was a slight crosswind from the left, and as we got down below 200 feet we were experiencing noticeable wind shear, causing me to have to make frequent corrections to remain on the centreline. Matt asked if I was happy with the crosswind, to which I responded ‘Yep’ and continued on down. As we approached the runway I gently kicked off the crab using right rudder, and lowered the left wing to maintain the runway centre line. Down this low the wind shear had all but gone, and I made one of my best crosswind landings ever, gently touching down with virtually no sideways movement and pretty close to the centre line! Why is it my landings with Instructors sitting beside me always seem so much better than when I’m trying to impress a non-flying passenger?

We left the runway at the 18 loop (after Matt pointed out which exit this was!) and I made my ‘runway vacated’ call as we left the runway. Matt picked me up on this, saying I shouldn’t really do this until we passed the hold. Fair point, I must try to remember this in future. We taxyed back to the Flying Club and closed down, before refuelling and putting the aircraft to bed.

Despite the British weather doing its level best to spoil all my plans for today, I’d still had an enjoyable flight despite this. It had been useful in revising instrument flight techniques, and the experience of the SRA was definitely of value.

To cap an end to a sometimes frustrating day, a nice Polish lorry driver did his level best to take the left hand side of my car off at a roundabout in Swindon too! Well, they do say that the most dangerous part of flying is the journey to and from the airfield. Now I believe them!

Total flight time today: 0:50
Total flight time to date: 77:45

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One Response to “Instrument Refresher (sort of!)”

  1. Another local, another first time passenger « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] so Mark and I headed out to the aircraft to get away as quickly as possible. The planned route was one I was going to do with Reg when I last cancelled a flight, leaving Lyneham then heading initially to Malmesbury. From there, West to cross the Severn at the […]

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