December 8, 1999
42.1 hours
 

    As I type this, the faint nasuea has subsided almost completely, but the headache lingers a bit.

    I logged 1.2 hrs. with Terri this afternoon, and I couldn't (well, "didn't", is more like it) look outside the airplane for all but about seven or eight minutes of the whole flight.  Those little 'foggle' dealies really work.  I had one moment when I instinctively looked up from the elevator trim control to outside the front windscreen - a very precise act of visual focus, because my vision was so constrained by those things - and Terri almost yanked my ponytail immediately: "No peeking.  Where's your RPM?"

    For a woman with such a sunny disposition, she can slip in & out of a Marine D.I. routine pretty adroitly.

    Before I was blinded, she directed me to maintain 3500 feet, straight and level.  Then, I closed my eyes and put my head down.  For good measure, I shook my head back & forth as if saying 'no' for about fifteen seconds, and then just kept it down with eyes closed.

    "Now, just hold your wings level," she said.

    "Okay, fine.  Nothin' to it," I'm thinking, knowing that it's not that simple, and wondering what I'm going to see when I get to look.  In less than a minute, she let me look...

    ...at about a 30-degree left bank, a tad nose-down.

    "Wow.  Yup.  I get it."

    Of course, I'd seen this a long time ago in my friend's Grumman. The lesson was set up a bit differently, but the result was exactly similar, and I don't see how anyone could design a better demonstration of what this is all about, unless it involves crashing into Long Island Sound.

    So, I got blinded all the way up, and we went to work.

    This airplane is not completely without gyros.  It has one in the electric turn coordinator.  It's a gyroscopic instrument, but it's the only one, and I don't have an artificial horizon or directional gyro.

    Well, that single gyro was a very big deal to me, today. (Especially when Terri reached up and switched it off.  I saw the failure flag just about immediately, and got an 'A' on that particular Silly Instructor Trick.)  It would have been easy to sit there and wish that I had AH and DG, but there wasn't any point to that, of course.  It's just that an experience like this really highlights how valuable they can be.

    In any case, my whole panel scan took in; vertical speed indicator (trend), altimeter, airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, tachometer, and the whiskey-ball compass.  That's it.  Six instruments from which to gather data, integrate it into The Big Picture, and act on direction from the Air Traffic Controller in the back seat.

    After a few turns to heading while holding altitude, she said, "Okay, this is too easy."

    ("Oh, swell.  Very happy to hear that.")

    "Come left to 070, with a 500 feet per minute descent."

    ("Right.  Sure." I'm thinking, even as the wheels start slowly grinding out the radius of the turn, divided by three, in order to time the turn.)  Power-out a bit, pitch, start the turn, and dance the whole five-hole panel-look: taking it as given that nothing there is lying to me.

    Here's the thing: it started a bit slowly, but steadily, I was able to paint the picture from that data, and it got better as it went along.  I wasn't exactly surprised at myself, but I was pretty happy to see what the instruments were showing me.  Over time, it became tiring.  That's because the brain is a muscle, and this part of it was loose, having never worked like this.  I had a couple of moments when I consciously acknowledged the exhaustive effects of instrument flying, realizing that I was barely holding on.  Then, that fast, I had to slap myself in the mind: "You don't have time to get tired... unless you just want to quit", and knowing full well that the day might come when that simply won't be an alternative.

    So, I found it good that I was able to keep my head in the game, while my body was going over the high-side.

    It started in my stomach, very creepily: a slight discomfort, headed in a recognizable direction.  The headache came soon after, but just as slowly.  It never piled up all the way to the point of reaching for a bag.  It just sort of gathered in one little corner of the whole experience and sat there winking at me for the rest of the flight.

    I gave it that much room, mostly because I couldn't do anything about it, and I also understood it to be rather natural.  My head was involved in stuff that my body didn't know anything about, and that was the whole complaint.  For the moment, during this flight, I just let my body complain, because my head was keeping the whole package safe, by doing all the work.

    Terri managed all the radio calls.  I heard the clearance into the Class D airspace, the traffic calls, and all the rest of it.  In fact, I could actually note the passing of buildings on the ground through tiny leaks in the corners of the foggles.  So, the landing pattern wasn't any shocking surprise to me: I knew what was going on.

    It was, however, new and very interesting to "break out" into visual flight: Terri gave the order to remove the foggles and have a look.  I found myself on short final at about 300 feet, a tad left of the centerline of runway 07.  "Oh, okay."  Tweak the centerline, fly on over the threshold and put it down.

    "Wow.  I can see.  As in: I can use my eyes and look right at the world, without connecting all those abstract dots in my mind."

    It was a relief.  No doubt about it.  At the same time, a short glance backwards in time illuminated a really fascinating place where I'd never been before, and was very pleased to have visited with a remarkable degree of proficiency.

    "You flew well, Billy," Terri later told me.  "Just don't let it go to your head."

    "Oh, well," I said, "I have every confidence that you can handle it if I do."

    "Yup.  Next time, I'm going to double your workload out there. You get the radios and the navigation."

    <groan>  "Woo-hoo!  Can't wait."

    "Got any aspirin?"



 

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