by Chris Findley, CFI, CFII
I recently did an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) trip with a private pilot friend of mine. I had been his instructor through his private training and we had done all the required work for that certificate. This included three hours of flight by reference to instruments only. As a private pilot, this is mainly to allow you to handle an accidental flight into IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions). It is in no way designed to make you a proficient instrument pilot. The main idea is to teach you to maintain aircraft control and reverse course to fly to clearer weather.
On this trip I promised myself that I would not train another private pilot without taking them in actual IMC. He didn’t do bad at all, that’s not it. In fact, he flew well. It was the realization (and I know it’s obvious) that flying with foggles or a hood is simply not the same as flying into a cloud. The sensation is different, the feeling is different, the way your inner ear and body react is different. Psychologically it’s simply a different experience altogether.
He kept turning right. I kept correcting. He said, “Why am I doing that?” And I reminded him about the inner ear and the disorientation that can occur. There before my eyes I saw exactly how a spiral accident forms. The instruments are subtly ignored, and the pilot feels like they are turning. So they bank (and enter a turn). Because of the loss of lift in the turn, they pull back on the yoke, tightening the turn. If not corrected the spiral steepens and the disorientation escalates until control is lost.
There’s something very different about being in actual IMC. So instead of talking about what would happen “If” you flew into a cloud, I’m making a resolution to actually show my students what that feels like and how to handle it.
In no way do I want to encourage them to go scud running and punch holes in the clouds. It’s just that I don’t want their first experience in the clouds to be when they are on their own. I want them to have the confidence of knowing that they can handle the situation and fly their way to clear skies and a safe landing.