“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious.
And why shouldn’t it be… it’s the same the angels breathe.”
Well, I have done it! I have added an Instrument Rating to my Private Pilot License. The serious responsibility of launching an aircraft into IMC notwithstanding, a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, in exchange for added utility, and an arguably equal measure of responsibility. After the first strange feelings of disappearing into bright white clouds, moisture rolling over the wind screen — fighting the disorienting bumps that disturb your perfect heading and altitude… riding the ILS while compensating for a wind which changes as your altitude shrinks — normalcy again. Following many hours of burying myself in the study of, all things IFR, I can return to the same planet my wife inhabits. I’ve already discovered how fruitless is the effort of explaining instrument flying to the layperson. Blank stares.
The Saturday after my Instrument Practical Test, my wife and I had lunch in a sandwich shop near our home. I opined, “this has been very, very interesting… revealing — this whole studying, flying, and testing.” “It really tests your metal,” I said. If you’ve been through the process, you know the funky awkwardness of the outdated FAA written tests. Then there’s a bit of a test of your resolve in Part 61 instruction: securing the plane rental each and every lesson, searching, interviewing, and insisting on personality cooperation with a flight instructor. I think I can safely assume, most folks somewhere in the process, question their sanity. For me, after a healthy financial investment, I began to mentally forecast the remaining dollars required, and the likelihood of a successful outcome. At the same time, I had to ignore voices that whisper “what if” queries, such as: “what if you can’t cut it,” and the imagination’s picture of the subsequent bath in the humility river. After being trained, tested, trained some more, and tested again… success! Afterward, it seemed as if I had been studying for the Instrument Practical Test my entire life. Probably because I’m an immersive learner; I don’t just surface skim and rote learn, rather, I dunk my entire being into whatever I’m attempting.
Unlike my PPL days, I had a less flexible day-job, so I was flying in the evenings — during the fall and winter, in the dark… in actual, with some lessons on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s was the flying planet, and it leaves little time for normal things, like, moving the boxed up Christmas tree out to storage. My wife probably thought she’d lost me to chronic aviation hysteria… some veritable cult-like phenomenon. One week, I did a lesson on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night after work. I had a seminar that Tuesday night, and then a lesson Wednesday night. I express a hearty appreciation to my dear bride. Not once did she complain, or seem particularly frustrated — much. The day of the check ride she was very encouraging and was sure of a successful completion.
The wind was a bit more jovial than you’d academically prescribe for an instrument check ride, but it was VFR and otherwise ideal. The oral was a long and arduous discussion of my assigned cross-country IFR flight. “Why did you pick that?” “Why there?” “What if you lose comms, here?” “Why that alternate?” “Couldn’t you have used ‘such and such,’ as your alternate […] why not?” And on, and on — and on. Finally, the DPE was satisfied, I had enough academic understanding to do the flying part. “Hallelujah,” I thought….
The flying part of the check ride went well; I had trained so hard and in a fair amount of IMC, that hitting the headings and altitudes in relatively nice weather was not too difficult.
It’s a hell of a thing… the difference in knowing, as opposed to knowing about something. Before flying in actual IMC, I recall asking a friend and CFI what it was like. He said, “It’s like sticking your head in a pillow case.” My wife might describe the whole endeavor in the same way. Nonetheless, it changes you; you grow personally from these experiences — and growing is vital.
Below, are some quotes I personally witnessed regarding IFR flying. While you read those, I should probably move that Christmas Tree. Grins sheepishly
Quotes I heard while training for the Instrument Rating:
1. “…actual IMC – it’s like sticking your head in a pillow case.” – CFI
2. “I thought you already had a pilot’s license.” – lay folk
3. [Partial panel]”… if Lindbergh could do it — it can be done.” – Me
4. “If you can’t see the ground, you’re IFR.” – DPE