(March 2012) When I opened my eyes, an immediate instrument scan of the Remos GX’s Dynon PFD revealed that we were in a steep climb and right bank, losing airspeed. As I made the scan, I simultaneously took the controls and initiated recovery from the unusual attitude in which my instructor, First Landings Aviation’s Chris Esposito, had placed us. This flying by sole reference to instruments was turning out to be quite the eye-opener for me. For one thing, I was surprised to learn that when under the hood with my eyes closed I could make only a blind guess at what the airplane was doing — my usual “Spidey senses” couldn’t tell me the answer. Not only did the hood work show me how relying on the instruments versus the senses can significantly improve the chances of keeping things from going bad fast in the event of an inadvertent foray into IMC, but it also gave me an added layer of awareness about the importance of controlling the airplane as precisely as possible during my usual day-VFR flying, even on the best of clear days. The focus required to keep the instrument scan moving gave me a hint at the more relaxed approach with which I had been flying headings, for example.
It had been just a little more than a year after receiving my Sport Pilot certificate when I had decided to pursue the Private certificate and had begun ticking off the necessary aeronautical requirements. And truthfully, it always had been part of my plan to acquire at least some of the required hood work and night-VFR training, even if I decided to remain a sport pilot. The Sport Pilot certificate suited my type of flying, after all — recreational, local flights in light airplanes — but I reasoned that entering that training into my logbook could only be a good thing.
Night of Firsts
Though flying night-VFR was not as intimidating to me as flying under the hood, it was during my first night flight that I had my first taste of the value of instrument work. By the time we had finished shooting landings at a nearby airport and it was time to head back to home base, I was pretty fatigued. As a result, when leaving the pattern, I became momentarily disoriented and headed to the south instead of the southeast. The familiar reference point that I use to locate my airport — the big lake situated just beyond an expanse of farmland — was immersed in inky blackness. What would have been a no-brainer case of pilotage in day-VFR was now a challenge that required navigating via vigilant attention to the heading indicator and GPS. Earlier that evening, I also learned how much more difficult it was to judge the ground distance on short final than it was during daylight. I tended to flare a little too high. Strict attention to the precision-approach-path indicator lights can keep this from happening.
Frankly, armed with this new knowledge, I am surprised that this training is not part of the aeronautical experience requirement for the Sport certificate. I can’t speak for other pilots, but my first attempts at each of the hood exercises were far from perfect. If I hadn’t received the required simulated instrument and night training, I’m certain that, as a VFR pilot in an accidental encounter with IMC conditions or miscalculated civil twilight, I’d have found trouble. Plus, though it’s not part of my nature to consider flirting with even marginal VFR, I’m now 120 percent certain to make sure to avoid such conditions. Yes, additional training means more time and money, but if sport pilots were to complete even an hour or so of both in an appropriately equipped airplane, I’d wager they’d agree the added aeronautical experience and knowledge was worth every penny.
Check out a video of Connie's first night flight below: