Getting My Instrument Rating

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I haven’t been sure where to post this story once I decided to memorialize it (before I forget). It may not be long enough to present as a Flying Story on my personal website but its only relevance at this site is the fact that the rating is what qualified me to be hired by the FAA in the first place. So, lets start with it here.

I began flight training in January, 1966, at Burnside-Ott Aviation located at OPF as part of a larger Professional Aviation program which had recently been implemented at Miami-Dade Junior College. I was utterly wet behind the ears and had no idea of all the aviation I’d experience and all the ancillary to aviation things I’d learn in the duration. The bottom—and oversimplified—line was that in eighteen months I’d be a licensed Commercial Pilot with an Instrument Rating.

There’s no part of this story which requires any detail about the program nor my experiences in it, save the story of the day I became an instrument pilot, and the general notion that I didn’t much care for any kind of check flight—whether it was a progress check or an actual check ride—a distaste which carried on through my ATC career. Consequently, as I completed the syllabus for the Commercial, I decided to go right on and do the work for the Instrument (which I recall was roughly ten hours in the Link and another ten in the air. I’d resolve the check ride issues later.

So, once done with all the air/ground work, and with all the paperwork in hand (written test certificats, logbook endorsements, and recommendations), I girded my loins and set out to schedule a check ride for my instrument rating (most recently completed and which wouldn’t involve any maneuvers which made me uncomfortable—like stalls). The nice lady at the desk, with whom I’d interacted on many occasions over the preceding eighteen months, disabused me of my attempt to game the system.

I don’t recall the exact thresholds at the time, so please don’t fact check me. I recall the exchange at the desk in general terms, however, and the crux of the matter was that in order to take the Instrument check ride, I had to have a Commercial license. While I was right at 200 hours, nevertheless, the requirement at that time was something like 250 hours (and a Private license, which I had), or having completed the process from an approved syllabus (which I was in, hence the reason I was on the cusp of my Commercial, although I hadn’t done the ride).

So, I girded my loins and scheduled my Commercial check ride. High time pilots may scoff, but with 200 hours under my belt in the space of eighteen months and in a structured program, I was a pretty decent stick and rudder pilot at that point. Green, yes, but I was well schooled in basic airmanship. So, a day or two later, I climbed into a 150 with a check pilot and off we went to do stalls (power on—the real ones in those days—and power off), chandelles, lazy 8s, turns on pylon, basic hood work, takeoffs and landings, slow flight, and steep turns. Some of those were also on the Private ride, but they wanted to ensure mastery if one is going to carry passengers for hire. No problems, and a final gift of advice from the check airman that made me a good lander for life as we touched down back at OPF.

A day or so later, I went back for my Instrument ride, and was delighted to find I had the same check pilot as for my Commercial. Since he’d seen some pretty decent hood work just two days earlier (as it should have been, what with a recommendation for Instrument already in my log book), we kind of sailed through turns, climbs, descents, unusual attitudes, etc., in fact, I daresay we might have actually skipped most of them and quickly headed for FLL to shoot an NDB and a localizer approach (FLL didn’t have a glide slope in those days).

The NDB approach was ragged as always, but good enough, but the horror was when I busted minimums by about 100' when I did the localizer approach. The check pilot had me “miss” and gave me a “clearance” to the holding fix associated with the missed approach. As we neared the fix, I heard no further “clearance” from him, so upon hitting the fix, I started to roll into the turn to begin holding, as is required under those circumstances. He said, “I got it,” and my heart sank. I figured blowing an altitude was probably an automatic fail in a checkride, and that I was figuratively being taken for the long walk.

He then said, “I don’t get to fly much any more, let me take it for a while,” whereupon he did exactly that, eventually wandering back to OPF, and once there, with not a bit of recrimination or hesitation, he signed my papers and I walked out with another license to learn.

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Last updated: 18 February 2013