The successful completion of an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) combines the knowledge and personality traits of both the instructor and pilot.
Contributing editor Joe Shelton undertook the challenge of obtaining an IPC while both he and instructor Ken Maples share their thoughts and observations about the process. This point/counterpoint presentation should help us more fully understand the process and perspective of both participants in this refresher training, hopefully gaining some valuable insights along the way that can be applied to other training.
I wanted to make sure my IPC was tailored to my needs. I haven’t flown much recently but the approach I fly most often is a localizer, so I wanted to focus more on ILS precision and some of the more interesting transitions, like DME arcs.
My aircraft has a Garmin G1000. I’ve found that glass panel skills atrophy quickly, so also I wanted a thorough refresher on normal G1000 operations as well as the unusual or unexpected. While I prefer to practice in my own airplane, Ken convinced me the Redbird Flight Simulator with G1000 would be a better experience. This was our first time working together.
I try to insure two things: The lesson must be safe and the student must learn something. An IPC is a bit different in that it’s a “check” not structured as a learning experience. That doesn’t mean I can’t instruct, but IPCs are supposed to allow the pilot to demonstrate, without outside assistance, the ability to safely fly the procedures listed in the Practical Test Standards. So I like to work with the student before we begin to make sure they are prepared.
I usually begin with a ground review and then discuss the procedures that we are going to fly. In Joe’s case, using the Redbird simulator seemed like a better way to go since it’s legal to use for an IPC, is easier to reposition for each approach, can be paused mid-flight for questions and discussions, and is less expensive.
We began with a DME arc to an ILS. Whenever Ken or I had a question, Ken would pause the simulator to give us time to explore the point, something that’s impossible in an aircraft. Plus, it’s far more difficult to absorb the fine details of a point while trying to keep the plane right side up. For me the ability to pause for discussions is probably the most useful of the sim’s features, especially since post flight reviews often miss relevant points.
As we intercepted the arc, Ken asked how I was going to navigate. I offhandedly said, “Turn 10, twist 10,” which was a knee-jerk response. Ken paused the sim and asked why I would do that. “Because it’s the way I learned.” Ken suggested it would be easier to simply follow the GPS-driven HSI that continually adjusts to the curved course. Earlier Ken had shown an iconoclastic bent that irritated me a bit and I was reacting to that. However, I do believe that if there’s a “classic” way to do something one should be able to do it that way. I may someday need to fly a DME arc without EFIS so I should be able to use the available avionics.
But I backed myself into a corner. I don’t normally use turn 10, twist 10, because once you load the approach the G1000 displays the arc and changing to OBS mode can wreak havoc with the rest of the approach. So the use of the D-Bar should have been obvious because that’s how the autopilot flies the arc.
In fact, I use two other methods for navigating an arc when I’m hand flying. The first is that if the map displays the arc I just check my position on the arc. Ken voiced concerns that focusing too much on the map is considered “cheating” by the instructor community. Given this attitude (which I actually appreciate), I found this seemingly contradictory attitude interesting.
The G1000 feature that is my primary method for navigating an arc is to use an RMI-like pointer. They point at an active waypoint and show the distance to that waypoint. So, for a DME arc, I normally set my #2 VOR to the VOR and keep the pointer off the appropriate wingtip (with wind correction), and if the distance remains close to the target I know I’m navigating the arc correctly.
Using an eHSI driven by a GPS is much easier than the traditional “turn 10, twist 10” that so many pilots were taught. The GPS continually updates the required course on the HSI so the pilot knows the needed heading. The D-bar conventionally shows your error to the arc course. Finally, the GPS reports the distance to the turn-in point. Why so many pilots ignore this great information to do things the 1960’s way has always puzzled me.
I often see pilots using the map for primary navigation, so they focus on the MFD rather than the PFD. The PFD is the critical flight display with attitude, altitude, airspeed and navigation information. A pilot who’s focused on the MFD is looking for trouble.
If you lose the HSI, the map is a great “emergency” alternative, but to ensure that you’re flying the arc accurately, I recommend that the map scale is set to a very short range like 1/4 mile or less to help you manage distance.
Joe’s use of RMI pointers is an interesting option that requires more analysis than using D-Bar. But it’s a viable way to navigate a DME arc and Joe uses the RMIs for many types of navigation.
On the missed Ken asked how I was going to enter the hold. I said that rather than trying to calculate the “correct” entry I normally identify the protected side and then do either a direct or parallel entry. I said I would choose a parallel entry in this case. Ken agreed that I didn’t have to fly the specific approved entry as long as I remained on the protected side, but that he felt that a teardrop entry would be a better option for any entries that weren’t obviously a direct or parallel.
The advantage of a teardrop over a parallel entry is that it gives the pilot more time to get aligned with the inbound course. If the wind is very strong a parallel entry sometimes won’t allow you to make it back to the holding fix before you have to turn outbound again. Of course there are times where a parallel entry makes sense as well, but generally teardrops are easier so if there is a choice I’ll always take the teardrop. More importantly the pilot should be aware of the situation and be able to fly all of the options. While recommendations are non-binding, you’ll seldom go wrong following them.
My choice of hold entry came from old habits but Ken’s recommendation, especially considering the effect that winds might have, made perfect sense.
Later, on a VOR/DME approach I asked Ken if he cared how I flew the procedure turn. He said that he didn’t, but in a way that told me he wanted a standard procedure turn. I proposed a 90/270 turn that would start upon intercepting the outbound course. I do this to minimize the distance I fly offshore for the LOC approach at my home airport. It seemed Ken hadn’t considered this so we paused the sim to discuss it. The turn went well and the inbound intercept was right on, but the inbound wind correction angle showed a substantial crosswind.
I set the wind to make things difficult for Joe but his procedure worked perfectly in spite of the crosswind. I think I would have flown outbound a bit further to allow more time to get aligned with the inbound course even if I was going slightly further offshore. But in the end, it worked out just fine. As is often the case, I learned something from my student.
We flew another ILS. Flying the ILS to minimums in the sim, with its adjustable ceiling and visibility, was interesting and revealing. Before I reached DH I’d told Ken I wanted to land because landing a sim is supposed to be difficult and Ken indicated I would earn “points” if I could successfully land it. I saw nothing at the DH and because we were in the sim I wanted to continue descending until the runway was visible so I could attempt the landing. But habit kicked in and I initiated the missed approach. Ken paused the sim and acknowledged that he’d set it up as a test to see if I would miss. This is a situation that is seldom possible in a real airplane. Usually the missed is artificially initiated. Thus, the pilot doesn’t face the challenges of having to pick out the required objects in order to continue an approach. This was an eye opening experience that I truly enjoyed.
The capability to change day/night, ceiling, and visibility is nothing that can be accomplished on an actual flight and it truly made the case for practicing in a flight simulator. With the sim paused, we discussed the items required for continuing a descent to landing (i.e. runway environment, visibility and normal maneuvers) and visually examined the variety of ways that inflight visibility can be determined, exploring the common traps a pilot might encounter.
I like to set minimums below the DA or MAP. Many pilots have a strong landing mentality that has caused more than a few accidents. Pilots are often so focused on completing the approach that they often continue a descent below minimums without the proper visuals. These pilots are seldom fully prepared for the missed approach, so setting up the sim for this surprise is a great way to verify that a pilot will do what he is supposed to do.
Most students come to the sim without their normal checklists and as a result, don’t do the normal checklist items. That’s OK as long as they perform their final checks when actually flying, but there is the old adage about training how you fly. Joe has two memorized checklists, one a pre-approach checklist and the other a “GUMP” final checklist that he designed to be usable in any aircraft he might fly. He automatically used them both during his approaches in the sim. That reinforced for me that he has good processes and procedures.
When Ken and I had differing views on a topic, both of us usually had valid opinions. I believe every pilot should know the how to fly the “official” or “classic” way, (e.g. the “preferred entry into a hold” or a DME arc). But when asked for something challenging and outside the norm—an uncharted hold for example—I’m forced to agree with Ken in that being able to fall back on the “easiest” method makes for a safer and less challenging flight because you don’t get mentally tied up during a potentially stressful time.
There’s a part of me that wants to know how to use every feature and capability the G1000 or any of the devices installed in the plane I’m flying. But, frankly, the G1000 makes things too easy. I enjoy the challenge of doing things that are mentally and physically difficult, like flying actual NDB approaches and doing the old “turn 10, twist 10.” Having said that, Ken encourages making smart choices that minimize stressful situations and you can never fault that.
And that’s the goal of an IPC: a pilot needs to be able to show that he can successfully fly approaches consistent with how he was originally taught. But at the same time, hopefully the instructor can show the student different and easier ways to complete a task. Then it’s the student’s choice of which way to do things.
About the Redbird, I got used to it, but in the beginning the different visual clues from my aircraft’s panel were a bit confusing and the additional functional options that my G1000 doesn’t have (e.g. DME and AFD buttons) made the initial period a bit confusing. The buttons were also more difficult to find and read in the darkness of the sim. My real airplane is much easier to operate. But the bottom line is that the sim was a positive learning experience.
Oh, and I passed the IPC and did manage to successfully land the sim, although it wasn’t my best landing.
Sims have their advantages and disadvantages. As Joe implied, they are never exactly like a particular airplane. In fact, it’s often said that an ability to fly the plane is no guarantee in the sim, but if you can fly the sim, the airplane becomes easy. It’s the ability to set up precise scenarios, move quickly from location to location, simulate failures or weather that aren’t safe or normally available in an aircraft, to be able to pause and discuss anything at any time, and myriad other factors that make simulators a terrific tool for many learning situations.
Joe Shelton, an IFR contributing editor, actually signed up for this adventure, while Ken Maples, a CFII specializing in simulator training and TAA at Tradewinds Aviation, Reid Hillview airport (KRHV), San Jose, California, had no idea what he was getting into.