Flying Lesson # 29 – Instrument Flight

August 19, 2012

Robert grabbed the hood for another day of instrument flying. Not my favorite lesson I have to say. It’s not that I don’t like instrument flying, because I do, it’s a glimpse into my future of flying. It’s just, an hour under the hood will send anyone crazy. No view of the outside world, constantly throwing your senses and instincts into haywire, it’s simply exhausting!

To be able to qualify for a PPL, I need to have 2 hours of instrument flying under my belt. As each lesson isn’t a full hour of instrument flight i.e. taxi, take-off, etc., at the end of this lesson, I have 1 hr 40 mins. So I’m not finished with the hood by a long shot. I might as well enjoy it!

Today we headed out to the south again. Robert had me don the hood fairly early on to get as much instrument time in as possible. In this lesson, we were focusing on unusual attitudes. Basically, instead of trying to fly straight and level or turn, Robert would instruct me to climb, descend, climb and turn or descend and turn. I found this to be quite tricky, it’s one thing to stick the numbers and keep them, it’s another thing to monitor numbers whilst turning to a heading and descending to a certain altitude. Tricky stuff!

An interesting part of the lesson was where Robert had me close my eyes and look down (nothing suss), while he manipulated the controls. I then had to look up (at the instruments only) and fix the situation. The way that you go about fixing the situation is very counter-intuitive. If the attitude is nose high, you need to power on and push forward on the controls. If the attitude is nose low, you need to power off and pull back. Once I did it a few times, it all started to feel a lot more natural. Try as he may, Robert couldn’t trip me up. On the last attempt (after looking back on the video) he started to climb, then banked hard right and let the nose drop off. In my head, I was thinking that we were in a very nose high altitude and banking slightly. To be honest, I thought Robert was going to stall the plane and have me recover with instruments. I’m glad he didn’t, thinking back now, that would have been a mammoth effort at this stage. Anyway, so my head was down, eyes closed. We were in a nose low attitude banked heavily right. I looked up and instantly went to fix what I thought was the problem – nose high, banked right. My hand went straight for the throttle. Until after a split second, I actually looked at the instruments and realised that they were telling me the complete opposite to my head. One thing that instrument flying has taught me is that your head and equilibrium will lie to you – the instruments are rarely wrong. So I immediately stopped what I was doing and fixed the problem as I saw it in front of me. Power off, pull back and straighten wings. Well what do you know! It worked!

Robert explained that what I had experienced is completely normal and has been the cause of many crashes for the unaware. Every year too many pilots die after becoming spatially disoriented during night flying or flying in cloud. Even with Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) reported all around, night flying is very different from flight during the daylight hours, and as the statistics show, it can be a surprising and subtle killer. One of the most publicized examples of this was seen one hot, humid evening in July 1999, near Martha’s Vineyard, MA, when John Kennedy Jr. lost control of his Piper Saratoga during night VFR conditions.

I’m now convinced of the importance of instrument flying and can’t wait to have my instrument rating somewhere down the track!

After finishing the instrument lesson, Robert had me fly us back to Archerfield (still under the hood) with him guiding me by headings and altitudes. On arrival at Archerfield, The ATC had me over fly Archerfield and join the opposite downwind for 28R. Quite a weird experience, one that I’m glad Robert was there for as I had next to no idea what they were on about. All up, quite a fun lesson, I learned a lot and challenged my instincts.

Next lesson, short field take off and landings!

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