First Instrument Rating Lesson – Finally

I have a couple flight training tasks that I started but have left hanging lately. I need about 12 more hours of PIC time in a Skyhawk or equivalent to qualify for club insurance on the C172RG. I also wanted to build some cross country time to be closer to the required 50 hours before starting on my instrument rating. These aren’t really pressing though and it has been too easy to let other activities take priority over flying. I finally decided that I need a serious project to get me in the air and, since the instrument rating is my next big goal, starting on that seems like the best choice. I can get the extra PIC hours from the training and can always take some extra flights with Georgia to make up any cross country time I don’t get in training. So, I scheduled 3 hours with CFII Pete and 2 hours in a club C172P for yesterday.

My extra hour with Pete got wiped out early in the morning when I learned I had a noon meeting to go to. Unfortunately, work is one thing I still have to give priority so, I got to Stick & Rudder at 2 pm instead of 1 o’clock as originally planned. Pete and I still needed some time to talk over the training and our plan so, that extra hour cut into my flight time. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

To start with, Pete explained his IR training philosophy and procedures. He believes that actual experience is the best teacher. Whenever possible, we will fly in the ATC system. That means that, for every flight, I will file an IFR flight plan and I will talk to ATC for at least part of the flight. For the first few lessons, we will cancel IFR early in the flight so we will have to be in VMC. As we get further into the training, we will be getting more time in actual IMC.

There will be three phases to the training. The first, and hopefully far shortest, phase is basic attitude instrument flying. I will be doing the same maneuvers I have been doing VFR but, without outside reference. That means turns, climbs, descents, slow flight, stalls, etc. with the foggles on. My climbs and descents will be at specific airspeeds and vertical rates. I will be learning much more about how to use attitude and power to get the performance I need.

Phase two is the navigation stage and will require the most time. It will include VOR tracking, airway navigation, NDBs, radar vectoring, GPS navigation, etc. Holding patterns and approaches are also a part of this phase. This is the nitty-gritty of safely getting from where you are to where you want to go.

Phase three will put all the previous training together to master operating IFR in the ATC system. While we will be doing much of the same things in the earlier phases, this part will include more emphasis on the fine points of flight planning, communication and cross country instrument flying. It will end with preparation for the instrument practical test.

Plunging right in, Pete went through a flight plan for a flight from Waukegan to Kenosha and had me call Flight Service to file it. Then we went out to the airplane for a thorough preflight. There are a few new items, like pitot heat and antenna inspection that are different from my usual preflight. The fuel tanks were low so we pulled the airplane over to the pumps and I filled it up.

In the cabin, I started up and got the ATIS. Then I called ground for my first IFR departure. The controller told me our clearance was ready and I let him know I was ready to copy. I actually got it all down except for the departure frequency which Pete fed me:

“Cessna 5232K is cleared to the Kenosha Airport via radar vectors. Climb and Maintain 3000 feet expect 5000 feet 10 minutes after takeoff. Departure frequency 120.55, squawk 5331.”

I read it back without a hitch and we were told to taxi to runway 23 via C and A. As I made the turns on the taxiways, I checked the magnetic compass, DG and turn indicator for correct movement. I pulled off at the last intersection so we could do our runup and system checks. This is more complete than what I was used to. We set and checked the volume on every com and nav radio, set the ADF and tested it, setup the GPS even though I wouldn’t be using it for this flight. This airplane only has a VFR certified GPS so I can’t use it for primary IFR navigation. Pete would use it later to vector me though.

I turned on the lights, set the transponder, told tower we were ready to go – and go my first “hold for release.” We were waiting for Chicago departure to make a space for us. I had been behind other aircraft holding at the runway but this was the first time that it was me. About 5 minutes later the tower called; “Cessna 5232K turn right 270, cleared for takeoff,” and away we went.

I made the turn to the west at the end of the runway and, as I did, tower sent me over to departure. That’s when I made my first radio mistake of the day. I switched frequencies, listened for a few seconds then said; “Chicago departure Cessna 5232K with you 12 thousand for 3 thousand”. Yep, instead of one thousand two hundred I said one two thousand. I suspect that that was an immediate tip off to the controller that he was talking to a trainee. Pete got on and corrected me then reassured me that everyone did that at some point and it was no big deal.

I still didn’t have the glasses on so I continued flying west and climbing visually. Soon we got the instruction to turn to 340 and climb to 5000 feet and I replied correctly this time. Once on the new heading, the controller sent us over to Milwaukee approach. I had set the frequency on the ground so I switched to it and made the call. The new controller reported us in radar contact and asked our intentions. Pete told him we would be canceling IFR in a couple more miles and, a couple minutes later he did just that. Once we were squawking VFR, he took the controls and had me put the foggles on.

For the next .8 hours, Pete was my controller. He told me that, whenever he is playing ATC, he will use standard phraseology and expects me to do the same. In particular, if he calls me 5232K I should respond with 5232K if he says 32K is should do the same. So now, I have to pay close attention to what he says and to keeping my heading and altitude correct. This is already hard work!

After a few minutes straight and level to get settled down, Pete started giving me new headings to turn to. This airplane does not have a heading bug so I put the headings into the ADF to keep track of them. Pete gives me the heading, I set the ADF, reply to his call and start the turn – all at the same time. After a few level turns, Pete started adding climbs and descents so that I was turning and changing altitude at the same time. I think I did pretty well for the first lesson. For the most part, I held altitude within 50 feet and heading within 5 or 6 degrees. That seems like a good basis for future improvement. Pete kept assuring me I was doing fine so I guess I should believe him.

After only a half hour or so of this though, my altitude started wandering by more like a 100 feet than 50. Pete noticed and told me it was a sure sign that I was getting tired. He would turn me back to the airport and, in a few minutes have me take off the glasses. One more climb to get us above the Kenosha airspace and then I was out from under the foggles and could see the ground again. I kept us heading east at 3500 feet while Pete filled me in on what we would do next.

On every flight, including this first one, we would make an instrument approach back into Waukegan. For now, we will always fly the ILS 23. This first lesson, I flew the whole approach without a hood so I could relate what was happening on the gauges to what was happening visually. I set both nav radios to the localizer frequency and got the ATIS, which was reporting 5 knot winds with runway 05 in use. Not a problem, we would fly the approach as long as possible and then enter the pattern for runway 05. Pete gave me vectors out over Lake Michigan and onto the localizer.

Once inbound, he called the tower and told the controller we wanted to fly the localizer inbound to the pattern. We were instructed to report 2 miles and enter the left downwind for 05. As we got closer, the glideslope needle came alive. I did my best to watch both needles and the runway too. It was look down, look up, look down, look up – all the way in. Before we got to the 2 mile point, the controller called again. He said the winds were under 5 knots and he had no one else in the pattern. If we wanted to, we could continue straight in for runway 23. We wanted to and did. I continued on the ILS until we were about 500 feet and then landed visually. I had been concentrating on the needles and hadn’t been paying enough attention to my speed. I came over the numbers a little fast and with a slight tailwind so I touched down long and missed our usual turn off. No big deal, we had plenty of runway and I got off at the next taxiway.

With the airplane secured, we went inside to talk over what we had done. Because of my late start, the whole flight was only 1.2 hours with .8 simulated IFR time. I wasn’t dissapointed at that though. I was worn out. Pete joked that the real purpose of instrument training is to build up stamina for instrument flight – or maybe that is more truth than joke. We were both pleased with how this first lesson had gone. IFR lesson 1 is in the book! Next time we will do more of the same but add more maneuvers to the basic flying repertoire.

  • rusty wrycza says:

    its easy to get overloaded, kneeboard, or yoke clip is mandatory
    I bagged most of the IFR hoods for the Viban – much better; try it

    follow yourself here

    mastering the scan is key
    as is configuring for descents/climbs/cruise

  • Tom says:

    Thanks for the tip on Viban Rusty. It looks interesting. I will have to give it a try.

    I do like FlightAware. It will be fun to see my flights on there – when they are longer than 5 minutes :).

  • Gary says:

    Wow, I like the sound of that instructor! Sounds like you have someone that really works the system and will get you up to speed and feeling comfortable from the start.

    Good luck and most of all have fun! Instrument training always left me tired in the beginning but once you feel like your back to flying ahead of the plane you will feel better, not as worn out.

    looking forward to following along…


  • Tom says:

    I talked to Pete ahead of time to make sure our training philosophies were compatible. I wanted a CFII who was comfortable training in actual IMC and in the ATC system and that is the way he teaches all his students. I seems like a good natch so far.

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