Safety Publications/Articles

Air Safety Institute Hangar Talk

Instrument training: Simulated or actual?

The grizzled old CFI wins by a landslide

The last grenade tossed into the Instructor's Lounge--whether student pilots should be exposed to actual IMC instead of just hood time--exploded with enough force to make the young, fresh-faced, airline-bound instructor dizzy. It was he, you remember, who didn't believe training in actual instrument meteorological conditions was necessary (see "ASF Hangar Talk: This month's hot topic," March 2004 AOPA Flight Training).

On the other side, the white-bearded, grizzled old-time instructor, who advocated real cloud time, won by a landslide. About 97 percent of CFIs and other active pilots visiting the ASF Instructor's Lounge agreed with him.

"I would fear for the life of a pilot who experienced in real life for the first time the overload incurred by adverse weather," wrote Sarah Hauschka of Seattle, Washington, who is just finishing up her instrument rating. "I vote for cloud time."

Although the "actual vs. hood" argument was meant for student pilots only, several instructors extended the argument for actual IMC to instrument students, who are not currently required to log "wet" time.

CFI Steve Allen of Flagstaff, Arizona, remarked, "As an instructor, I know instrument-rated pilots who have never flown in clouds. They are terrified of IMC." Others agreeing for similar reasons included John Berger of Landisville, Pennsylvania; Terri Knott of Nashville, Tennessee; Neil Gmoser of Bohemia, New York; Chrysande J. Levesque of Marquette, Michigan; Gordon Rubin of Sarasota, Florida; and M.P. Dymond of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania.

CFI John Thompson of Ladd, Illinois, remembered checking out a properly rated coworker in a light twin, keeping him under the hood. "He did fine under the hood and wasn't aware we'd penetrated a cloud on our IFR flight plan," Thompson said. "When I removed the hood, he was so overwhelmed by the true weather he lost the airplane (knife edge) while in a procedure turn."

Some suggested actually changing FAA certification standards to require time in actual IFR conditions, even for student pilots. "I believe that some amount of flight in actual IFR conditions should be part of the VFR training standard," said William C. Taylor of Massachusetts. Added instructor Dave Yoder of Wellington, Florida, "There is nothing like the real thing to get your attention."

Kent Shook of Madison, Wisconsin, is a believer. While still a student pilot, he and his instructor taxied out to practice landings at an airport in Class C airspace, only to have the weather dip just slightly below VFR minimums as they entered the runup block. "ATC told us we'd have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a special VFR clearance, and asked if we'd like a local IFR clearance instead. I looked at my CFI, he nodded, and off we go into the wild gray yonder.

"I was still expecting to be just below the clouds at pattern altitude, so I was rather surprised to be blinded at 600 or 700 feet took all of three seconds to develop a case of the 'leans.' I blew through my assigned heading, tried to correct, and tried madly to keep the little Skyhawk flying straight. On our 'downwind' leg, my CFI gave me the quick-and-dirty rundown on how to prepare for an instrument approach as he was going through the procedure. By this time, I was able to keep the plane upright with only 80 percent of my concentration, and I tried to absorb as much of his instruction as I could with the other 20 percent. I thought 'hey, I can do this' right up until I heard 'Cessna Two-One-Echo, you are five miles from MONAH, fly heading 020, maintain 2,900 until established, cleared ILS 36 approach.' Huh?

"My total time had clicked over to 10 hours sometime during the flight, but I knew the basics of an ILS. I didn't do too badly, considering it was my first IFR approach ever. This 0.6-hour flight not only taught me many valuable lessons, it also prompted me to do another 1.6 hours in actual IMC during my private training, and to pursue my instrument rating. It was a teachable moment, indeed."

Other instructors disagreed with the idea of an impromptu IFR excursion for a 10-hour student pilot, but suggested some innovative ways to create an IFR-like environment without actually penetrating clouds. David Bradley of Boonville, Missouri, takes a strong flashlight on night VFR flights and shines it on the pilot's windscreen unexpectedly, creating virtual night IFR. "I don't say anything," he reports. "I just sit back and let it happen."

A few instructors voiced concern over the possibility of ruining the instructor's night vision at the same time with the flashlight trick. One pilot who learned to fly in Florida related a "virtual IMC" training technique that worked for him. Phillip Gold of Coral Springs, Florida, said "my CFII-rated instructor for my private training took me out over the Florida Everglades on a moonless night with the hood on. That means no shadows or visual clues at all. After getting comfortable with that, he had me take off the hood while heading into a very black area. I then had to find my way to an airport. It's a real live experience."

Instructor Herman Teachout of Concord, Georgia, seconded the "dark hole" method for allowing students a taste of IFR. He added that "the night sky and earth (assuming you're not over a large metropolitan area) are much more evenly lighted and better simulate the diffused appearance of IFR conditions."

All instructors in the lounge agreed on one thing: Whatever the method for teaching flight by reference to instruments, it must be done legally and safely. In response to a suggestion that a CFI simply point the airplane toward a cloud on a VFR flight and then remove the student's hood once engulfed in the cloud, CFI Charley Bentz declared loudly, "No, no, no!" He continued, "First of all, that is illegal. And second of all but most important is that it is unsafe. And third, if it happens to be a 'macho student' who thinks living on the edge is great, then you risk sending a hazard aloft in the future for all of us to contend with."

Kevin D. Murphy is vice president of safety education for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. He has been an instructor for more than 30 years, and has logged more than 5,000 accident-free hours.

This month's hot topic

The fresh-faced CFI who had his ears soundly boxed over the "simulated vs. actual IMC" question is back for another round. This time, he's sparring with the grizzled, gruff, white-bearded old instructor over the best way to conduct a flight review, formerly called the biennial flight review.

"It's in FAR 61.56, plain as those whiskers on your chin, old-timer," said the youngster. "One hour of regs on the ground, and then 'a review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.'

"So I grill the pilot for an hour on FAR 91, and then we do a flight with a sampling of everything, and if he doesn't try to kill us, I sign him off."

The grizzled old instructor stroked his chin and stared at the shiny-faced youngster. "That meets the letter of the law, all right," he said, "but not the spirit. I was instructing when this whole flight review business started, and I can tell you that it works a whole lot better if you first take the time to tailor the review to the individual pilot. Let's ask the other instructors in here how they do it."

Do you tailor flight reviews, or just do them? Please keep your comments short and to the point, and include your name and the city and state where you instruct. E-mail your opinions or send them to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, "ASF Hangar Talk," 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Remember, there are more than 80,000 CFIs in this lounge. Make your insights stand out.

By Kevin D. Murphy

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