On top of IR theory

Five weeks have passed and we are positively past the halfway point of IR theory. These past weeks we’ve learned morse code, finished a few subjects and already done three of the seven school exams on IR theory subjects. On top of school, I made a pretty swift move between two cities a couple of weeks ago. That has kept me quite busy and away from the blog until now.

I guess it’s best to just pick up where I left off. Last time I was about to dive into the world of morse code. Some dive that was. We had 7 lessons and about 30 minutes of the first lesson was dedicated to general information about morse code. The rest of the time we listened to the beeping. Awesome. In the end we were tested on the morse code. Try and watch the following video, it’s only close to 10 minutes long.

You might wonder why we learn morse code in the present day. The navigation beacons send out their identification, a 3 letter code, as morse code. To make sure you are navigating by the correct beacon, you can listen to the morse code it sends out on the frequency. Since a video speaks a million words, I looked up the following clip which shows a VOR beacon and its’ morse code identification on the radio.

As our heads were beeping it was time to move on to other subjects.

A certain kind of degree of freedom quite well describes the difference between IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) and VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flying. In VFR you navigate by what you see outside and compare it to the map or otherwise recognize where you are. You can mostly fly whichever route you choose and especially in uncontrolled airspace in good weather VFR can be like sightseeing. When flying IFR, en-route navigation is mostly done by GPS nowadays. It makes navigating quite simple and frees the pilot to concentrate on other things. That’s about where the simplicity ends. Things change when you are flying in or above cloud, maybe at night, with no visual contact to the ground. To be able to fit all the air traffic in the more and more crowded skies, very strict rules have to be in place. These rules include flight procedures which define departure, arrival and approach procedures to name a few. The flight procedures tell us how we should fly the plane to be where the air traffic controller wants and expects us to be to keep us separated from the other planes possibly in the same cloud.

Instrument arrivals and approaches utilize GPS also, but can also be flown for example with the help of ILS, VOR or NDB. All the different arrivals and approaches are published on the respective charts. For example there are 7 standard arrival charts and 17 instrument approach charts for the three runways at Helsinki airport (EFHK). In comparison there is only one visual approach chart and one landing chart for VFR. Below is an example of a Jeppesen approach chart for Tampere-Pirkkala (EFTP) runway 24. It has all the information to make an approach and landing respecting the minimums, as well as for a missed approach. A few weeks ago those charts looked a little confusing, but it’s all much more clear to me now. Later on we will start practising with them for real, first in the trainer and then in the real Bonanza.

Approach plate for EFTP runway 24.

Approach plate for EFTP runway 24. (click to enlarge)

If you are interested in reading more about the flight procedures, check out this ICAO doc 8168, which describes the operational procedures in detail. There are also some descriptive images about joining holding pattern etc.

These past weeks we finished Meterology, Air Law, IFR Communications, Human Performance and Limitations and Instrumentation. Human Performance and Limitations was divided into Psychology and Physiology. A little to my disappointment the themes were pretty much the same as in PPL theory. Not much new stuff so far. I’ll have to wait for the cockpit psychology in ATPL theory.

The most challenging subject for me so far has been Instrumentation. We have gone a little deeper into how different instruments, altimeter, airspeed indicator etc., work. The gyros are mystical. Instrumentation is part of Aircraft General Knowledge which baffled me at first also in the PPL phase. I wasn’t expecting anything less now! The most interesting part of the subject for me were the most sophisticated systems: Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS), automatic flight control systems Flight Director (FD) and Autopilot (AP) as well as Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

EFIS is basically the traditional flight instruments presented in a more sophisticated format on electronic displays. Development of the electronic versions of the basic flight instruments lead to a development of the “glass cockpit” we see today in all modern aircraft. EFIS enables more versatile and illustrative ways of displaying flight data.

EFIS on our Phenom 100.

EFIS on the Phenom 100 with 12 inch displays.

Flight Director (FD) was designed to reduce incorrect instrument interpretation. By means of visual cues which are shown on the Primary Flight Display (PFD) FD aids the pilot to reach and maintain the desired flight path. FD can be used from take-off to landing. It reduces workload but requires monitoring. FD can be coupled with the Autopilot (AP). Then the AP follows the FD’s commands and the AP’s performance can be monitored via the FD.

The Primary Flight Display on the Phenom 100.

The Primary Flight Display on the Phenom 100. The Flight Director’s command bars can be seen in the middle of the screen (the yellow arrow-like figure).

Autopilot (AP) provides automatic high quality control of the aircraft. One of its’ main tasks is to perform tasks that could not be completed by the pilot. For example landing in very low visibility conditions is possible with AP’s auto-land function, but not with human vision. Also 9 hours of level flight would be quite a task without the AP. It can be said that AP is tireless and no change in its’ ability to perform complex tasks can be observed over time. In many ways AP is better than a pilot. It can respond much more quickly and it is able to keep the plane stabilized by not allowing any disturbances to build up. But what would AP do when the plane suddenly runs out of fuel? Would it be able to glide to the nearest suitable airport, perform side slip and land the plane in one piece, like Captain Pearson did? Watch the amazing story of the Gimli Glider:

The aircraft for the IR phase is the mighty Bonanza. We will most probably be the last class to fly the Bonanza. The school is replacing them next year with the Diamond DA42 VI. The Bonanzas have served in the Academy fleet since the mid-80’s. Making history are we!

Here’s a great picture by a former student of the Bonanza cockpit during approach : Bonanza VOR approach by Pekka Lehtinen.

We have already started the “type rating” for the Bonanza. We have been learning about the airframe, electrical system, flight controls, fuel system, engine, ice protection, avionics etc. Hopefully we will get familiar with the FNPT II trainer before the holidays. The IR flight training will fully commence after the New Year. We will fly 35 hours in the Bonanza trainer and 15 hours in the real Bonanza. One of the trips should be a flight to Helsinki airport (EFHK), which I’m very much looking forward to, since I have spent countless hours there watching planes dreaming about one day being able to fly there myself.

Posing with the Bonanza.

Posing with the Bonanza.


20 responses to “On top of IR theory

  1. Hello Niina,
    thank you for the nice post and glad to see, that you are continuing your blog :) Ahmed

  2. Nice to have you writing :) As many other readers, I wanted to become a Pilot, too, but unfortunately failed in the very last part (interview) with Lufthansa in 2003. No possibility to repeat the test, as LH is giving you only one chance. So I did my PPL to keep the dream a little bit alive :) keep up the nice writing please ! Ahmed

    • That’s a shame about Lufthansa. I failed the application process the first time so I’m glad I had another chance. I think it’s good to keep the dream alive. You never know what opportunities you will meet. I know I kept my dream alive for a very long time.

  3. Yes, a long time ago it was possible to apply several times, but then they changed the application process as the have a great amount of applicants, even from Austria and Switzerland for a very small number of new pilots (I heard something about 3.500 applicants for about 90 pilot slots). But the PPL enables me to have some great time in the air and proves me, that flying is really what I always wanted to do :) Why did you fail the first time ? Great to see, that Finnair allows another chance !

    • I was dropped before the interview based on the psychological test profile. I must’ve given some silly answers because the tests said I was unorganized. Totally untrue to anyone who knows me. But better late than never. :) The school isn’t a direct path to Finnair anymore even though they still own a part of it. But we were tested according to their requirements and therefore will be “good” for them. Let’s just hope the job situation gets better and the industry picks up in general!

  4. Psychologists are stanger people :-) ….Does this mean, that you have to pay the complete flight training by yourself or is it a sponsored cadet scheme ? I guess, it is easier to predict the weather over the Atlantic in the next 3 years than to predict in which direction the airline industry will develop. But someone has to fly the the A350, which are ordered by Finnair ;-) You are a lucky woman :-)

  5. Okay Niina, I kept you busy with many questions, thanks for your replies. I will follow your blog and wish you only the best on your way into the Airliner Cockpit ! Have a nice evening and a great start into the new week !

  6. I enjoy reading about your adventures in flight training. Reminds me of mine some years ago. I especially enjoyed the old Army movie shown in this post. In their day they were considered serious, to see them now is comical. It brought a smile to me from even older memories.

    • Thank you, that’s nice to hear. Yes, the army clip is quite comical. In all its’ serious dullness I thought it described well how learning morse code feels. Even today. :)

  7. I’m suprised to hear you learning morse code, b/c we didn’t have to do that. All codes are allways printed on the maps so there’s actually no need to memorize the, but it doesn’t do any harm of course :)

  8. Hi!
    This blog is great, it has a cool layout and it’s really interesting to follow your posts! :-). The various pictures are a nice add to them. It’s also interesting to get a female perspective on becoming a pilot (do you perhaps know what the percentage of female pilots is at Finnair or at some other airline or in the industry as a whole?).

    Your high level of motivation and dedication gets me excited as well. I hope I’ll be accepted to FINAA in 2015 :-).

    As you pointed out, let’s hope that the industry gets a lift in the future. Regarding that this link might be of interest to you: https://www.fpapilots.fi/fpa/177


    • Hi Oscar! Thank you, that was really nicely said! The main motive behind this blog is to share the excitement about flying and becoming a pilot. It’s always nice to hear if someone enjoys it. I was an enthusiastic reader before myself and that’s why I wanted to share my experience with others. I wish you all the luck in getting into FINAA. It’s a great school with great spirit.

      What I know about the percentage of female pilots is that at FINAA we’re about 5% and I think the same number applies to Finnair and Finland in general. The number is probably growing, but slowly.

      Thanks for the link. I am aware of that seminar, but it’s a little bit too far from Pori on a school night. :) But we do get visitors from airlines at school too, so we’re not completely out of the loop when it comes to the job situation.

      • Right! Thanks! I should at least be prepared. You see, I applied to FINAA this fall but didn’t pass the first psychological test phase. I will call the selection psychologist to get some explanations :)…

        Okay. It’ll be interesting to look at the number let’s say 10 years from now.

        You’re right. It’s good to hear that students at FINAA are updated on the job situation.

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