Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Flying IFR - Lesson 58 - Now With Actual Spatial Disorientation

So today clouds were kinda low and started getting lower as we flew.

The examiner had announced the route we would take for the checkride, assuming the wind is blowing from the west so we did that starting with VFR flight following to Troy and back to Pontiac.

First off to KVLL Troy, where I did a perfect entry into the hold, had announced I was turning inbound, and I then got cancelled off the approach by Detroit Approach due to arriving IFR traffic that got priority.  Flew 360 degrees north for awhile then got vectored back in and did the approach. Overall good but had stayed too close and too high during the circle, but still would have made the landing so it was good enough.  Next time fly a little farther downwind before turning base and I need to announce leaving minimums when I turn base bit other than that it was good.

Next was the RNAV 27L at Pontiac starting at KUHNA.  The approach went pretty much perfectly if I do say so myself.

Then the Localizer Backcourse 27L.  And that's when it began to go sideways, and up and down, too.

Clouds had dropped and at 2,500 feet and we were then in and out of them and I was not comfortable not being an IFR flight in that even if we had ground contact we clearly were not within VFR conditions. I told the instructor I'd rather get an IFR clearance as there was no visibility to the front nor sides at all.

So I got the clearance, climbed to 3,000, then Detroit Approach had me do a turn to 360.  I then got the worst case of spatial disorientation in the turn and climb that I had ever had.  My body, completely irrationally, had become extremely convinced that I was pointed straight up, even though the instruments showed we clearly were not nor had we been before entering IMC. Heading control was crappy as was altitude and even totally focusing on the instruments I was having a ridiculous amount of trouble and could not hold the heading as I normally would off by the tens of degrees and swinging every which way.

That was not good.  Nor was it a particularly pleasant feeling, and that was a bust of an approach.  Finally settled down and got back and lined up and finished it up for a good missed approach but needed to do that again.

Then went to do it again.  

Much better the second time, even in IMC, I had good heading and altitude control.  Much lighter grip on the controls, I then started verbalizing everything and had it right where I wanted it. Not absolutely perfect headings but within range, altitude was good, and I brought it right in for a really nice landing, and all was well.

So yep, still not perfect, probably made my instructor think I completely suck (assuming he doesn't think that already),  and that's rather annoying. Well yet more stuff to work on.

Good actual practice and learning how to deal with unwanted and sudden onset of some impressive spatial disorientation.

That's 1.9 with .7 actual instrument time, .9 simulated, 1 hold, 4 approaches and a really nice landing.  With any luck, only 1 more lesson before the continuation of the checkride.


Matthew W said...

"spatial disorientation"
The JFK jr special.

B said...

Spatial disorientation is awesome! (not).
It happens to all of us, at pone point or another.
I always want to correct for a climbing right turn, for some reason.
I find if I hold my heat tightly to the headrest for a few seconds while straight and level it helps just a bit.
Trust yer instrumentses

juvat said...

BTDT, didn't like it one bit. Happened on a Tanker in the middle of the Atlantic. We were at a critical point and fuel was adequate to divert, but just barely. Unfortunately, the boom wouldn't lock in to the receptacle so refueling was harder than usual. Right in the middle, I thought the tanker had rolled inverted. Scared the snot out of me. I started to mention it to the WSO, who calmly told me to "Shut up and deal with it, according to him both airplanes were tumbling end over end in formation." Learned a lot about sensory perception on that flight.

Trust the (Instrument) Force, Luke!

Glypto Dropem said...

As someone with ZERO experience in a cockpit, I am fascinated by spatial disorientation. I cannot comprehend how someone's body feelings can override the brain and what their instruments tell them. As a firefighter, I have to put complete trust in my equipment so it is a foreign concept. I would love to experience S.D. either in some kind of simulator or on a plane with an experienced IFR rated pilot, where I could be assured of survival.

I find your posts on the IFR progress quite interesting.

B said...

You inner ear (and the rest of the vestibular system) lie to you. Your normal reaction is to listen to the balance system that you were born with.
Trusting your instruments is hard to do, as it requires that you believe something other than your body. It can be difficult and disorienting.

I don't think you can experience it in anything but a small airplane. A simulator can sorta simulate it, and even when we train with Foggles it really isn't a complete sensory failure as you still get glimpses of the outside.

Only true IFR gives you the disorientation. Accelerations and other forces fool the inner ear and without a visual reference it is easy to become totally disoriented.

Worse, you can correct for a turn or a climb that is not really happening, leading to a crash or loss of control.

Matthew W said...

Other than "trust your instruments", how do you overcome/resolve the SD?

Aaron said...

Matthew W: Yep, that as well as a number of additional mistakes that JKF JR did on that flight doomed him.
Trust your instruments work.

To fully resolve spatial disorientation the quickest way is to get to visual flight conditions where you can again see the horizon/sky/ground and then it goes away pretty much instantly. Failing that, the only way is to continue to concentrate on the instruments, slow everything you're doing down to one step at a time, and wait until your brain/body settles down.

B: Yep, it's amazing how quick your body will start playing tricks on you. I'll try the head to headrest trick if it happens again.

juvat: Ouch, that had to be squarely in the category of not fun at all. I was all over concentrating on the instruments and telling my body to shut up at the time.

Glypto Dropem - It's hard to really understand until you experience it.

We can certainly do it in the clouds in an airplane no problem and can make anyone feel it pretty easily.

Heck it won't necessarily take IMC conditions. In VFR I can have you put your chin on your chest, close your eyes, and within a few minutes of my maneuvering you won;t have any idea which way is up, down or around or which way we are turning. Not as cool as in actual instrument conditions but it'll get the idea across.

You can also simulate it scuba diving - do buoyancy ascent and descent drills straight up and down a line repeatedly. Eventually, the fluid in your ear is going to get so shook up the world will be seen by you and felt by you to be spinning - even when you're actually stock still and not moving. You will 100% feel you're spinning out of control. Underwater. Ask me how I know this. It sucked. Probably you could make it worse with a blacked-out mask for zero visibility drills to make it suck more.