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Fri, Dec 15, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (12.15.06): The Leans

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 12.15.06

The following is taken from the December 2006 issue of Callback, the publication of the Aviation Safety Reporting System:

This PA-28 pilot's weather briefing called for marginal VFR conditions along the route of flight. Not long after departure, the IFR-rated pilot encountered rapidly deteriorating weather. The pilot contacted ATC and was given a "pop-up" IFR clearance and a climb to 3,000 feet. But then:

"...As I continued to brief the approach, I discovered I had vertigo as the plane was in a banked descent, but I felt I was straight and level. Focusing on the instruments, I recovered to level flight and climbed back to 3,000 feet. By that time, I had lost situational awareness: I could not seem to orient my location in relation to the approach... Approach issued me vectors to the IAF and I made the approach..."

This pilot was experiencing a common physiological phenomenon sometimes called "the leans". As we learn in initial pilot training, without outside visual references we depend on the motion of fluids in our inner ear to give us a sense of balance and motion…that is, of course, why we need flight instruments to help us maintain and control flight attitudes. Any head movement; any bouncing of the airplane in turbulence; stopping, starting or reversing a roll, pitch or especially yaw; or any medical condition (short- or long-term) that affects our inner ear can cause the pilot to "think" he/she is rolling or pitching opposite the reality. The net result for many pilots is a consistent sensation of "leaning" one way or another, with or without a perceived climb or descent component. It can also lead the pilot to believe the airplane is flying straight and level when it is not.

Fighting the leans comes from:

  • Trusting (with verification and cross-check) the indications of flight instruments, and
  • Knowing your typical "leans" sensation (for instance, when distracted I tend to feel myself climbing to the right, so I tend to push the plane down and to the left unless I closely follow my instruments).

Aero-tip of the day: With an instructor in actual instrument conditions, try to identify your typical "leans" sensation. Regardless, trust and cross-check your flight instruments when in instrument conditions.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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