Monday, August 27, 2012

Learning to Trust My Flight Instruments

It was a cold, dark, and humid morning on June 12th 2011. There was a low overcast hanging over Long Island. It was a perfect day for a flight, that is, if you enjoy flying through the clouds. Some people fantasize about the splendid view that can only be seen through the windscreen in an airplane, the skylines, seascapes, and the occasional fluffy white cloud rolling by. However, as a young aspiring pilot it was time for me to begin learning to fly solely with reference to the instruments.

Flying instruments is not for the faint of heart, it requires skill, intense concentration and trust in the flight instruments. While learning to trust the instruments is not easy, many pilots fly coast to coast and across vast oceans without so much as a glimpse of the ground. They do so by instrument flight. Today was the day that I tested the instruments for myself.

My flight instructor Robert and I met in Atlantic Aviation at Farmingdale’s Republic Airport where we got the weather and held a preflight briefing. After inspecting the airplane we fired the engine. With our clearances in hand we taxied to the runway. Eyes on the instruments cautioned Robert, we’ll be in the clouds in no time. Indeed 14 seconds after takeoff we were completely engulfed in the puffy white fluff.

Why are you turning? Robert questioned me. To me it felt like I was correcting for a gentle bank that I came out of, but no, there was no turn and we were now off course. After I corrected the error Robert cautioned to always trust the instrument because they don’t lie. We broke out of the cloud tops just below 7,000 feet. We then descended back through the clouds to commence the approach.

We tuned the Instrument Landing System equipment and followed its guidance. Just a few hundred feet above the ocean the clouds suddenly disappeared and it was a sight to behold, crystal clear blue water, a string of islands with pearly white sand and finally out in the distance we were perfectly aligned for a smooth landing on Groton New London's runway 05.

The friendly staff at Columbia Air Services refueled and attended to our Cessna 172 N441QF while Robert and I went inside to discuss how we would slip the surely bonds of earth once more and sail through the clouds back whence we came. The return flight was much of the same, however, once we completed the approach to Farmingdale’s runway 19 it was clear to me that the instruments are installed in the aircraft because they can get you to places that your eye cannot see.

As long as a pilot is knowledgeable and proficient in the ways of instrument flight and has the fortitude to follow said instruments, a route can be flown from takeoff to landing without reference to the ground.


Some footage I took of N441QF taking off into the sunset at KFRG
and landing