Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thoughts of a New Instrument Pilot

...on a calm CAVU day.

I've had some interesting reactions after completing my checkride on Friday, in part because I'm about to go on a vacation for a week, which has put me in a very relaxed zone, but in part just from the experience of the checkride itself, and the feeling of being done.

The first is that I spent quite a bit of time dissecting my checkride. It was instructive, and John has put me in the habit of dissecting every flight to make sure I keep learning, going so far as to mentally re-fly the flight. One thing that came up was that as I approached SNS from PAO (my clearance was SNS direct), I had not yet been cleared for any approach or given any further routing. I realized that I didn't know what to do next, and thus slowed down to give ATC more time, but in retrospect I should've queried ATC. "222MF, Salinas VOR." I couldn't go into an approach structure, and I needed to go somewhere...

Second, I got somewhat chewed out by ATC for descending too soon off of the DME arc onto the final approach course on the ILS 31. Except...I didn't descend too soon. I've been through it many times, and I did the right thing, so ATC was just confused.

Third, I thought it odd at the time that Sherry had me treat her like a passenger and give her my passenger briefing prior to start-up. But, what that did was that it established that I am the pilot in command. It put me in that mindset, which ended up being really helpful the rest of the flight. I've used the briefing before with new passengers of course to impart important information, but also to establish my role, almost as if to say, "up here, I'm in command, and if I ask you to do something, please do it." And that helps them, too, feel like they have a competent pilot in the left seat, not just their buddy who just learned to fly planes. Still it was odd telling a DPE that "in case of an emergency, do not panic, and do not touch the controls unless I ask you to." Also I think she enjoyed my headset mic explanation: "The mic will activate when you speak, and only I can hear you, unless you press this button, in which case the whole world can hear you. Please don't press this button."

Fourth...this is the weirdest one: Very suddenly, I'm really excited about flying again, and instrument flying in particular. I'm finding myself studying approaches, reading my textbooks, just for fun. This is interesting -- I seem to have some differentiation in my head between work and fun, and the idea that when I *have* to get something done, it *can't* be fun. This shouldn't be the case -- I'm interested in it; it IS fun, whether or not there are expectations of my performance. An interesting lesson that I'll take with me to my job and to my commercial training.

And yes, I want to get my commercial license. But, I want to do it differently. I went back and re-read my flight blog from my initial PPL training (at, and found that I had a level of excitement and drive that I did not display in my instrument training. When I started PPL training, I was ready, raring to go. I studied frequently, I drove my own process, I made plans for remaining flights, from the very beginning. I was goal oriented, but I was also having fun (until the end, when those expectations crept in). My instrument training, by contrast, started with a lurch. I already had an appointment scheduled with John when my life turned itself upside down. At first I clung to those lessons -- it was the one thing in my life I felt I could be good at; it was an escape from life rather than a part of it, and as such, never really got integrated into it.

As the rest of life got more complicated through the year, I needed the escape less and less, and what I needed more was free time. Thus the training became more of a nuisance than a pleasure, even though I enjoyed the actual training and flying. I know that this frustrated John too; he saw what kind of person I was, and reasoned accurately that I should be excited and passionate about my training, and was concerned when I was not. That I embarked on one of the most difficult journeys of my life at a time when I was not ready for it was not only a disservice to myself, but also to John.

So, what I'm saying is, I'm at the point now where I can get my life in order, get the free time I need, take care of my own needs, and when I'm ready, begin my commercial training. I can drive the process, I can know exactly what's in the PTS before ever going to an instructor, I can probably even teach myself a good portion of what's in there. But step 1 is to wait, until I'm ready, until I am excited and passionate about the process. I have no idea when that will be -- could be next month, could be a year from now, could be never (but I doubt it -- I'm already getting excited about it!).

The other thing is, speaking of being goal-oriented, is re-evaluating what I really want to do with this. Realistically. Right now, the most realistic-sounding option is that I become a part-time CFI, and otherwise pay for my own flying. I don't think the airlines sound all that appealing at the moment. Actually what sounds really appealing are "odd jobs" relating to aviation. Good practice for that might be to join Angel Flight West, which actually does sound very appealing and would allow me to write off some of my flight time, gain interesting experience, and help people all at the same time.

Stepping away from reality somewhat, I'm also really interested in building an IFR-capable RV-7A. I'm sure that sounds ridiculous -- I'm sure once I'd flown one I wouldn't want to fly a lot of hard IFR in one of those, but on the other hand, we don't get that much hard IFR around here anyway; it's mostly marine layers and the like. And the thing is really efficient; it's very possible to net over 30MPG! I'd feel pretty good about that. But again: If I'm going to do something like that, I have to understand the size of the commitment (two years, maybe more, with their quick-build kit), and the repercussions (no way I do that AND go through additional training at the same time), and really commit to the whole thing.

Until then, I am on the verge of getting myself a Lightspeed Mach 1 headset. I use in-ear monitors with my band, and love them. Way back when I bought my first headset, I had pondered the possibility of somehow using my band monitors instead of a headset. Well, now that product essentially exists. I'd told myself a while ago that I'd get myself one when I passed my instrument checkride. That day has come! I'm just still freaked out about money; hence the hesitation. There's a used one on EBay right now, with new ear-foams, which would save me a couple of hundred dollars, seems kind of gross -- this is an in-ear set.

Anyway, so those are my thoughts. No matter what, flying is awesome. Pilots are awesome. Planes are awesome. And the thrill of taking a passenger up in the air for the first time, the joy of taking a friend and showing them their home town from thousands of feet above, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from nailing an approach and greasing the landing at the end of it -- there is no parallel.

1 comment:

rjb said...


Congrats on the instrument rating!! What a great accomplishment and I understand very well the infusion of enthusiasm after the stress of training and checkrides are done. I'm reading aviation materials now more than ever before.

Love to go flying with you sometime. Here is my email address.