The day you earn your private pilot’s certificate, people are quick to tell you that you’ve just received your “license to learn.” And with a little more than 40 hours under your belt, you’re keenly aware of how much you just don’t yet know. In fact, the most terrifying flight of my life was probably the short hop from Frederick to Gaithersburg whilst the ink dried on my temporary certificate.
Last night I got a chance to fly again, the first time I was the flying pilot since February 14th. An instructor and I piled into my airplane for a ride to Tipton, then over to Martin State, and back to Gaithersburg. It had been a long time since I had done any kind of night landings; the FAA requires that pilots perform three landings at night to a full stop in order to carry passengers in the dark. My goal was to get current, and to gain some valuable experience.
A little more than a year after hearing the words, “you’re a pilot now”, I earned my instrument rating and thus the right to fly through the clouds, rain and other weather. I took my instrument airplane checkride with Robert (Bob) Gawler at Gaithersburg, and despite being the more difficult checkride, it was a worthwhile experience.
I postponed my instrument checkride yesterday.
Though I have the number of required hours, I don’t feel ready to take the checkride. It’s a hard thing to admit: not being ready, but it’s an important part of being a good pilot. I don’t want to take a checkride that I’m not prepared for any more than I want to take a flight that I am not certain will have a good outcome. It’s just not worth it.
The first and most important element of aircraft control under instrument flight conditions is trusting the instruments. Pilots who rely upon their own sensations are on a quick ride to their deaths. The instruments are the only reliable means of determining pitch, bank and yaw. Non-instrument rated pilots are often killed in instrument conditions largely based on their failure to follow their instruments, rather than their instincts.
I’m nearing the end of my formal instrument training, with only a half a dozen or so lessons remaining before I’ll be prepared to take a checkride. Much of the training has been uneventful and focused on making it possible to handle routine instrument flights: attitude instrument flying, instrument approaches, radio communications, flight planning and the like. Recently I’ve been working on the last major piece of the puzzle: emergency procedures and, specifically, partial panel procedures.