Ultimate Instrument Proficiency Check

I fly a lot of new experimental aircraft, which means I do a lot of flying with the latest technology when it comes to panels, EFISes, and IFR navigators. So when I went to do some multi-engine training in a friends 1967 Twin Comanche, I knew that I was in for a challenge. It had nothing thing to do with remembering the rules and regs for IFR flight - the problem was going to be getting sharp enough to pass an Instrument Proficiency Check on a six pack and raw data! Not only that - it wasn't truly what we call a six pack these days - the DG was below the altimeter, and the VSI was off wandering around in right field. The autopilot hadn't worked in the memory of any recent owners - so this was hand flying all the way. It was a challenge.

And... it was fun!

Now it wasn't totally old school - the airplane did have a GNS 430W so we could shoot approaches with glideslopes to a lot of places without ILSs. But I was informed early on that the examiner I was going to be using for my check-ride didn't allow the use of moving maps for instrument work. Now we can debate the wisdom of that all we want - I could just as well argue that all instrument work be done in an open cockpit, in the rain because... that's the way it used to be done. But you don't get to argue with the examiner, so off went the map, and all I looked at were the needles. I hadn't played that game for a dozen years - but it seems like a lot longer than that.

In the end, I proved that I could still fly the old fashioned way - no HiTS, no Synthetic Vision, no Velocity Vectors and no artificial runway. It was work, but it was still doable. But what I really proved was just how much safer and easier life in the air is when you have all those things. Some look at them as crutches. But if you have sufficient redundancy, do you have to prove that you can do it with a clock and a compass? The job is not to prove how Neanderthal you can be, the job is to prove how safely we can fly. And modern technology has greatly enhanced our safety of flight. CFIT is still a cause of accidents, but to a much lower extent than in years before. Losing one's orientation or situational awareness can still happen - but moving maps can help you get it back much quicker. And using an autopilot intelligently, to take the load off the pilot and allow them to use their higher brain functions to stay ahead of the airplane, is a much better way to fly than juggling all of the navigational balls in a fast airplane while still staying upright.

No, today's pilots may not be the supermen (and women) of years gone by - but the old days weren't all they were cracked up to be. Let's face it - I am still a bit older than that Twin Comanche, so I know what I'm talking about..

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

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