On June 13th, 2020, I passed the Instrument checkride and officially became an Instrument Rated pilot. While all my flying has in some way or another prepared me for instrument flying, my formal training for this rating started in the summer of 2019 when I started studying for the Instrument Knowledge Exam. I determined to first complete the FAA required knowledge exam prior to starting the flight training for two reasons. First, having this exam completed would allow me to completely focus on the flying portion and further develop my knowledge learned studying for this exam. Second, the knowledge exam is valid for two years. If you do not earn the Instrument Rating within the two years, you have to take the knowledge exam again. Therefore, this put me on the “clock” and helped motivate me to complete the rating. On August 14th, 2019, I passed the Instrument Knowledge Exam.
In late October of 2019 to February 2020, I started the formal flight training in an actual aircraft. I completed 4 flight lessons with a Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument (CFII). Upon completing the 4th lesson, he recommended that I spend the next few months flying with a a safety pilot to build time in order to meet the 40 hours of simulated time required for the rating. I was able to fly with a pilot friend for three additional flights before focusing most of my next phase of instruction using an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) to build time.
Staring in January 2020 through April 2020, I had the opportunity to use Precision Flight Control’s CRX Max Advanced Aviation Training Device and receive flight instruction from a CFII friend to log 20 hours of simulated flight time. The FAA allows pilots to log and credit 20 of the 40 simulated instrument condition hours needed for the rating to be conducted in an Advanced Aviation Training Device. Once I reached the maximum credited hours in the simulator, I transitioned back to training in a Cessna 172 to finish out the Instrument Rating requirements.
From May to June I completed the required 250 nautical mile cross country with three different instrument approaches conducted 6 more flights to refine my skills and prepare for the checkride.
On June 13th, I completed my Instrument checkride out of Cable Airport (KCCB). An FAA checkride consist of two components; oral and flight. The oral portion was reasonable and pretty straight forward. The examiner worked through a series of questions to assess whether or not you are knowledgeable, thoughtful, and safe in your planning and decision making. The flight portion was also straight forward in what is required. We took off from Cable airport and flew a simulated departure procedure that the examiner created for these checkrides. After departure, the examiner gave me some altitude and vectors to comply with and then conducted two unusual attitudes. Once that was completed, we contacted SoCal approach and set up to fly the practice ILS into Chino airport followed by the Localizer approach into Chino, and then the VOR approach back into Cable. The two approaches into Chino were last minute changes made in the air after the ILS went out of services at Bracket Field (KPOC) just prior to departure and then the wind direction become unfavorable at San Bernindino (KSBD) when checking the ATIS enroute. That is what flying IFR and aviation is all about, being prepared for the unexpected.
Next step, the Commercial Rating!
Van Nuys airport was the second of three approaches to meet the flight experience requirements towards an instrument rating. After departing Meadows Filed – Bakersfield on an instrument flight plan, we flew the VOR-B approach and landed on 16 Right at Van Nuys. Upon landing, we taxied back, picked up an IFR clearance to French Valley – F70 to complete the third and final RNAV approach.
Van Nuys, located in the San Fernando Valley, is the busiest general aviation airport in the United States. Van Nuys is a towered airport in Class D airspace operating parallel runways 16R and 16L. The documentary One Six Right: The Romance of Flying features the history of Van Nuys airport and the value of general aviation to the region and country.
ATC vectored us to Grans Intersection which is the Intermediate Approach fix where we intercepted the 155 degree radial and flew the course inbound.
Meadows – Bakersfield is located in Class D airspace North of Los Angeles and in the southern part of the California’s Central Valley. The airport is serviced with two parallel runways 12/30 at an elevation of 510 feet and provides ILS, RNAV, AND VOR approaches. Meadows is one of only two airports in the Central Valley providing commercial flights. American Airlines and United offer a couple flights a day.
This was a chosen destination on this particular date to accomplish the cross country requirement for the Instrument Rating. To qualify for the Instrument Rating, an applicant must complete a filed IFR flight of at least 250 nautical miles and make three different instrument approaches. Bakersfield was the first of three approaches on this trip. For the approach into Bakersfield we flew the FASTO TWO Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR). This took us over Lake Hughes VOR, IBWEN, and then to FASTO where we intercepted and flew the Landing Instrument System (ILS) Runway 30 approach.
One of my aviation goals is to acquire additional ratings and certificates. For some time, I’ve been thinking about starting my training for the Instrument Rating. In August of 2019, I decided that the best way to “start the clock” on completing the rating would be to pass the Instrument Rating – Airplane Knowledge exam. The exam expires in two years if you haven’t passed the practical exam earning the certificate. On August 14th, 2019, I passed the IRA Knowledge exam with a 95%.
To earn the Instrument Rating a pilot needs to have 50 hours of cross country time, 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, and receive 15 hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor for the Instrument Rating. In addition, you must complete a 250 nautical mile cross country completing three different kinds of approaches while on an actual instrument flight plan.
The FAA provides three ways for a pilot to acquire simulated/actual instrument time:
- Receiving instruction in an airplane from a Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument (CFII)
- Receiving instruction from a CFII in an FAA approved Advanced Aviation Training Device. The FAA allows up to 20 hours of simulated instrument time to be logged in AATD.
- Flying under simulated instrument condition (a limited viewing device) with a safety pilot in the copilot position.
I currently meet the 50 hour requirement for cross country flights and have logged 28 of the 40 hours simulated/actual instrument time required. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to utilize all three ways of acquiring instrument time flying in a Cessna 172 and acquired over 20 hours Precision Flight Controls CRX-MAX AATD.
Imperial County airport is located south of the Salton Sea, five miles east of the El Centro Naval Air Facility, and within an array of Military Operation Areas (MOA) and Restricted Airspace . The airport has two runways that are almost perpendicular but do not intersect. On this particular flight, we had not planned on but we landed on both runway 26 and 14. On our initial approach, the winds were light but out of the west so we elected to land runway 26. Upon landing, we taxied back, and prepared to takeoff for our return trip. On departure all appeared to be normal, other than the Blue Angels practicing five miles away at El Centro Naval Air Facility. As we climbed through 1,000ft AGL, heading north towards the Salton Sea, the airplane started to shake and vibrate accompanied with a loss of RPM. After a quick thought of “This isn’t happening”, I reduced the power, pitched the nose down, and turned direct to the airport and headed for runway 14. By reducing the power to near idle, the shaking and vibration was minimized. As we headed for the airport, we determined suitable off-field locations to put the airplane down should the engine quit. As it turned out, the engine did not quit, and we made an uneventful straight landing on runway 14. We ended up waiting around for about three hours, walking the airport, meeting like minded aviators, and watching the Blue Angeles practice five miles to the west before a Cirrus SR22 arrived to take us home. The cause of all this excitement was a couple fouled spark-plugs that needed to be replaced.
Santa Monica is a towered airport located in Class Delta (D) airspace just north of Los Angeles International Airport. The airport has a single runway 4,973ft long and aligned 03/21. The airfield dates back to post World War One and was the “home field” for the Douglas Aircraft Company that produced the DC-2, DC-3, DC-4, DC5, DC-6, DC-7 and a few other aircraft during World War Two. For a number of years the airport has been a point of contention with the city and is planned to permanently close in 2028.
Dodger Stadium and Downtown Los Angeles
Ontario International Airport is a large airport primarily used by commercial operators and air taxis. The airport is located within Class C Airspace and operates two parallel runways. 26R/8L is 12,198ft and 26L/8R is 10,200ft long. For this flight, I contacted March Approach after departing French Valley (F70) for Flight Following. They handed me off to SoCal Approach who had me fly direct to the Paradise VOR and then vectoring me to the approach before contacting Ontario Tower. Ontario Tower cleared me to land on 26R behind a Boeing 737. Landing behind an aircraft of that size can create hazardous wake turbulence to a smaller airplane like the Cessna 172 I’m flying. Therefore, I kept my flight path above the Boeing 737 and landed past his touchdown point on the runway.
Calexico airport is about 122 miles east of San Diego and 62 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. This airport is unique in that it parallels within yards of the United States / Mexico border thus the portmanteau name Calexico. Calexico International Airport is an Airport of Entry with US Customs, services both Jet A and 100LL fuel, and has a good Mexican restaurant on the field. The runway aligns with a 08/26 heading and is 4,683ft long x 75ft wide, in good condition, and is used primarily by general aviation aircraft.
This flight was different than many of my recent flights in a couple different ways. As of late, most of my flights have been through busy airspace requiring clearances from SoCal Approach and control towers. On this flight, no clearance was required but we did have to stay clear of the restricted military airspace to both the west and east of our route. As told by the photos below, the topography is also drastically different where I have been flying. Within a short distance, we took-off from French Valley at 1,350ft elevation, passed peaks rising to 8,000 to 9,000ft, and then dropped down to 226ft below sea level at the Salton Sea. The ruggedness of the Colorado Desert mixed with the heavily irrigated Coachella and Imperial Valleys is absolutely beautiful.
I accidentally set the GoPro Session up sideways thus the vertical video.
Glamis Sand Dunes in the distance.
Looking South into Mexico.