Lesson 2: IFR training in the Independence Aviation Cirrus Flight Simulator
Working in TV news, the early weekday hours seem to follow me into the weekends. I naturally awoke at 3am with a warm puppy pressed up against my leg. I had that reactionary split second fear that I was supposed to be getting dressed up in a suit for a Friday show, but quickly realized it was Saturday and it was time to fly! Nubbin would have preferred we stay in bed and watch reruns of the Golden Girls, but sorry Nubs, Mom is on a mission. It is so nice to just throw on a pair of jeans, a hat and ponytail and drive to the airport.
My instructor John and I had checked the weather on Friday so we knew visibility would be low on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We booked both lessons in the Cirrus flight simulator. Independence Aviation built a full Cirrus SR-22 simulator right there in the main office and it is such an incredible flight tool. Start to finish, it is exactly like the real plane. It is a full room with a 180 degree wall of surrounding simulated flight conditions. You can fly in any sort of weather, you can choose which airport you fly out of and you can also pull the parachute.
When I got out of bed and walked out on my 40th floor balcony I knew that since I couldn’t see the ground, we wouldn’t be flying in the plane. I left the house at 6:30 (sans Starbucks) and it is a good thing I left when I did. It was snowing like crazy South of Colorado Blvd along I-25.
Jump forward to jumping in the sim… John told me that today was all about simulated instrument failures and unusual attitudes. From taking away my primary flight display to killing just the artificial horizon, he kept removing key elements from the glass cockpit, forcing me to rely on my GPS and my steam gauges. It was a fun challenge in the simulator because it takes away the element of fear while still allowing you to use checklists, gain confidence and understand the importance of the scan of your panel. It is easy to get fixated on one particular aspect of your position in flight and forget the rest. For instance, if you only focus on your altitude, you could be inadvertently turning. With no reference to the sky or the actual horizon, one could easily stall or spin the plane. This part of our training went well and I feel confident that even with a systems failure and zero visibility I will eventually be able to safely land the plane.
Next up was our very first practice ILS approach. This basically means that we are using a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to airplanes flying towards a runway. This system uses radio signals and high intensity lighting arrays to get pilots through weather. Essentially we flew in zero visibility conditions until we were 200 feet off the ground, then we landed the plane (quite I smoothly, I might add). What is great about the sim is that it records your data and allows you to visually see, on a printed chart, how close you remained toward your desired path, including altitude, heading and approach speed. Here is one of my charts:
According to John, I did alright for my first go. See the two small circles in the bottom right quadrant of the second chart? Those are my 360 steep turns from when we were practicing headings and maintaining altitudes. That is just cool.
So far, we have covered material from lessons 1-8 in our first two IFR lessons! I am thrilled to be back on track with my flying career and to keep this momentum up. Tomorrow I will be back in the sim at 9:30 am so get on with more approaches! Yes!