Thursday, July 25, 2013

With One Eye Tied Behind My Back: Instrument Check Ride (Part 2)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
25 July 2013 N21481 SDC (Williamson, NY) - ROC (Rochester, NY) - SDC 1.9 1187.5

Horsemanship for Aviators

If I slept poorly the night prior to my check ride, the night following the ride was even worse. Exhausted, I dragged myself into work the next morning. A headache throbbed obstinately in my temple all day as my brain enacted a sit-down strike in protest of inadequate rest.

Tom called mid morning in full blown coach mode.  "I just talked to Ken.  He said you're an excellent pilot, your knowledge is good, and that you fly your airplane very well.  He said your VOR approach into Le Roy was flawless, even while partial panel.  You need to get right back on the horse and finish this up.  Ken offered to fly with you tomorrow night to knock out those last two approaches.  If we fly tonight, I will sign you off to take the test tomorrow and we'll have to submit a new application through IACRA.  If we do that, you can call Ken in the morning and he'll meet with you tomorrow afternoon to wrap things up."

My head throbbed as I contemplated this.  I was exhausted and knew from prior experience that flying without adequate rest was rarely worthwhile or confidence inspiring.  But I appreciated the encouragement I was receiving from Tom and Ken.  Also, Tom was right.  I needed to get back on the horse and so I agreed to meet him at Le Roy that night.

Your Cruise Director for the Le Roy Airport

En route to Le Roy, the Warrior bucked and shuddered in rough, clear air.  The visibility was unlimited, but the winds were variable and I noticed my wind correction angle varying continuously since departing Williamson.

I called five miles out from Le Roy and advised that I would overfly the airport to peek at the windsock.  This was answered by another aircraft orbiting nearby.

"We just flew over the field, but could not see the sock."

"We just installed a new one, it should be down there," I responded.  It was funny how easily I slipped back into "we" when talking about my home of the previous seven years.  The other aircraft abandoned its search for the windsock and simply chose to enter downwind for runway 10.  Not wanting to fly against this traffic, I also entered downwind for 10 behind him.

From the pattern, I could see the windsock and it was clear to me that the wind favored runway 28.  I shared this with my new friend and we both transitioned to a runway 28 pattern.  While I was flying the base leg of the pattern, I provided the visitor with progressive taxi instructions to get where he needed to go on the ground.

I landed smoothly in less crosswind than I expected and taxied to the fuel pump.  "Hey Cherokee," called the other pilot on the radio, "where's the fuel pump?"

"I'm parked right in front of it," I responded.

"Boy, that's some crosswind we had on final, huh?"


After I fueled Warrior 481, the other aircraft taxied over and took on fuel.  The pilot was concerned that he did not have a Detroit sectional chart (which is where Le Roy and Rochester are charted), so I gave him one of mine.  He eventually departed, pleased with his experience at the Le Roy Airport.

The experience bolstered my damaged confidence in myself as an aviator.

Tom arrived right on time and we talked through what had happened on my check ride the previous evening.  He understood the logic that led to my Great Brain Fart O' Failure, but also made sure that I understood why it was wrong (believe me, I got it).  Then we flew both approaches at Rochester from the previous night and I received a fresh check ride endorsement in my logbook.

I returned home around 10:00 pm, filled out a new IACRA application, and text-messaged Tom that it was ready for his approval.  Just before 11:00, Tom responded that the he had signed the application and gave me marching orders to call Ken first thing in the morning.

I went to bed and proceeded to not sleep until sometime after 2:00 am.

Your Own Personal Yoda

While eating breakfast on Thursday, July 25, my phone buzzed several times to announce a barrage of incoming text messages.  They were all from Tom:





I can only assume that Tom sent these messages in an order adhering to established English syntax and that they were scrambled somehow by the phone, but who knows?

Ken answered his phone immediately when I called him at 8:30.  I opened with, "I hope this is a civilized hour to call..."  Ken chuckled and affirmed that it was.  We made plans to meet at four o' clock that afternoon.

In the Zone

I was back at the Rochester Air Center, having let down through turbulent air.  Wind was gusting from the northeast at 10 to 19 knots.  Conditions were certainly rougher than they had been on Tuesday.

In counterpoint to the turbulent atmosphere, I was finally calm inside.  And this is how the experience of earning my instrument rating reminded me of graduate school.  In the final weeks leading to my dissertation defense, I worked twenty hour days, seven days a week.  As I adjusted to that lifestyle, I found myself in a curious zone of frosty mental acuity fueled by a significant amount of anxiety and determination that countered a very lean mixture of sleep.  I realized that I felt much the same way as I waited for Ken.

And so it was that when Ken entered the lobby, I knew that I was ready for him.


Because the wind was out of the northeast, we decided that we would fly the RNAV runway 7 and the ILS runway 4 approaches.  I had prior experience with the ILS, but had never flown the RNAV 7 before.  Aloft, the Warrior was buffeted by both wind gusts and thermals, but I held my course and altitude like a pro.  The RNAV 7 approach was flown as near to perfect as I could have ever hoped to have flown it.

After the low approach to runway 7, we were vectored around for the ILS approach to runway 4.  I briefed the approach plate and set up my instruments, talking through what I planned to use as primary means for identifying fixes and what I was putting into place as a back-up.  Heck, I even remembered the timer.

During this time, my right eye began to itch and burn.  Initially, I forced it to stay open and tears rolled down my right cheek to an extent that Ken noticed them.  I closed my right eye in an effort to soothe it, grateful that my gaze was inside the cockpit where depth perception was not needed.

Soon enough, we were established on the ILS for runway 4.

"Stay under the hood until we reach 200' above the threshold," Ken reminded.

"Warrior 481, we have a turbojet aircraft on final for runway 4 behind you.  Break off your approach and circle to land runway 7."  I glanced at the circling minimums shown on the approach plate and noted that we were 100' above them.  I sidestepped the runway 4 approach course and arrested the airplane's descent at the circling minimum descent altitude.

At that point, Ken had me remove the Foggles and complete the landing on runway 7.

Someone had obviously greased that runway before our arrival; it was the smoothest landing I had made in weeks.  "Really good," Ken commented, momentarily breaking from his stoic examiner's demeanor.

Taxiing back to the 300 ramp, my cheek still damp from an aggrieved eye, I noted to Ken that I had my right eye closed for much of the ILS approach.  He smiled, "did it with one eye tied behind your back, eh?"

Once the prop shuddered to a stop and the landing checklist was complete, Ken asked, "the trip you want to take this weekend, that's in this airplane?"

When I acknowledged that it was, he extended his hand, "well then, you'll be able to do it as an instrument rated pilot."

License to Learn

Back inside Rochester Air Center, we completed the paperwork. Ken defaced my current pilot certificate and handed me a new temporary certificate while delivering the apparently mandatory decree that it was a license to learn. 

I was grateful to both Ken and Tom for their support and encouragement to get right back on the horse after the brain fart that derailed my check ride two days earlier. I was also happy with myself that, after Tuesday's experience, I came back and flew those approaches not just competently, but truly to the best of my ability. 

Afterward, Ken and I sat and talked for over an hour, swapping flying stories. I could not have asked for a better way to detox from my self-induced stress of the past week.

Final Exam

Friday night and Saturday morning, I pored over weather forecasts between Rochester, NY and Knoxville, TN in preparation for our vacation.  Marginal VFR was expected, with 3000' foot ceilings forecast that would present relatively easy approaches for a newly minted instrument pilot.  But the likelihood of thunderstorms ahead of an advancing cold front in addition to strong headwinds that would place us in the clouds for nearly six hours (versus a typical 4.5 hour en route time) reduced my enthusiasm for making the trip in the Warrior.  When combined with a week of poor rest, I decided that it was not a good day to fly to Tennessee with Kristy and The Bear on board.

"That's OK, Daddy, we can fly in the clouds some other time," assured The Bear.

And so I did take the trip to Knoxville as an instrument rated pilot. I just did it in the Honda instead of the Piper. Technology and aviation prowess aside, making good decisions is ultimately what instrument flying is all about.


  1. Congrats, Chris! I have been looking forward to your update. I can relate regarding the dissertation process and the defense. It sure feels like it, eh?

    I flew with my family for vacation right after I got my instrument ticket... And it got wet, too. I will write about it soon.

    1. The biggest difference is that I was less anxious about the dissertation defense! That's because I knew my work better than anyone else. Maybe that's why I was so anxious on this check ride. Over the last few years, I have become accustomed to being the expert in esoteric things in my profession. That was certainly not the case for this check ride!

      I really wanted to fly that trip, which looked like some nice light IFR. But the risk factors piled up more than I was willing to accept. Soon, I hope. I'm looking forward to your update!

    2. I know! I was far more anxious for the check ride.

      I get the risk factors. I was well rested and the weather didn't look terrible. A chance to isolated TSRA. So, I went and sat in Clarion AXQ for 2+ hours waiting for some storms to clear.
      I learned a ton on this trip. I have two dissertations to read this week but hope to write about my trip this weekend.

  2. CONGRATS!!!

    Good deal on getting back on the horse and knocking it out. Now fly in the system as often as you can to stay sharp.

    1. Thanks, Gary! I will certainly do my best.

  3. I am soooooooo excited for you. I thought I busted my IR check ride when I missed the first step down on a VOR approach. Luckily there is nothing disqualifying for being too high! After the second prompt from the examiner as to whether or not I could make the runway did I figure out what I was doing wrong. He asked what I would have done when I finally realized I was too high for landing and I immediately replied, "missed approach." He's said good answer and now calm down and have fun! I did and it all worked out.

    Just reading this 2 part experience kept me anxious and joyed. Awesome job man! And good call on not making the TN trip. Maybe you can reschedule for a Florida visit.....I need a safety pilot!

    1. Thanks, man! Writing about the bust was really not my favorite thing to do, but it all turned out well in the end.

  4. Congrats! Sometimes it's best to push ahead and finish things even when a little fatigued. Yes, I realize this sounds like a horrible application of IMSAFE but oh well - I've found a tiny bit of fatigue or distraction sometimes forces me into a more focused state. Great job adding IR to the back of your plastic.

    ...and at least that guy didn't ask what airport he was at, right? :)

    1. Pressing on was exactly the right thing to do. Time would have allowed shaken confidence to fester and that's rarely good.

  5. Congratulations from a frequent reader!!!

    -Kevin Carlson, Chicago