I wish I'd shot some video of this lesson, now that I think about it. Maybe next time. On Tuesday my instructor Kelly and I went for a flight to do some under-the-hood instrument flying in the plane. It was the real-world version of what I'd "flown" on the simulator the other day. We also planned to do some other maneuvers like stalls and steep turns as a review.
This was my first time "under the hood" in the airplane. For those who are not familiar, the "hood" is basically a set of human blinders, designed to restrict your vision to just the portion of the instrument panel right in front of you, which is where the critical flight instruments are located. It prevents you from looking out the windows, and requires you to fly the plane by instruments only. The whole idea, in private pilot training, is to give you enough experience so you can get out of the clouds if for some reason things should get royally screwed up and you fly into one. Private pilots don't fly into clouds or low visibility without an instrument rating, which involves a lot of training and requires special avionics and navigation equipment in the aircraft.
We flew out to a good practice area and made sure the area was clear. With the hood on he had me fly straight and level, then do a controlled climb, and then a descent. Then he had me do some standard-rate (one minute) turns, which are designed to let you enter a specific bank angle on he turn coordinator and count 60 seconds on the clock (in this plane, anyhow). When the time is up, if you made the turn at the proper bank angle, you'll be flying in the opposite direction. If you turned for two minutes, you'd have done a 360-degree turn and be back were you started. So, if you were flying due south and do it correctly for one minute, you'll end up flying due north when you're done with the turn. The obvious reason for being able to do this as a private pilot is that if you're either unfortunate or stupid enough (or both) to fly into the clouds, going back the way you came is a good idea, and with nothing but cloud outside the plane you have to be able to do it by the gauges. We did a few turns to the left and a couple to the right. I was able to maintain altitude and attitude pretty well, but it was a lot of work.
Your head really messes with you when you start doing turns and other maneuvers without being able to see the outside world and it's natural horizon. I found out quickly that there is no way I can trust what my body is telling me it feels in an instrument flying situation. If I relied on whether I feel like I'm in a turn, or a dive, or flying straight and level, I'll be dead. The human body doesn't accurately inform the brain once you've made a couple turns or other moves. Many pilots have been killed because they trusted what their body was saying. Death trap.
Next we did some turning climbs and descents - So Kelly was mixing things up a bit, having me control every dimension of basic IFR flying with just the instruments. It went pretty well.
Then Kelly showed me some "unusual attitude" recovery maneuvers, first without the hood on. He wanted me to see what they look like in the air before I went into the "dark." By "unusual attitudes" we mean a variety screwed up dangerous attitudes for the aircraft to be in, such as a diving turn or a steep climbing and rolling turn. You have to be able to recognize from looking at the airplane's attitude indicator when you're in a dangerous attitude and how to act immediately to correct it and get back to straight and level flight. We did several of these, including a bunch where he had me wearing the hood and closing my eyes while putting my head down. Kelly would fly the airplane in all sorts of different directions: Turns back and forth, diving, climbing, and any combination of those over and over. They he'd say "Okay, your airplane" and I would look up, determine what the situation called for, and take immediate action. It went well, and I felt like I understood what needed to be done and showed I can do it.
Luckily I didn't get sick (sometimes people do, but I'm not prone to motion sickness). But by the time we were done with the hood work my brain was stretched pretty far. But we had more to do, and I was okay. So, Kelly asked me to set the plane up for slow flight, which took me a little time to get set in my head after the hood maneuvers. I managed to get there, and Kelly told be to do a power-off stall. I got it about half right and almost spun the plane, and realized I was a little overwhelmed with new and old information. Kelly walked me though the steps a little (but not too much), and I was able to do a couple stalls, power-on and power-off, and recover properly. We then moved on to steep turns, which I had not done for a while (in fact I have hardly flown in the past month), and after a couple not-steep-enough tries I got in the groove and did some decent turns.
We then headed back and I set up for a landing on Runway 2. You'd think that by now I'd predict and expect engine failure drills in the pattern when flying with Kelly, but again this time he surprised me as I pulled the barb heat and he pulled the engine to idle and told me my engine had just died. I flew the plane at idle to the runway and put it down just fine.
As you'll find out in my next post (how's that for a clever little hook to keep you reading, eh?) there are some very real-world examples of why practicing for failures and emergencies is so critical. Let's just say I'm glad I know the drill. But hey, that's for next time.