IAD

The early 1990s was one of those windows of time where my funding, opportunity, and inclination came together for flying. I decided to work seriously toward my instrument rating and commercial license. This involved “build time” and especially cross-country time. Fortunately I was living in Northern Virginia, which is rich in destinations just far enough away to be logged as cross-country, but not too far away to make it more than a nice morning or afternoon adventure. Many of these also featured the famous $100 hamburger.

Carl Rochelle Desert Storm

When your flight instructor is a foreign correspondent, you fly when you can.

I flew out of the Leesburg, Virginia, airport (now JYO). This is just northwest of Washington, DC, and not too long a drive from where we lived. This airport served as a general aviation reliever for both Dulles (IAD) and National (DCA) airports for many business and personal flyers, and their proximity provided motivation for getting an instrument rating. My flight instructor was an interesting guy, Carl Rochelle. Carl was a correspondent for CNN with a sonorous reporter-type voice and a serious demeanor—sort of like a bulldog. He frequently traveled for CNN and this played a role in how often I could fly with him, since this was during the Persian Gulf war and he was often deployed to report on events.

The experience that follows was one of the last times I flew with him before he deployed to the Persian Gulf. I wanted to get as much instrument instruction time as we could before he left, and I got my wish in spades.

I was far along in training, so most of the air work was refining procedures plus logging simulated and as much actual instrument time as conditions permitted. The PA-28 we normally flew had the requisite six pack, dual radios, VORs, and an ILS receiver, but obviously none of the more fun things like GPS and glass instruments. I had my trusty “Foggles” and Carl had his packet of Post-It notes to create “failed” instruments as needed. Simulating instrument conditions obviously allows much more efficient and safer training, especially early in training since you can fly instruments in good or bad visual conditions and often not have to work with an air traffic controller in the system. Later, filing and flying IFR (especially in real conditions) is preferable but not always available.

I was getting pretty proficient at this point in training and on this day we were flying in actual instrument conditions with low cloud ceilings (700 feet at JYO as I recall) and completely in the clouds except on final. Did I mention mild to moderate turbulence? No Foggles needed—this was coming together to be the real thing from end to end. The flight planned for the day was Leesburg, Virginia, to Martinsburg, West Virginia—and maybe others—for as many instrument approaches, missed approaches, holding patterns, instrument failures, and the like that time and energy would permit. This would be followed by a final, beautifully-executed full approach back into Leesburg. All good stuff for a couple of hours plus in the air, but it was not to be exactly as planned.

About halfway back from Martinsburg, the controller working us put out a general call to everyone on the frequency to be alert for the JKJ Chevrolet advertising blimp that had broken away in the wind. It was presumably in the clouds somewhere along our route back to Leesburg, but we never saw the blimp or anything else on the ground or in the air for that matter. (Never felt it either.) This was the beginning of the more interesting concluding events of the day.

Leesburg Airport was still under instrument conditions, so the final landing was also going to be a real VOR approach and a fine ending to the day. Everything went fine until about halfway through the approach when the VOR receiver lost track and the little red flag appeared. Carl had nothing to do with it. I called our approach controller with a missed approach and started the missed procedure. ATC told us after a few minutes that the VOR had gone off the air so no instrument approach to Leesburg was possible at that time. He suggested that we land at Dulles International Airport, just a few miles away, to wait.

IAD

Dulles is an awfully big airport when you were expecting Leesburg.

We were vectored to Dulles and executed a nice ILS approach. When we broke out of the clouds, there was the runway right ahead of us, just where it was supposed to be. (Hey, all this stuff really works, and apparently, I can do it even when it wasn’t planned.) On the parallel runway, a 747 had landed just ahead of us! Of course, our Vne and his normal landing speed were comparable, so he was at the gate unloading by the time we touched down and taxied to the FBO. We got to park with all the business jets and spend some quality time in the pilot’s lounge. (On a different trip into Dulles I did an approach while the Concorde supersonic jet was landing on a parallel runway. They were also parked by the time we finally did our missed approach.)

Inside we helped ourselves to the free coffee and popcorn, generally acting like real corporate pilots. (No leather however, this was July.) The FBO parked us behind a corporate jet and only had the wheels chocked, not tied down. We noticed that the jet was starting up, so I went outside to sit in the aircraft to make sure it didn’t move with the jet blast. It worked, but I was bathed in jet exhaust, warm air smelling of kerosene. No problem and maybe adding to the adventure.

In an hour or so we got word that the VOR station we needed for the approach was back on the air, so we made an uneventful takeoff and trip to Leesburg—15 minutes takeoff to landing. That marked the end of a heady day of flying and pleasant drive home. The adventure continued, however.

That evening I was scheduled to take a flight to Europe to teach a short course. Sometime into the flight my skin started itching and I turned a nice light shade of red, sort of like a mild sunburn but with no pain. It went away a few hours later–apparently, I was reacting to one of the fuel additives from the corporate jet.

Well, Carl deployed to the Gulf not long after the flight I’ve described, and simultaneously both money and opportunity to fly also disappeared for a while. I chalked this experience up as a very interesting and satisfying day, and the basis for a great hangar story. I finished my instrument rating flying from Quantico, Virginia, with the Marine Corps Flying Club, and took my checkride with a very experienced designated examiner.

I told my story to the examiner after he had signed me off and we were walking back to the FBO. His reaction surprised me a bit: that this was probably the best day of training that I could have ever received, and he wished that everyone he signed off had a similar story. He said that in his experience, most instrument training was only done under simulated conditions, and with only very predicable instructor-induced failures with which to deal, and those only done one at a time. He believed that pilots who trained that way could pass a checkride and become technically qualified but often lacked the confidence to fully use their rating, and some failed badly when they encountered their first real instrument conditions as a pilot.

From his standpoint then, my day had it all: actual instrument conditions throughout, wind and turbulence, three airports (class B, C, and D), multiple kinds of approaches, holds, and missed approaches, a real incident, and several simulated. In retrospect I agreed with his assessment, since I never had any hesitation in filing and flying in actual IFR conditions, subject to personal minimums of course.

As a footnote, this flight would be very hard or maybe impossible to duplicate now because of stringent flight restrictions in the National Capital Region. Moreover, the $100 hamburger is now more like $250 with current rental and fuel prices. On the other hand, while you would likely be flying the same types of aircraft that I did, it would certainly have ADS-B, a good GPS, maybe a glass panel, and very likely at least an iPad with a moving map display.

Randall Shumaker
Latest posts by Randall Shumaker (see all)
9 replies
  1. Duane Mader
    Duane Mader says:

    Yep, great training flight. I’m pretty sure most of the students you encounter around Phoenix never see the inside of a cloud.

    Reply
  2. Ronnie Austin
    Ronnie Austin says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I’m a new pilot at 68 now working on my instrument rating. I can really relate to all of what you said. Very helpful

    Reply
  3. Rob Newman
    Rob Newman says:

    Great story. Thanks for sharing.
    I agree – many times the missions where you learn the most are the ones where everything does not go right. I keep a diary of my flights. Some are just ‘Took Off, Landed at the right airport’. Others run 3 pages with the ‘Welp – never saw that before’, and notes from going back to the POH to find out WTH that means. Every day is a chance to learn something new – or use something you learned before.
    And “He still looks up whenever he hears an airplane overhead”. Always!
    Fly Safe.

    Reply
  4. LeMoine Bond #1593406
    LeMoine Bond #1593406 says:

    Phenominal! Thanks for sharing your top notch Aviator experience…
    Really enjoyed in absentia by a west coast private.
    D LeMoine B

    Reply
  5. Suresh Bista
    Suresh Bista says:

    This is a story I heard after I began flying commercially. Crew involved in this sortie are already retired. A Fokker 27 owned by Royal Nepal Airlines was on a flight from Kathmandu (VNKT), Nepal to New Delhi (VIDP), India. This flight was also a crew release on the type. Instructor pilot was from India working with Royal Nepal Airlines. Three crew members in the cockpit.
    Fokker was on an ILS approach to New Delhi in IMC. Monsoon was in full swing. Captain was ‘pilot flying’. Instructor pilot was standing and pep talking advisories instead of being strapped up in his jump seat.
    While little talk on descent path continued, all three pilots failed to see the RED flag on the ILS receiver. The airplane continued descending on a non-existent glide path and localizer. Shortly thereafter, aircraft hit a power line, then a bullock cart before coming to a rest on a wet rice field in heavy rain. Fokker was ‘BR’. Instructor pilot died in the accident as he was standing. Other crew with two in the cockpit and passengers escaped with some injuries. Dependency syndrome can be fatal.

    Reply
  6. Suresh Bista
    Suresh Bista says:

    This is a story I heard after I began flying commercially. Crew involved in this sortie are already retired. A Fokker 27 owned by Royal Nepal Airlines was on a flight from Kathmandu (VNKT), Nepal to New Delhi (VIDP), India. This flight was also a crew release on the type. Instructor pilot was from India working with Royal Nepal Airlines. Three crew members in the cockpit.
    Fokker was on an ILS approach to New Delhi in IMC. Monsoon was in full swing. Captain was ‘pilot flying’. Instructor pilot was standing and pep talking advisories instead of being strapped up in his jump seat.
    While little talk on descent path continued, all three pilots failed to see the RED flag on the ILS receiver. The airplane continued descending on a non-existent glide path and localizer. Shortly thereafter, aircraft hit a power line, then a bullock cart before coming to a rest on a wet rice field in heavy rain. Fokker was ‘BR’. Instructor pilot died in the accident as he was standing. Other crew with two in the cockpit and passengers escaped with some injuries. Dependency syndrome can be fatal. Happy Flying.

    Reply
    • Horace Sawyer
      Horace Sawyer says:

      It can happen to any of us.
      Not sure what you mean in this instance of ‘dependency.’ Pilot flying was depending on the standing instructor? Who, what, was depending? On what? The glide slope? The rest of the crew were depending on the PIC? Doesn’t that happen in any case? If I am the co-pilot I am depending on the person with hands on the yoke in the left seat. Of course I still need to watch and monitor, CRM, but am I to issue commands? Harkens back to the Asiana 214 crash at SFO. (Too low, too slow in a 777).
      Not trying to be a jerk with this question. Just looking at it differently perhaps.

      But I know from experience that in any particular situation, some distraction can cause the simplest to the most obvious things to be overlooked.

      A monsoon could definitely do that. Any things imaginable could do it, can do it, and conspire on a daily hourly basis to do it. To each and every one of us.

      A company instructor could do it also. Particularly one who is looked up to as perhaps the final decision authority on a company owned aircraft. Or you might say, who has silently assumed command of the aircraft even though not announced or stated: I am PIC. Yes, my butt is in the left seat, my hands are on the yoke, or I am the one issuing orders, but still there is my boss with his hand on my shoulder in the turbulence and rain. Part of me is passively acting in obedience to my mentor’s presence. Oh, yes, there is more we could all throw in. Yes, have done all that. Most of us have if we think about it. At least in some way. Always remember the pilot / instructor relationship. I could write an entire episode on that alone. It can be a delicate dance if done with manners and consideration. There is the God-like awe of reverence in the new student, sitting in the presence of the great knowledgeable mentor, hands sweating. Along the way as we learn to crawl, walk, run, jump into the air for ourselves without the tether cord and do all sorts of previously unfathomable tasks, the relationship changes. There are many many ways it evolves depending precisely on the characteristics of the human beings together. And this changes. We are fools to think it remains the same. People change. Conditions change.

      Perhaps this long-winded discussion/question is exactly what is meant by ‘dependency syndrome’ here.

      Thank you for sparking that.

      Reply
  7. Horace Sawyer
    Horace Sawyer says:

    Really enjoyed the story. Good writer. And I smiled because after many, many, many years enthralled with the sound of an aircraft engine of any type I still have to look up too.

    (Often to the annoyance of many others demanding my attention when I am wearing another hat and of course at the worst possible moment).

    Some call it ADD, I say it’s just who us dedicated aviators are. I take issue with some of my brothers and sisters who have it made to the top of ranks as professionals, airline pilots who voice disgruntlement and complaints about this or that, usually about the company and combined with not getting paid enough. One of my pet peeves. Grates on a soul’s nerves to the last one !
    For those individuals life has become not what they want. For those I speak of, and most of us have heard them, there seems to be never enough money to make them happy. Always seems to be too much work. Well work to some is adventure and play and fulfillment to others. Well, I say Poppycock on your complaints! Be grateful, I want to say. Have you no idea what else you could be doing for a living? Snap out of it!
    But that’s another discussion.

    If I were an airline Captain my passengers would know that I was the happiest man alive at that moment and full of confidence and concern to make everything go better than they expected. Why? Because I would greet them and tell them. On every flight. They would hear it in my voice, see it on my face. It’s that simple. I feel it now, I am grateful. Grateful just to be alive. I am grateful just to be able to get into any aircraft and fly whatever the situation is. I am grateful to be able to do the job I do on a daily basis.
    If I could impart that simple concept to some of the professional aviators that I know I surely would. Still working on how. Daily.
    How to make people be appreciative.
    And considerate . . .
    And, and . . .

    But teaching a pilot new tricks? Have you ever met one? They know it all !
    But I digress.

    Thank you for what you do. Hope to see your museum sometime.

    Reply

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