IMC Renewal

After regaining currency on my last flying trip, it seemed like my next goal should be to renew my IMC rating. I managed to arrange a day off work at short notice (to take advantage of a favourable weather forecast) and tied up with Roger (the CFI at Lyneham Flying Club) to carry out the test. The Club’s IMC equipped Warrior was in for maintenance, but Roger was happy to carry out the test in the Arrow, with a handy bonus that it would also reset my Arrow currency in the same flight.

Roger managed to gain approval to carry out an ILS into Brize, and was happy to use one of the two approaches from our last flight in the Arrow back in April as the other required procedure. I carried out all the planning at home, marking out the plates for both 08 and 26 as the wind forecast was almost 90 degrees across the runway. I took my time calculating an appropriate DA and DH for both approaches, referring back to the ‘Thom’ book on Instrument Flying to refresh my memory as to the means of calculating these. Weather and NOTAMs showed nothing that would particularly affect us, so I headed off to Kemble in good time, arriving around 15 minutes before the booking time.

Roger gave me a thorough brief before the flight, working through the various manoeuvres that would be required. These basically amounted to:

  • Straight and level flight on partial panel
  • Climbing and descending on partial panel
  • Turns onto a specific heading on partial panel
  • Recovery from unusual attitudes (sustained 45 degree turn, steep descending turn, approach to the stall) on partial panel
  • Let down and approach to DH / MDH
  • Missed approach
  • Bad weather circuit
  • Landing

I questioned a few aspects of the test, and once we were happy we’d covered everything, I completed a basic PLOG (containing the frequencies and morse code idents I’d need) and we headed out to the Arrow to prepare for the flight.

It was helpful to have two people checking out the aircraft, Roger carrying out the external checks of the electrical items and then taking samples from the 3 fuel drains while I completed the remainder of the walk around. It was a relatively brisk morning, and I was glad to be able to complete it in less time than usual as a result. We then settled ourselves in the cockpit, and ran through the checklist to get the engine running once start clearance had been gained from the FISO.

While taxying I checked the brakes and then all the required instruments in turns (AI level, wings left, ball right, compass, DI and ADF reducing – and repeat for a turn to the right). Roger later pointed out that I hadn’t actually identified the NDB. At the time I had not done this as I knew I wouldn’t be using the ADF for anything other than to prove that it was indicating correctly, but Roger later said that he would have preferred me to identify it before using it. Kemble were operating on runway 08, but we were cleared to backtrack the runway to carry out the checks on the North Apron. During these we experienced some plug fouling (this had been noted in the tech log) and this required running the engine at 2400 RPM for a minute or two to clear. Once we were happy that the engine would run smoothly on both individual sets of magnetos, I completed the power checks and pre-departure actions (including an emergency brief) as quickly as possible in order to prevent this from happening again.

We were cleared straight on to the runway and I backtracked to the threshold in order to use the full length available. After a quick check of the engine indications, I applied power and then turned on the fuel pump, landing light and wing strobes (something I’d managed to omit before taking to the runway). The take off roll and rotation all went well, and I set course to the South to head towards Lyneham to carry out the initial portion of the test. Once we reached 3000 feet (perhaps climbing slower than I really should have) I went under the hood, and Roger had me carry out a few turns, climbs and descents on full panel in order to get myself settled before beginning the main part of the test.

Roger covered up the AI and DI, simulating a failure of the aircraft’s vacuum system. This left me with the altimeter, VSI and turn / slip indicator as the only means of maintaining control of the aircraft. We began with a timed turn which initially went well, the first turn bringing me to within around 30 degrees of the required heading. I made a small slip when beginning the second attempt to reach the heading, beginning to turn the wrong way due to misinterpreting the compass. However, I caught this quickly (receiving a ‘well spotted’! from Roger) and the second attempt brought us to within 10 degrees of the heading. After a short final turn we were then on the required track. The required standard is that within around 60 seconds of the completion of the initial turn, the heading should have stabilised to within 15 degrees of the heading specified.

We repeated this with a turn to the left, and again this required a couple of small corrections after the initial turn, but on the whole I felt that this had gone better than it had on previous time I’d been required to demonstrate this. We then moved on to climbing and descending on partial panel, and again I managed these aspects of the flight better than I recall doing on previous occasions.

Roger then took control and had me look inside, carrying out some turns and climbs in order to attempt to disorient me. He then put the aircraft into a series of unusual attitudes and had me recover from these. These all went relatively well, although the recovery from the approach to the stall was perhaps a little slow, and I had to catch myself from adjusting the bank of the aircraft before I had got the airspeed back up sufficiently.

This completed the initial portion of the test profile, and Roger removed the covers from the AI and DI, and I settled myself back on full panel and oriented myself with respect to Brize Norton using the ADF and distance reading on the 430. I called them to request vectors to the ILS approach into runway 26, and the Controller began to give me headings to steer followed by a descent from our current altitude of nearly 6000 feet down to the ‘platform’ height of 2800 feet. I initially began this descent at 500 feet per minute, but it soon became clear that I needed to descend quicker than this in order to lose the required height in time. I made the mistake of attempting to get the ATIS (a recorded announcement giving airfield and weather information) after making the initial call to the Controller, when I should really have done this first. This meant I had to keep turning off the ATIS when the Controller was giving me instructions, meaning it took several attempts to get the full details.

As we approached platform height we entered cloud, meaning that the approach proper was mostly flown in ‘actual’ IMC. While good practice, I could probably have done without the increased turbulence brought on by this when carrying out a test for the renewal of my IMC rating! The Controller soon instructed us to continue our descent to 2300 feet, and began giving us headings to steer to intercept the localiser. Following Roger’s previous advice, I was taking care to set the heading bug on the DI as soon as a heading was given in order to use this to refer to. In hindsight, I should have written down the altitudes I was cleared to, as when cleared to 2300 I initially responded ‘descend altitude 2000’, before correcting myself with ‘correction, altitude 2300’. I’m not sure the Controller heard me correct myself, as he then repeated the instruction highlighting my mistake, but it was good to see that this required readback had highlighted a possibly misinterpretation, and the Controller had taken care to ensure I had correctly understood the instruction.

The Controller turned us to intercept the localiser, clearing us for the approach and asking me to report when established. I then began to include the ILS indication into my scan, watching for it starting to move so that I could turn to align myself with the runway track. However, I obviously wasn’t checking frequently enough, as between two checks the needle had gone from full-scale deflection to the right, to almost centred. Realising I’d left the turn too late, I resisted the urge to turn sharply to intercept (a mistake I’d made on previous occasions – when flying on instruments all turns should be made as standard ‘Rate 1’ turns). I set up a 20 or 30 degree intercept to re-capture the localiser, but failed to take into account that I now had a strong tailwind.

The Controller questioned whether I had captured the localiser, to which I responded ‘negative, attempting to capture now’, and the tailwind soon blew me back through the runway centreline on the other side. As I again tried to intercept, I noticed the glideslope was now active, and was starting to indicate that I was too high. Again, I correctly maintained height until established again (you should not begin descent on the glideslope until correctly aligned with the localiser) but by now the glideslope was more than half scale deflection below. I began the descent to see if I could regain the correct profile, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I reluctantly announced to Roger that I’d messed this up and would have to follow the Missed Approach procedure, before initiating a climb back to 2800 feet and informing the Controller that we were going missed, asking if we could have another try. My tracking was a little off on the climb out (the missed approach procedure called for maintaining of runway track).

After a short period of quiet, we were cleared for another attempt, and began to be vectored back around to begin the procedure again. The missed approach instructions included a change back to the Approach frequency this time, and it took me a while to get the radios set up again with the required frequencies for the approach and missed approach. Roger was complimentary on my decision making in deciding to abandon the approach, as well as in respect to not beginning the descent before I was correctly established on the localiser. We were again vectored around (on a significantly wider pattern than normal to allow an aircraft to depart) before again being vectored to intercept the final approach track.

This time I made a much better job of capturing the localiser, beginning the turn to intercept as soon as the localiser needle started to move. The turbulence made maintaining the correct rate of descent a little tricky, and the workload increased somewhat as I got closer in to the runway and the needles became that much more sensitive. I had been counting down the height remaining to decision altitude, but was distracted slightly by a prompt from the Controller to confirm that I had the gear down. I lowered the gear and confirmed this to the Controller, levelling off as I approached DA. During the initiation of the Missed Approach procedure,  I did descend slightly below the specified minima, but this is allowed for in the criteria for the procedure.

The tracking on the Missed Approach was a lot better this time, and while climbing back to 2800 feet Roger instructed me to request 1300 feet to depart in order to remain below the cloud. I began to descend and Roger had me remove the hood in order to carry out the final requirement of the test, the bad weather circuit. It was strange to be able to see outside again, and I initially mis-identified Fairford for Kemble, before using the ADF and 430 to get a better idea of my position. We requested a frequency change back to Kemble and signed off, thanking the Controller for his service.

The bad weather circuit is a manoeuvre that might be required should an instrument approach be made successfully, and for some reason it not be possible to land at the first attempt. The test profile is to simulate a low cloudbase (in our case around 600 feet) and poor visibility (an IMC rated pilot is permitted to make a visual approach with visibility down to 1800m (about a mile). We would therefore approach Kemble down to 500 feet, before then carrying out a low, tight circuit in order to make a further attempt at landing. As we approached, Kemble were still using runway 08 and had another aircraft carrying out circuits as we approached. His position enabled us to join Downwind, and we followed him around the circuit.

He was just climbing out as we approach 500 feet, and we made a constant turn onto Downwind from around the mid-point of the runway in order to ensure we could stay inside the other aircraft, and hopefully land and clear the runway in time for him to continue his circuits without disruption. Still used to flying on instruments I initially started to make a rate 1 turn, before realising that this could easily put us more than a mile from the runway, and hence outside of visual range in our ‘simulated’ conditions. I tightened up the turn, establishing us on a Downwind leg on a circuit perhaps half the size of those normally flown at Kemble. I’d left a single stage of flap in to enable us to fly the circuit slower than normal, and carried out the pre-landing checks on the short Downwind leg.

I began another constant turn from Downwind to Final not long after passing abeam the threshold, and began a steady descent, pulling increasing stages of flap as required. On short final I made the usual checks (Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps – mixture rich, prop fully fine, gear down, flaps set) but omitted to mention ‘gear down’ on my ‘Final’ call. I elected to land long in order to prevent a lengthy taxy, but as a result of this ended up flying along the runway relatively low before eventually bringing us in for a slightly firm but acceptable landing. It had been a long time since I’d flown the Arrow, and I’d ‘forgotten’ to take account of the different control inputs required during the roundout when compared to a Warrior.

I kept the speed up as we taxyed along the runway, bringing the aircraft to a stop after passing the hold line and announcing that we were clear of the runway. Once the after landing checks were completed, we taxyed back to the parking area and positioned the aircraft in readiness for refuelling. Happily, Roger announced “We’ll call that a pass” as we shut down, and I was an IMC rated pilot again!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Once we’d refuelled and pushed the aircraft back to its parking space we unloaded all our gear and headed back in to the Club to debrief. Roger was happy with my flying as a whole, saying that despite making a few mistakes I had proven that I was safe in all of the manoeuvres we’d carried out. While the initial ILS was abandoned due to an obvious mistake on my part, Roger was happy with my decision making during a time of relatively high stress, not least in avoiding the temptation to descend once the glideslope became active even though I wasn’t yet established on the localiser.

Roger had a few pointers to help reduce my workload in future, not least to try to get radios set up in good time and while the workload is light, including retrieving the ATIS in order to prevent tying up the frequency having the Controller pass the same information to me. He also reminded me that I should always report ‘Final, Gear Down’ when flying a retractable aircraft. This is something I often forget to include, although I’m always very careful to carry out the ‘Final’ check (often a number of times!) to ensure the gear is down and the aircraft is configured correctly.

I was pleased with how the flight had gone. I felt like I was always in good control of the aircraft despite a lack of practise at flying on instruments. Although allowing myself to get slightly behind the aircraft at times of high workload and stress, I had at least demonstrated an ability to make good and correct decisions even when the going got tough. I must try to make more of an effort to remain in practise with instrument flying, perhaps planning more trips to airfields with instrument approaches to try and fly approaches more regularly. On the whole, a tough but enjoyable flight!

Total flight time today: 1:30
Total flight time to date: 256:15

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3 Responses to “IMC Renewal”

  1. liamsandie Says:

    Nice wirte up Andy. The IMC rating is one of them skills that needs practice whenever possible imo. Are you planning on going the IR route at any point?

    • Andy Hawkins Says:

      Most definitely. When we were based at Lyneham, I flew a practice approach at the end of virtually every flight. Sadly I don’t have that option at Kemble.

      I’d love to go for the full IR, but at the moment can’t really afford the investment of time that would be required, let alone the expense. Maybe when that lottery win comes in… ☺

  2. Yet another currency check | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] carried out this manouevre on my IMC rating renewal flight with Roger, so was happy with the procedure and confident I could carry it out. The FISO pointed out the […]

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