Palo Alto, completing the IR training

I started my IR training in West Valley Flying Club ( http://www.wvfc.org ) in San Francisco area . The plan was to get fast and cheap instrument rating. Soon I noticed that if you really like to get easy IR as as quickly and fast, the San Francisco bay area is worst possible choice. If you like to get good IR with it you can fly about any busy airspace, it is excellent choice.

First surprises were that American airspace system and regulations differ a lot from European ones and San Francisco bay area airspace structure is really complicated and busy. Helsinki area is about small village compared to SF-bay area. There, Palo Alto, just one of dozens local general aviation airports has as much GA-airplanes that exists in all Finland. It was also surprise that radio fraseology differs a lot from European one and if you are non native English speaker, busy fast IFR radio communications needs some time to adapt.

It is also not the fastest and cheapest to start IR training with Cirrus SR20 with Avidyne glass cockpit. When I started the training, Cirrus was our number one alternative and WVFC did not had Diamond in this time. They charge $199 or $214 for SR20, $164 for C172/G1000 but Steam Gauge Cessna or Piper you may get around $100 . Cirrus is also not considered as ordinary airplane for WVFC, it needs minimum 11 hours type training and special check ride called phase check.

Flying club as like WVFC was not a fastest way to get training, there is also other members booking planes and flight instructors and therefore you can’t fly when you want to do so. Some flight schools may designate plane and instructor for you all of the course. This Flying club system is just not most cost efficient if you are not local but coming from distant country and need to pay hotel and car rental for every day you are flying or not. Also Silicon valley is not the cheapest place to stay.

When i started my flight training 2008 I Strongly underestimated my schedule, I scheduled one month period for flight training. It was strongly underestimated, i just could not got booked enough plane and instructor to get training completed. I spent many days just for keeping vacation, that was not bad idea at all in SF bay area. IR Training is also and work, so it is not bad idea to have some free time between sessions. I had plan to return autumn to complete training but this did not happen. In 2008 trip I also learned that many things can go wrong in paperwork. I had plan to get FAA Medical and FAA PPL . When i was already in Palo Alto, FAA told to me that they did’t approve my translated medical records because they are not translated by FAA approved translator. Even today, i don’t know what is and where to find FAA approved Finnish to English translator. For next trip, I asked doctors to write their statements in English and sign them as originals to avoid this translation problem.

I returned spring 2009 continuing my instrument training, I chose cheaper C172 G1000 plane that the club had more of them than Cirrus SR20’s and i got in practice designated flight instructor. I think that also economical depression affected so that instructors and planes were no longer so booked than spring 2008 . Now I also has basically all paperwork done. I had European JAA and FAA medical and i had file application for FAA Restricted PPL .

When I returned after one year since i had my previous instrument training, it needed several hours training just to get level where I was year ago when i left. In Spring 2009 i did written test and got basically training program done but once again bad luck with paper work. I got my FAA Restricted PPL based on European pilot’s license but i was unable to get appointment booked to San Jose FSDO and therefore I was unable to have Check ride.

Now in this trip, i finally had everything done. I had training done, I had all medicals in my hand, i had appointment booked to San Jose FSDO and I had check ride booked. The trip from Florida to Palo alto took couple of days longer than estimated and we needed to re-schedule my check ride to Monday 27 July. Now i had couple of days time to refresh my IR skills before check ride. Then Monday i was thinking that everything is ready and we started ground part of checkride but it was interrupted n beginning because there was couple on flight instructor signatures missing from my logbook. The Check ride was then re-scheduled Wednesday 29.

In Wednesday, we finally were able to begin my checkride. I had Tom Hornak as my check ride pilot. At first he went thru my application and logbook, then checked airplane documents, maintenance records etc. Then he did tho oral part, series of good questions like what i would do in complete radio failure situation, some details from approach plates, how to get weather briefing etc. Then started actual check ride, I filed flight plan to Stockton ( KSCK, route SJC V334 SUNOL V195 ECA ). In Stockton we did VOR rwy 21, touch an go, then continued GPA A to Tracy ( KTCY ) and that approach we did as partial panel. From tracy missed approach we did couple of holds and then ILS rwy 25R to Livermore. That was the check ride and I was really happy and relieved when Tom said that I passed. Finally long lasting dream and couple of years long project was completed.

About actual training, my instructors in West Valley, Scott Stauter and Brian Elliot give excellent instruction. Wvfc had excellent facilities, wide variety of planes to chose, starting from old steam gauge Cessnas to modern glass cockpit Diamond Star DA40, TwinStar DA42 Cirrus SR20 and SR22 and several G1000 Cessna 172 . They also have Frasca G1000 simulator that we used as mush as we could for my training. There is several good reasons to use simulator. With simulator you can practice mush more approaches in same time, you can practice more fault conditions than in real plane and it costs 100 dollars less for hour than aircraft.

Then there is question, should you get your instrument training with glass or with steam gauges. As my personal opinion, if you plan to fly modern glass cockpit planes, you should get your training with glass. Flying glass needs so much different skills. Reading the attitude indicator , altitude and airspeed is the easy thing. Much more skills is needed to program flight plan, selecting approaches etc. Your most busy times comes when you approach your target airport, get weather and you are cleared to approach. In this situation you need to program right approach into system, brief it to yourself and be all of the time up to date with radio traffic and on course fly the plane. You can practice most of the things in ground but then real thing is to do it in busy conditions in flying airplane. Partial panel is also completely different with glass and steam. In practice difference between Cirrus with Avidyne/GNS430 or Diamond with G1000 is not as big at all. Garmin logic to program flight plans and approaches is very similar in both of these.

Other question is that should you get your IFR training done in some peaceful little city or in busy San Francisco bay airspace.If you like to get it done cheaply and fast, small city flight school may be good choice. If you like to get your skills to level where about no airspace is too busy to you take SF-Bay but remember
that you may not got it done with minimum hours.

Now, i have crossed north American continent twice and passed many big cities Class-B air spaces but i have not yet found as busy as SF-bay area . Some rumors tell that Los Angeles area is even worse but i have not yet had change to try.

Lessons learned. Best is not cheapest and fastest. If you fly glass, take your IR with glass even it costs more. If you plan to fly in busy airspaces get your IR there but you need more hours. If you need split your training to multiple chunks, it causes some penalty, may be 10 hours to get level you where uou were when you left. If you are flying IR in flying club, verify that you have plane and instructor available or you can’t keep your schedule. Be prepared that what ever you try, some factors may ruin your schedule. Prepare your paperwork lot of advance, book appointments to FSDO etc lot of advance. Remember, that if there is something wrong in papers, it may took two months round trip to fix it.

And at last but not least, IFR if fun, i don’t regret that i started . I think that getting training in SF-bay and with glass was right choice but it definately was not fastest or cheapest one.

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