This blog examines common IFR knowledge deficiencies that lead to “pink slips” on check rides – insufficient understanding (and invitation for “more training”). Every pilot can benefit from improving their full comprehension of these weak areas so the test is “one and done.” Last week we looked at VFR pink slips, but the knowledge component for IFR is even more critical since accidents in this environment are usually not “fender benders” but fatal. Also, most DPEs are less “forgiving” at this more professional level since an IFR rating will transfer directly to the commercial pilot certificate and into the professional world with passengers in the back. The IFR test is a tough evaluation and the details are perishable; always worth a solid review.
Understand The Approach Charts: Applying chart information to a specific flight operation (what does this mean?) and “connecting the dots” between the IFR enroute chart and the approach plate are the most common deficiencies for IFR applicants. “If we are approaching KBGM from the south to fly the ILS 16 can we transition into the approach from the Binghamton VOR on the R-041 radial?” Radar goes away 5PM due to COVID (early tower closing list) and NY Center runs this approach (sort of..) Explain how I would legally transition if I were cleared to CFB at 5,ooo ft (#2 on the chart) then “cleared for the approach.” How would this differ from being similarly cleared to ITH VOR (#1) and cleared for the approach? Can I descend on the transition if “cleared for the approach” to ITH at 5,000?
If an applicant does not understand that R-041 is a “formulation radial” and not for navigation, they are unprepared to go (safely) flying in the clouds. This radial is only a method for identifying AUREY (if no RNAV or marker). R-041 is definitely not a legal route to fly. Execute CFR 91.3 and say “no” to NYC if they offer this (“vectors to final would be fine…”) Notice the absence of any altitude or distance guidance – and notice the arrow on the chart is thinner. Many applicants invent an acceptable altitude by invoking the MSA and flying “GPS direct” in the terminal area. But these pilots are essentially creating their own instrument approach with no testing. MSA is only for emergency terrain avoidance (escape altitude), not for navigation. (The other lesson embedded here; controllers can be in error also. And every pilot – esp. IFR – must be “PIC” and fully in charge of their flight! Examiners are looking for “command authority.” The meek may “inherit the earth” but they do not make safe instrument pilots – don’t be a “sheep!”)
ITH is an IAF (initial approach fix) for this approach and where the approach may begin (darker arrow and altitude/distance defined). A great resource to understand this level of detail is the Aeronautical Chart Users’ Guide for Terminal Procedures. (and this is so basic I cannot understand why CFIIs send applicants for an IFR test without this essential knowledge.)
Understanding RNAV/RAIM/RNP: Let’s go “modern” (PBN?) – there are lots of technical requirements here (every new plate as a potential “minefield” hiding some essential problem) e.g. “what is the ‘Z’ in the title?” ” Is the “Y” plate better?” What kind of equipment is necessary to fly this (installation, inspections, database, required manual onboard, potential RAIM warnings). What is RNP .03? Do I have the capability on board the plane today? These are all questions an examiner might ask but usually in a scenario format.
But more basically, if I am transitioning from the north, can I be vectored to TIFZY and transition into this approach legally starting from the IF? See AIM section 5-4-7, it previously had very specific guidance, the “rules” here seem to change frequently…careful!
“Radar vectors” are increasingly the superglue of the IFR system (along with “GPS direct”- “Going Perfectly Straight”) It is critical in IFR to know what is legal and what is unsafe and stupid (OROCA?)If not sure of procedure or clearance, always ASK for clarification. Especially if you want a straight-in approach when aligned from the enroute system, just solicit “cleared for a straight-in approach.”
Understanding Approach and Minimums: This is a big fail and it seems that many applicants for IFR flight tests have never read CFR 91.175 or AIM 2-4-5 carefully (The AIM is very readable and essential for IFR). Ignorance here s is often “game over” for IFR flight tests (because it will lead directly to an accident). Can we take-off (or shoot an approach) if the ATIS is saying we have 1/8 mile visibility? If “yes” for a take-off, how does that sync with our risk management plan P-A-V-E (ACS IR.I.C.R1-7)? So yes, a part 91 operation can fly a departure or shoot an approach “zero/zero” legally (but remember legal vs safe from last week?) and we still need “Minimum visibility” to land (ceilings are not limiting). “How do I proceed if I get to decision altitude and I only see the sequenced flashing lead-in lights? “(no looking this one up in the regs) Hopefully, an applicant has internalized CFR 91.175 – “you can continue to 100 feet above the touchdown zone” But then if I see the green terminating lights, how do I know if I have the required 1/2 mile required visibility?
Ever notice the light bars on most approach lighting systems are 2400-3000 feet long? This is not a coincidence. If we are at the end of light bars with green runway end lights in sight, we have 1/2 mile viz. (if you see to the VASI you have 3/4sm) Can an applicant find their chart legend and discover this on their iPad? And do I now fully satisfy CFR 91.175 for a landing? What else is required?
Non-precision approaches with no vertical guidance are increasingly rare (and that is a great safety aid for IFR safety; no “chop and drop” anymore). Depending on what equipment is on board my clapped-out Piper product, how do I fly this approach? Can I legally fly it with what I have in the plane (and identify step downs)? Can I use ForeFlight (or other EFB) to identify these fixes? For extra credit “what in the heck does ‘fly visual 238degrees’ mean on the plate below?” I thought at minimums I either see the “runway environment” and land and go missed? Why is the FAA telling me to “scud run” to the airport? (BTW, this FAA procedure does not meet the CFR 91.175 reg, and a waiver had to be issued).
Know your enroute chart details too: This is an excerpt from the FAA Aeronautical Chart User’s Guide for Low Altitude Charts: There should be no big mysteries here since these charts tell us where and how to fly IFR (there will be questions…)
Understand STARS: Most pilots in training have never actually flown a STAR but need to know what they are and how to select, activate and fly one. If you are cleared for the NOBBI FIVE headed into KHPN can we descend to the depicted altitudes along the route on the chart? (NOPE!) This is kind of an “ambush” because it looks just like an approach plate and “cleared” sounds “good to go.” Just remember they “cleared” you for an *arrival route* but *NOT* the altitudes. These are only advisory until cleared by the controller to “descend via.” This mistake probably represents about half of the ASRS Reports filed every month and is commonly misunderstood by pilots at all levels (even in jets).
Incidentally, I have heard the argument that “I will never fly a STAR” or “I am a piston, low altitude pilot” or “I would never fly to minimums” But I have had successful pilots immediately buy a TBM or get hired and be flying jets within a few months of their flight test. All the privileges being conferred must be tested (Instrument ACS)
Weather knowledge applied to Approach and Alternates: This area is HUGE, but one essential question I never miss is “how far can we stretch a TAF.” (it is critical to know the resolution and legal limits of every weather product – what does it mean to me?) “If I file IFR to KFRG on Long Island, can I use the KISP TAF (it comes up automagically in ForeFlight) to determine if I need an alternate?” “Can I file IFR to a grass runway?” What are the implications for alternates?” “Once I file an alternate do I have to go there if I miss?” BTW, remember the 1-2-3 rule as “it has to be “pretty good VFR” or I need an alternate. I have heard 1= 1000 ft ceiling, 2 miles viz (we all get confused under stress).
Required Equipment for IFR Flight: Last week’s blog covered some VFR equipment questions (91.205 and 91.213) This same reg. covers IFR the equipment necessary for IFR operations. But this will be contextual (based on your individual situation) and possible failures can occur (can we stil file and fly IFR?). A RAIM failure would be a possible question, as would the required navigational performance (RNP) for various approaches (see Chart Guide)
Known Icing: This was covered in detail in a previous blog (and is usually not what applicants think it is). There is a surprisingly big focus on this in the current Instrument ACS: IR.II.A.K.1 (IFR Area of Operation 2– Knowledge) and IR.II.A.R1&2 (Risk 1 and 2). Icing is a very real hazard that every IFR pilot must understand, respect and mitigate. The ACS codes you see are now in the SAFE Toolkit App for easy reference (every CFI has to sign off training on these – CFR 61.39). The dedicated page on the app includes the IFR endorsements. Fly safe out there (and often)!
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