Cloud License, Part I

Coffee, as per usual

Tomorrow is the big day. Everything since January leads to this moment— my Instrument checkride. There are two portions to the test, and oral portion and flying portion. When obtaining a rating or certificate in aviation, there are two segments: the knowledge test and practical test. I equate it with a driver’s license— one takes a written test and then drives with an examiner, except that it’s like the officer grills you on every area before you start driving.

I’m nervous. I’ve been studying, but I don’t know that I feel confident. On the collegiate level, I passed both the oral and flight portions, but by the skin of my teeth. It’s not hard flying, and the key to success is multitasking to keep yourself ahead of the aircraft. What will I do next? What will I do after that? Then what?

The examiner has a website with detailed instructions and a layout of what he may ask— word of mouth suggests that he is very laid back and reasonable, but one must know their stuff. Chair flying and reviewing procedures will help me with the flight portion, and studying the FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual), Instrument Flying Handbook, and an oral prep guide. It’s very technical information with numbers and acronyms, wherein I fall short— while my mind is keen to these concepts, I consider myself artsy and flowery, not by the book and precise. This type of flying requires precision.

My friend, Stephen, dubbed this rating my “cloud license,” because it allows for a pilot to fly solely by the reference of instruments in clouds or extremely low visibility. The human brain can be fooled easily when it can’t see anything but a white shroud— not to mention that it’s attempting to maneuver a hunk of aluminum at more than 100 miles an hour. Flights are conducted with radar vectors, radio navigational aids, and GPS, culminating with an approach to the airport that brings the aircraft down to an altitude, hopefully, below the clouds to see the runway environment. If not, the pilot executes a “missed approach” and either circles in the sky until the weather clears up a bit or goes to an alternate airport with better conditions or a more precise approach.

This does no justice as to how thick this book actually is.

My instructors say that I know my stuff, but I need to spend time with it. What happens to me in the airplane is that tasks pile up, and I fall behind— then everything needs to be done all at once, and I become flustered. During training, specifically with our aircraft that can’t go into the clouds (ironic? No. Poor planning on behalf of my university), we aren’t “in the soup” or in the clouds, so there is no real imminent doom if I don’t have my ducks in a row— but I’m usually under foggles, a view limiting device that simulates actual instrument meteorological conditions; to me, it is real.

Around the airport, it is said that if one passes the stage check performed by the school, it is almost guaranteed that one will pass the FAA test. I’m skeptical.

My yogic mind needs to incorporate what I do on the mat and what happens in the airplane— thoroughly think about each action, perform, and react without judgment.

As long as I breathe and remain calm, I think I’ve got this. Excuse me while I envelop myself in the specifics.

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