The Ballards - IMC Rating


Doing the IMC
So we have had plenty of time for reflection and practice in RANT (an IMC student's best friend) and now we're going to learn to fly Instruments.

This relies on radio beacons of two types: NDB and VOR. In addition to this some beacons are fitted with DME (Distance Measuiring Equipment).
Some people develop an abnormally close relationship with these beacons havng spent hours watching them on various instruments in the cockpit..... (and this guy did his training at Oxford!).

Take off from 19, this time straight in to real cloud at 1500ft, and get the outbound 090 radial nailed. With a RIS from Brize, inbound to (an Ident'd) Westcott we climb on top of the cloud where it's warm and sunny. The tops of the clouds look like beautiful snowy mountains; this is what "VFR on top" means.
We arrive over the beacon and do lots of tracking inbound and outbound on assorted headings. The picture in my mind is much better, helped by writing everything down, and height tracking and turns are better; I feel more in control.
However, it's not quite accurate enough; I need more practice bracketing the wind, so more homework tonight.
We return via a descent through cloud on NDB headings to OX and an IFR circuit, which is interesting, then go visual, for once, at more than 500ft.
I'm experimenting with landing the PA-28 like the PA-32, with a dribble of power in search of the perfect "I can't feel it touch" arrival, but it floats like crazy and eventually I decide we're running out of runway and pop it on, neatly, but not as imperceptibly as I had hoped....

Bracketing the wind
Same arrangement today, more work over the Westcott beacon, but now I've got tracking inbound and outbound sorted we work on resolving track errors once we have attained a track. The procedure is different for inbound and outbound, and I keep turning the wrong way and compounding the error.
My tracking has finally become good enough to be able to resolve the fact that the ADF on this aircraft is dreadful, so we resort to a virtual ADF on my Garmin 296 thus:

- Ensure in Aviation mode by pushing and holding Page
- Press the Direct To button
- Under GoTo select Aviation then WCO (in this case)
- Press Enter then Enter
- Using Page or Quit scroll around to the compass page
- Press Menu, set OBS and Hold, then use the up and down arrows to alter the desired radial
...which gives a fully working and very accurate RBI / HSI.
Plus, if you then switch back to the map view it gives you the Hold line you have selected (so 339° for example at Oxford), which is invaluable for real-world Holds (although you may not get away with it in your IMC revalidation!)

After an hour of this we practise an outbound track and descent back in to the murky clouds and to Oxford and apart from one turn the wrong way I actually manage to get us back to the airfield, which is a first.

Flying like the airliners
More ADF work over the Westcott beacon today, but we're back in Golf Juliet as we have worked out a viable ADF solution that is independent of the (non-working) aircraft ADF, and, maybe it's just familiarity but everything seems calmer.
We use the GPS-derived ADF from take-off and now I've finally worked out how to resolve track errors, it all goes swimmingly (except we can't Ident the beacon!).

Inbound: turn past the head of the needle by the same amount as the error, "push" the needle down to the correct heading, then turn back (+/- wind correction angle)

Outbound: turn past your heading i.e the other way from the tail by the same amount as the error, "pull" the needle up to the correct heading, then turn back (+/- wind correction angle)

(well, that's how I understand it anyway, your mileage may vary)

Using the above methods and in FL40 bright sunshine we cruise back and forth passing directly overhead the beacon in most instances. During one of my FREDA checks I suggest an Ident and my Instructor tries to fool me by pressing a button tuned to the Oxford ILS which of course gives the wrong Morse, and at last I have sufficient spare mental capacity to spot the deliberate error.

What becomes very quickly apparent is the effect of rudder on your heading: you must keep that ball in the middle, but more importantly the staggering inaccuracy of the DI after every turn. Now we have a GPS-derived compass we find the real compass is reasonably accurate but the DI slips by at least 30º after every turn and needs resetting. This is flying to a higher order of accuracy and from now on I will be checking that DI after every turn, even when flying just normal VFR. No wonder my Nav was never very accurate!

It's very smooth above the clouds, I have it trimmed out straight and level, ball central, on the correct track and spot on FL40, and we could be in an airliner up here. It all feels very under control and after an hour he reckons I've got it and we'll do something different tomorrow. I feel like I've been released from ADF hell...

The fine art of Holding
I have been practising Holds in RANT and FS X so I know (or at least I think I know) the theory...
It doesn't start well: harassed by forgetting my headphones and having to go back and get them, I need to take a moment to calm myself.
The transition to the WCO beacon goes swimmingly until I arrive near FL40 at which point we are in bumpy cumulus, with downdraughts and updraughts making height-keeping very difficult. My Instructor, the Sadistic Bastard, just grins. This is the reality of IMC: clouds are bumpy, and once you've been cleared to a Hold level you're stuck there.
I enter the Hold (badly, I miss the beacon entirely) using a Direct join and start the Rate One turn outbound to 159° (not 139° as I was using in RANT earlier, and wondering why it was all working out wrong!).
Normally one would add a triple Wind Correction Angle at this point, and add or subtract seconds from the leg as appropriate to your degree of head- or tail-wind, but today the forecast winds at this height are... zero. So 159° it is.
I start the stopwatch at the wrong moment (at roll out to 159°) not when abeam the beacon (when the ADF needle is pointed at 159° + 90° = 249°), so we correct that and run for 1 minute, then Rate One back to 339° and see where we are.
And indeed, we're not far out: inbound on the 325° radial, so a quick side-trip to 310° to push the needle over, then back to 339° to see if we are there. And indeed, we are about 335° and 0.3d from the beacon so that's good enough for me for the 1st time round; over the beacon, leave it a couple of seconds then Rate One again.
And on we go, round and round, sometimes in the clouds and sometimes in the clear. Later, the GPS tracks show that I am within 200m of the centre of the beacon every time. Not bad!
As we are short of time we don't do the promised full procedure but outbound the beacon 250° and descend below the clouds once more on a Brize RIS, then return to Oxford via a Left Base join to a nice landing, and open the door for some fresh air.
We discuss greater accuracy, and apparently you start the turn for the inbound (339° in this case) leg when the beacon is 30° behind you; so our turn would have started when the ADF needle showed 309°. Maybe you don't even need to time the leg? (it certainly works well in RANT, but then that's never quite the same as in bumpy clouds...)
That was really hard work, but great quality real IMC training.

Back to school
It's August, the weather is low cloud, great for IMC training and I'm back to school.
We'll start with a little revision as I haven't done any IMC for a while, the first part of which is to remember how to drag a PA-28-140 off the runway. Take off is 65Kts, climb at 75Kts, damn it's underpowered. After the PA-32 it feels very small and sluggish.
At 500ft the foggles go on and we climb North West. There's no NDB in this aircraft so we can't do a proper Moreton departure procedure but head approximately in that direction with a Radar Information Service from Brize. We try some basic turns then track inbound to and outbound from the Daventry VOR which goes more or less OK.
My Instructor has a good partial panel tip: use the compass rose of the VOR to work out which way to turn, because it's backwards on the magnetic compass and you always turn the wrong way! It's 10 seconds at Rate One between the major numbers.
It comes back reasonably easily: I have given it a fair amount of thought and tend to fly a lot on the AI and DI anyway as my internal sense of balance is pretty bad.
Then we get right inside a big white cloud and it's "recovery from unusual attitudes" time. This I've been dreading, but actually it's all pretty mild and provided you remember to roll the wings more or less level then, if you're below the horizon ease off the throttle and pull the nose up, or if you're above the horizon push the yoke forward positively and give it some stick, you're OK. We try a few with increasingly wild angles, but it's not that hard to get them back, actually.
Next we do a radar-directed approach; something you would only do rarely, where the controller gives you a series of distances from the end of the runway and the heights you should be at. Once I've done a few fixes I more or less get the hang of it, and suddenly we're 2 miles out, so it's, foggles off and we're on long Final for Hinton-in-the-Hedges. Reboot the brain into VFR approach mode, slow down, flaps out, stabilise the approach on 75Kts, and touch it on 24 half way down the (short-ish) runway. Brake, turn off and park up by the maintenance facilities for a drop off and a wee.

How not to fly an ILS
We take off from Hinton to try an ILS back in to Oxford's 19 runway.
I've only done one of these before and it shows; I'm all over the place, and although we capture the localiser I'm obviously doing something wrong because I keep turning the wrong way.
We finally get to the Decision Height and go visual, where I realise the approach is so far out I'm going to have fun recapturing it.
A little violent manoeuvring later I get the poor PA-28 and airsick Instructor back in to the approach cone and do a creditable crosswind landing. It's not until after we've landed and chatted about it that I realise you have to fly the centre dot of the ILS like you fly the AH. Ah hah, we'll try that again tomorrow.......
I have homework: to plan a VOR-to-VOR trip around South Bucks, and some more acronyms to learn:

B Brakes Check pressure
U Undercarriage Down
M Mixture Rich
F Fuel Pump On
A Altimeter Set as appropriate
R Radio Tuned to the ILS and Ident'd
I Ice check


P Prop
U Undercarriage
F Flaps
A Altimeter Set as appropriate
L Landing Light On

And finally I realise what the B in the acronym means; not Brakes off (because otherwise you wouldn't have got airborne in the first place...) but Brake pressure: give them a pump to make sure they don't slump to the floor.
One more little piece of the PPL jigsaw.

More Unusual Attitudes
This morning we will fly my carefully planned VOR-to-VOR Navex which should be nice and easy......
I have notes in my plan for the wind-corrected tracks to steer but I've written them in as offsets to the VOR track. Bad Move: mental note write the wind-corrected numbers in as otherwise you have to constantly re-calculate what to steer!
We take off and go immediately to foggles IFR. I have never transferred this early and the question begs itself: when to turn left hand on to the Base Leg? Too close and I overfly Yarnton: too far out and I infringe the Brize Control Zone.
No contest, then.
We overfly a bit of Yarnton and climb Eastbound, get a FIS from Oxford and head for Brill, my first Nav point.
The Bovingdon VOR won't come up immediately because we are too far away and not high enough. No problem; just track generally in that direction and wait. Once it comes up we Ident it and correct the track. As the DME counts back to zero I turn left and it all starts to go pear-shaped....
My Instructor has a knack of adding more and more to the workload until a wheel falls off, so whilst I am climbing to the requested FL35, changing tanks and changing the DME setting we drift badly off track East and it takes me most of the Northbound leg to recover. But recover I do; we intercept the requested DTY radial and turn West to overfly the beacon. OK so far.
Now we try, wait for it..... recovery from unusual situations with partial panel (gulp).
He covers up the AH and DI, we go up and down and left and right and what feels like upside down, the needles move in random directions like one of those aircraft disaster movies, then he let's everything go and tells me to recover.
The trick is a) not to be sick and b) to simply ignore what your senses are telling you, use the Turn co-ordinator to get the wings level then the VSI and the speedometer to work out whether you're going up (stalling) or down (power-dive), then recover: Easy. Hah hah hah......
We do a few increasingly violent recoveries, until we both feel pretty queasy, but apparently I'm OK at doing them, so we settle down for more Nav. Phew.....
First of all, though, I need to work out where we are, so a quick confident cross-check of the VORs and I identify us as 6.7d West of the DTY VOR.
Except that we're not.
I am using the right numbers on the wrong box.
Reboot brain, use right box, recalculate.
We are 7.7d North East of DTY.
Right answer, but stupid mistake.
Head South West on the correct outbound radial and start to set up for the inevitable ILS torture session (if I get it right, we don't do it again, if I get it wrong, we do it loads more times.....).
We intercept the Localiser oodles of miles out and this time I track it better: I'm flying the dot in the centre of the instrument, I have the necessary wind offset sussed so I know that heading 195 keeps us on the Localiser, I even track the horizontal bar down the glideslope.
It's getting very, very twitchy now, much more difficult to hold it in the centre, I just can't do it...
At which point my Instructor says "foggles up" and I realise we are at 500ft, well below where you would normally go visual as an IMC, and of course that's why the ILS was so twitchy. Eek!
Very quick brain reboot, we're actually on quite a reasonable approach, and a few seconds later we drop in via an interesting flare, and taxy home.
So, lesson for today: I must learn to hold height and heading whilst fiddling with the radios as the Top priority before we go any further.
Tomorrow (oh, Gawd) it's NDB's.

Tune that station, turn that dial...
Today it's NDB's, and we are to depart Oxford from 01 heading for Westcott IFR for some NDB work. We'll use a new PA-28 that's now on the fleet, with a (sort of) working ADF. This time we ident and test properly.
Two small problems manifest themselves immediately....
1) I've written down Westcott's frequency incorrectly, so it doesn't work and
2) this and the fact I've never done this before with the foggles on throws me to the point that I don't have a single clue about how to track an NDB outbound......

Nope, brain's a blank.

What I should do, from runway 01, is to head 150° which is 090 outbound plus 60° so I'm +60 looking for -60, then turn left to 090 and track, as there is no wind today.
What I actually do is dither, gain 090 outbound more by luck than judgement, get to Westcott OK then completely muff all the outbound and inbound headings.
After a few minutes of this my poor Instructor decides I need a helping hand and shows me a method that does not require mental arithmetic. Ah hah, just what I need, so we do a few then I fly him back with him giving me "radar directions" on the approach. This time we get over the runway before we switch to visual at about 300ft. If I'm ever this low for real and not visual I'm in serious trouble; we're not even on the ILS on this runway. But the landing is doable (and huge fun!) and we taxy in. Looks like I need to do a lot of RANT homework......

All ADF cards have rotatable compass roses (I didn't realise that!) so can act as a manual Relative Bearing Indicator (RBI). Ah hah, I've used those in RANT XL (you don't have a copy of RANT XL yet? Get one)
- Start with a mental picture of where you are in relation to the NDB from the DI and the ADF (if necessary pre-draw a NSEW cross on a piece of paper, then pop a a dot with some arrows on it).
- Write down your intended inbound or outbound track
- Decide an interception course (L or R, + or - 60°), write it down
- Turn the ADF dial to the intended interception course
- Turn the aircraft until it's on that course.
- Hold the course until the head (inbound, falling) or the tail (outbound, rising) of the ADF needle meets the required track.
- Turn the aircraft to that track
- Finally turn the ADF dial to your track (to remind you of the track)

That's dealt with the interception, but you will inevitably drift off course because of the wind.
You know what the forecast wind is because you checked before you came out (didn't you...). Draw the wind arrow on your piece of paper with the speed.
Remember, DriftMax in degrees is about 2/3rds the wind speed, so let's say the wind speed is 21Kts, then 2/3rds is 14Kts.What's the angle between your track and the wind?
0º-15º=¼DriftMax, 15º-30º=½DriftMax, 30º-45º=¾DriftMax, 45º-90º=DriftMax
Write it down then apply the angle to your track, looking for the same angle the opposite side of the ADF dial, e.g. +10º/-10º.

The only plane in the sky
Fresh from my Hold manoeuvres, my friend Pete has offered to take me out for a play in his Mooney. This is a 200mph retractable and we will go to Bristol Filton for a cup of tea.
First impressions are that the cockpit is narrow, about as narrow as a Cessna 172, but with less headroom. Try as I might, with my long back and short legs, I can't get my headset off the ceiling or my feet fully on the rudder pedals. Never mind, we won't be in for long.
The differences between this and the PA-32 in terms of complexity are not large: apart from the retractable undercarriage I could fly this.
We take off and head for Charlbury, climbing to a rendezvous with a VOR cross-cut over the North Leach roundabout.
The flight turns out to be a welcome reminder of exactly why you need an IMC. Flying below the clouds at 2,000ft in VFR "within sight of the ground" it's bumpy: thermals and wind eddies make for a rough trip. Then we climb up through the cloud for 1,500ft or so and emerge, like taking off all over again, to a sunlit upland where clouds stretch in all directions below us as far as the eye can see. Not only is it beautifully sunny up here but it is incredibly smooth; easy to trim the aircraft out straight and level and fly accurately hands off.
On a Brize RIS downgraded to a FIS we climb West to FL60 and within 20 minutes are beginning to descend to Bristol Filton. At 160Kts you get there real fast. But as Pete says, there is no one up here. VFR pilots have to stay below the clouds and everyone else is up in the airways at 10 or 15,000ft, we're the only plane in the sky, or so it seems (actually, you just can't see the conflicting traffic without TCAS, but it is out there.....)
Descending in to the clouds it's tempting to flare, they look so solid. We descend through 1,500ft of bumpy clag and back in to the half-light of the VFR world. A Right Base join, Pete drops us on to the massive runway at Bristol Filton ahead of a Tristar, and we backtrack to the apron for a cup of tea.

The only plane in the sky part II
Pete is cleared on to runway 27 and does rolling power-checks, something I've not seen before. He hits all the right checks, though, takes off (in about 1/10th of the available tarmac) and we climb out over the Severn Bridges Northbound.
Once at 1,000ft Pete does the radio and I fly. The Mooney's controls are all-pushrod and there is no slack anywhere; it's a beauty to fly and very sensitive but it needs a lot of trimming to prevent porpoising. As it's a privately-owned aircraft, everything works, and for once we have a full Nav fit. Very very nice, just the right aircraft to tour with, which is of course exactly what Pete uses it for.
We climb up through the clouds again towards Hereford, once more in to the sunlit uplands where we can only gasp at the beauty and pity the poor mortals in their cars in the dull light on the Bristol ring road. Shades of Metropolis, where the privileged ones live in the sunlight whilst the masses toil below in the half-light. This is something very special.
IMC flying makes you fly more accurately, that is for sure. Neither of us are satisfied until we get exactly 060° and exactly 6,000ft on the needles; anything else seems messy and you can only Nav accurately when you're trimmed out exactly on the numbers.
We turn at Hereford and start our descent at Cheltenham. At one point we spot a hole through which I can see the ground; I would just about be legal at this point if I was flying VFR. Back through the cloud layer and it's lumpy bumpy time as we line up for a Right Base Join in to Oxford. Pete drops us expertly on to 19 and we roll in.
This is so much better than faffing around VFR below the clouds, I feel even more inspired to complete my IMC.

Good Timing, Pete, and Thank You.

Impromptu aerobatics
Today we are to do another mixed VOR cross-track and ADF-track Nav, but with me doing the whole lot. The weather is cloudy (great) and bumpy (oh dear). We are going basically around the Brize Norton zone clockwise.
We take off OK, climb out, foggles on and start. This time I am properly prepared, all the Navaids are Ident'd, and I have a Plan. We climb to FL45 and proceed in a Southerly direction, m'lud. I get a RIS from Brize who promptly forget what we're doing in spite of having been told in some detail. The workload is high but manageable, the clouds bumpy but bearable.
Make the first cross-cut OK, turn right, track outbound and switch to an inbound ADF track for Lyneham which works OK. At 12d I turn right to intercept an outbound track from Lyneham Northbound and despite a bit of bad planning blowing me Eastbound, it's all going to plan. Coming up on the correct outbound radial from Lyneham, Rate One turn right on to the radial, and.....
Let's just say I am very glad I had my Instructor in the cockpit. I lose all sense of up and down, the aircraft suddenly becomes the uncontrollable roller-coaster I remember from when I was first learning to fly straight and level. The engine note goes up and down, all the needles zoom round and round and nothing I do will fix it.
Apparently I end up in a spiral dive at 140Kts before the message gets through from my poor Instructor that I need to get the bloody wings level using the AH then sort out the resulting dive, which I do, but not before we have turned 90° off track and entered the Brize Zone (fortunately they are very understanding about this...).
Having finally fought the bugger back to straight and level and made my cross-cut at the North Leach roundabout we proceed, considerably chastened, I must add. That's the leans, then... Shit.
We descend very bumpily to a Honiley outbound radial that leads us back to the Oxford ILS. My height keeping is still bad but it is improving. This is so good for my flying.
Hit the Localiser and stay on it, intercept the ILS glideslope from below and follow it down. I'm a bit more practised at this now, and we slow down to 80Kts which really helps a lot. Again my Bastard Instructor from Hell demands I stay IFR until we're virtually on the deck but I stick with the glideslope and finally he says "goggles up"; I look up, flare and land. Ooh, CAT III Autoland here I come; and with a big crosswind too. Nothing like ending on a high note.
My arm aches from manhandling the controls and I have been seriously frightened by the loss of control. I suppose in a real situation I'd have dropped out of the bottom of the clouds and re-established a horizon VFR, but I could easily have overstressed the aircraft, not to mention finding those rocks they say lie inside the clouds.... A sobering incident.

Holding height
To try to reproduce yesterday's little wobble today we are to do Holds in the bumpy clouds "until we fall over...".
We take off and track outbound climbing to FL45 using our GPS "virtual ADF" then turn to an inbound VOR heading for Daventry and at 20d, in the clouds, start to do Holds.
Today we will also work on maintaining height without porpoising, which I've always found a problem; tending to chase the VSI and expend way too much mental energy in doing so.
Instead of chasing the VSI I learn to concentrate almost entirely on the AH with odd darts of attention to the VSI, DI, altimeter and ADF. Once I've made a pitch correction in response to the VSI movement I learn to re-centre the AH rather than trying to re-centre the VSI.
The effect is instantaneous: our height excursions in and out of bumpy clouds become quickly damped 20-30 feet, not 200-300 feet porpoises. And it works in turns, even in descending turns, and the lack of dramatic excursions hugely limits the likelihood of a repetition of yesterday's loss of control. And my VFR flying will never be as wobbly again; this really does improve your VFR flying as well.
In fact the reduction in workload is immediately noticeable, together with the "one small move then back to the AH" method of handling changes, so for example to change a radio frequency it's:
- Hand out to radio knob and hold
- Check the AH
- Turn radio knob to big frequency and hold
- Check the AH
- Turn radio knob to small frequency and hold
- Check the AH
- Check correct frequency
- Check the AH
- Move hand to flip button and hold
- Check the AH
- Flip radio
- Check the AH
- Check radio frequency
- Check the AH
etc etc...
After an hour of this with no major upsets we descend on to the ILS. I managed this at 80Kts yesterday so try it at 90Kts and amazingly we're OK all the way down to the IMC minima. I try a little further but it all goes wobbly and I have to fix it VFR, but I'm getting more comfortable with this now.

Frightening the good burghers of Chipping Norton
After days and nights of rain (where did the summer go?) and lots of ground school study we achieve another flyable day, but the SRA operator at Gloucester isn't available, so today we will be mainly doing Procedures.
Approach Procedures are to Instrument Flying what circuits are to visual flying: a method of getting everyone back on the ground safely without bumping in to each other or the ground.
Each airfield has at least one published procedure for each runway, and they fall in to two categories: Non-Precision (NDB + DME usually) or Precision (Instrument Landing System - ILS or Surveillance Radar Approach - SRA). Pilots carry around vast numbers of laminated approach charts; that's what's in those huge flight bags they carry (along with their lunch...).
Precision approaches are what airliners fly, as theoretically with the right kit and pilot qualifications they can fly all the way down to bugger all visiblity and land in fog. However, we little people don't fly down that far as it's really scary, as can be imagined....
How far down we're allowed to fly before we have to perform a Missed Approach because we still can't see the runway varies with each procedure and whether you hold an IMC Rating (doable but scary) or an IR Rating (they make this bloody impossible to deter people), but basically:

Published min.+200ft for IMC, min. 600ft AGL
e.g Oxford NDB runway 19=350ft AGL+200ft=550ft, but minimum for IMC is 600ft AGL so use 600ft AGL; threshold is 260ft AMSL so on the QNH the Decision Height is 860ft displayed.

Published min.+200ft for IMC+50ft altimeter error, min. 500ft AGL
e.g Oxford ILS runway 19=200ft AGL+250ft=450ft, but minimum for IMC is 500ft AGL so use 500ft AGL; threshold is 260ft AMSL so on the QNH the Decision Height is 760ft displayed.

We will use Chipping Norton as a virtual ADF to practice Holds and Procedures over and pump up the altitude by 1,000ft so Decision Height becomes 1860ft QNH, so we take off and at last I get and hold the correct outbound track from the OX NDB; height holding is better and all is peachy, until I approach the Hold: no Plan again! I blow through the virtual beacon on the wrong heading, should have approached it from 339°, and now I'm struggling to establish the Hold. At times it appears we are all over the sky but eventually I get it all under control and we perform an awful 1st Hold but do actually get back to the beacon on 339°, and then it all slots in to place OK.
Stopwatch, times, tracks, all not bad at all. More bumpy clouds but I've got the height-holding better now and it all feels a bit more in control. I could have done with about 2 hours of this, but after what appears to be 5 minutes (but is more like 1 hour) we head Beacon Outbound for the Procedure and descend. Apart from missing the Base turn the first time we do OK and by 1d I'm at the right height; we obviously cannot see the runway from here so climb out (right over poor Chipping Norton) and back to "2500ft" for another go. This is better and despite getting off-track a bit right at the end I feel we've got it more under control.
By this time the poor citizens of that good town must be wondering why I keep dive bombing them so we leave and head back for an ILS approach to Oxford which goes well, except that I am 10Kts too fast so it all feels rushed and we never really establish a stable approach.
As it's not too windy I'll go for a greaser this time, and very nearly manage it, but get the wrong wheel down first. Still, one of the best landings I've ever done, so a good ending.
It's not until we shut the aircraft down that we realise the altimeter is reading a negative number, as it had been incorrectly reset by........ er, my Instructor. Just as well I don't need it on the final approach very much!

Flying in the rain
Up until now, when I have woken up and it is pouring with rain I just assume we won't be flying; but now we're doing IMC the rules are different, and despite being apparently the only aircraft flying on the airfield, the conditions are actually not bad.
We are to be three up as we have a new Instructor Steve in the back; I hope I don't make him sick with my altitude excursions!
It does rain a fair amount on us during the flight but as I'm not looking out of the windows at all I barely notice it: it gets blown away by the slipstream.
We are again practising the Oxford Procedure using our virtual ADF (not over poor Chipping Norton) but this time with a "normal" altimeter, and treating it as a proper pre-landing procedure, so full downwind checks and something runway-like at the end (actually a lake) to abort the approach over.
After a very messy Oxford departure, managing to get the departure bearing backward (MUST stop doing this stuff!) I enter the Hold from the right angle and then really cock things up by not only failing to add my triple-WCA but also failing to sync the DI with the compass, so my outbound leg ends up over 90° away from the intended track. After 30 seconds or so I realise and frantically correct to much mirth from the right-hand seat, but at least I am able to correct. Back to the beacon OK then a series of really quite neat Holds, zeroing in on the correct outbound leg timing and direction (it turns out the wind is not as advertised) until my tracks begin to look RANT-like.
Using the GPS virtual compass it rapidly becomes apparent that the aircraft DI is completely failing to be anything like accurate enough, and even the actual compass is pretty dodgy: at one point the GPS is saying one heading, the compass a second and the DI a third. In the end I use the GPS virtual ADF and RBI nearly all the time, which isn't great because I can't use them in the test. I hope we fly the test in a different aircraft: this one's instruments are a mess.
So we fly Beacon Outbound, descend to the Base Turn and turn (trying to keep the height excursions to 100ft or less), then back in towards the beacon, descending to the Decision Height and at the correct moment looking for the runway (which of course is not there), then performing and reporting a Missed Approach, climbing back up in to the Hold and doing it all over again.
There's a lot to think about and I don't do it all right, but it's beginning to become clearer.
Just as I'm sitting all happy my mean Instructor takes my virtual ADF away and tells me to get us back to Oxford. By the time I have worked out a route we are 8 miles away from where we were, but with a little VOR jigger-pokery we get headed in the right direction.
We blow through Oxford's ILS Localiser and have to come back on ourselves a bit but then we get established and shoot the ILS with full checks, radio, flaps and all, down to the Decision Height of 760ft QNH and then a bit further (but it starts to get away), go visual and drop it in neatly on to the very wet runway.
And apparently that's the ILS part of my skills test signed off, so we're beginning to crack the IMC nut.

It's always bumpy at the beacon
Owing to a small scheduling cock-up on my behalf today I am in 3 hours early. So it's time to sit the 2 hour IMC ground exam, and 82% garners a Pass, which was worth all the homework. Meanwhile a Seneca has landed wheels-up on the main runway, whether intentionally or accidentally no one knows; fortunately it is carted off before our lesson...
Then it's off in to the clouds for more practise Procedures: they are better and more reliable now, and when I do make mistakes I recognise them and immediately put them straight. It's really bumpy just at the virtual beacon, which is hard work. This is apparently typical...... It's very satisfying emerging from the clouds and finding the landmarks more or less where you expect them to be. Clever things, these beacons.
Then we try the 100° Procedure, designed to cloud-break for a circle to land on one of the two runways, against our virtual beacon and that goes OK apart from a few issues like me constantly rolling out to 090° rather than 100° on every Hold.
Finally after 2 hours of everything my Instructor can throw at me we return via the "real" 100° which, of course, I manage to cock-up, and we circle for a visual landing. Doing a visual circuit seems weird, and awfuly low-stress, despite the massive crosswind.
The wind is hugely gusty so we experiment with a wing-down/sideslip approach, and despite the ominous sounding description of "crossing the controls" it's actually not complex: keep the fuselage exactly pointed down the runway with the rudder and "lean" the aircraft in to wind to counteract and to steer. It works surprisingly well and we drop gently to earth once more; one more technique experimented with.

Doing it for real...
Driving to the airfield in the absolutely pouring rain I do not expect to fly anywhere today. The forecast is that it will clear eventually but not during my slot.
But dammit, this is IMC; we need to go fly in the rain!
Eventually I manage to persuade my Instructor that as the weather is clearing a bit, although not enough to go to Cranfield as planned, and we can't get an NDB slot at Gloucester (it's clearing from the West), we'll shoot the Oxford beacon for real. If I get this all wrong, people will actually notice.
So we take off in to a stonking 25Kt crosswind and the inadequacies of the aircraft ADF immediately become apparent: cross-checking with the GPS-derived virtual ADF it's easy to see it simply isn't working correctly. It's bumpy and the ADF is simply not performing as an ADF needle should, making it impossible to hold an outbound radial.
Flying Procedures is as much about cockpit data management as flying: I moved to a self-generated plog, written in MS Word, for my kneeboard years ago; now I have been forced to drastically alter its contents to include a blank space for a diagram of the planned trip, and laminate it.
I have to fly with one hand, keep the felt-tip pen in the other, and write it all down both before the flight (Hold WCAs and times, frequencies, morse idents etc) and during the flight (squawks, Hold ETAs, Flight Levels, climbs/descents). The workload is very high.
We achieve the turning point back towards the beacon and perform an efficient inbound run, radio Taking Up the Hold and turn. As usual, it's bumpy over the beacon and hard work, especially as any height excursions become Instructor tongue-lashings. The crosswind means my first Hold attempt's outbound leg is too short and by the time I've turned back I'm more or less over the beacon. A few seconds frantically trying to correct without checking the DME has me all over the sky before I realise, then we settle down in to some good-shaped Holds.
The aircraft DI is also hugely laggy and needs resetting after every turn. We never seem to have enough straight and level time for the compass to catch up so I end up using the GPS to reset the DI.
Before I know it ATC has instructed me to descend so I have to descend as well as Hold and report descending and arriving at the new height, at which point they clear us outbound on the next circuit, which I manage, report Beacon Outbound, descend to the next step on the plate, track outbound on the correct radial whulst correcting for the crosswind and performing downwind checks, then turn back, report Base Turn complete and descend again inbound; report at 2 miles (2d); change to Tower, and descend and maintain the Minimum Height. In real life you would be looking for the airfield at this point.
This is a Procedure designed to get through the clouds, perform a low-level visual circuit then land, and once we have achieved 0.5d I flick up my foggles and... amazingly, it's there! Call Visual, perform a low-level circuit and descend to the runway.
I finally work out why the PAPI seem to recommend staying so high on the approach: they are aligned on a touchdown point a third of the way down, not on the numbers. Once I realise that, we follow them down and perform a really nice, smooth landing.

A flying visit
The purpose of an IMC Rating is to be able to fly from somewhere where the cloudbase is too low to allow VFR flying to somewhere else where the same applies. This situation arises most of the time in the UK, hence the existence of the UK-only IMC rating.
So today we will put all the acquired IFR skills together and fly somewhere without reference to any visible ground features and without seeing the ground at any point. We'll go to Cranfield.
Plan the journey via the Westcott NDB, study the Cranfield plates and take off. The weather is calmer today but we will be within the cloud for most of the time.
We use the aircraft ADF for homing in on Westcott and it serves us well: it's very satisfying to see the ADF needle drop as you pass directly over the beacon, but to do Holds at Cranfield we need a better one so resort to our virtual GPS-derived ADF with built-in DME.
Switch to Cranfield Approach, give them an ETA for the Hold and fly to the beacon, report taking up the Hold and perform the racetrack Hold and it all works as planned, even when they ask us to descend.
We leave the Hold and pass on to the NDB Procedure, descending outbound then turning back inbound as per the plate. We descend to the Decision Height, at 0.5d look outside for the first time since take-off and..... there's the runway ahead under the low cloud we have just descended through. Well, bugger me, it works!
Every IFR approach is planned to be a Go-Around and if you happen to see the runway, well whoop-de-doo; go ahead and land. We aren't landing so full power, flaps away, call "Going Around" and ascend back in to the Hold.
After some Cranfield ATC jiggery-pokery designed to get us out of the way for 5 minutes we return to the Hold and race around again before following the ILS Procedure. This plate I hadn't studied and it doesn't go quite so accurately as a result, but in a few minutes later once again we are looking at Cranfield's runway and thinking "I could get it in from here".
Climb away once more and move on to the next plan which is getting us home again. I have devised a cunning plan involving homing on the Daventry VOR inbound then outbound, then picking up a radial from the Honiley VOR which will take us home. As VORs are easier than ADFs this is lower-stress and despite failing to plan a descent for the ILS glideslope all goes according to plan; in a few minutes we are on the ILS for runway 19.
It is hard to "snap" from IFR mode to visual flying mode, and I am failing to get the aircraft in to normal approach configuration (75Kts, 2 stages of flap) whilst in IFR and on the ILS, ready for a visual landing once we have reached the Decision Height and place and looked outside, so the end of my approach is messy, but we land smoothly. More practise needed, more polishing, but at least we are now doing real flights with real destinations, even if these are only glimpsed for a few seconds! What a way to explore....

Making mistakes and fixing them
A weekend off has obviously affected my ability to concentrate as my first mistake this morning is to blow straight through the beacon I am mean to be overflying and perform a perfect teardrop Hold entry 2 miles to the West of the Hold.
Emerging to the inbound leg has my Instructor laughing at my desperate efforts to attain the correct inbound radial but, to his huge credit, he lets me fix it (you should see the GPS tracks...) and subsequent Holds are nailed. And now I've really done a proper teardrop entry the fear factor has gone away. Properly documented before you take-off they are painless.
Next we try some partial panel recoveries; let's see if we can throw up in the cockpit... He throws me increasingly bizarre aircraft configurations and we see increasingly extreme aircraft speeds as I recover. I've never seen 140Kts on this ASI before...
The temptation to yell "wheeeeeee!!!" is almost irresistible; next stop after IMC has to be some aerobatics.
"OK, take us home"
"But where are we?"
"I don't know, find out"
He's done this to me before, so I take a crosscut from 2 VORs and get it 5 miles wrong, but not too bad: a simpler way would have been a single VOR cut and a matching DME. My new shorter IFR ruler is designed specifically for this.
We head home via the ILS and I remember to actually descend to the profile before hitting the Localiser, then slow the aircraft up to approach configuration before the ILS gets twitchy. This way the workload is reduced and when we emerge, blinking in to the light of VFR day at 700ft AAL we're all set up and I just plop it down on to the runway. Ooh, that was easier....
At last we have worked out why the ILS and PAPIs always make the approach look wrong: they are predicated on a touch-down point 1/3rd of the way down the runway, whereas I like to aim for the threshold, so always dive when I go visual. This time I accept their touch-down point and it all feels a lot lower stress. Sometimes I wonder how much of learning is actually just removing incorrect assumptions....

Virtual Coventry
We were booked to go to Coventry this morning but they have the ILS calibration aircraft in and Gloucester is full so we elect to fly the entire Coventry procedure over the Westcott NDB.
Today we will fly a real working aircraft ADF at last, which could be interesting. It turns out to be laughably inaccurate close to the ground, especially near railway lines, but improves hugely once aloft, and once you learn to allow for Dip, works as well if not better than the GPS-derived virtual ADF.
I've got wise to the complexities of swapping from the OX NDB to the Westcott NDB so simply take off tuned to Westcott and fly the radial I get when I turn outbound from Oxford inbound to Wescott. Lazy man's NDB navigation.
This procedure will include my last untried Hold entry: a Reverse; and again this time it turns out to be an anti-climax once properly planned on the ground.
The winds are not as forecast and the first couple of Holds are weirdly shaped as a result (say my GPS tracks) but we refine incrementally over several Holds and eventually get the perfect 3 minute Hold nailed so track outbound, descend, perform downind checks, turn, perform Final checks and descend to the MDA. At the Missed Approach Point I dither over carburettor heat or throttle and fail to attain a positive rate of climb quickly enough; bad slap on wrist and promise to expedite tomorrow.
We return via a cruise descent on the ADF back to the downwind leg for a visual circuit and my Instructor demonstrates how to land a PA-28 on a carrier..... 3 stages of flap, 65Kts, drop to 60Kts on the flare, stall warner shrieks, bang it down positively, full brakes, and we stop in what feels like 50ft. OK, so maybe we don't need all that runway!

More polishing
We'll take a passenger out today and shoot the Oxford NDB Procedure to see if I'm ready to take the IMC Skills Test.
Outbound we climb to 3,500ft and do some inbound and outbound ADF/NDB tracking using the onboard ADF and checking against the virtual one. For once I really get the tracking set up so I am bracketing the wind both inbound and outbound, and the ADF needle is just nailed. Beautiful.
Then we roll back to the beacon at a requested 110Kts, which mucks up my inbound timing so I'm nervous when I make the initial call, and....
I press the button, I open my mouth, and garbage comes out.
Oh Gawd, I haven't done this for such a long time.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with Approach we do get cleared to the beacon and in to the Procedure OK but I am just so embarrassed I don't turn until a few seconds after the beacon and end up having to thrash back on to course whilst descending and doing my BUMFARI checks. Base Turn is fine and the approach is OK until we get close to the beacon when the ADF starts a-wandering all over the place near the Missed Approach Point, and we end up half a mile to the East of the field by the time we go visual.
It's doable with a low level circuit (although I've forgotten my PUFAL checks), so we beat up the field. A low level circuit is also designed to keep you within sight of the runway in bad weather so we zoom around very close indeed to the field and perform a hugely attenuated Base Leg and Final.
My Instructor and I have been playing the spot landing game and now he wants me to nominate a spot and put the wheels on it. Ha, I can do this....
"The last squares, half way up the runway"
"You won't get them from here"
"Watch me...."
A bit of judicious throttle-juggling and PA-28 manhandling later I bang the mains on the squares with the stall warner shrieking.
"OK, so you did get them...."
At least I can do something right.

Dress rehearsal
We'll do another test profile today to see if we can crack this blasted radio call and all the other bits.
Start out confused by bringing the wrong checklist, but fix that and force self to relax. We climb out to a Daventry VOR radial North West of the airfield and the tracking is good. Now it's time for the radio call: we're after a "No delay" NDB approach so it's time to put all last night's desperate practise in to operation...
And it goes OK. Approach clear me to the Hold instead of a "No delay", which is fine, I'm just relieved to have made the call. We climb and fly in at FL60, perform a flawless reverse entry, turn back to the Hold and track round and round for 10 minutes, descending at one point, before being cleared outbound. I can relax now.
Apart from passing over the beacon 1,000ft higher than I should (eek!), meaning a really serious descent rate on the outbound leg, all goes well; we turn back inbound and at 0..5d I look up.... and there's the runway. Phew.
We've agreed we'll perform a Missed Approach and this time I just give it full shit, start the climb, then worry about carburettor heat, flaps, radio call and everything else once we've established the climb. Full marks, apparently. Within a couple of minutes I am convinced we are turning right and rolling. The worst leans I have felt, I really have to concentrate on the AH. We are flying straight and level despite what I feel. Yuk.
Back to Wescott (good tracking), then some partial panel work, timed turns and finally the recovery from unusual situations. Wheeee!!!!!
"Where are we?"
Whip out the ruler, do a quick cross-cut...
"Yup. Line us up for an ILS. The radio is yours"
I can do this, and 10 minutes later we're on the ILS. Apart from flying it at 100Kts (again), which makes it really manic, this all works, and at 800ft I go visual and the runway is right there. Land long because I was too fast, so have to brake, but that's fine. We're down.
The test is booked, so let's see how we do.....

Gone Tech
Monday morning again (I've been doing this for a month!) and we'll do a test profile now the aircraft with all the working navaids is back from the menders so I can do my test.
We test everything on the ground OK, but by 2,000ft of a hazy climb-out it becomes obvious that the ADF is simply not working at all. To start with I'm sure it's me doing something stupid but no, it really isn't working at all in flight. Abandon flight, turn around and go home. Back to the field (now where is it? It's really hazy today), spot land on the numbers to impress my Instructor (but probably not the bloody speed camera toting cops we buzz on the A44) and taxy in. Not a good start.

IFR hop
We need to take a PA-28 over to Hinton for a service and bring back another aircraft with working Navaids for my test, so we plan the 8.5 minute journey IFR and fly it with foggles. Good practice!
The NDB outbound tracking works perfectly and we arrive virtually on top of the airfield. Now I'm really in to spot and short landings we crank it right back to 70Kts, pull all the flap and float down. Only my very real fear of contacting the boundary hedge with the wheels keeps us from landing at the very start of the tarmac, but we land on the numbers and stop with oodles of what is a very short runway to spare. Taxy in and park the aircraft. Wow, there's hedge trimmings on the wheels.....
I love these little airfields: almost no traffic, virtually no radio, relaxed atmosphere; lovely.

A new aircraft
Picking up a new aircraft from Hinton we taxy out, backtrack to the boundary hedge with two suspicious parallel grooves in line with the runway (eek!), turn round and firewall it. The opposite hedge is surprisingly close when 65Kts appears and I ease it off the deck, accelerate in ground effect then hop it over the hedge and climb. Foggles back on, Rate One turn and over to Daventry VOR for tracking inbound, a DME arc (ooh, that's fun!) and then outbound.
It's rough up here, and I fight to keep within +/- 100ft, but we hit the Westcott ADF beacon bang on, track outbound West and head for our rendezvous with the OX beacon for a Procedure.
This aircraft has a weird turn-and-bank indicator, the like of which I have never seen before, and I am not convinced I can fly using it.
Over the OX beacon and yes... it's bumpy at the beacon. Report taking up the Hold, parallel entry for 1 minute, turn, back to the beacon, turn...... and completely forget to level out for the outbound leg.
What the........?
By the time I know it I'm facing South and heading for the Brize Control Zone. Have I learned nothing in the last month?
With my Instructor's help we straighten it out but frankly I shouldn't have done it at this stage in the game: I'm shaken and for the remainder of the Procedure I'm behind the curve, even to the point of descending to the wrong height for the low-level circuit at the wrong speed and arriving over the threshold at 100Kts. Eventually the poor aircraft does land and we limp in, but I'm left with the distinct impression that IMC is beyond me.

The game is once more afoot
After three days of the Examiner being ill and me dithering about whether to do the exam at all because I feel I'm not ready, my Instructor and I do a final abbreviated Test profile ahead of the exam.
We fuel up, then on (ironically, as I won't see it) the most perfect VFR day this year we depart, foggles on at 1,000ft and head inbound for the Westcott NDB, then outbound North, inbound for the Daventry VOR, then we do a mock Cranfield VOR procedure overhead Daventry, which is of course hugely dodgy as the world and his wife uses this beacon as a turning point. I am concentrating so hard on getting everything right my left wrist aches (well, possibly all the chain-sawing the previous day doesn't help).
When I tell my Instructor I am worried about the turn-and-bank indicator he simply blanks the AH and DI and tells me to get on with it..... and not only is it fine but I actually fly better on it (huh?).
The first procedure goes kind of OK but I forget a few things (mainly the stopwatch...eek!) so we do it again and to be fair it goes pretty well.
The VOR display seems very reluctant to flip from "To" to "From" then flips very suddenly which mystifies me until I learn we had just flown right over the beacon at about 1,000ft through the cone of silence. How's that for accuracy?
One thing I have always been worried about when doing checks is missing the fuel pump switch and pressing the red Master switch instead; easy to do when you're a bit stressed. I mention this to my Instructor who smiles and simply switches it off.... and all that happens is that the radios and intercom go dead. The engine, running on the magnetos, carries on running just fine. One less thing to worry about.
I navigate us back to the ILS and staggeringly it all goes OK: this time I ignore all the cockpit chat and just fly the needles. It's bumpy and I feel we could fly in to the ground at any moment but I keep going to 900ft, declare visual, look up.... and there's the runway. Phew. As we have been going down further than 900ft (in to IR territory) before, this seems pretty easy, now that I have got the hang of not going more than 10º away from the "sweet spot" (the runway heading corrected for wind) as it is a very sensitive instrument.
I have been criticised for not obviously making the transfer to VFR flying at this point, but the problem is that flying an ILS you are already set up for a good approach do you don't actually need to change anything when you go visual: keep the same approach path and you'll land one third of the way down the runway.
But to make it obvious I shuffle around in my seat, wiggle the yoke and rudder, pull in a bit of flap, state very loudly "changing to VFR mode now"... and continue as before. The approach puts us neatly on the runway, as I knew it would.
Maybe, just maybe, if I don't do anything stupid, we may be OK.

Testing times
After lunch, my Examiner arrives and we plan a cross-country tour very similar to this morning's jaunt. Pray for no Holds.....
Make doubly sure I haven't forgotten anything, memorise the checks, take huge extra care to stay within +/- 100ft of the correct height, constantly re-check the DI/compass alignment, and fly as requested.
Out to Westcott, the track works fine, we even bracket the wind, turn North to a VOR inbound heading for Daventry and track along that for 10 minutes, then turn round and track back along it the other way. Then some turns, then he blanks the AH and DI and we do partial panel straight and level, climbs and descents, timed turns to a heading and finally the dreaded recoveries, which go OK, even with the weird turn-and-bank.
Then we head back towards the OX beacon, I make the dreaded call OK (yes!) and proceed inbound, hit the beacon more or less, descend on the Procedure, turn, hit the Localiser and follow the ILS down. At 900ft I look up and there's the runway.
We are to do a missed approach at this point and immediately I'm off upwards like a rat up a drainpipe along the missed approach vector, but forget to transit the beacon first, which is not great.
Back to the beacon OK, then we head West for a "Radar controlled" (actually Examiner controlled) let down to a low-level circuit. We go "visual" at 1000ft and beat up the airfield at 800ft (I love low-level circuits: you need to stay close to the airfield to keep it in sight and the temptation to scream "Dakkadakkadakkadakka...." as you crank it over is almost impossible to resist).
Turn inside the chimney, find myself very high so dump everything on Final and drop it neatly on half way down the runway, clean up and taxy in.
Apparently I was a little rough with the aeroplane and missed one or two checks, but nothing dangerous, so it's a PASS!
Which is nice.

So what have we learned?
- Don't underestimate the IMC course: it's not like a Night or VP Rating. It will take you a long time to get right, especially if you're over 40. I amassed 35 instrument hours in training, the minimum is 10. I probably have the world's most expensive IMC......
- You will learn a lot about yourself during the course
- The air inside clouds can be bloody rough
- To prevent porpoising, when a height variation is noted take 100% of the correct action (yoke back or yoke forward) immediately, then half a second later take 50% of the corrective action off.
- Cockpit data management is everything. I have checklists for everything from what to take to and from the aircraft to checking the instruments
- Laminate everything, including your flight plan, write in felt pen, use methylated spirits to clean up
- Laminate your approach charts, write the DH/MDH and any other appropriate important information in red
- Plan ahead, do as much as possible before the flight
- Believe the instruments!

Further study
I've read "Flyng IFR" by Richard L Collins" which reinforces the "keep current, avoid ice and thunderstorms, do lots of partial panel recoveries" mantra. Worth a considered, slow read.

And onwards...