It has been a while. Quite a while in fact, but it is that time again to dust of the ol’ blog and write about what it is that I have been up to over the past few months.
The Instrument Rating
Upon the conclusion of my last blog entry, I had finished the foundation flight training phase in America, having proudly passed my Commercial Pilot Licence Skills Test. After a few days rest at home to re-adjust to British time, it was then off to Oxford to begin the final, and most challenging part of the training – the advanced flight training phase, inclusive of the Instrument Rating!
If I thought that the first day was going to be relatively easy-going, I was soon to be proved wrong. Having been given a large amount of materials to read through, I was then introduced to my new instructor who would be taking me through the Instrument Training.
His name was Richard Gwinn, an ex-British Airways and easyJet captain who, despite coming across as rather severe and strict, was an excellent instructor who interspersed lessons with his humour from his own flying career. This made difficult parts of training easier to get through because even if you got an ear-bashing for something that was done incorrectly, an anecdotal story would soon follow thus aiding the learning experience.
After the introductions were done with, it was then straight into the simulator to observe some of his other students flying a route. Because there is not that much overall time spent in the aeroplane (the Seneca V) before sitting the final test, it is very important to try and back-seat and observe as many flights as possible. A couple of days later, I completed my first simulator exercise, covering general handling of the new aircraft with some introductions to the basics of instrument flying. The pace got fast very quickly and it wasn’t soon before long until I was expected to enter holds over navigation aids all with pure reference to the instruments. Once I had got used to the basics, it was then time for my first flight in the Seneca V, an almighty turbo-charged beast, that in my opinion, is one smart-looking aircraft.
The one main difference I noticed during my first flight, is that the weather in England is a lot different to that which I experience in Arizona – it is not so much pure sunshine but more like pure cloud most of the time! So it was great fun trying to dodge between rain and the occasional cumulonimbus (thunderstorm cloud) in order to practise the manoeuvres like stalls and steep turns.
Again, just like with the sims, the pace during the flights soon quickened and in no time, I was practising instrument approaches in to airfields such as Oxford and Cranfield.
As time went by, the complexity of what we were doing soon grew and eventually we got on to route flying and practising the profile of the Instrument Rating Skills Test.
The profile of this test is as follows:
- Departure from an airfield followed by the successful flying of a route into controlled airspace to another airfield
- Instrument approach at the arrival airfield down to ‘minimums’ (the point at which if you can’t see the runway, you must go-around) followed by a go-around
- On that go-around, we’re given an pretend engine failure to deal with
- Having gone around, we must then divert to another airfield (most usually Oxford), and as we do so, we have to recover from stalls as well as unusual attitudes.
- To round off, we must do a single-engine instrument approach into our diversion airfield followed by a single-engine go-around and then a full-stop landing. Oh, and all of this is done with out looking outside (apart from the take-off and final landing).
So as you can see, it gets pretty hectic, pretty quickly! However, I thoroughly enjoyed my time flying in the busy airspace of England – it was quite overwhelming at first when you’re speaking to the London ATC and you’re communication amongst the British Airways flights coming from America, or the easyJets going off to Spain but it further inspires and motivates, knowing that that is what we’re ultimately working towards.
As time went by, the number of flights left to do became smaller and smaller and my proficiency seemed to get a little bit better. Before I knew it, it was then time to sit the Instrument Rating Skills Test! Having passed the school-test before hand, which is essentially a mock of the real thing, I should have felt confident about the whole thing. However that doesn’t really alter the fact that this test is what contributes towards the licence! After what can only be described as the longest, most nerve-racking two hours of my life, I am relieved to say that I secured a first time pass!
As is always the way in the aviation industry, there’s forever new abbreviations to learn. These two are not so bad as not only do they stand for Multi-Crew Co-operation/Jet Orientation Course but the also signify the end of the training at Oxford. This is where all the skills that have previously been taught and learnt are tied together and now applied to the airline environment where a team of two pilots now work together with the ground crew and cabin crew to achieve the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft.
The three week course began with a few days in the classroom learning about MCC principles as well as examining where it has gone wrong in the past and how it has resulted in the loss of many lives. After a brief technical lesson, it was then time to learn all the new checklists and flows for the 737-400 simulator with my new flying partner! Whilst they have been significantly abbreviated from real-world operators, it is still a lot to learn and remember for the first simulator session!
A quick tip here for anyone going to do this course, is that if you put in the time and effort to go through and remember all the checks with your flying partner, it will make the simulator sessions be much more enjoyable and you’ll get more out of it as you will be thinking about flying the aircraft instead of trying to remember what checklist to ask for next or where a certain switch is!
The lessons were quite busy and being two hours long per ‘crew member’ four hours in the simulator is something that everyone has to get used to. Two of the four hours are spent as Pilot Flying, so operating as the pilot who flies the aircraft and is directly responsible for managing the systems. The other two are then spent as Pilot Monitoring; whose role is to communicate with ATC, monitor the Pilot Flying as well as reading and doing the checklists – in many ways, this role is busier than the pilot who’s flying!
Every lesson looked at a different aspect to the everyday role of an airline pilot. In some sessions, we flew a simple route from A to B and back again. Other times, we were asked to deal with failures and run through decision-making procedures put in place to help arrive at the best decision for everyone concerned. In all, this part of the training was thoroughly enjoyable and an experience that I hope to remember and use in my future flying career!
So there we have it – my training at Oxford is now complete! It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, by no means easy, but one where I have met so many wonderful people, fantastic instructors and have taken away so much. It feels rather odd to be able to say that I have managed to follow my dream and see it though – I only wish everyone was able to do the same because it is something not a lot of people are able to say. However, if you have an ambition that you really want to fulfil – do it and be happy!
Thank you for reading