Part 1: Gaining an IMC rating
or a PPL’s view………………..through foggles!


This article was kindly submitted by Mike Jump BEng PhD FHEA, a senior lecturer in the  School of Engineering at The University of Liverpool……but far more importantly, Mike is a PPL holder and Westair Flying Club member who is presently undertaking his IMC rating.

So, sit back and ‘enjoy’ his reflections…….

October 2015

My flying had become stale.  I love being airborne but bimbling around Morecambe Bay and the odd trip north to Carlisle or south to Llanbedr was getting old.  Then, two things happened almost simultaneously,

1) I finished paying for the car and

2) the non-equity G-BORL scheme was proposed.

So, after a bit of smooth talking at home, approval was received from SWMBO to join and hence pay for the G-BORL scheme. So, what to do with the aircraft?

Well, I had done my Night Qualification a few years back so the next logical progression/challenge for my flying was an IMC rating.  After chatting to a few folks about what getting the rating would entail, it was ‘in for a penny, in for a (few thousand) pound(s)’ and I decided to go for it.  Here is where I am up to – just don’t mention the bit about the money to SWMBO.

Sortie 1: IMC (Instruments Meandering Constantly) Handling.

First thing to learn is how to fly with sole reference to the instruments.  ‘The book’ devotes its first 136 pages to this so is highly recommended if you are having trouble sleeping.  I find myself airborne in WW (RL was awaiting an engine at his point) with the very affable Stuart Chambers.  I went off him quite quickly: “Would you like to put these Foggles on please?”

A series of straight and level, climbs, turns and descents followed where I could hold the correct speed, altitude, rate of turn and climb/descent rate, just not the correct ones all at the same time!  Deep breath aaaaaannnnnd…….concentrate.  With some perseverance it eventually came together, so back to EGNH for a not-so-great landing but the landing gear stayed on.  Back in the club house, sat down with a cup of tea and then I realised that I was absolutely shattered.  An hour or so of intense concentration seemed to have taken its toll.  At least I had an excuse for the landing though.

'BORL's panel
‘BORL’s panel

Sortie 2: Introduction to VOR and ILS.

In ST this time, RL was still awaiting its new engine at this point, – ST seems to be missing a carb heat knob but I am assured that this is intentional.  Having completed my PPL many moons ago, I had never really been introduced to all the ‘other radio kit’ in the cockpit so here was my chance.  Tune the right frequency, make sure no ‘Fail’ flag is displayed, press ident, listen for the correct Morse code identification, spin the OBS through 360° to check for correct functioning (I think that I need to write this down).

This is mostly ok, but it is going to take some time to ‘tune in’ to the Morse code bit , having the idents printed on charts and approach plates does help though.  Airborne once again and tracking the VOR needles turns out to be a reasonably easy job in the light winds that we had on the day.  EGNH couldn’t service our request for an ILS approach, something to do with some maintenance on the airfield and the workmen not really wanting to be bathed in high intensity electromagnetic radiation.  So, over to Warton who guided us onto their ILS localiser via a surveillance radar approach, refreshingly simple, they just give you headings and heights to fly.

ILS needles are now active so just need to centre them on the display to form a nice ‘+’.  Miraculously and a large dose of beginners luck, it comes together.  I am mentally congratulating myself just as Stuart pipes up “don’t forget to configure for landing”.  Did I mention that I had gone off him quite quickly?  ‘Eff’ and, indeed, ‘Jeff’!  My brain has turned to mush and so the basics had gone clean out of my mind.  The resulting pitch and speed change meant some hasty adjustments to regain the ‘+’, but, at the decision height, the aircraft was in the vague vicinity of the runway.  Warton had cleared us for a touch and go so, don’t mind if I do….

Can’t have been too bad as they sent a Typhoon to do a flypast as we climbed away. Well OK, it may have been a coincidence.  I could almost feel the Typhoon pilot’s jealous gaze as s/he surveyed the mighty 172 as s/he roared past us.  Almost.

Sortie 3: A trip back in time – NDB tracking with the ADF.

Now, I don’t own an aviation-standard programmable GPS but I do own an old Airbox Aware.  So, when a briefing starts with “Before The War…” you know that you are moving back in time technologically-speaking.  Non-directional beacons (NDB) emit a signal in all directions.  As it reaches the aircraft, a bit of physics and engineering happens that makes the needle on the automatic direction finder (ADF) point at it.  Except for all of the phenomena that can interfere with that process of course e.g. thunderstorms, other HF transmissions, coastal effect etc.  Briefing over, in my de-mob suit, I put on my trilby and spats, and high-viz vest of course, and take flight into the 1930’s. RL now has an engine so the lesson is made slightly more complex by having to deal with a new aircraft type – as a lifelong Cessna driver, the wings appear to be in the wrong place and the pilot’s door is welded shut for some reason.

“As we climb out, I would like you to fly along the 360° track from the Blackpool NDB” Stuart says.  So, we take off from Runway 28 and I turn right onto something like 045 to intercept.  The basic idea is that by the time that I next turn onto a heading of 360° the ADF needle should be pointing straight down (in this case) ‘towards’ the airfield, allowing for wind of course.  So, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I manage to get the needle ‘straight down’ whilst flying a heading of roughly 360°.  All good.  Except for the fact that, when I check, the needle is not pointing at Blackpool.  I am pretty sure that it is actually pointing at a ferry heading into Heysham.

So, we turn around and try again.  With the aircraft set, the needle is very definitely pointing out to sea (coastal effect?).  It continues to do so until less than 5 miles out from the airfield on the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME).  Hmmm.  I wasn’t quite sure if Stuart’s suggestion to make it do something useful by tuning it in to Atlantic 252 was entirely serious, but a quick frequency change to Walney’s NDB gave better ‘text book’ results.  With yet more information and technique to assimilate, it was then back to Blackpool down the ILS , might as well if we can, for a reasonable first landing in the mighty Warrior.

I can see clearly now.......
I can see clearly now…….

Reflecting on the above, there has been a lot to learn and practice in quite a short time.  This has been a challenge and, thank goodness for pc-based flight simulators!  These are a godsend to allow you to go and fly ‘correctly’ the sortie that you were just ‘all over the place’ in, in the aircraft.  I have also learned a number of invaluable lessons:

  1. Flying instructors, however nice they appear on the outside, are fundamentally evil on the inside. The instruction to put the ‘Foggles’ on is invariably followed by a long monologue about ‘what a great view there is this morning/evening.  You can see for miles today’.
  2. I seem to be able to predict fantastic autumnal flying weather. All of my IMC lessons thus far have been conducted in CAVOK.  Please get in touch and I can tell you when I am booked in to guarantee you some decent VMC flying.
  3. Stuart’s weak spot is ‘timed turns’. This is basically flying a rate-1 turn for a known time to achieve a new desired heading (and they are quite easy).  We did this in Sortie 1 but Stuart is still raving on about them now. They are his official ‘favourite thing’.  I hope to use this information to my advantage.  If it is all getting too much, I think that if I ask him if I can brush up on some timed turns, then he is sure to agree.  But let’s just keep that between me and you.  OK?

There is still a long way to go, but I have flown more frequently over the last few weeks than I have for the preceding 6 months and learning how to fly more accurately using some of the tools that the professionals use has been just the tonic that my flying has needed.  Which reminds me, must get some more slots booked in BORL for my next few lessons………………………………to be continued.

If you’re interested in finding out what’s involved in gaining an IMC rating have a look at our IMC page


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