IFR Fix: The case of the misplaced planet

February 13, 2012

The Cessna was tracking outbound for an NDB approach, timer ticking. Stabilized on course and altitude, it seemed to the pilot a good chance to check on the rear-seat passengers, who were experiencing instrument conditions—a medium-low stratus deck—for the first time.

How’s everybody doing?

Smiles and thumbs up all around. “This is really cool,” someone says.

The pilot explains in loud voice to the passengers, who are not plugged into our nine-volt intercom, that we will not land, just make an approach to this airport, then head elsewhere. The passengers can’t really place value on this intel, except that it is pilot stuff, and they came along expecting to experience pilot stuff. Boss stuff, really, because the pilot is their employer, and sometimes he takes willing staffers on business or training flights.

So there’s another round of smiles and vertical thumbs.

There is an instrument flight instructor in the right front seat (if memory serves), and he too thought that it was the right time for the pilot to verify that the passengers were doing okay in the gray. He gives the timer a quick glance, then looks back at the instruments.

Whoa!

If both the artificial horizon and its venturi-powered backup gauge are to be believed, planet Earth has made a run for it.

Instead of propping up the wings of the little airplane, the Home World is sneaking off toward the top of the instrument. It’s about a third of the way there.

In a perfect world you let the pilot under training fly. But this is imperfect.

With a grunt that snaps the pilot’s eyes back to the gauges, the CFII recovers with fingers and toes to level flight. The left-seat pilot, open-mouthed, exhales.

The unusual attitude has remained a front-seat secret, and a wink seals the deal. Had the nose departed the horizon, rear-seat thumbs might now be pointed down, but thanks to an instinctive push of rudder in the direction of the rollout, the maneuver had remained stealthy-smooth.

From an instrument’s display to an interpretation and a reflexive response, perhaps a second passed. Appreciating that idea made the months and years of toil in the aeronautical trenches seem very worthwhile.

Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective. Catch up on what you may have missed in the IFR Fix archive.