Spatial disorientation in IMC

mandm

Pattern Altitude
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Michael
I feel a bit embarrassed to post this, but lately I’ve been flying IFR more and into IMC, I am particularly choosing somewhat easier conditions to start with, with ceilings typically 2500’ or so, so I could go back VFR if needed.

On a recent flight, after a bunch of vectoring, some light chop, and complete IMC, I noticed that I was getting behind the airplane, I planned a waypoint (as per the clearance) and was on track, the turbulence not helping as I’m fighting to keep the airplane on heading and altitude while in IMC, all hand flying.

Next, I’m given direct destination, I responded and while I’m setting up the GPS the airplane turns and now I’m going the wrong direction in a turn. Now I’m playing catch up to correct the airplane while the GPS isn’t set up. ATC asks what’s going on and I mentioned I was setting up the GPS, but I’m kind of disappointed in myself.

I got things under control and hand flew the airplane for a considerable amount of time further (still felt behind the aircraft but not as behind) then requested a lower altitude for VMC conditions ahead.
 
I have found that, while hand flying in IMC, when the a/c starts deviating R/L or altitude when entering inputs into the NAV/COMs, I am putting too much pressure on the control wheel. This occurs because my trim is not ideal. When I have the trim nailed I can release my 'student death grip' on the control wheel and the a/c deviates very little from its flight path. Perhaps you are not trimming as well as you could be? Just a thought based on my experience with that scenario.
 
Anything above hobby and u need an autopilot and usually u have two pilots up front. Its a no go ifr item for me….i am no hero heading and altitude are crucial. Especially when u get a reroute or missed approach or or or. Sometimes u need to figure things out.
 
Anything above hobby and u need an autopilot and usually u have two pilots up front. Its a no go ifr item for me….i am no hero heading and altitude are crucial. Especially when u get a reroute or missed approach or or or. Sometimes u need to figure things out.
I see enough two-Pilot crews with an autopilot who can’t fly a missed approach to save their lives that I think proficiency is more important than automation.
 
I see enough two-Pilot crews with an autopilot who can’t fly a missed approach to save their lives that I think proficiency is more important than automation.
Proficiency with hand flying but also with operating the AP and navigator under duress. See the recent NTSB report with VCR transcripts on the PC-12 that went down off Morehead City. The pilot had the fantastic navigator/AP at his fingertips and couldn't utilize it properly to save his life, or the lives of the passengers.
 
Proficiency with hand flying but also with operating the AP and navigator under duress. See the recent NTSB report with VCR transcripts on the PC-12 that went down off Morehead City. The pilot had the fantastic navigator/AP at his fingertips and couldn't utilize it properly to save his life, or the lives of the passengers.
Proficiency with whatever your airplane and equipment, regardless of what you do and/or don’t have in the airplane.
 
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My mistake was not asking to be vectored, I guess I just didn’t know how to say it or was embarrassed to say hey I’m behind the airplane I need vectors for awhile and to descend into VMC.
 
I think it was good that you have been flying and testing your limitations a bit. Never flying in IMC then going up in hard IMC can be a killer. First getting your IFR is a license to go scare yourself. Key is you are planning on learning from this.
If you have an autopilot or a wing lever it can be a life saver. When you get task saturated you get behind. Easy tasks become hard.
Love the idea of going up with an instructor who isn’t afraid of IMC and go work on staying ahead of plane, recognizing you’re behind and plan to get back ahead.
 
Humans are terrible at multitasking. I typically hand fly, but whenever I need to reprogram anything in the plane I always go onto autopilot first. As suggested before flying with an instructor comfortable in IMC is a great suggestion. Unfortunately, finding the instructor may be difficult, and finding the conditions even harder. In all the times I have flown or landed in true IMC I have always felt that it is never the same as simulated with foggles.
 
I feel a bit embarrassed to post this, but lately I’ve been flying IFR more and into IMC, I am particularly choosing somewhat easier conditions to start with, with ceilings typically 2500’ or so, so I could go back VFR if needed.

On a recent flight, after a bunch of vectoring, some light chop, and complete IMC, I noticed that I was getting behind the airplane, I planned a waypoint (as per the clearance) and was on track, the turbulence not helping as I’m fighting to keep the airplane on heading and altitude while in IMC, all hand flying.

Next, I’m given direct destination, I responded and while I’m setting up the GPS the airplane turns and now I’m going the wrong direction in a turn. Now I’m playing catch up to correct the airplane while the GPS isn’t set up. ATC asks what’s going on and I mentioned I was setting up the GPS, but I’m kind of disappointed in myself.

I got things under control and hand flew the airplane for a considerable amount of time further (still felt behind the aircraft but not as behind) then requested a lower altitude for VMC conditions ahead.

These are all great learning opportunities. Don't beat yourself up over it. One thing I tell all my students is to not attend to other tasks unless you are straight and level. As soon as you see that you are in a bank, abandon whatever you are doing and focus on getting the airplane back to straight and level. Everything else can wait. Even with an autopilot, your attention should be on the flight instruments anytime the airplane is in a bank.
 
I am currently doing instrument training (16 hours into it) and had my first taste of vertigo just the other day.

We were practicing my first CTL approach at dusk. Everything went fine on the first approach. Took the foggles off at the VDP and side stepped to downwind to make a landing in the opposite direction. Full stop landing was normal. Taxied back and took off to do the exact same procedure again. At liftoff it was pretty much dark and from the moment I went back on the foggles, ~500 feet AGL, I was experiencing vertigo and kept experiencing vertigo through the entire approach. Vertigo only went away when I transitioned back to visual flying at the VDP. A few minutes later we did the CTL missed approach and I went back on the foggles. No vertigo all the way back to home drome. Go figure!

Can't really say what caused it. I just remember thinking this is really weird; it felt like I was leaning/turning left but instruments said I was straight and level. I remember struggling to put the feelings of turning aside and focus on the instruments. Definitely not a natural thing to do.

Instructor was surprised when I mentioned this to him on debrief. Apparently, I flew the second approach just fine.
 
I take people to a nearby airport to do a published VCOA… about five 360s up to altitude and just about every one of them experiences the leans, thinking they are turning while straight and level. It is great to experience in training before you are single pilot in IMC.
 
I am currently doing instrument training (16 hours into it) and had my first taste of vertigo just the other day.

We were practicing my first CTL approach at dusk. Everything went fine on the first approach. Took the foggles off at the VDP and side stepped to downwind to make a landing in the opposite direction. Full stop landing was normal. Taxied back and took off to do the exact same procedure again. At liftoff it was pretty much dark and from the moment I went back on the foggles, ~500 feet AGL, I was experiencing vertigo and kept experiencing vertigo through the entire approach. Vertigo only went away when I transitioned back to visual flying at the VDP. A few minutes later we did the CTL missed approach and I went back on the foggles. No vertigo all the way back to home drome. Go figure!

Can't really say what caused it. I just remember thinking this is really weird; it felt like I was leaning/turning left but instruments said I was straight and level. I remember struggling to put the feelings of turning aside and focus on the instruments. Definitely not a natural thing to do.

Instructor was surprised when I mentioned this to him on debrief. Apparently, I flew the second approach just fine.
Had a similar experience when doing holds doing my instrument training.

We were in IMC during training and in a legitimate hold instructed by ATC, so we had to do several laps before we were cleared to do another approach. It took me two laps before I realized why I was having problems...the leans! I finally understood what everyone was talking about. Each time I came out of the turn into the straight leg of the hold it took focus to keep the plane level because the my "human gyro's" were telling me I was in a turn. I actually started laughing at myself and had to explain to my CFII why and what was going on. It was kinda cool to recognize it and counter the feeling.
 
I’ve had spatial disorientation before, where I felt it inside my tummy with a little bit of chills, at least twice, both happened at night, once was over the pond (aka Lake Michigan) due to lake effect, and the other was flying unexpectedly (you cannot see them at night!) into the clouds at night.

This one experience I made this thread about happened in day, I didn’t feel anything, it was day hard IMC, I looked at my heading and I was like wah wtf, supposed to go right not left, spent the next 10 seconds correcting then ATC called me out on it, admitted my error and tried to get ahead of the airplane, but I was worked up and never could get ahead of everything, so I pushed on knowing my heading and altitude was correct, but I never got the comfortable feeling this flight, after awhile I requested lower to VMC conditions. I was testing my skills but also knew we had 3000’ ceilings so I had a way out.

I did an IMC climb-out another time that was uneventful. The difference this time was ATC skipping a waypoint as previously cleared, that threw me off. So I have to try this again in the future and next time say unable or request vectors.
 
I don’t fly single pilot IFR without an auto pilot. Also your intent may be to fly to your minimums,but the weather can change rather quickly.
 
Hmmm, ya messed up a little, not the end of the world. Don't be afraid to take a time out if you need it (delay vector). In this case, as soon as you noticed an issue, I would have fessed up. "Approach, cezna 123, could I get a vector while I get this gps set up." Every controller I've dealt with has been great. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. It's no skin off their back to help you out, although sometimes it might delay things for you a little if they have a lot of traffic.
 
Hmmm, ya messed up a little, not the end of the world. Don't be afraid to take a time out if you need it (delay vector). In this case, as soon as you noticed an issue, I would have fessed up. "Approach, cezna 123, could I get a vector while I get this gps set up." Every controller I've dealt with has been great. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. It's no skin off their back to help you out, although sometimes it might delay things for you a little if they have a lot of traffic.
You are right, and the other day I was playing skud running at night, I saw a wall of clouds and I was like nope, 180 around and communicated to ATC, “Tail number maneuvering”. Was brief so I could focus on flying but I did communicate.

ATC asked if I needed assistance, or what’s going on, airplane wise or weather. I said weather probably diverting to Schaumburg.

ATC asked if I’m instrument rated and able to fly IFR, I said yes but still diverting.

I cancelled IFR as I wanted to focus on flying and I was close enough to Schaumburg. Couldn’t see the airport as I was literally on top of it, circled around slowly during moderate turbulence with wind shear to land. ATC said to put in 1200, I said I’ll do it on the ground. Didn’t want to play around with anything else.

If anyone heard that, yes it was me o_O

My other half wanted to get back, I was like we got some weather at Chicago, and turbulence and low ceilings, not ideal to go back. Ended up being worse than forecasted but Schaumburg was reporting VFR conditions so I decided to give it a go. Once you get in that bravo ring it’s like hell on fire when wx is no fun.
 
Setting up avionics is the perfect time to put the autopilot in heading and altitude hold modes, if available. Otherwise, the three-second rule in Post #11 sounds like good advice.
 
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My mistake was not asking to be vectored, I guess I just didn’t know how to say it or was embarrassed to say hey I’m behind the airplane I need vectors for awhile and to descend into VMC.
I just say, "Can give me a vector while I'm setting up the avionics?"
 
Setting up avionics is the perfect time to put the autopilot in heading and altitude hold modes, if available. Otherwise, the three-second rule in Post #11 sounds like good advice.
My autopilot is no good lol
Or I need some transition training on how to use it lol
 
My autopilot is no good lol
Or I need some transition training on how to use it lol
There are some pretty bad autopilots out there, especially in some of the older airplanes. What make and model of autopilot do you have?
 
There are some pretty bad autopilots out there, especially in some of the older airplanes. What make and model of autopilot do you have?
I have a PA28R180 Piper Arrow,
The A/P I cannot remember its crap, there’s an engage button and a left/right trim wheel. The airplane pulls left to a graveyard left spiral when in A/P unless the airplane is trimmed level (which isn’t with me in the left seat unless I’m 10gal less fuel on the left tank). I think the A/P is a bendix? Not sure but I can look it up later. I’ve seen the wing leveler with 2 white color push buttons and those work nice, mine is that cheap crap one black button up/down switch.
 
I don’t mind hand flying and flying from Chicago to Alaska and back is all hand flying, so good experience, I’m used to it. But in IMC and turbulence, freaking sucks.
 
Couldn’t see the airport as I was literally on top of it
Schaumburg is mega hard to see. Gotta look for the rec center (big tan cube at approach end of 11) or the funny round domed water tower (approach end of 29)



I had a flight like this on the way back from Bahamas. Tried to stay VFR mostly because I didn’t want to be in the bumps - though it was bumpy low. Around Indy I finally gave in and got a pop up for 3000 (200 feet into the clouds). It was smooth as silk and I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Though, on the radar downwind for DPA they dropped me back down to 2500 which at that time was bumps and IMC. And it was bumpy all the way down. I broke out at 700-800 and landed no problem. But then tower tells me “exit Tango and when you’re ready, call ground .8” They must have seen me bouncing like mad to say something like that haha.
 
I have a PA28R180 Piper Arrow,
The A/P I cannot remember its crap, there’s an engage button and a left/right trim wheel. The airplane pulls left to a graveyard left spiral when in A/P unless the airplane is trimmed level (which isn’t with me in the left seat unless I’m 10gal less fuel on the left tank). I think the A/P is a bendix? Not sure but I can look it up later. I’ve seen the wing leveler with 2 white color push buttons and those work nice, mine is that cheap crap one black button up/down switch.
This is the apparently original-equipment autopilot in a PA28R-180 that I rented a few years ago, but it sounds like yours is different.

N71CS Autopilot.jpg
 
I don't have any issue with the leans. I have them all the time. :D I just tilt my head to the side and all is good.

The one time I was seriously disoriented was a formation flight. I was on the wing, IMC from shortly after takeoff until we split almost 2 hours later for single ship approaches. A times, all I could see with the wing tip strobe. Yes, it was on, as I needed it. But at one point, my mind was telling me we were going straight up, rolling. Uuuh, NO. I did one quick look at the AI and all was well.
 
I take people to a nearby airport to do a published VCOA… about five 360s up to altitude and just about every one of them experiences the leans, thinking they are turning while straight and level. It is great to experience in training before you are single pilot in IMC.
Why were you doing VCOAs in IMC (or simulated IMC)? They're a visual maneuver.
 
I think you really just need more practice with the GPS....all the ones I have seen are absolutely terrible when it comes to making adjustments on the fly. For example, in my boat I have a 16" screen, makes seeing things and fixing things easy....most of the old stuff in out planes are like trying to thread a needle in the dark.

given that there's not way I'd do IMC with out an AP that can hold heading and altitude.
 
Why were you doing VCOAs in IMC (or simulated IMC)? They're a visual maneuver.
Are VCOAs authorized at night? The worst case of spatial disorientation I have had was in good VFR conditions at night. (In my case, it was brought on by fiddling with the avionics during straight-and-level flight.)
 
I have a PA28R180 Piper Arrow,
The A/P I cannot remember its crap, there’s an engage button and a left/right trim wheel. The airplane pulls left to a graveyard left spiral when in A/P unless the airplane is trimmed level (which isn’t with me in the left seat unless I’m 10gal less fuel on the left tank). I think the A/P is a bendix? Not sure but I can look it up later. I’ve seen the wing leveler with 2 white color push buttons and those work nice, mine is that cheap crap one black button up/down switch.
I'm probably going to sound like a jerk, but in my view if the AP won't hold wings level with the balance out by 30+ minutes of fuel burn in a PA-28, it's worthless. I've flown a few different PA-28's with autopilots, mostly different models of stec, and they've never had any problem with that. I've never adjusted roll trim in an Arrow or Archer. I don't know enough to know if your AP is designed wrong or has a problem.

The being a jerk part is that I'm going to suggest not flying into IMC without a second pilot or a working autopilot. I say that because to do otherwise requires, to me, almost perfect attention all the time, and I don't think that's realistic.
 
The being a jerk part is that I'm going to suggest not flying into IMC without a second pilot or a working autopilot. I say that because to do otherwise requires, to me, almost perfect attention all the time, and I don't think that's realistic.
I’ve found a properly-used armrest to be a satisfactory substitute.
 
Why were you doing VCOAs in IMC (or simulated IMC)? They're a visual maneuver.

It was done visually by my student, and when we reached about 8,000’ (or whatever), he put the hood on and tracked a VOR radial. The constant climbing turn for an extended time messed up his inner ear and it was hard to then hold it level under a hood.
 
It was done visually by my student, and when we reached about 8,000’ (or whatever), he put the hood on and tracked a VOR radial. The constant climbing turn for an extended time messed up his inner ear and it was hard to then hold it level under a hood.
Okay, I can definitely see that. Sounds like a good demonstration.
 
To paraphrase, I've been with an a/p, and without an a/p. With is better.

One thing I noticed I often did while hand flying and messing with the gps, looking to the right, turning knobs and trying to maintain the scan, was to unconsciously lean a bit on my left hand.
 
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