Gotta Get that Rating!

I started my training for my instrument rating in 2011. I decided that I wanted to learn from Mike Jesch who was a dear family friend, Master CFII, American Airlines Captain, Angel Flight, and LightHawk pilot. Mike is based in Fullerton, California. I knew that choosing to have instruction in the LA Basin would mean a greater challenge. Not only would I have to get to LA, but also train in one of the country’s busiest air spaces.

My Mother and Father were my biggest supporters in my life. My Father was a trainer in the Army Air Corps. We always had a little airplane. When he landed he would always say, “Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines.” I lost my Mom in 2010 and my father in 2015. Life happens and I went from being married, to being a single mom. My IFR training was self-funded. Due to these changes I had to take a break in the instrument training in 2012 and didn’t re-start until July of 2016.

Through the years I have been intrigued by the concept of neural plasticity, the idea that your brain isn’t completely hard-wired; that through experience and training, we can re-wire or alter the brain’s functioning. I have been a licensed psychotherapist for 27 years now. I am used to being a teacher. I have taught at the graduate school level, aviation seminars and numerous presentations. These activities let me be the leader, the one who “knew the answers” [or at least knew where to look]. Being a learner is hard. It is hard on the ego, your emotions, and your confidence. I am lucky that Mike is such a wonderful teacher. Much like my primary instructor Dave, he was encouraging and patient. But even with the best teacher the beast that needs to be tamed is insecurity, doubt and old thinking patterns.

My Mooney is equipped with dual VORs and a DME; no autopilot or IFR certified GPS. What this meant for me was a lot of “public math”. Mike would ask me “Where are you?” and I would struggle to try to figure out my location based on radials, DME distances and such. Needless to say, it was a humbling experience.

Training in the Mooney was double-edged. On the positive side, the airplane is a very stable platform and my instruments were configured in a simple but effective six-pack. However the downside of a high performance, very aerodynamic airplane is speed. My no-wind groundspeed is 145 kts. My IFR-student brain speed was probably 100 kts. This meant slowing the airplane down. I was pushing myself toward neural plasticity, forcing a cortical and neuronal re-wiring. I tell you sometimes it downright hurt. The mental fatigue was stunning. I truly believe my IQ lowered while under the hood due to the lack of visual and situational cues. Through it all I was humbled, dismayed, frustrated, and exhilarated. I always tell my clients or students that unlike the common assumption, practice makes practice. Practice allows repetition and through repetition we gain mastery. Practice we did.

The other thing I forgot to mention is that my instructor Mike is wicked smart. Seriously. He is probably one of the smartest folks I have ever met. A natural teacher he would challenge me, come up with unusual approaches or scenarios and gave me a lot of experience. I have four hours of instruction in actual IMC conditions. What a gift that is from an instructor. While IMC enroute to Camarillo for a 99s event, I experienced vertigo. It was the strangest sensation. I felt like my body was in one of those carnival mirrors that distorts reality. Mike said that he watched me and timed how long it took for me to recover, 3-4 seconds. Although it was uncomfortable, I am thankful for the experience.

I cannot count how many times I had to drive somewhere because of the coastal fog or weather. Mike would always say, “Gotta get that rating!” I decided that I needed to act in 2016. I made cuts in my budget to pay for the training I needed to get my rating. I became focused in the fall of 2016, secretly scheduling the written exam in November. I studied for hours a day and it paid off with a solid 90% on the test. 2017 was dedicated to instrument instruction. This meant that my son got used to me being in front of the computer, on the simulator, or at the airport. In late August I had my check ride scheduled. For some reason I felt pressure to get the rating done in August due to my travel schedule with AOPA to the regional fly-ins.  The pressure I put on myself caused insomnia, stress and lack of focus.  Mike and I went on a “check ride prep” flight and I performed horribly.  There were no safety of flight issues but mentally I was just not there.  It was hard for me even to calculate the reciprocal of a heading to radial.  As we were at MDA for the LOC BC-A I said, “I am postponing my check ride, I am not ready.”  After landing Mike gently said, “It is better for you to know that you aren’t ready versus me having to tell you.”  Mike flew home to LA and I burst into tears.  Only a few folks knew when my check ride was. I let them know that I postponed due to stress.  I quickly received a phone call of support from Robert DeLaurentis.  He could tell I had been sobbing. We processed the event and he helped me to see this was a positive versus a negative. I continued on with my training and came to believe I had made the correct decision.

During my last flight with Mike he asked me, “Where are you.” I glanced down and quickly said, “I am 5 miles south of Paradise [VOR] on the 185 radial” I suppose it was then I knew. I had literally wrapped my brain around instrument training.

November 17, 2017 was my instrument checkride. I was grateful to be able to use an office at ArtCraft Paint in Santa Maria. The DPE, Dennis Magdaleno drove up the coast and we started about 10:00 a.m. We began with the ground portion. I didn’t think I would be as nervous as I was. If he had asked me my middle name, I probably would have hesitated.   I did well enough for us to move to the flying portion. It was early afternoon and the day was just perfect. Low clouds had cleared and the sun was shining. As we walked out to the airplane Dennis said, “I love Mooneys! It is my favorite airplane.” I said, “Me too!”

Before we started the engine Dennis told me there are three outcomes: pass, fail or discontinue. If there were an issue that caused me to fail he would simply say that I needed more instruction and I would have to try again. He ended by saying that if he didn’t say anything after landing and during taxi that it was a good sign that I passed.

Although extremely stressful I did everything he asked of me on the practical test [LOC-BC, ILS, VOR partial panel, unusual attitudes, DME arc]. The final approach was a circle to land. As I landed I made sure I was right on the glideslope and touched down on the centerline at the aim point. I taxied off at the first exit and parked outside of ArtCraft. Dennis didn’t say a word. [Inner happy dance going on]. We debriefed the flight and he asked for my logbook. As my certificate was being printed he excused himself and left the room. I was alone, keenly alone. I burst into tears, I suppose from the adrenaline, relief and pride. At that moment I missed my parents and my kids. Getting my instrument rating was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It was harder than graduating from college, harder than my professional licensure exams, and harder than being a single mom. 2017 was the year I promised myself that I would indeed get my rating. 366 days from the date of the written test, I did just that. Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines.


Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: Twitter: Mooney4Me


  1. Love it dear lady, you ought to try writing sometime, I think you’ll be good at it. 😉


  3. Congratulations! But… I’m not sure how helpful this article is to someone considering doing their instrument rating. I did my (helicopter) instrument rating this summer and whilst I had the benefit of being a full time student, I can’t help but feel that the instrument rating isn’t as hard as this article makes it sound!

    • Hi Ben, thank you for your comment. I have no idea how a fixed wing, high performance airplane would compare to a helicopter in terms of the instrument rating. I did have the pleasure of flying with the California Highway Patrol in their multi-million dollar helicopter. The pilot said, “Here’s something you can’t do in the Mooney.” We went from 120 mph to a hover. That was so super cool. All the best and let’s all keep flying.

  4. Congratulations Jolie! I agree that the rating is one that is EARNED. It was certainly the hardest thing I’d done in my adult life. For those of us who (at best) only get to train 2-3 times per week it’s not an easy path.

    • Yes, I completely agree with you Chuck. In some ways I admire the younger generation that can go to an aviation program where they fly nearly every day.

  5. Congrats on your new rating! The same airplane you flew before will now be twice as useful. I don’t know if you can translate that into dollars, but I bet if you could, it would be worth more than the money you invested in your instrument training.

    If I had one piece of advice to impart, it would be: maintain your practical and legal instrument currency, don’t let it slip away! I’ve met many pilots who are instrument rated but are neither current or comfortable flying in IMC, which is a shame given all that hard work and time they originally put into it.

    Enjoy the clouds!

    • Hi Ron, thanks for your words of encouragement. Staying current and proficient will be challenging, but I am committed to it.

  6. Super performance, well done! Thank you for the story, too!
    Now, please ask Mike about C2O, and then you sign up for
    Mooneys 2 Oshkosh, 2018! See you there!
    Best regards,
    Jer/ “Flight instruction and mountain flying are my vocations!” Eberhard

    • I have flown in the Mooney Caravan in 2016 and 2017. I look forward to flying the Caravan in 2018 as well. Thanks for your note.

  7. I got my rating last month after being a private pilot for barely 2 years and just short of 66 years old. Just like you, I felt this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It was a surprise to me as other pilots with the rating never told me just how hard it would be. Maybe they didn’t want to discourage me. I’m a person who likes to be in control and this training definitely puts that feeling in perspective right from the start. I felt like quitting many times. However, I kept climbing back in the airplane all the while feeling I was a failure. But just like you I passed the checkride and no one can ever take that feeling of accomplishment away. As soon as the icing situation improves here in IN I’m going up again with my cfii to do some real IFR flying, not to pass a test but to gain real experience. I was in about 5 hours of IMC during my training and thought that was so much more fun than flying holds, arcs, partial panel, compass turns, etc. etc. Now let’s go fly!!! Congrats to US. 🙂

  8. Wonderful. Congratulations. I want to hear more of your flying exploits. Keep writing Jolie.

  9. Thank you for bringing back a lot of memories. I agree getting the IFR rating was challenging, but I had a fantastic instructor (John Burt in Knoxville) who helped
    me to finish in less than 3 months. Reading your decpscription allowed me to enjoy the sense of accomplishment all over again after 10 years of enjoying IFR flying.

  10. Congratulations Jolie! You give me inspiration to go ahead and try and get my Instrument. I have a Grumman with basically the same panel and avionics that you do so it can be done, you’ve proved it!

  11. Congratulations on successfully rewiring/training your personal neural structures, and on obtaining that rating. Your description of your struggles reminded me of a question I have pondered from time to time during the 36 years since I passed my first Private checkride. My pondering has increased in frequency during recent years, as technology has caught up with my engineer’s imagination. Equipment capability and reliability has improved significantly, thus I wonder how long it will be before instrument training and certification catches up to do away with the cumbersome steam-gauge techniques of “turn, time, twist, throttle, talk” for pattern location and reporting. Now, with GPS and even on-board inertial sensors, multiple independent/redundant yet data-sharing tablet computer displays, and corresponding synthetic-vision software, reliable means of determining and reporting position automatically can make instrumented flight along a dynamically-displayed path as simple as driving a car. Even the coordination and confirmation of clearances, sequencing and flightpaths in busy terminal space could be done without voice communication. Imagine what this would do to the instrument flight environment (and how much neural retraining would be required to get legislators and controllers to implement it). Most of the equipment to enable this has been mandated for GA use by no later than 2020. I can only hope optimistically that we all will be able to see so clearly.

    • You do have an interesting point. I suppose part of me wonders the same thing, and the other part is keenly aware of how we love vintage airplanes, and the nostalgia for a simpler past. My Mooney is a 1965 and has a very simple panel, yet is fast by GA standards. Yet when I flew in the 2018 Mooney Ultra, the technology was impressive. As a student it was double edged to only have the DME and 2-VOR heads. On one hand, once “mastered” [I use that term loosly] the information was delivered in a simple manner. On the other hand, I envied those folks who had a magenta line to follow.

      • Ah, yes, the magenta line … for quite some time a favorite of mine! One of the interesting features of the new tech is how portable it can be, so that it can be carried aboard even the simplest vintage aircraft without any installation, like a smartphone. Of course, anyone who is nostalgic for the headwork and hand coordination of steam-gauge technology could still use such ancient instruments or simulate them — though, at some point, DME and VOR will no longer exist, because the expense of maintaining them will be prohibitive. That leaves us with the new technology, or it takes us back to dead reckoning (which is not so good for IMC). Now, it’s true that no one is yet producing an ADSB, Mode-S communicating system in a smartphone or tablet package, or even a self-contained portable box, with its own power supply and wireless tablet interconnection, that could sit on a cabin floor while a smartphone or tablet displayed position, attitude, 3-D flightpath, terrain, weather, and other flight-related info (rather more than the ol’ magenta line). Right now, the legal pressure is on certifying equipment for permanent aircraft installations. But give it a little time, and the instrumentation may become a flightbag item rather than part of the aircraft, to be preprogrammed for a given mission, and even tested in simulation, before a mission begins.

  12. Congrats Jolie! I was practicing NDB holds, my nemesis, on a windy afternoon. Like you, I was unsure if I was ready for my check ride. My instructor Ryan loved crude jokes. Once established in the hold he asked me to retell an old joke. It took two circuits in the hold to finish the story. He was doubled over laughing then said to me “by the way, you’re ready for your check ride.”

    • Rich, that made me laugh out loud. For me it was probably when I could rattle off what makes an approach an “A”.

  13. SO MUCH of this rings powerfully true. I can particularly relate to the stress and insomnia caused by self-imposed pressure. Thanks for writing it.

    • Thank you Michael. Sometimes it is difficult to “fess up” when it comes to our emotional or mental health. It was actually sort of a challenge to myself to exercise, eat well and get good sleep prior to the check ride.

  14. I always love to hear other pilot’s experience in IFR training and checkrides. My experience was completely different. I was an air traffic controller in a busy approach control for 25 years before the mandatory retirement age of 56 caught up with me. I grew up in an aviation family with Mooneys and Cessnas and obtained my private pilot’s license back in the early 80s. Work, family, and other obligations only allowed for occasional flying for the next 25 years. As soon as I retired, I bought a C172, researched all of the new equipment available, and spent the more than twice the airplane’s value on a new panel. After getting familiar with the new equipment, I found a great instructor named Scott Best down in NC and we flew over 7 hours a day for 5 days. The weather was crap the entire week and we were IMC at least some part of every day. I logged 10 hours of IMC during my training. On the sixth day I took my checkride with a DPE in Raleigh. We had to file IFR just to get there and back. The ceilings were around 2200′ and the winds were 35knts at altitude. That made for an interesting checkride. I have to say that I loved the accelerated training schedule even though it’s like drinking water from a firehose. My 25 years of being on the other side of the radar scope made it fairly easy because I knew exactly what was going to happen at each step along the way and the phraseology was second nature. I have a very modern panel with an IFR GPS/FMS coupled to an Aspen PFD. My instructor commented that the panel made it too easy so we started turning things off. As for the written, I used the King online course to prepare. After finishing that, I still felt unprepared so I went through the Gleim IFR test prep manual. I took the test and missed one question. I feel strongly that having an instrument rating is at the top of the list of things that I’ve done to enhance the safety of my flying. I promote IFR training to anyone that will listen. I am an FAA safety rep and also host an IMC Club. Welcome to the world of IFR flying.

  15. Thanks for sharing Jolie. I may make this required reading for my students. Without question, the instrument rating is the hardest of all. I tell my students to not expect much “sightseeing” during their lessons… just hard thinking. Getting an Instrument Rating is much like spending 40 hours in an elevator. You push buttons and you go UP and DOWN but you can’t see out. The reward is that the first time you break out at minimums and the runway is dead ahead, the feeling is as delightful as your first kiss. Congrats… and thanks again for sharing.
    Terry Ketron CFI-I

    • Thank you Terry. Your comment is in line with my biggest hope for the piece. On my check ride I was under the hood for about an hour and a half. On that last approach, a VOR-A partial panel when I finally got to take off the visor it was pretty glorious. I threw it in the back seat and thought, “Freedom!” Thank you for your kudos, I appreciate it.

  16. I just finished reading your article on your accomplishment of earning your rating. Congrats!! This was by far one of the most inspiring stories I have read. Incredible what the human mind can achieve when programmed correctly. Anyway, just wanted to reach out and let you know you have a fan in New Jersey (Im a 172 pilot VFR only for now!). Safe flying and Happy Thanksgiving!


  17. Great job Jolie! I am about to start the journey myself. But after reading your article, I have just one question. Are you from the Boston area? Who else would use the word ‘Wicked’? As in “my instructor Mike is wicked smaht”.

    • Hey Charles, I am a California girl, though lived in the Northwest for just under 20 years. I am glad you are going to start on your instrument rating. It is hard, wicked hard. LOL

  18. Congratulations and thanks for sharing this adventure….. Former (35 years) owner N231EW KLPC . The central coast is a great place to do IFR training ( with some excursions into the LA basin) . Beautiful airplane

  19. Great article Jolie and congratulations. It is motivating. I’m considering my Instrument rating in my 1948 Navion hangered at Santa Maria. Met Mike at the AOPA Fly-out to Catalina in May, you had a excellent instructor! And thanks for your support of Oceano Airport!
    Pat Mullen

    • Thank you Pat. Go for it! Also please remember that Toys for Tots is December 2nd at Oceano Airport from 10-2!

    • I think a photo of you eating breakfast at AOPA CMA made the “A Sense of Community” article just published

  20. Christian Rescate

    November 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the share Jolie, I’m in the same boat my 68′ mooney M20C Ranger has no autopilot, no IFR GPS but IS IFR compliant. I’m chopping away at it, written is done and hours required are met I’m polishing up for the check ride now, no check ride date yet. Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. Have read your article several times over the past week. It has brought a lot of encouragement as one who has just started instrument training (also in a plane without autopilot or GPS). Your article is very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us! It means a lot.

    • Thank you Sandra! All the best to you on your instrument training. It will make you a much safer pilot and you will definitely get to fly more.

  22. this made me smile, and want to cry too for you!! I’m so proud for you, and I know your family is as well!! CONGRATULATIONS!! :))

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