Thursday, August 10, 2017


     The day of my instrument flight test is fast approaching. Too fast. For a week I have been alternately reviewing what I am supposed to be able to do once I’m aloft (the impossible) and groggily asking myself, “Who, me?”
     For one thing there is all the information I’m supposed to have at the tip of my tongue for the oral phase of the test. The more I study, the more convinced I am that my tongue will be tied at both ends and I would do well if I gave the examiner the right time of day. Let’s see, it’s now Zero Niner and One-half, Eastern Standard Time, so in Greenwich, England, it’s exactly . . . mmmm, One Four Two Niner and One-Half plus the five minutes it took me to figure this out, which gives us exactly  -- Oh, never mind, I’ll just ask the operator.
     Other knowledge I am supposed to demonstrate “accurately, adequately, and efficiently”:
     “The applicant will be questioned on the various symbols on the instrument enroute chart. He shall display a satisfactory knowledge of the procedures and the use of the area departure and arrival charts and the Instrument Approach Chart for the facility to be used . . . The applicant shall know and demonstrate the use of all instruments, radio, and other gear installed, including setting, timing, operation limitations, and detection of their most common failures . . . “
     After surviving, I hope, this phase of the test, I will take off from Norwood with my iron-nerved companion, put on my horizon-obliterating goggles while he tightens his seat belt over his ulcer, and climb toward the Norwood beacon. There I will contact Boston Departure Control and ask for my clearance which might or might not be ready and which might or might not be what I filed for. I will write down and read back the clearance, meanwhile trying to hold the plane in an attitude that will keep my seat-mate’s eyes in his head. If there is a delay, I can’t just stand on one foot and bite my nails. I am supposed to go into a holding pattern.
     “Holding patterns are tough,” Ed admits. “I doubt if anyone ever does them perfectly. What you do is, you flounder around in your block of airspace until you get your clearance, then try to work things out so that you leave the fix as close to the right time as possible.”
     It is important that I remember to do all my floundering around on the left side of the fix, as Norwood has a non-standard holding pattern. According to my instructor, examiners become very unhappy indeed if you make right turns when you should be making left turns.
     As I head toward Providence I will be handed over to Quonset Approach Control, who, I am sure, will wish they could hand me back. (“Can you see the Blue Hill from your present position?” they asked me a few weeks ago when I was practicing an IFR flight with Ed. “I can’t see anything!” I said plaintively from behind my blinders.)
     I plan to do an Instrument Landing System approach at Providence, the most demanding type there is because of the considerable amount of radio work to remember—outer marker to be tuned in and identified, localizer ditto, marker beacon and glide slope switches on—and because there is so little margin for error due to the extreme sensitivity of the needles.
     Ed claims I can do an ILS as well as he can, but I don’t see how he knows—he’s never yet let me finish one. He stays fairly calm until I get down around 500 feet; then he starts fidgeting and saying, “Don’t dive it, don’t dive it!”
“I’m not diving it, I’m just following the glide slope,” I say coolly. Cool because I can’t see the ground coming up the way he can.
     I figure if I can do a satisfactory ILS approach the day of the test, the examiner will be so relieved to find himself undamaged, he’ll be tolerant about my airwork. Maybe he will even mop his head and say, “Let’s skip the airwork, you passed.”
     There are a few things relating to the airwork that I am still a little hazy on. The northerly turning error, for example, which Jepperson’s Instrument Rating Course (Programmed for Simplicity—ho ho) explains thusly:
     “When the airplane is banked, the vertical component of the earth’s magnetic field causes the north seeking ends of the compass to dip to the low side of the turn, giving the pilot an erroneous indication . . . In turning to North from East in the 30 deg. North latitude area, a pilot would start a roll-out 30 deg. before reaching North, plus one-half the degree of bank to allow for roll-out . . . Turning from East to South, 30 deg. North latitude, 18 deg. bank, start a roll-out on 201 deg. (180 plus 30 deg. N. Latitude, 18 deg. Bank, start a roll-out on 201 deg. (180 deg. plus 30 deg. N Latitude—210 deg.—half of the 18 deg.—201 deg.) “
     Since I believe in being prepared, I have memorized the answer I’ll give the examiner if he asks me about the northerly turning error: “It’s all right with me if you get out and hail a cab.”
     Then there is the matter of stalls and steep turns. “Stalls,” says my Flight Test Guide, “shall be accomplished in approach and climb out configurations; recoveries should be initiated at the first positive indication of a stall.” (Good idea, I’ll try to keep it in mind.)
     “Steep turns shall be continued at last 360 deg. with a bank of approximately 45 deg.” (Thank heavens I won’t have to look at the horizon while this is going on—I’d get sick.) “The examiner will place the airplane in attitudes characteristic of those caused by lack of attention, vertigo, turbulent air (or female pilots, chuckle chuckle), and require the applicant to regain straight and level flight promptly using the `needle, ball, and airspeed’ instruments only . . . “
     The day of the flight test inexorably arrived. I got to the airport half an hour ahead of schedule, allowing myself plenty of time to check the weather, inspect our Twin Comanche, and work myself into a state of nervous prostration. My jitters were not alleviated by the discovery that the orange plastic shield on the plane’s front window had chosen today to collapse from sunstroke. Throughout the months of my instruction it performed its duty faithfully, turning the outside world black as soon as I donned the magic blue glasses. Now this small but important piece of equipment had parted company with the window and was lying on the shelf above the instrument panel, warped and twisted.
     I tried electrical tape, swear words, and psychiatry, but the shield refused to tolerate any further association with the window. I’d get it taped down on one side and would be working on the other, my elbow planted in its buckled midsection when WHAP! out would pop its first side, clouting me on the shoulder.
     “Maybe a little heat treatment will iron it out,” my instructor decides when I explain my problem. I could use a hood, of course, but a hood is much less convenient and would ruin my hair. So Charlie crouches down next to the recessed heating unit in the dispatch office and begins turning the plastic this way and that in the warm flow of air. A fellow instructor walks in, takes one look at Charlie and shakes his head. “Always knew that guy would flip some day,” he says dolefully.
     Someone asks me who my examiner for the flight test is.
     “Mr. Heefner.”
     “Good old Bart,” Charlie observes, looking up from his ironing. “`Wash-`em out Heefner,’ they call him.”
     Just an old army joke, he adds, but Ed tells me later that Mr. Heefner is not, as a matter of cold fact, noted for the ease with which he hands out instrument ratings.
     “I didn’t want to tell you until after you took the test—thought it might make you nervous.”
     Whenever I got nervous, I reminded myself that I was undoubtedly much better prepared for Mr. Heefner than most of the applicants he encountered. How many pilots took the pains, as I had, to place a dab of Coup de Feu (freely translated, “Knock `em Dead”) perfume behind each ear.
     Charlie’s heat therapy doesn’t work, but a piece of plastic borrowed from one of Wiggins’ instrument training planes fits the Comanche well enough to put me in business.

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