Written by: Marc Nathanson, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner
The Instrument Practical test is one of the most intense practical tests you may take. Make sure that you come to your examination prepared for the tasks that will be required of you.
As on all practical tests, the examiner is required to tell you what the profile of your exam is prior to heading out to your aircraft. As an examiner, prior to the date of the test, I think it is fair to give the applicant a general plan including the approaches to expect and what the scenario will be. It is incumbent on the applicant, that’s you, to review the Practical Test Standards (PTS) and understand what is expected of you during the test.
Note: The PTS will soon change to the Airman’s Certification Standards (ACS)
The examiner develops a Plan of Action from the PTS. The Plan of Action is made by the examiner to ensure that all required tasks are performed during the test. This is the document that contains the exam scenario and guides the examiner through a sequence of questions and tasks for the test. The PTS dictates that certain subjects must be discussed and certain maneuvers/procedures in the aircraft must be completed.
While you review the PTS it is important to look for notes that may appear in some of the tasks. The PTS can be viewed here:
Instrument Practical Test Standards
Task III, Air Traffic Control Clearances and Procedures states: “The ATC clearance may be an actual or simulated ATC clearance based upon the flight plan.”
In this case the examiner can choose to have you file a flight plan requiring you to call clearance delivery or ground control for the clearance. Or the examiner can instead opt to give you a clearance with the examiner acting as clearance delivery or ground. It is important to establish this before proceeding to the aircraft. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Here are some notes that are found in the task Instrument Approach Procedures:
“Note: The requirements for conducting a GPS approach for the purpose of this test are explained on page 8 of the Introduction.” Make sure you read the guidance on page 8.
“Task A: Nonprecision Approach (NPA)
References: 14 CFR parts 61, 91; FAA-H-8083-15; IAP; AIM.
Note: The applicant must accomplish at least two nonprecision approaches (one of which must include a procedure turn or, in the case of an RNAV approach, a Terminal Arrival Area (TAA) Area Approach Procedure in simulated or actual instrument conditions.”
This means that, in lieu of a procedure turn, you may be asked to execute the “T” procedure of the Terminal as in the chart below. Note that this approach has both the procedure turn and the “T” starting at ROGOE and HOPGA.
The remainder of the note reads: “At least one nonprecision approach must be flown without the use of autopilot and without the assistance of radar vectors. (The yaw damper and flight director are not considered parts of the autopilot for purpose of this part). If the equipment allows, at least one nonprecision approach shall be conducted without vertical guidance. The examiner will select nonprecision approaches that are representative of the type that the applicant is likely to use. The choices must utilize two different types of navigational aids. Some examples of navigational aids for the purpose of this part are: NDB, VOR, LOC, LDA, SDF, GPS, or RNAV (including LNAV/VNAV and RNP-AR).”
You may have heard of the $450 button (roughly the cost of your exam). This is the selector button that allows you to drive the navigation indicator by either the VHF nav (VOR or ILS/LOC) or the GPS or RNAV. It is a very wise thing to have a pre-approach checklist in front of you, or at least memorized that includes this button. Several instrument certificate applicants have received a Notice of Disapproval because they executed a VOR Approach using the GPS. Although the GPS is more precise, the VOR only approach must be executed using the VOR. The GPS may be used for situational awareness (SA) and DME.
When To Descend?
A very important question that I ask on this test is when may you descend to the initial approach altitude? This is an important IFR fact that you MUST know, otherwise you could hit terrain if you descend too early as an airliner did years ago flying into Dulles. Get this wrong and you will not pass the test. Using the approach procedure above, let’s consider the pilot who has been cleared direct to ROGOE and is flying at an assigned altitude of 5,000’. While several miles from ROGOE, ATC clears the pilot for the approach. The pilot shall not descend until 2 things happen:
See: AIM 5-4-7b
1. They are CLEARED FOR THE APPROACH
2. They must MAINTAIN THE LAST ASSIGNED ALTITUDE unless a different altitude is assigned by ATC, or UNTIL THE AIRCRAFT IS ESTABLISHED (with positive course guidance) ON A SEGMENT OF A PUBLISHED ROUTE OR IAP (Instrument Approach Procedure).
I cannot stress the importance of understanding the implications of descending until the above 2 requirements are met. You may ask ATC for a lower altitude prior to the Initial Approach Fix (IAF-ROGOE) if you need to, however, you must be familiar with the terrain to ensure you won’t descend into it. ATC knows the terrain and the minimum vector altitudes, so, their job is to make sure you don’t go too low. If in doubt, ask. If your confused, CLIMB and work it out with ATC after you begin climbing, but tell ATC ASAP you are climbing and they will help you figure out what to do. Remember to always aviate, navigate, then communicate!
Here is a quiz for you. What are the lowest non-precision minimums for the LOC runway 29 at Hanscom (BED)? (Answer below)
Did you choose 920’? If you did, you are incorrect and that’s a Guinness for me. Look at the second line from the bottom in the minimums section just above the Circling Minimums where you will the minimums for the S-LOC 29 using ROGGR intersection which is 2.3 miles using the localizer (I-ULJ 111.15)