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Unusual Attitudes
2007-10-11

Unusual Attitudes

During the proficiency phase of hood work 'unusual attitudes' should be practiced. This means that you will put on the hood, close his eyes, lower or raise his head while the instructor flies. The instructor will make a series of slow and rapid flight movements designed to disrupt the flow of fluids in the inner ear. After such a series the student will be told to recover the aircraft through use of the instruments. When visual cues are missing the inner ear and kinesthetic systems kick in. When vision is re-admitted confusion occurs. Panic often ensues when an unusual attitude occurs without warning. The unusual attitude instruction must emphasize faith in and use of the instruments, especially the attitude indicator.

If the instructors efforts succeed, the recovery will be difficult for the student due to sensations of vertigo. Vertigo is a physical condition where the victim suffers symptoms such as spatial disorientation, inability to perform and intellectual confusion. The instinct to trust our senses causes these problems. This instinctive trust must be transferred to reliance on the aircraft instruments through training. Until this transfer is completely accomplished safe IFR flight is not possible. The ability to recognize and recover from a rudder caused unusual attitude is a good skill best acquired through aerobatic instruction.

The recovery from unusual attitudes proceeds through several steps depending on the aircraft attitude and airspeed. If the aircraft/engine noise is high, reduce the power, correct any bank, raise and level the wings on the AI horizon. If the aircraft/engine noise is low, apply full power, correct any bank, lower and level the wings on the AI horizon. Be aware that the instructor may have applied flaps, trim, or covered instruments to make the recovery more difficult.

Knowing how to correctly recover from non-spinning unusual attitudes is important. More aircraft and pilots are lost because they try to pull the yoke to recover a nose-down, semi-inverted unusual attitude than from spins. Use ailerons to roll upright. A non-aerobatic pilot must avoid making the initial reaction which is pulling back on the yoke. More often than not this makes the situation worse. This is specifically true when in a steep bank or inverted. In a spiral, pull the power off, coordinate aileron and rudder to level wings and recover with less than 2 Gs. If wake turbulence puts you into a steep bank or turns you upside down you must first reduce power, move the yoke forward and roll the ailerons to get upright. Any other procedure will over-stress the aircraft.

Unusual attitudes are unintentionally entered by pilots who overestimate their ability and competence while underestimating the weather conditions. Begin by being caught on top of a cloud layer. Follow by a sense of being lost because you no longer have the same sensory aids you are used to having. You can't chart progress except electronically. Instinctively the pilot will turn and fly to where he wants to be, not necessarily where he wants to go.

A private pilot with the minimum required hood time will maintain control about seven seconds on entering IFR conditions. This can be prevented only by getting on the instruments and executing a 180° level turn. Failure to act or to act improperly on entering IFR conditions is very likely to destroy the aircraft in the air. Slow up on entering turbulence, keep a light touch on the controls and keep the aircraft level, freely allow altitude changes, and don't attempt any turns.

Below clouds things appear differently, augmented by a desire to keep the surface in sight, the pilot will fly under and around visual obstructions in an ongoing belief that things will get better. They may, but I you haven't checked the weather ahead, they probably won't. You must know which way the weather is moving in relation to your flight direction. It forecasts and winds say the weather is better from whence you came, turn around even though the illusions of improvement ahead exist. Among the disadvantages of flying below the clouds is the instinctive loss of altitude any time you need to improve visiblity. Visibility may improve but you are in the process of destroying your ability to communicate. Now a situation that could have been resolved with ATC help is running out of options. As a student this should be a 'hood' exercise with your instructor

Add a dose of air contaminated fuel tanks and an approaching need to descend even further and enter clouds and we need to have pre-planned a few years ago what would be the most appropriate thing to do. Without training and planning stress will so focus your attention that your recovery will be in doubt. Your arrival on the ground is a certainty. Getting there safely is dependent you how well you exercise mental and aircraft control. We should have worked out these options while a student long before reaching this crisis. Aircraft control is the essential element.

Written by Gene Whitt

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