Section 9, Lesson 1
In Progress

Basic Instrument Flight and Unusual Attitude Recoveries

Instrument Flight and Unusual Attitude Recoveries

In this topic we’ll discuss the fundamentals of instrument flight and recovery from unusual attitudes by reference to instruments.


Lesson Notes

When pilots first encounter instrument maneuvers they have a tendency to over control the airplane — forgetting to do two critical things:

  • Trim as necessary to remove control pressure
  • Maintain rudder pressure as necessary to keep the wings level without holding/alternating aileron pressure.

These are basic concepts, and important in visual flight as well, but they are very often not sufficiently enforced to new pilots. If you want life to be easy under the hood, start by getting those two things down. Once you do, you will have that much more time to turn your attention to your instrument scan, charts, checklists, and radios. You can quite literally spend minutes without touching the yoke (if there’s not too much turbulence) if you understand these two skills well.

These are VFR skills, but not super common ones. Get them down first.

Once you’ve got that down, learn to scan your instruments. There are multiple theories on how to scan instruments, but generally you’ll want to start at the attitude indicator and return to it periodically, particularly when you make a change in attitude. In straight and level flight you want to place emphasis on (1) straight (no turning) and (2) level (no altitude changes) flight: hence you will prioritize, in addition to the attitude indicator, the directional gyro and the altimeter.

The attitude indicator gives you a general, rough picture of what’s happening. The other instruments help you dial it in.

Unusual Attitude Recoveries

There are two broad types of unusual attitudes that we need to be able to recover from:

  • Nose high: Decrease AOA, add power and level the wings. Technically, the leveling of the wings occurs last, but often times it immediately follows the first two steps. Hence, all three almost happen in the same moment.
  • Nose low: Reduce power, level the wings and increase pitch. It is absolutely critical to level the wings before trying to raise the pitch, because it reduces the load factor and time required to bring the nose level. In a turn, the lift vector is pointed diagonally towards the horizon. With wings level, the lift vector is directly pointed towards the horizon. And remember, load factor is higher in turns.

Additional Resources

Flashcard Questions

What two VFR skills are critical to being able to fly instruments?

What is a recommended instrument scanning technique for straight and level flight?

Why do you think over controlling during instrument flight tends to create problems for pilots?

In a nose high unusual attitude, what is the proper recovery technique?

In a nose low unusual attitude, what is the paper recovery technique?

If you don’t use sufficient rudder pressure during instrument flight, you’ll constantly have to level the wings with the ailerons. How can this create difficulties flying on instruments?