I've only actually been in an airplane once in the last three weeks or so, and probably twice in the last six weeks. I went up on Tuesday to just make sure I remembered how to land, which I did, mostly, so I did five landings and called it an evening. In the mean time, I've had 3 or 4 more simulator lessons, working on navigation, en route planning and transition to approach procedures for IFR flight. This stuff is hard -- there is so much to think about, even straight and level flight is a challenge for me, so adding navigation, radio work, getting ATIS in a timely fashion, transitioning to approach, actually flying the approach, and thinking about the missed approach procedure is pretty overwhelming.
However, in today's lesson, in the last 15 minutes or so I really felt like I got into a rhythm with it a little bit. That was a surprising relief. I think it's all about preparation -- if the radios are set, if you know where you're going and exactly what to do when you get there, then things are OK. The "what to do" section is mostly about the five T's: Turn, Time, Twist, Throttle, Talk. Turn the plane to the appropriate new heading (or, since in many cases you'll be following a course, turn in the general direction of the new course), set the timer, twist the OBS of the nav aid to whatever it needs to be set to, adjust throttle once established on the course, if necessary, and talk to the controller if required. It seems so simple, but it really isn't. At least, not yet.
Transitioning to approach is again all about preparation. Before calling up the approach controller at the destination, you have the five A's (I guess that makes sense, since for you bio geeks out there, A and T are reciprocal): ATIS, Altimeter, Avionics, Approach Briefing, Airspeed. Get the ATIS at the destination, set the altimeter accordingly, [select which approach to use based on the ATIS], set the avionics for the selected approach, brief the approach, and have a plan for when to reduce airspeed. Pretty intense.
Flying the approach is also pretty challenging, at least in the simulator. In VFR flight it doesn't really matter whether you can set up a constant rate of descent to get you to a certain altitude at a certain point. Approaches are exactly that, and since there are almost no references to adjust against, the consistency is important.
So, given my comfort level at the end of today's lesson, John has opted to have us try it out in an actual airplane this coming Tuesday! I'm very excited but I really feel like I need to study, kind of a lot.
By the way, the book we're using is by Peter Dogan; I can't remember the exact title, but so far it is excellent.