In earlier Examiner Sees columns I have confined myself to writing about the things I observe when conducting Private Pilot checkrides. I have maintained this rather narrow focus because there are way more Private checkrides performed than any other test. Discussing them makes the column appeal to the widest possible audience within the flight instructor community. However, in recent times I have been asked to consider the Instrument-Airplane checkride, write about it, and perhaps create a Power Point presentation for live audiences or webinars. I don’t have enough material to create a series of IFR checkride articles, but I believe I can write one IFR checkride article that will be helpful. Here goes.
The IFR error I see most often is the failure to descend at the proper time. I have found in my own personal IFR flying that when performing an instrument approach the best plan is to descend to the lowest possible altitude at the earliest possible time. Earliest usually means “when established” and lowest is whatever altitude is published on the chart for that segment of the approach.
Failure to descend is caused by two different errors. The first one is simply missing the fact that a lower altitude is available. That altitude is usually the one published for the intermediate segment of the approach. It comes into play when being vectored to final, or when intercepting final at the completion of the procedure turn (course reversal). The applicant just intercepts final and maintains either the last assigned altitude or the procedure turn altitude, and maintains that altitude all the way to the final approach fix. That of course really screws them up because they can’t get down to the MDA before they time out and/or reach the airport. In the real world that results in a missed approach and the opportunity to go do the approach again. When it happens during a checkride the applicant often becomes confused and keeps descending after time is up, resulting in a bust.
The way to avoid missing the availability of a lower altitude is to do the six T’s every time you cross a fix or intercept a course. Let’s see: Turn, Time, Twist, Throttle, Talk, Track. When you get to Throttle, that’s the reminder to change either altitude and/or speed. You descend to the lower altitude, and perhaps slow to approach speed upon leveling off. The key thing here is to do the six T’s at intercepts as well as fixes.