Friday, December 16, 2011

Unusual Attitudes

It seems to be BFR season, and today's pilot surprised me a little. In a good way!

First, the weather was a little bit of a concern. How bad was it? The ceiling was 2,000' overcast and the visibility was at least 10 statute miles, and as I told him later in large parts of the USA that was as good as it ever got. But our situation is a little bit different, because we are spoiled rotten. We either have severe clear or very low IFR.

About 20 miles east of Pocatello there's an 8,900' mountain; we could not see it. Twenty miles is pretty far if you are paying attention, but it was a revealing moment: VFR doesn't mean that you can see everything.

The best BFR expands the pilot's skills, so we planned a little local flight to get him more familiar with flying without full disclosure. Then he surprised me again:

"I want to practice unusual attitudes. Under the hood. It's been a while..."

It had been; he hadn't been under the hood since 2003! This trend of giving BFRs without hood time is disturbing. Is it a local problem or a national trend? VFR-into-IFR is a major cause of accidents, so let's make sure that pilots have the skill to fly out of the clouds.

(The Light Sport syllabus has no hood time. Some LSA aircraft have no gyros, so it might seem superfluous, but it is possible to use a GPS receiver to stay upright. We should teach pilots how to do it!)

But this pilot wanted more than a signature for his BFR; he wanted an actual review! Needless to say, this is an "unusual attitude."
So we reviewed the procedures for unusual attitude recovery and went out and practiced. The key instrument in unusual attitude recovey is the airspeed indicator, because the attitude indicator may have tumbled. That took him a little getting used to. Then we flew around the area in "reduced" (10 mile) visibility, using the autopilot to keep the airplane upright (with the snow in the hills there was no real horizon) and leave some cognitive ability available.

 The rest of the flight was pretty standard, but I sure enjoyed the unusual attitude.

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