First Time Under the Hood
A bead of sweat is starting to form on my forehead. It could be the Maryland humidity and we've seen record temperatures recently, but I don't think so. My grip on the yoke is tighter than before. Gone, the sometimes forced relaxed posture in the left seat of the Archer. My eyes, robbed of the what now seems a most generous view of the Maryland countryside, scan furiously in the pattern that I've just been taught. As I make my first turn to meet the VOR radial, my instinct to look into the turn rewards me with only darkness and an unobstructed view of the side panel of the aircraft. At least I now seem to be flying level and the initial gentle porpoising has subsided.
Going "Under the Hood" is quite literally putting on a visor that obstructs you view of outside the aircraft and to do this so early in my training is a little unusual, so I'm told. In this case the intention was to give my family a flight with few maneuvers, whilst not flying a sightseeing tour that wouldn't progress my learning.
So what is it like? Disorienting, focused, unnatural, but ultimately managable.
The lesson gradually built up my workload. Starting with straight and level flight, then turns without changing altitude. Next find and line up on a VOR radial.
A VOR (VHF omnidirectional radio range) station is a ground based beacon than sends out a signal than identifies 360 spokes around the signal called "radials". You can set which radial you want to follow and a gauge in the aeroplane will tell you if you are flying to or from the VOR and a needle swings to the left or right to guide you back onto the right track when you drift off course. Using both VOR gauges tuned to two different VOR stations and identifying which two VOR radials cross where you are will allow you to fix your position should you be lost.
So, now I am following the radial and continuing my scan of the instruments: artificial horizon, airspeed, artificial horizon, altitude, artificial horizon, heading, artificial horizon. This scan replaces any external reference and it is essential to keep your eyes moving. I found, from time to time, my eyes getting stuck on a gauge transfixed by a value that isn't where it should be. All the time my eyes settled in one place, the numbers on all of the other gauges started to diverge from where I needed them. An unintended turn, a change in altitude, speed dropping off. Small changes, constant scanning.
The last test was a descending, constant airspeed turn to a heading. More workload, more concentration, more numbers to hit. I really enjoyed these games and I will play them until I'm really proficient. I know that ultimately my life will one day depend on playing them well.