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Tales of an ASI

Okay, So Our IFR Skills Are Seeping Away! Now What?

by Al Peyus
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

It is foggy, wet, and cold with low instrument metrological conditions (IMC) with freezing rain and blowing snow .It is just really nasty outside. And that is the good news! The bad news is you have an instrument certificate and own an airplane, but your airplane does not have boots! For those who may know, some airplanes do have boots. Not the kind you wear; but leading edge deicing devices to protect critical sections of your airplane's airfoils during icing conditions. The bottom line is your aircraft is not approved for flight into icing conditions. You are grounded because of the bad weather. You just know it is going to be a very long winter.

So how do you even keep up with the changes in the National Airspace System, regulations, and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)? How do you keep your instrument scanning skills and procedures sharp? It could be another long, long, winter if you can't fly from November until March!

These are the kinds of thoughts that cross the minds of everyone who have an aircraft that is not FAA approved to handle light to moderate ice. We cannot get out to fly! So what do we do?

Remember last winter? After working so hard all summer to polish our skills and get them up to near perfect levels, you sat through the winter loosing those well-polished abilities! Instrument proficiency is proof positive that if we do not use it, we lose it!

Do you want to save time and money next spring rather then playing catch-up all over again? If so, now is the time for you to start planning and taking advantage of many of the options available to you to keep your skills alive and well!

What are some of the options available for us, you ask? Let's start at the high end and work our way down the expense ladder. Please note: For any of the training discussed below to be used to meet FAA currency or training requirements, that time must be logged in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 61.51. The simulator or flight training device used must be FAA approved, and an appropriately rated instructor must give the training.

There are several companies out there that have great, full-motion simulators available for instruction and currency. What a great way to maintain currency! If you have not been to a training session in a simulator in a few years, it is time to re-introduce yourself. Today's modern simulators have fantastic graphics, new avionics systems, exciting 270-degree visuals, and aircraft-perfect functions, failures, and indications.

There is little a modern FAA-approved simulator cannot imitate. It challenges even the most experienced pilot. Not only will your basic skills of scan and procedures be tested and reinforced, but also the 'little' things that can go wrong can be shown and tested. Ever have a loss of oil pressure happen in flight? What about a loss of a vacuum pump? If not, it takes a minute or so before the attitude indicator actually 'tumbles' or definitely shows a problem. When do you discover the attitude instrument is no longer providing accurate information? What is affected by a failed vacuum pump? What do the instruments (yes, plural!) look like when the pump fails? What do you use for backup? How do you make crosschecks now? These are all critical questions.

The flight simulator is a great tool to help build a solid skill base as well as maintaining your skill base. The appropriately rated instructors will take your normal type of flight and build training scenarios that match your 'typical day in the air gone terribly wrong.' It will be a slow building process showing you a variety of problems and failures. The building will continue until it seems you can take nothing more. But, you will learn to take more.

The training process is to teach you how to take problems and place them in proper priority of severity and need. (Fire before engine failure, before communication failure, etc.) The training also does an excellent job of helping you perfect your scan. You will also become good at handling both normal and emergency procedures. You will also learn a little about yourself! One other very important point that is often missed is the idea that the priority problem-solving list is a fluid list. It changes as more problems arise. It is never cast in stone!

Many simulators are available from as little as $150 an hour with instructor to as much as $1,200 an hour for the new more complex aircraft.

If a simulator is too pricey, there are flight-training devices (FTD's) available. Although they do not have motion like a simulator, they can still provide great training! The top-of-the-line FTD's can do everything a simulator can do, except provide the physical sensation of movement. The visual acuity covers the lack of 'actual' movement by interpreting the input to the eyes from all the great visuals and fools the brain into believing that you are truly moving!

Many of these are available at your local Fixed Base Operator (FBO). After a checkout by the CFI, you can use the FTD when you want to brush up on your skills with or without a CFI. Just remember, for the training to meet the FAA's regulatory requirements, an appropriately rated instructor must provide the training using an FAA-approved FTD. They are fantastic tools for use by you to help keep you from loosing those hard-earned skills. Almost everything that can be done in a simulator can be duplicated in a FTD.

Just like a simulator, an FTD can be programmed to provide multiple abnormal and/or emergency problems on a timed delay to occur in sequence or on a random schedule. Then all you have to do is sit down, start it up, and take off! The problems will start testing your skills, reinforcing your abilities, and teaching you about yourself.

With an instructor, the lesson is further enhanced with additional guidance and assistance in helping you build a priority list of action. What is even more informative is the discovery that your priority list will change as each problem appears. What happened first may not rate the most important or urgent status. Your instructor will demonstrate how to build your priority list and how to change it as systems fail or problems occur. This is a fantastic tool! One of the best parts of the FTD is the cost. The prices vary, but are well within the average pilot's budget from as little as $10 per hour to $80. In most cases, an hour in FTD will cost less than an hour in your average IFR aircraft rental!

Last on the table, no pun intended, are the home-operated flight simulator programs. These are the ones that you can purchase from your local computer or electronics store. The products on the market today offer a wide range of aircraft to fly. In almost every case, there is a flight simulator computer program that has your aircraft displayed.

These computer-based programs provide the same visual scan training as the FTD and the full motion simulator. Many also have the ability to give abnormal and emergency problems with systems and controls. They require the user to be alert, keep scanning the gauges, build and keep a viable knowledge of the operable systems, and build a priority list of required actions!

The home computer-based program allows you, the user, to brush up on your scanning skills and procedures at your leisure! It is sitting there for your use whenever you want to test yourself! What a great tool right at your fingertips! And the cost? The basic program can be acquired for as little as $15 with some of the new and fancy ones for around $100.

In some cases, you may need to add some hardware to your computer. A control yoke or 'stick' is always a great, and it is an inexpensive add-on. To add rudder-peddles and a power quadrant on may run a little more than most of us want to spend (around $150 to $300), but they are available for making it as real as a home PC can!

Remember, I said we either use it or we lose it! What are you going to be doing this winter to stay current?

Al Peyus is an Aviation Safety Inspector in Flight Standards' General and Commercial Division.