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Training Tip: 'A genuine emergency'Training Tip: 'A genuine emergency'

The sensations are unmistakable. Although the student pilot has been forbidden to look up during the demonstration, it is obvious from the aircraft motions he is detecting with his head down that his instructor, after doing this and that, has put the aircraft in a nose-up, left-wing-low attitude.

A VFR pilot has strayed into instrument meteorological conditions any time he or she can no longer maintain attitude control using the natural horizon. Photo by Tom Haines.

Surprise. The student pilot looks up on command to behold an entirely different attitude displayed on the instrument panel. It’s almost enough to induce vertigo.

Learning the only way to maintain control of the aircraft when visual references do not exist is what’s at stake for a student pilot getting this jarring introduction to the basic instrument skills required for private pilot applicants. More importantly, escaping an inadvertent VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) would depend on using these techniques.

There are six instrument skills and maneuvers in the Airman Certification Standards for Private Pilot-Airplane. Trusting your instruments and setting aside any conflicting motion cues is the operating principle involved, and the only way to avoid losing control.

Experiencing a convincing demonstration of how motion cues can deceive your natural senses when visual reference to a horizon isn’t possible is the most effective way to keep from forgetting that crucial point.

Got the hang of it after some practice? Good.

Now visualize performing those emergency instrument flying maneuvers under actual IMC, in turbulence, with a touch of panic setting in.

To emphasize the urgency of this (unfortunately) not-uncommon scenario, notice that the Airplane Flying Handbook’s discussion of inadvertent VFR flight into IMC is found in the emergency procedures chapter.

“A VFR pilot is in IMC conditions anytime he or she is unable to maintain airplane attitude control by reference to the natural horizon regardless of the circumstances or the prevailing weather conditions,” it says. “Additionally, the VFR pilot is, in effect, in IMC anytime he or she is inadvertently or intentionally for an indeterminate period of time unable to navigate or establish geographical position by visual reference to landmarks on the surface. These situations must be accepted by the pilot involved as a genuine emergency requiring appropriate action.”

A private pilot applicant must have at least three hours’ training in the skills that make up flying “solely by reference to instruments.”

But that’s only a crude framework to help you extricate yourself from conditions you must not stumble into in the first place.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Instrument Rating, Flight Training, Student
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