The final countdown!

Another very busy week finished, and I am into the final stretch of Phase II! Last week I finished up my Instrument Flying phase, and spent the week flying back and forth to Swift Current and Regina shooting approaches. I even spent a day flying my "Out and Back" where I flew from Moose Jaw to Regina and then to Saskatoon where we landed and refueled while we grabbed lunch, and then flew to Swift Current and finally back to Moose Jaw. The purpose of these two trips is to have students fly 'Out' from Moose Jaw and practice arrival procedures in a different airport. Often these trips will be split over two days so students will fly out the last wave of one day, spend the night in Saskatoon, and fly home the next morning. In my case we did both flights in the same day. It was a fun trip, but very tiring as there wasn't much time cruising at altitude but rather just about every minute was spent conducting checks or preparing for our arrival at the next airport.  In reality I actually had to try the flight out to Saskatoon twice as the first time we had a Trim Aid Device (TAD) failure after the approach in Regina. This was a minor failure of the trim on the rudder, but resulted in us returning to Moose Jaw rather than continuing to Saskatoon and then back through Swift Current. This meant redoing the flight the next day, and adding another trip to my countdown of finishing this course.

By the time I reached my pre-test flight leading to the Basic Instrument Test (BIT), I was very comfortable with all the approaches in both Regina and Swift Current, and was simply trying to get through the flights as fast as possible. This meant that I went into my Pre-Test relaxed, and at ease rather than stressing about every detail. It was the first flight of the day, and we were airborne by 8 am. Flying into Regina we quickly got onto vectors and had a 40 NM stretch to go to shoot the approach since the winds were out of the Northwest rather than the normal Southeast.  The air was perfectly calm and the sun was burning off what remained of the morning fog. Because of the abnormally long stretch, I found myself finished all my checks and prepared for the approach with about 5 minutes to spare. Even more amazingly, we appeared to be the only one in Regina's airspace as not a single person spoke on the radio during this time. For those 5 minutes I found myself completely relaxed, enjoying the view, and smiling. Its a tough experience to put into words, but the result is a sense of peace. Its moments like these that make me love flying. Its these moments that have driven me to pursue aviation with such passion and enthusiasm. Ironically, the style of flying I have chose (fast jets namely) results in nearly every minute of the flight being taken up performing checks and preparing for the next step. The result is I never take a moment to look outside and truly soak in the experience. These 5 blissful minutes last week reminded me of why I fly, and reminded me to try and experience the moment, no matter how busy I may be.

After my relaxing flight into Regina, I was informed that my test would be into Swift Current for a No-RNAV Approach. What this means is that I would fly to Swift Current and fly anything but a GPS approach. Since Swift Current is an uncontrolled aerodrome, the only remaining option is a VOR only or a VOR/DME approach, each with a procedure turn entry. If you don't know what that means, don't worry, it just means that for these approaches I would have to do significantly more work than a GPS approach.  Of the four possible test profiles, this one is considered to be the most difficult/undesired.  I was scheduled to fly this flight Thursday afternoon, but we decided to cancel at the last minute due to a massive thunderstorm that had developed. This proved to be a wise decision as the thunderstorm came through and rained hail the size of a toonie (literally, no joke). Nearly every car in the parking lot was dimpled like a golf ball, 7 of the Harvard aircraft were damaged, and 3 of the 4 Hawk aircraft were damaged. Thankfully, on Friday I was given one of the remaining Harvard aircraft and flew my test profile with great success achieving a "Standard Exceeded" or a "Snake". This was a really satisfying result since the entire phase of Instrument Flying has been really successful for me, and it felt good to continue that success on a flight where it counted.

I am down to 9 remaining flights, 8 of which are low level navigation flights. This week I will be flying at 240 Kts (4 miles a minute, or more importantly to me, 1 mile every 15 seconds), at 500' above the ground. While doing so I'll be doing my best to navigate the old fashioned way, with a map, a compass, and a stopwatch. Since I'm in the prairies, the entirety of the province is divided into neat 1 mile by 1 mile squares with not much else to look at. The result is that a lot of the turn-points students are looking for are some kind of intersection. This has lead to the sage advice being passed around that "if you think you found your turn-point, but you are 15 seconds early, keep going. You're at the wrong intersection, the one you want is a mile further".

It's a mad dash to the finish as I aim to try and complete my 9 remaining flights this week so that I can start Phase III ground school on Monday next week. As my dad always says, no rest for the wicked!

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