Safety Publications/Articles

From The Right Seat

Out From Under The Hood

Instrument training is one of the most learning-plateau-intensive activities in aviation. For most instrument students, these plateaus can be extremely frustrating, especially if they are lengthy. Here's one reason why these plateaus may occur as well as a nifty way to deal with the problem.

From the beginning of their training, instrument students must visualize their orientation to the instrument environment (airports, approaches, and airways). To them, this world is abstract and difficult to imagine. It's like having to learn the layout of a room with the lights off. But if the lights are turned on occasionally, it's easier to get to know your position in relation to the room's contents. Similarly, instrument students become much better at orienting themselves to the instrument environment when they've had a chance to see it a few times instead of having to imagine it while wearing a hood.

On occasion, I'll have my instrument students fly approaches and perform holding without a hood (or other view-limiting device). This helps them to sense their position in relation to approach courses and airways as well as where air traffic control takes them during radar vectors. I can't even begin to describe how useful this technique has been for me over the years.

If this idea seems heretical to you, you might want to look at the FAA's Instrument Flying Handbook. In a note to the instrument instructor, the FAA states, "As all experienced instrument instructors know, the student will learn more rapidly during the early stages of instrument training if a considerable [italics mine] part of the time is spent 'open hood.'"

While the FAA suggests that this is useful in the early stages of training, I find it extremely useful in the other stages too. Several years ago, I had a student who insisted on dipping below his decision height on an ILS approach. A few "open hooded" ILS approaches made it clear to him that he wasn't all that far above the surface at decision height. It immediately cured him of his "low dipping" habit.

Of course, you're probably wondering if the student can log instrument time without wearing a view-limiting device. My response? Don't worry about logging this as instrument time. It's not an issue. Most instrument pilots have approximately 55 hours of instrument time when they're ready for the checkride. A few hoodless occasions won't keep them from meeting the minimum instrument hours by the time they become checkride proficient.

So make a preemptive strike against learning plateaus by occasionally taking your instrument students out from under the hood. It will help them to get the "big picture" sooner.

By Rod Machado

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