Thus, a girl like me can only be considered as having been bitten by a strange and incurable bug - known as the av-bug. Symptoms: a gripping desire to sell your perfectly viable business to fund more flying, despite the possibility of the job in the industry being remote. Further symptoms: wishing your car had rudders; knowing the names of all the clouds, and in fact having an obsessive/compulsive relationship with the weather; preferring the smell of avgas to Chanel No 5.
As I was updating my logbook this morning, I realised I have been learning to fly for five years now. And although my start was rocky - institutionalising a few instructors and stalking out of poorly managed schools in disgust - I write this with 528 hours in my logbook. Although these are baby hours compared to a lot of my av-pals, to me they are blood-sweat-and-tears hours. Almost every one of the first 100 involved tears. Hour 152 involved champagne (after the event, of course - my PPL flight test) before the tears began again (trying to land a 182; a tail wheel endorsement; 7 CPL exams, which, for me was a total of twelve exams, due mostly to the dastardly aerodynamics paper and my inability to 'bond' with graphs). And so it goes: failing, trying again, passing, gaining confidence; taking on something new; failing - rinse and repeat, ad inf. Mostly, they are small steps, but every once in a while, the gradient changes and you are left looking at a step which reaches your chin. There are several of these such steps - first solo, first solo nav, tail wheel, first simulated Commerical flight and the one I am looking at now: the IREX.
Legend has it, the IREX is so hard it has made military pilots weep into their moustaches. The course is sixty hours, spread over ten weeks. For one exam.
I had been quietly ignoring it for years. "I don't need an instrument rating. Or, if I do, I shall just do a PIFR" (a PIFR being a rating available for private pilots which is perfectly good for my needs, really, and does not require sitting the IREX). But then, I spent the day with an IFR pilot....
|Andrew's new G750 touch screen|
My job has led me to some interesting and amazing experiences - Tiger Moths, powered parachutes, microlights, twins and warbirds - but never before have I had the right hand seat to an IFR flight. And although to an observer like me the workload appeared immense, all I could really see was the extra dimension of freedom a pilot gains. Now, admittedly, we had a stunning day with barely a cloud in the sky, so it was rather hard to imagine applying that level of concentration to flying through heavy rain and dark cloud. But I was fascinated by the ritual and rules of instrument flight - you are constantly talking to air traffic control, aware of your position and other traffic. The approaches, whilst frighteningly alien to me, seemed calmingly absolute - you do this, follow this pattern and and everyone knows what you're doing and how and exactly where you are. It seems so much safer than a cluster of VFR pilots, approaching willy nilly from various points.
The level of organisation required seemed frighteningly high - I was never one of those girls with a neat pencil case and a colour coded time table, but then flying HAS changed me. At least to the extent that I always have a plan. And a pencil.
Andrew pointed out that once you are organised, the flying itself is then very easy. As long as you stay ahead of the aircraft, setting up arrivals and approaches well in advance and thinking ahead in the case of changes to the plan, and being prepared (as there is a lot of paper) then, declared Andrew, flying is easier and safer to boot.
Canberra is a horrible airport - it's impossible to spot the runways because of the hills - but Andrew handled it with a plan and it appeared a lot less stressful than going in there VFR (which I admit I have never really done, as on my flight test I was given radar vectors because I couldn't find the runway!)
On the way home, we encountered some cloud (Yaay!) but as Andrew flew in, all my sense screamed "no!!! No! Not allowed in cloud! Turn around! Go back!" My heart was beating like a small animal's, and I had to tell myself over and over again that it is alright. I am not in control. It is Andrew's flight.
As I relaxed, I allowed myself a smile - my instincts were well trained, reacting as they did when we flew into cloud.
Inside the cloud, it was amazing - a totally new experience. Andrew warned of the danger of icing and the importance of knowing the freezing level. The seriousness of his tone made me take note. Here is the one place where pilots often come unstuck.
I was hooked. I knew this was something I would need to learn to do - the precision, the safety and the freedom to fly through cloud, through weather. Andrew had made it quite clear, in his actions as much as in anything he actually said, that instrument flight is rewarding, fulfilling and much much safer. But, as in all good things, with reward comes responsibility.
And an exam so hard it causes student pilots to wake in the night, screaming.