For several winters now I’ve been saying “Must get around to doing some IMC” training, and always sort of ending up spending the money on flying trips hither and thither instead.
I finally got around to booking a first session a fortnight or so ago, intending initially to do it in TOMS, with the fallback of a club aeroplane if the annual had already rolled around.
Sadly of course, poor TOMS never quite made it to annual and the circumstances of the accident made the idea of IMC training abruptly more relevant than ever.
So down to Cambrian I went and back to trusty old HotelUniform!
Lovely new offices the club have now and I was down to fly with one of the instructors, Dave, who I haven’t been up with before, which is always interesting.
We sat down for a brief as my only real IMC training was the “180 and get the hell out of it” manoeuvre from the PPL syllabus and a few minutes of practice of same at the last two revalidations.
Ever the class swot, I’d looked over that section in the (now slightly dusty) Thom manual dug off my bookshelf prior to the lesson, though the thorough brief went into more detail. A few additional things which had not really entered my worldview as a VFR pilot were the pre-flight met considerations of checking freezing level, and the in-flight need to include keeping an eye on the outside air temperature and watching for airframe ice in the regular checks.
Ready for the off, I went out to give ‘HU the once over and refamiliarise myself with the marginally different cockpit layout and avionics, I also spent a quiet moment chanting the registration to myself a few times in the hope of not embarrassing myself by reverting to AutoLeia and calling up as an aircraft currently upside down some miles distant…
‘HU was waiting at the fuel pump with full tanks, and started without fuss for me to taxy out towards 28. A reminder of something I’d tended to let slide without realising it came from Dave as we taxyed — the need to do a few ‘swerves’ to check compass, DI and turn coordinator reaction on the ground. Particularly important before getting airborne into IMC!
Airborne and climbing (leisurely) Dave asked me to make a mental note of the position of the ‘dot’ and wingbars on the attitude indicator for that airspeed and power. Would be useful later.
We climbed to about 3000′ still visual and headed north. Dave asked if I wanted to go and have a look at the site of TOMS’ end and after a moment’s thought, I decided I did. Morbid perhaps or sentimental, but there seemed no good reason not to and I after seeing the rather alarming photo I was curious to see the site for myself.
Today the weather was clear and crisp, although very dark clouds lurked out to the western horizon between us and Haverfordwest. Typically really when I wouldn’t have minded some cloud to practise in today! Dave assured me we’d try and find some for future lessons, as he likes to do as much of the course as possible in more realistic conditions.
The cloud-free air was smooth and made the first bit more straightforward though!
We spent some time comparing visual and instrument references for me to get used to how the visual attitude against the horizon ‘looked’ on the AI. Raising the nose to the horizon and comparing the ‘dot’ and wingbars. Then dipping the nose to just below the horizon and looking again. Banking likewise.
Instantaneous and sensitive was the gist. A ‘bar width’ of pitch on the AI mapping to about 3 inches against the real horizon line. All was to be light touches and gentle turns from now on!
Foggles on and ‘straight and level’ next. Well. Straightish and Levelish anyway..
To my slight amused puzzlement I did wander really rather a lot to start with. Just how much adjusting do I do when flying visually without even thinking about it? More than I realised it seems. The aeroplane can’t possibly ‘wander’ less just because I’m looking out of the window at something out there up ahead so I must do some of this fidgeting and nudging back onto the right heading automatically, without reference to the DI.
Wandering in altitude surprised me less, that is something I’m often aware of doing and need to correct. It’s also not ungenerous to say that Tomahawks don’t have the most precise trimmers known to aviation…
For now we were aiming for within 10 degrees and 100 feet, which was quite enough to keep me busy.
Flying lessons, I’ve found before, tend to have a ‘sweet spot’ after you get over the initial fumbling and before the concentration has started to ebb and by the time we were approaching Pen-y-Fan I had settled into what I was doing and starting to wander off a bit less.
At Dave’s prompting I had a go at setting various codes on the transponder (in standby!) to see how much more care that required when thought had to be given to not taking eyes off the AI for too long at a time. In spite of my best efforts I was 30 degrees off heading by the time I was done! (But at least still wings level at a broadly similar altitude.)
I tended to drift off more to the right than the left and did so consistently through the session. I wonder why?
As we approaching Pen-y-Fan Dave took control as I pulled the foggles off and he tried to remember where he’d spotted TOMS earlier in the week.
Black specks below us were numerous walkers on the ridges, and when we did find TOMS there were at least two people stopped there, looking. We circled around and I leaned into the window and peered down.
What a spot!
Poor old girl, not a very dignified end on the whole.
Still, no loss of life or limb which is a near miracle in itself so onwards we go.
Back under the foggles and our backs to “Windy Ridge”, I wove my way back to Swansea.
While I’d spent the whole trip there accidentally climbing, I spent most of the trip back accidentally descending. We did a few turns and then some deliberate climbs and descents and I marvelled at the sixth sense that some instructors seem to possess — with the better part of my face buried beneath cap and foggles, just what exactly gave away the fact I’d lost concentration and was now merely contemplating
my navel the altimeter…?
“Don’t get fixated on just the one instrument,” Dave said, tapping the dial.
I gave a startled laugh of realisation. “That’s exactly what I was doing!”
I returned my attention to where it ought to be and carried on.
I realised at some point that I’d almost completely lost any sort of situational awareness and had only the vaguest idea of where we where. The headings Dave called out for me to fly had segued into abstract numbers, pointers on dials, little to do with the compass direction they represented. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. I suspect it has something to do with capacity — a few of these new things I’m learning need to go in the “I can do that bit” box before I have the mental room to think about navigation as well.
Foggles came off again over Swansea docks. Some way east of where my hazy notions would have put us!
A first solo student was just taking off into the circuit and we dawdled over Mumbles to let him get ahead of us before slipping in behind him on base.
‘HU is a Mark 2 Tomahawk with the bigger wheels and gave me a fairly flattering landing to finish up.
Interesting session. It was fun in a way to be a student again. I’m going to enjoy this training I think,