Hangar flying, the time-honored activity where pilots sit around and swap stories about aviation techniques, can be a valuable educational tool. Add organized informational seminars illustrated with powerpoint demonstrations and desktop flight simulation devices and you have the interactive learning environment of the IMC Club.
IMC stands for Instrument Meteorological Conditions, which necessitates flying on an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan because the aircraft is flying in the clouds without outside visual references. Many pilots will tell you the IFR ticket is the most challenging to get and the one with the most perishable skills.
The club began about three years ago with Wyrzykowski and three other pilots.
“We got together to talk about instrument flight. It was an exchange of ideas,” he says. “Then in 2011 we were at Oshkosh walking around in our T-shirts. In 2012 we were sitting in a corner of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) booth and we did a presentation at the EAA Center. In 2013 thanks to our friends at Hartzell Propeller, we had our own place on the flight line, and in 2014 we had our own pavilion. We have come a long way!”
Today, there are 2,300 members in the IMC Club, with chapters all over the world.
The philosophy of the club is that safety and proficiency are developed through education and experience. During this summer’s AirVenture, for example, each day opened with a chapter meeting.
“For the purpose of showing people how we operate,” he explains. “We do things a little bit differently from other aviation clubs. We believe in having a discussion rather than simply relating information.”
The pavilion was divided into a lecture and presentation space with lots of chairs facing a large screen for powerpoint presentations. During the week representatives from Jeppesen provided technical talks on the finer points of instrument flight covering everything from how to get the most out of reading an approach plate to working with air traffic control. There were also open discussions about various aspects of instrument flight.
On the other side of the pavilion were several computers where pilots attempted to fly instrument departures and approaches under the guidance of a live air traffic control operator, with help from volunteer instructors from the National Association of Flight Instructors. Pilots wore headsets so they could hear air traffic control. The computer stations were linked to each other so the pilots “saw” the other participants’ aircraft on their screens as they attempted to fly one of three scenarios set in the busy airspace of southern California.
“The first is a straight forward ILS with the pilot in weather and in and out of clouds. The second is more crosswind and you have a LDA approach. We don’t fly those very often,” Wyrzykowski says. “The last one involves a very complicated departure clearance with the pilot taking off from busy airspace.”
Air traffic controllers are supplied by PilotEdge, a virtual air traffic control company. “They are actual air traffic controllers or controllers in training who are looking to gain experience and also there are some volunteer retired controllers,” he says. “The air traffic controllers have their own scopes and are directing all the simulator pilots.”
Several pilots, upon leaving the simulation area, remarked that their performance on the sims had been an eye-opener, as they had been challenged by the scenarios. According to Wyrzykowski, the sims were running at 100% throughout the entire week of AirVenture.
Wyrzykowski is hopeful that the interactive experience may have persuaded pilots to do more of their training in a simulator before they attempt IFR in the real world. He swears by the use of the Redbird FMX as a way to cut down the cost of acquiring an instrument ticket.
“You can learn everything in the simulator,” he says. “You can do an ILS approach in the sim a few times at a particular airport, then do it in the real world, and most people discover, wow, it’s even easier in the real world than it was in the sim. If we spend more time on the ground learning things in the sim and then implementing them in the airplane, the more efficient we become.”
It takes a lot of effort to make an interactive exhibit work, says Wyrzykowski and it wouldn’t happen without sponsors. Redbird Flight Simulations created the flight simulation computers. Jeppesen donated approach plates and kneeboards for the pilots to use. Items for awards and drawings were donated by MyGoFlight and Randolph Engineering.
Wyrzykowski is hopeful the IMC Club will be able to run the interactive exhibits at future aviation events.
Meanwhile, the club’s chapters hold meetings every month. The meetings are linked with the FAA Safety Team, which provides no-cost or low-cost seminars and events around the country to help pilots maintain their aviation safety and increase their knowledge. Volunteer FAASTeam members often lead the events.
“I am one of the Boston area team members. We work very closely with the FAA and we encourage our chapter leaders to do the same,” says Wyrzykowski. “We want to keep the ‘fun factor” alive. The most important thing is if that exercise is going to make the individual a better pilot and encourage him or her to keep their proficiency up by using simulation and hopefully participating in the IMC Club experience for years to come.”