Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Experiencing the first few instrument flight lessons

I've spent about five-ish hours "under the hood" now flying with my instructors (they're a pair) for my instrument rating training. For those who want the super-short summary version of what it's like, I'll just say this:

"My brain hurts."

Seriously. Similar to the learning "hump" pretty much every private pilot student runs up against at some point in flight training - often just before solo time - my experience in instrument training thus far has been one of true brain drain. The main differences in this phase of training are that instrument flying is much more precise and the hump you have to work over and through comes much, much sooner. As in almost immediately.

I'll have to shoot some video of a flight lesson or two and post it here to try to show how complicated the process of flying the plane with a hood blocking your vision can be. Everything's blocked from sight except the instruments on the panel (dashboard) directly in front of you. There's no option to look outside through any windows. And you're situated like that for quite a long time, too: I've spent a full hour that way a number of times now. Your instructor sits in the seat next to you and looks outside for other aircraft and obstacles, while you fly the plane around in the sky, essentially blind to anything in the outside world.

To add to the complexity, while you're under the hood making turns and climbs and descents, your body completely lies to you as far as what you feel like the airplane is doing vs. what it's actually doing. Think of it as being a lot like when you were a kid, spinning around in circles really fast, getting all dizzy and then trying to walk normally. Add blinders so you can only see the world right in front of you. It doesn't work to fly by feel. And doing so without the ability to see outside and view the ground/horizon can kill you. So instrument flying proficiency is important.

When flying with the hood on, you body (specifically the fluid activity in your inner ear) gets thrown off with the turns, climbs and dives, and your brain doesn't have the benefit of any visual cues to counteract the physical signals going to your brain. So you get "the leans," meaning your body tell you you're in a turn or a climb or a dive (or some combination thereof) while the instruments clearly show otherwise. So, the tendency for new instrument flight students is to "feel" their way around and fly all over the place. One of the primary purposes of early instrument flying with the hood is to train the pilot to overcome the tendency to rely on feeling and sight, ignore the signals that will incorrectly guide you in flying the airplane, and to rely solely on the instruments on the panel, which tell you how fast you're going, ascent and descent speed, turning bank, direction, altitude and other key information.

It doesn't come naturally. And it's a *lot* of information to process while your head and body are sending you false and conflicting information. Hence the brain pain.

But, it's a lot of fun. For me, there's nothing cooler than the technical challenges associated with flying and doing it well. So instrument training, while somewhat intimidating and definitely difficult, represents some serious fun in my book.

And it's a great skill to develop and rating to achieve as a pilot. Not only does the instrument rating allow a pilot to fly though and in clouds (which can open up the ability to make trips otherwise impossible), it also makes people overall better pilots. And that's a good thing.

I'll post some specific flight lesson experiences in the near future, to try to share with others what this second major phase of flight training (after the private pilot phase) is like. Instrument training is pretty much universally described as the most difficult flight training pilots do. So I think sharing some information and details can be helpful. Plus it will help me to reinforce what I am learning and experiencing in my own training process.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    Nice Post shared here..thanks for sharing your this post and keep posting such post here in future too. it would be nice if you can share some information related to aircraft instrument panels here in your future posts..