IFR Fix: Distractible you

May 27, 2014

A Cessna 182 is climbing strongly as it enters the clouds after takeoff. The aircraft has been carefully trimmed by its pilot, a first-time aircraft owner who respects the Skylane’s reputation for heavy control forces that sometimes require both hands on the yoke to manage pitch control with accuracy.

The aircraft is well equipped with automation, but the decision has been made to hand-fly all high-workload phases of flight until familiarity with the new machine has been achieved, as recommended by the pilot’s usual flight instructor.

The pilot has just started a level off at the assigned altitude when departure control calls with an unexpected request: "Change to my frequency 124.5."

Who knows why that’s being requested—that frequency is published for departures headed in another direction. Prompt compliance is expected, so the pilot turns toward the panel to make the change.

Out of the corner of the pilot’s eye, motion is detected on the vertical speed indicator. Whoa! Now there’s needle movement on the altimeter and a nose-up, left-wing-low attitude taking shape on the attitude indicator.

The pilot fights off the urge to push over with both hands, instead making a smooth recovery to level flight, with leveled wings.

But, lesson learned! This wasn’t the nose-high unusual attitude introduced with fanfare and forewarning during instrument training in a docile Cessna 172. This was more like what the Instrument Flying Handbook mentioned on page 7-26: Unusual attitudes "may result from a number of conditions" that include "preoccupation with flight deck duties,” and a “lack of proficiency in aircraft control."

The Instrument Flying Handbook passage also delineated another difference between flight training and real-world conditions: "Since unusual attitudes are not intentional maneuvers during instrument flight, except in training, they are often unexpected, and the reaction of an inexperienced or inadequately trained pilot to an unexpected abnormal flight attitude is usually instinctive rather than intelligent and deliberate. This individual reacts with abrupt muscular effort, which is purposeless and even hazardous" in some scenarios.

An instrument pilot first learns the basic skills and techniques of IFR operations in an instrument trainer. But if you expect to do most IFR flying in a more demanding aircraft, allow for the fact that your control inputs will be less proactive and more uncertain, and the you, the pilot, will be more distractible until you and your aircraft have trained to function as one.

Dan Namowitz

Author Biography

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.