Instrument Rating

In order to save money while training for an instrument rating, flight simulators are commonly used. The flight simulator at the Brampton Flying Club was a capable simulator for a twin engine airplane, and costs substantially less than renting even a single engine real airplane. Transport Canada allows a maximum of 20 hours in the simulator to be logged against the time required to obtain an instrument rating. Unfortunately for me, I didn't learn all my exercises within that 20 hours.

Enter Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. In order to sharpen my procedural skills at no additional cost to me, I resurrected an old copy of MSFS 98 and re-installed it on my then-running Windows 95 machine with a whopping 48 megabytes of RAM! It could simulate a Cessna 182 - a machine very similar to the Cessna 172R that I often rent. Although I am unable to log MSFS hours against my rating requirements, the program allowed me to develop my skills between my weekly lessons at the Brampton Flying Club.

The "out of the box" program did not have a complete database of all Canadian airports (somehow they even missed our nation's capital), but the navigation aids were quite comprehensive for the Toronto area. I could take off from Toronto Buttonville, track NDBs to Toronto City Centre, track the VOR to Toronto Pearson, practice various holds, and then shoot an ILS approach - all without a single dollar leaving my pocket. It had great features like "course tracking", where it draws a line on a map showing your flight path. I could see just how accurate I had flown a holding pattern.

After passing the written test for the instrument rating, I resumed practice in the real rented aircraft. I quickly realized that while the aircraft were suitable for simulated conditions, they were not as safe as I would like for actual flight into instrument conditions. For example, there was often one radio that was unservicable, leaving no communication and navigation redundancy. The GPS database was rarely up to date. Another factor is the weather. In these rented aircraft, you can't fly in most actual conditions during the summer due to the risk of thunderstorms. (There is no on-board radar nor "weather in the cockpit".) Also, you can't fly in cloud from mid-October to late May due to the risk of icing. (The aircraft are not equiped with de-/anti-icing equipment.) That leaves the odd summer foggy morning or hazy afternoon to take advantage of the instrument rating. I do not feel this is a practical use of the rating considering you have to renew the rating with a check-ride every two years. I therefore gave up training for the instrument rating. If ever I can afford to buy my own twin with known ice and weather in the cockpit, I shall resume my instrument rating training.

The picture below shows a layout produced by Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 for a Cessna 182. Click areas in the picture below to see a description of the instruments used for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).


Chronometer This is the clock. It can be used to tell the time in several ways - the local time, the UTC (zulu) time, and elapsed time (stop-watch).<picture>
Airspeed Indicator This tells the "indicated air speed", not to be confused with "calibrated" air speed and "true" air speed. It is the speed the aircraft is "deemed" to be moving through the air for most calculations.<picture>
Attitude Indicator This is sometimes called the artificial horizon. When in cloud, it is used to provide pitch (nose up/down) and roll (banking) information. It is a vacuum driven gyroscope.<picture>
Altimeter This device shows the height the aircraft is deemed to be above "mean" sea level. There are many reasons why this is not "true altitude", so an extra margin of safety is flown to maintain obstacle clearance. The long hand is hundreds of feet, the short hand is thousands of feet. The example shows 4040 feet.<picture>
Turn Coordinator

This device has multiple functions. The little airplane symbol indicates the "rate" at which the aircraft heading is changing. (Wings level = aircraft is not turning.) The symbol also functions as a backup for the attitude indicator's roll information. The black ball under the airplane symbol indicates "coordination". When centered, the position of the rudder (yaw control) is coordinated with the position of the ailerons (roll control). This means a passenger will feel a turn as a small increase in gravity (weight), rather than being thrown sideways against a window. The airplane symbol is an electrically driven gyroscope, and the black ball is driven by gravity and acceleration.<picture>

Heading Indicator This instrument indicates the direction the airplane is "pointed". Due to drift in wind, this might not be the direction the airplane is traveling over the ground. It is a vacuum driven gyroscope.<picture>
Vertical Speed Indicator This instrument indicates the rate at which altitude is changing, usually expressed in hundreds of feet per minute.<picture>
Course Deviation Indicator (NAV1) This instrument indicates if the airplane is off course when tracking the radio station tuned with the NAV1 radio. It also has a glide slope indicator (horizontal bar) used when making precision approaches to an airport in bad weather.<picture>
Course Deviation Indicator (NAV2) This instrument indicates if the airplane is off source when tracking the radio station tuned with the NAV2 radio. It does not have a glide slope indicator.<picture>
Automatic Direction Finder Indicator This instrument indicates where the radio station (tuned with the ADF radio) is located relative to the airplane's heading. For example, if the needle points left, then the radio station is to the left of the airplane.<picture>
Tachometer This is not really an IFR instrument, but since it is in such a big circle, I thought I'd include it here. The tachometer indicates how fast the engine is turning in revolutions-per-minute (RPM). The example shows 2250 RPM.<picture>
COM1 and NAV1 Radio This is actually two radios - one used for communications (COM1) and one used for navigation (NAV1). The navigation radio is wired to the first Course Deviation Indicator.<picture>
COM2 and NAV2 Radio This is actually two radios - one used for communications (COM2) and one used for navigation (NAV2). The communication radio serves as a backup for COM1. The navigation radio is wired to the second Course Deviation Indicator and serves as a backup for NAV1. This is very important when flying with instrument flight rules because the pilot must be able to communicate with air traffic control for clearances, and must be able to navigate to find the destination.<picture>
Automatic Direction Finder Radio This radio is wired to the Automatic Direction Finder Indicator. By tuning the radio to an AM station, the indicator will point to the station.<picture>
Distance Measuring Equipment This radio is tuned to special radio stations which re-broadcast an aircraft's interrogation signal. Knowing that radio signals travel at the speed of light allows the device to convert the time it takes to receive the response to the distance to the station.<picture>
Transponder This radio responds to interrogations from the air traffic controllers "secondary surveillance" radar. The transponder broadcasts the aircrafts four digit transponder code (example 1200) and the aircrafts altitude. This allows the air traffic controller to more positively identify the aircraft, and where it is.<picture>
Autopilot This device can be used to assist the pilot with navigating the aircraft. The example shown will hold heading and vertical speed. The actual autopilot used in the Cessna 172R that I rent is only "single axis" - it only controls aileron inputs.<picture>


Autopilot Transponder Distance Measuring Equipment Automatic Direction Finder Radio COM2 and NAV2 Radio COM1 and NAV1 Radio Tachometer Course Deviation Indicator (NAV2) Automatic Direction Finder Indicator Course Deviation Indicator (NAV1) Vertical Speed Indicator Heading Indicator Turn Coordinator Altimeter Attitute Indicator Airspeed Indicator Chronometer