20 March 2018
I have been silent for a week or two now, which was due to the fact that there was not much to report and because I have been flying the last couple of flights that lead up to the Instrument Rating Skills Test (IRT).
Last week I finally managed to get some continuity in terms of flights as I was scheduled more regularly and there was no reason to cancel the flights as the weather allowed me to perform them. On Saturday I had my so-called 170A flight, which basically is an internal skills test performed by an authorised instructor to check your abilities in terms of instrument flying. For the 170A you get given a route by the instructor that should be planned and prepared according to the IRT standards. I was given a route to Exeter where I was to perform an RNAV approach. The day before my 170A check I did the exact same flight with my instructor who gave me all the ins and outs of the route. After passing that check with flying colours it was time for the actual IRT.
Unlike the 170A, the IRT is flown with an examiner who is licensed to examine the student on their abilities on behalf of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The examiner will test you on a series of sections that are all recorded in the IRT standards document that is published by the CAA.
Contents of the 170A & IRT
Departure (briefing, pre-flight, taxi, take-off)
En Route (route flying)
Non-Precision approach (RNAV, NDB or VOR approach)
Precision approach (ILS)
General handling (stalls, limited panel flying, unusual attitude recovery)
Asymmetric flight (simulated Engine Failure After Takeoff, single engine approach, single engine go around, single engine landing)
Luckily I got given the exact same route as I have done for my 170A flight (RNAV approach in Exeter followed by a radar-vectored ILS into Bournemouth), so I knew exactly what to expect. As you might have read in my previous blogpost I had to cancel my flight to Oxford about two weeks ago due to snow. Unfortunately it started to snow again last Saturday and intermittently kept snowing until Monday morning (the day of the IRT).
Upon arrival at the training centre in Bournemouth it was clear that the airport authorities were having a hard time clearing the snow from the runway and taxiways. Not to mention the amount of snow and ice that I found on the airplane on which I was just about to perform the - probably - most important test in my career on. Luckily my buddy Yarno was at the training centre as well to help me out to de-ice the aircraft. Nonetheless the de-icing took about an hour, which was all valuable time to perform the planning for the actual IRT.
After the aircraft was all cleared of snow and ice I met my examiner inside the training centre and gave him a thorough briefing on the current status of the airports (Exeter as well), the weather, NOTAMs and performance. Due to the fact that the airport authorities of the airports were still clearing the runways and taxiways from snow, both were closed until at least 0900Z (my original departure time). We decided to delay the flight until 1100Z. Then finally at around 1000Z, ATC called that the airport was opened again and it appeared that Exeter did the same. The aircraft had yet to be inspected by both me and the examiner to check for any malfunctions, so we agreed on departing Bournemouth at 1100Z, as we said earlier.
As there was quite a strong wind blowing from the northeast, runway 08 was active. Following the reasonable short taxi to the runway we took off just past 1110Z, setting course to the first waypoint (SAM275040). Unexpectedly, the air appeared to be quite smooth so it was rather easy to maintain the correct speeds and climb to FL80. Normally, this route would be flown on FL60, however because of the forecasted cloud tops and associated icing I chose to fly at FL80. According to the IRT standards, we are not allowed to use GNSS or autopilot before reaching our first waypoint. Since the first waypoint for my flight is defined as a radial and distance from Southampton VOR (SAM) the so-called point-to-point navigation technique is applicable.
Explanation of Point-To-Point navigation
After successfully flying over the first waypoint, the examiner told me I was able to use the GNSS as a primary navigational aid flying onwards to the second waypoint MULIT. I planned to be over MULIT by FL70, which puts me in the controlled airspace of Cardiff. Since we left controlled airspace after leaving Bournemouth, an additional clearance to join the controlled airspace was needed to be obtained from Cardiff Radar. My callsign for the flight was EXM58 ("Exam 58"), so Cardiff Radar knew that I was on test and they basically provided me with clearance to join their airspace at MULIT immediately after establishing radio contact with them. Straight after that, Cardiff Radar told me to contact Exeter Approach, who is the ATC unit that was going to provide me with air traffic service for the RNAV approach into Exeter and the majority of the remaining flight time thereafter. As mentioned earlier, Exeter had also just opened the airport after snow clearing, so listening out on the frequency of Exeter Approach gave me the impression that they were quite busy getting every stranded aircraft out there as soon as possible. They even asked me to perform a right hand orbit just a few miles before commencing the approach. Luckily this did not have any influence on the approach and I all completed the RNAV approach into Exeter's runway 08 according to IRT standards. Following the go-around the examiner was required to see how I coped with an Engine Failure After Takeoff (EFATO). Ever since I started flying on the Diamond DA42 I have been practising the appropriate drills to cope with an EFATO, so again this was not an issue at all. Upon completion of the missed approach procedure, an NDB hold over the EX NDB was executed and we started making our way back to Bournemouth again. En-route back to Bournemouth I was tested on some general handling (as mentioned above) and I started setting up for the single engine ILS approach into runway 08. The ILS approach was concluded with a single engine go-around into the visual circuit to land.
Taxiing in I felt a sigh of relief, even though I did not even know whether I had passed or not! Thinking back of the flight at that moment, I could not think of any issues that would prevent me from passing the IRT first time. As I put the parking brake on, the examiner told me that I passed and therewith it has been my last flight on the DA42 during my flight training. Later on Monday, the weather became even more nice and Yarno and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach celebrating with a beautiful sunset and an ice-cold beer! Next stop: Upset Prevention & Recovery Training!