The highlight of week 7 was my first solo flight! My previous post was all about the solo flight and includes a great video of the entire thing. Check it out for all the details.
Following my first solo flight, which was on Monday, we only flew one more day this week, primarily due to weather. On Wednesday we jumped right into instrument training. Learning to fly using only instruments, (ie. becoming an instrument rated pilot) is said to be the most technical and challenging certificate to train for. Until now, all the training I have been doing has been under VFR, or visual flight rules. To obtain and hold a private pilot certificate, one does have to do some instrument training, although a private pilot who does not hold an instrument rating cannot fly in IMC, instrument meteorological conditions. Becoming an instrument rated pilot opens the door to more possibilities and allows you to fly in less favorable weather conditions, and at night. It undoubtedly also increases a private pilots knowledge and overall airmanship whether or not they plan on flying in less then ideal conditions.
When training for instrument flight, you wear a special type of eye wear, called foggles. Foggles are basically a pair of safety goggles but most of the field of vision has been frosted over, leaving only a small area to see out of, which limits your vision to the instrument panel directly in front of you. This simulates real IMC conditions, imagine flying inside a cloud and having nothing but grey filling the windows. I brought my new set of foggles with me and today was the first time we put them to use. With the foggles or other view limiting device on, you are said to be “under the hood”. Using a view limiting device allows you to log ‘simulated instrument time’, and counts toward your required instrument training time.
We headed out to the practice area and I put my foggles on. The first demonstrations that my instructor did with me were related to situational awareness. When flying in instrument conditions, it is very easy to become disorientated. You cannot rely on what you are feeling, as it can be very deceiving. My instructor wanted to demonstrate this to show how easy it is to think you are flying in a certain direction or at a certain bank, when in reality you could be turned in the other way and climbing or descending. He asked me to close my eyes and he put the airplane through a series of random maneuvers. Then he left it configured in a certain direction and either a climb or descent and asked me in what configuration I felt the plane was flying. We did this several times, and more often than not, I was wrong. Sometimes I felt that we were climbing, when in reality we were level and turning. Another time I felt we were turning when in reality we were level and descending. The takeaway here is when you are flying in instrument conditions, and you have no outside visual references, you have to know your instruments and more importantly– trust your instruments. I then did some basic maneuvers– climbs, descents, and turns, at his direction, using only instruments. An important skill here is ‘the scan’ where you are continually moving your eyes from one instrument to another, checking airspeed, altitude, heading, and vertical speed all while completing your maneuver. You do not ever want to fixate on any one instrument. After a while of having the foggles on, I was feeling pretty queasy. I don’t get motion sickness, and haven’t had any discomfort during training until this point, but I guess having the foggles on combined with the situation awareness demonstrations did get to me a bit. On the bright side, during real instrument flight, regular control inputs and changes to flight path are made with much smaller adjustments and within narrower tolerances than in VFR flight. I don’t anticipate any physiological discomfort going forward.
We headed back toward the airport and practiced pattern flight, as well as an introduction to short and soft field landings. A short field landing is simply a different way of configuring the aircraft on approach, during landing, and directly after in order to bring the aircraft to a stop in the shortest distance possible. A soft field landing is a little more technical, the idea is to bring the aircraft down and hold it off for as long as possible, slowly transferring the weight of the aircraft from the wings and onto the landing gear. You do not want to touch down hard if you are on a soft field (grass, sand, slow, etc) as to not dig the landing gear in and damage the plane. We did about 13 landings and practiced some of these skills.
Until next week…..