First things first: I haven't been blogging much as I have been busy flying, and also helping with wedding planning. Lisa and I are getting hitched on Saturday July 26th, so we are in the final stretch of things. I suppose I should get fitted for a tux or something...
And now a flying post...
When I went to flight school at Selkirk College in Castlegar BC, we had access to 3 different FRASCA flight simulators for free. I lived in the simulators during the 2 years I was there, as I wanted as much IFR time as I could possibly get before actually flying in cloud. I was glad I did - I noticed that early in my career I was a lot more comfortable when flying in cloud than other low-time pilots who had started out flying floats first and then got their IFR, and presumably didn't have access to hundreds of hours of simulator time while getting their Instrument Ratings.
That being said, I vividly recall my first 100 hours of actual IMC experience, sitting alone in a 58 Baron doing a night cargo run. It was just me, the airplane, a couple of wingtip lights and a whole lot of cloud. I was excited, but it was also pretty spooky.
I helped calm my nerves by planning the approach well before I arrived at the initial fix. I read over the plate and made absolutely sure I knew exactly what was expected of me. I also wasn't afraid to ignore ATC for a few seconds in order to keep control of the airplane - I was never yelled at for taking a little extra time to make sure I had all my ducks in a row before allowing the radio to distract me.
Fortunately for me, I also had a working autopilot and wasn't afraid to use it for those first 100 hours or so. Once I got used to just being in cloud, I started to handfly the airplane a lot more, and that in turn greatly increased my self-confidence.
I accepted that being a little jittery was totally natural for the first few hours flying alone in cloud, but I worked hard to keep my scan going, and consciously avoided 'tunnel vision', where your scan breaks down and you end up focusing on one single instrument (usually the attitude indicator) and neglecting the other ones.
//After a thousand approaches or so, the nervous feeling morphs a little into general excitement, but my adrenaline still starts racing a little bit when shooting an approach down to minimums. That's not a bad thing.
I told myself that if I wasn't comfortable at any time during the approach, I would go around and decide whether or not to try again. If the weather was down, I wouldn't bother doing a second approach if I missed the first one - it seems to me that one of the main times people crash planes is after trying an approach multiple times.
Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.
That was pounded into my thick skull over and over during my time at Selkirk College, and it's a great rule of thumb.
I tuned my navaids and briefed myself on the approach well beforehand, and also went over the missed approach procedure until I was comfortable with exactly what was expected of me. I wasn't afraid to pull the pin if things started to look strange; this is one industry where "bravery" is generally NOT rewarded.
Flying an approach is fairly routine now, with the exception of the occasional strange one (check out Castlegar, BC or Terrace, BC for a couple of examples of weird n' wonderful approaches), but even on the routine ones I keep those basic rules in the back of my head:
Fly the plane.
Plan the approach.
Fly the plane.
Talk on the radio.
Fly the plane.
In that order has always worked for me. Safe flights!