The Instrument Check


by Roger G. Crewse December 1959
Interceptor November 1976

Coolstone was within two months of his birthday. This meant that an instrument check was in the offing. For three years he and his ole buddy buddy had been giving each other instrument checks. The only trouble either he or his ole buddy buddy had experienced with this arrangement was to establish who was to give whom the check first. Since they were both IP’s and in fairly scarce supply, no one had ever noticed this little drama as it had unfolded each year.

Now Coolstone was in real trouble. He’d lost his ole buddy buddy to an overseas levy, and the Cold Rock was faced with finding a new ole buddy buddy to ride with. This problem had been in the back of his mind for several weeks, when suddenly it came to a head, for he received notice from his Base Operations Officer that he was scheduled for the instrument school which was to include three practice instrument rides, an instrument examination, and five half days of ground school.

Coolstone went down to the Base Operations, found the OIC of the instrument school, and said, “Say, I understand you have me down for the instrument school.”

“That’s right,” said the OIC.

“Well, now, as you know, I am reasonably well experienced in this instrument business, and perhaps I really don’t need the school. It might be wise if my slot were given to one more deserving of such preferential treatment.”

“Coolstone,” said the OIC, “there is a base regulation out which requires everyone, no matter where he is assigned, or what he does, or how well he is qualified, to attend our instrument school. So I suggest that whatever week you’re scheduled for, you get down here and go through it. We have ground school in the morning, and we fly in the afternoon.”

Coolstone could see further conversation was useless, and he backed out of the OIC’s office.

The only thing to do, he figured, was to look through the list of IP’s and find one who had a birthday pretty near his, and then go have a casual conversation with him. This the Cold Rock did, and, sure enough, he found an instructor with whom he was acquainted and who had a birthday 30 days later than Coolstone’s.

“How about running me through the school, buddy buddy,” he said.

“Sure thing,” said his new ole buddy buddy. “I’ll run you through, and you run me through. How’ll that be?”

“Fine. I must admit that thought had crossed my mind also.”

The next week the instrument school was to start, and Coolstone reported in for the ground school, which he considered to be a complete waste of time for one as talented as he and as fully aware of his instrument responsibilities as he was. But he found that he had forgotten quite a bit, and there were several new procedures and new publications with which he had no acquaintance whatsoever. But the afternoons were a thing of joy. This was when he and his new ole buddy buddy played the game of instrument flying. He had a ball. He became quite adept at rolls, loops, and chandelles under the hood. While his new ole buddy buddy tried to steer him on actual instrument practice, Coolstone laughed it off, knowing full well that he’d have absolutely no trouble with his new ole buddy buddy during the instrument check.

Friday was the day of the instrument flight check, and Coolstone reported down to Base Operations for his check ride with his new ole buddy buddy.

On the scheduling board he saw there had been a terrible mistake, for his name was opposite, not his new ole buddy buddy, but an instrument examiner he didn’t even know. He ran wildly over to the Ops Officer and said, “Look, Maj. Something’s terribly wrong with the schedule. My new ole buddy buddy is supposed to give me the instrument examination.”

“Never happen,” said the Operation Officer. “It’s our policy always to have a different check pilot from the one who gives the instrument instructions.” With that he says, “Come with me,” and strolls over to the meanest, nastiest, snarlingest major that Coolstone has ever seen in his entire career.

Coolstone went into slight shock. The instrument examiner briefed him for 45 minutes solid. He told him exactly what he was going to do and exactly what he expected Coolstone to do. He started out with an instrument preflight check, then climbs, turns, ADF radio range, omni (with special emphasis on the ID-249), range penetration, omni penetration, GCA, ILS, and finally unusual positions and steep turns. The only thing that Coolstone had confidence that he could do well was the unusual positions, for he’d had plenty of practice on the recovery.

Off they went. The first problem Coolstone encountered was that he couldn’t find his preflight instrument check list, because he had never used one before. He finally borrowed one from the instrument examiner and checked things that he had never checked before in any kind of a flight.

After becoming airborne the examiner gave Coolstone control of the aircraft. He made nervous climbing turns until he reached his assigned altitude. At this time the instrument instructor said, “Coolstone, go ahead and work your aural null first. Solve the ambiguity, find the time, and establish a track to the station.”

Now it had been several years since the Cold Rock had performed this exercise. Therefore, 500 feet either side of his altitude and 20 degrees either side of his heading later, he came up with a time of 44 minutes away from the station, although they’d only been airborne for 20 minutes, and Coolstone had circled quite a bit.

“Mmm,” said the instructor.

“Now how about establishing a track to the station on ADF?”

Coolstone did this very well, generally turning 10 to 15 degrees either side of the track all the way in.

When they received station passage, the instrument examiner took the aircraft, turned off the radio, circled several times, and then asked Coolstone to do a range orientation and enter the holding pattern on the range leg.

Coolstone rogered the requirement weakly, finally got the radio turned back on again, and when he did, he couldn’t tell for sure whether he had an “A” or an “N,” for he hadn’t practiced this maneuver in several years either. He finally determined that he had an “A” and was just about to start his own version of the true fade when he received a full “on course” signal. A certain amount of confusion immediately entered the cockpit, along with the “on course” signal.

Coolstone, a great believer in the adage that “a peek is worth two finesses,” raised the hood on the left side to avoid the mirror on the right side and peaked out quickly to see where he was. His glance was caught by the steely eyes of the instructor pilot. (On this aircraft they’d modified the mirror so that it was on the left side.)

“Felt a little sick,” said Coolstone. “Needed to look out a minute.”

“Mmm,” said Ivan the Terrible.

Coolstone worked for ten hectic minutes, doing just what, he wasn’t too sure. But he finally ended up dead center at the cone, never actually having been established on a leg.

As the signal slowly faded out to absolutely nothing, Coolstone was at a complete loss to explain the phenomenon. “Look’s like we had a radio failure,” he said to the Instrument Examiner.

“Mmmm,” said Ivan the Terrible.

“O. K., now, let’s try an omni orientation, such as you would have with the compass card frozen. You understand?”

Coolstone didn’t dig this jazz at all, but he knew that he was a whiz on omni. You can’t get faked out of position on that, he said to himself. He turned on the omni, tuned in the frequency, and then started a recovery from the slightly unusual attitude his tuning techniques had caused, at which time he noticed the compass wasn’t moving. Coolstone smelled a rat. He hadn’t been able to get the compass stopped all the flight. The horizon off flag was showing, and, whoops, he saw an inverter light. Coolstone threw back the hood and screamed to the Instrument Examiner, “You’ve got it. We’ve had an inverter failure.”

“I know,” Ivan said dryly. “I turned it off. Now you orient us and enter the holding pattern at the omni station, with just what you have working right now.”

“On needle and ball?” says Coolstone incredulously.

“On needle and ball,” says Ivan.

The Cold Rock went numb. He fumbled and fumbled and fumbled, and finally said, very weakly, “it can’t be done.”

“O.K.,” said the Instrument Examiner. “I’ll turn on the inverters once again.” He added, his voice heavy with sarcasm, “Do you think you can do an omni penetration and ILS with everything working?”

“Yes, sir!” said Coolstone, full of confidence, for the Cold Rock could be fooled on lots of things, but he could do an omni penetration, and he had some reason to believe that his middle initials were “ILS.” Therefore, he quickly lined upon the penetration leg, got station passage, and down he came, with the course line indicator centered. Beautiful tracking, he thought. I’ll salvage this ride yet.

He made the penetration turn, and with a flourish lined up on the inbound heading which he had carefully set into his course window before he made the turn.

He then waited for the ILS localizer needle to start moving. It did, a little early, but there it came. He centered it nicely and much more easily than he had ever found it to be before, and held it there. Even with all the stress he had been under, he thought, my superb abilities have finally shown through. I couldn’t lose that center line if I tried.

After three or four minutes, wheels out, flaps down, he noted a curious phenomenon. The glide slope hadn’t moved. The flag was still down, but maybe, he thought, we’re too far out yet. I’ll wait a little while longer. Two more minutes, and he couldn’t figure it out. Where was the outer marker? What had happened to the glide slope?

Then, over the intercom, “Tombstone,” said Ivan, “come out from under the hood.”

Coolstone did, and was loathe to look, for he knew he was in trouble. When he did, he saw no runway in sight, not a thing, just nice rolling hills, Then once again over the intercom, “What have you got tuned in, Tombstone?”

Coolstone looked down. He still had the omni frequency, not the ILS.

“O.K., Tombstone,” Ivan said disgustedly. “I’ve got it. Let’s go on in and land.”

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