I figured, what can be so hard about an IPC? I had 30 hours of hard IMC flight in the past 180 days and 34 approaches. I didnt even need the check ride to stay legal – all I was missing was a hold. However, good sense says that a semiannual check is a good idea, even if you dont technically need it.
I made a date with my local DPE and occasional instructor. I told him I wanted an informal but demanding couple of hours, doing things that I wouldnt normally do. The morning dawned with low IMC but VFR conditions were forecast for the afternoon when we were meeting. As a precaution, I filed IFR sequentially to two local airports, and then back home.
Ah, youve filed – we might as well fly the route he said happily as he got in the aircraft. We lifted off, I put on the Foggles, and realized I had about a six-minute ETA to my destination. It was a bouncy day, right behind the cold front that cleared the sky, and I didnt have my autopilot – it failed right after takeoff.
It was a familiar enough route, with New York Departure barking staccato commands as usual. However, I had to fly the aircraft, get the arrival ATIS, find the approach plate, and refold my chart, all in what seemed like 10 seconds. It was just astonishing how quickly altitude and heading can vary when you get distracted.
We got settled down and I elected the GPS 29 approach at Bridgeport. I hadnt done this before and it sounded as though the controller hadnt either. I was flying the aircraft and briefing the plate as he threw out vectors.
It looked like we were going to be at the FAF on a reciprocal heading with no provision for a procedure turn. We both realized this at about the same time, but he came up with a smart work-around. The approach worked fine and he turned me back in plenty of time to pick up the inbound course.
We then flew the missed and took a couple of turns round the holding pattern.
Are you ready for your new clearance? the controller asked. You must be joking, I thought, but I said, Yes. So there I was, trying to fly accurately in circles, copy the clearance, reprogram the GPS and figure out where we are going on the chart. We got through all that, with a climb to 7,000 feet.
At this point, my friendly DPE reached for his stock of Post-It notes and failed the AI and HSI. Well, I asked for it I suppose. We then entered clouds and started to pick up icing. Would you like to demonstrate your de-icing equipment? said the DPE. Love to I said, looking round anxiously for my third hand.
I was hand flying a rather fast machine with two failed instruments, once again trying to figure out the way to the next destination, programming the GPS, and refolding the chart – and, yes, turning on and confirming the de-icing equipment. Amazing, we were still the right way up, more or less at the right altitude and going in the right direction. I had a brief moment of concern when the airspeed dropped to zero. I looked around to see which breaker he pulled, but no, it was me. The icing is real and we needed pitot heat. That done, the airspeed ticked back up.
We made it down the new approach, reached the FAF, dropped the gear and … nothing happened. Ah yes, this time it is that wily DPE pulling the breaker. I quickly restored power and down came the wheels.
Another missed, another staccato clearance and another fumbled reprogramming of the GPS. This time, we were only two miles from the first waypoint, and missed it by miles I suspect. Fortunately, the controller didnt seem to notice. The Post-It notes came off, I got my instruments back and we headed home.
Did I really want to hand fly another approach? I asked the DPE if he would like me to demonstrate an autopilot coupled ILS. He agreed that would be interesting. I took a deep breath and turned it on. Back to normal. However, I was still under the Foggles and did have to land. There was a screaming crosswind, of course. I took the Foggles off at DH and the runway was in sight, but I was pointing about 30 degrees left of the center line – what a transition! We landed safely and logged 1.8 hours. My shirt was soaked, and I felt as though Id been flying all day.
Lots of useful lessons in all of this. Weve all read that flying the same hour a thousand times is not necessarily 1000 hours of experience. We rarely experience the intensity and duration of an IPC on real trips. Departures are planned on the ground, the autopilot becomes copilot relatively early and there is plenty of time to brief the approach. However, a real emergency or a missed approach followed by a diversion can rapidly create that same workload and atmosphere.
I drew the following conclusions:
Take an IPC type ride every six months, whether you think you need it or not.
Single pilot hard IFR without an autopilot? For short trips above minimums, sure. Otherwise, I dont think so.
Partial panel is tough and a definite emergency. As long as I only needed small heading changes, I managed fine, but as the workload piled up, it was hard to keep the priorities straight. Find the nearest ILS and get back on the ground as soon as possible.
Twin Garmin 430s are wonderful, but there are a lot of distractions when reprogramming them without the autopilot handling the flying. Better, I think, to use the nearest VOR, get established on course, and then worry about the GPS.
When a Headwind Isnt
So you get a wind report from the tower or ATIS and you think you know what to expect when you land.
In fact, the wind direction and velocity can be drastically different at opposite ends of a long runway, especially when one end is over water and the other over land. This sets up a hazardous situation, especially for light aircraft landing long to avoid a long taxi.
I had the misfortune to total an airplane under just those circumstances.
The wind on approach was directly down the runway as I flew descended over the water toward my destination. As I flared to touch down about 8,000 feet down the runway, it suddenly became a direct crosswind. I struck a wing tip and the airplane cartwheeled.
It was a total loss, but fortunately it did not result in any injuries.
Clear Prop, One Way or Another
The purchase of my new/old Piper Comanche has opened up the adventure of flying in a way that I simply never experienced with rentals. The little surprises of maintenance have also shown me a thing or two, not that this was unexpected from my pretty hangar queen.
The previous owners health and flight hours had faded in the 2 years before my watch. My first 20 hours brought the failure of a vacuum pump, alternator and intercom, along with a couple of lesser items. No major problems, but annoying nonetheless. Following the last turns of taxi during the previous days flight, the attitude indicator started a wild roll, the unfortunate hint of a gyro failure.
The next day, father-in-law in tow, I decided to drag the plane out of the hangar and onto the ramp where the light was better. I just wanted to tighten a couple of failing knobs and drooping wires. No need to check the gyro, as I was rather certain of that problem, and the plane was scheduled with my mechanic in the coming week for a couple of other minor issues.
After about 30 minutes of futile work in the cabin with a hex wrench one size too big and a couple of screws in channels too deep for any reasonable tool, I felt the need for some closure. I would just fire up the motor and check the vacuum, making sure that the attitude indicator tumble could be isolated to the gyro and not the recently replaced vacuum pump.
No one else was on the ramp, and I bid my father in law get in, lest flying debris or prop wash injure him. No walk around, as I wasnt flying anywhere, or even taxiing. I did an abbreviated checklist for start up, however.
Master on, fuel pump on, two quick primes, feet on brakes, clear. The engine fired up reliably (no problem there so far), and the vacuum came up part way. With attitude indicator still tumbling, I twisted the throttle to bring the vacuum up a bit. As the nose kneeled to the extra thrust, an explosion of metal from the cowling grabbed our attention.
A rod? Unseen debris? I cut the mixture and the prop flopped to a stop. Moaning the moan of someone who had just made a very expensive mistake, I remembered the tow-bar hanging from the nose-wheel. The prop had severed it into two projectiles, sending one 50 yards down the ramp, the other through two sheet metal doors and into my neighbors hangar.
I count my blessings. No one was injured, the neighbors Mooney was out of town, and the incident was not a defined prop strike by AD, sparing me an engine tear down. One month later, the prop overhauled, I was in the air again. The failed gyro was the minor expense of that trip to my mechanic. I now adhere strictly to the checklists for all operations around the aircraft, not just those involving the fun part.