10:52 PM

Pilotz in da 'Hood

No, that is not the name of a rap band that sings songs about flying. It is the fraternity I now belong to, a brother (and sista') hood of IFR aviators who for some damned reason want to pilot their craft solely by instruments in weather that would make a seagull run for cover.

Yesterday was my first serious "hood" flight in 27W. I say hood, but in reality, it was more of a "visor" flight because my CFI-I had me buy a Viban view limiting device. This fine little gadget is a small plastic visor with ear pieces that rests atop your nose (or in my case, glasses) and blocks out forward vision...sort of. With the Viban, you are technically "under the hood" but with a tiny movement of your head up, you can easily see out front. My CFI-I swears it is legal for training, currency and the checkride, but a pilot has to be on the honor system and have the mental fortitude to keep the head down and not cheat by grabbing a quick glimpse on the trek down the glideslope.

After getting shot down by weather on two occasions, and flying a couple of PCATD sessions, my CFI-I had me file a nice little IFR flight plan that would take us to a fix for holding practice before returning to shoot the ILS. But from the moment I hit the starter, I found out how easily an IFR pilot can be distracted:

27W – aka "Katy" – had sat for just over two weeks due to seriously crummy weather here in the Willamette Valley. It took a couple of tries to coax the Lycoming to life, only to see that the windows were completely steamed up from me breathing heavily in anticipation of flight. I taxied sort of by braille to the run-up box, and when I tried to get my first IFR clearance ever, Comm #1 was loaded with static and breaking up. But I managed to get cleared, took off, but continued to have crappy reception. Being focused on the radio squawk led to my first sloppy mistake, briefly turning to a 330 heading instead of the assigned 030.
I managed to find the initial fix for the hold on instruments alone, struggling with altitude while diagnosing what was up with the radio. Lucky for me, I had practiced this exact hold entry on my X-Plane simulator a few times, so I had the inbound heading, teardrop entry and outbound heading etched in my brain. Only one itsy-bitsy thing I forgot up there at the controls...wind:
Not that I hadn't tried to calculate how best to compensate for the 10 knot rear quartering tailwind. In my mind, I had the entire hold racetrack burned in, but when I found myself directly over SHEDD, all hell broke loose in my head. That oh-so convenient connection between brain and hands that we use to control a flying machine was gone. I plundered my way around the hold, not sure at any point if I was compensating for the wind, or if I was getting blown straight to hell.
My easy going CFI-I calmly helped me around the hold a few times, and then called Cascade Approach for the ILS into 16R at EUG. I was thrilled to hear this assignment – I had flown that ILS a million times in X-plane – so why would this be any different? I acknowledged my vectors to final, set 27W into a wonderful stable approach, and waited for the CDI and glide slope needles to come alive. So far, so good.
Established on the localizer, I held the needles centered like a good IFR pilot...for a while. Now what was that about sensitivity...oh yes...it increases as we approach the airport. At about the 600-foot mark AGL when the needles took off for the outer reaches of the CDI, I found myself instantly screwed. At roughly the 400-foot AGL mark, Jim had me remove the Viban to the realization I was seriously high and right of centerline...at about 100 MPH! Lucky for me, a Cherokee 235 can stop on a dime in mid-air and give you change. I slid onto 16R and had to taxi to the second turnoff...not bad for my first official ILS approach. Not textbook, but not bad.
After hangaring 27W, I drove home thinking I might have flown the worst trip of my career. Sloppy was the word that kept coming to mind. So I wrote my CFI-I an email asking for an assessment of what I thought was a horrible outing, and this was his reply:
You flew fine today. Typically, initial instrument students don't fly with nearly the precision that you demonstrate. It isn't unusual for me to see 30 degree heading deviations and 400 foot altitude excursions. You're very good about your heading and altitude discipline. You'll also find that it gets substantially easier with every flight.
Welcome words. I am coming to the realization that while this is hard work, is is also extremely rewarding, attacking the sky with only those steam gauges before me. I am looking forward to it getting easier, because after this first lesson, it sure can't get much harder.

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