Flying in the clouds

I’ve now gotten the chance to fly inside the clouds a few times. It is a breathtaking experience! Most of the time, instrument training is done in “simulated” conditions in which you wear blinders (“foggles”) that block out everything but the instrument panel. But there are still small clues like the feel of the sun on your arm or the slant of shadows, and maybe there’s always a sense in the back of your brain that you COULD remove the foggles if you really WANTED to.

Taking off and plunging into a dense, gray cloud with your eyes wide open feels a lot different. There is a “fwoosh” moment on entry – I’m not sure if it’s actually audible or just the mental experience of being enveloped and losing all visual references. The temperature drops, sounds seem a little different, and you think, “Okay, this is for REAL.” 90% of your brain gets busy processing the instruments which are now your only lifeline, while 10% sits in the back thinking “I’m hurtling through the air at 100 mph and I CAN’T SEE.” You have to suppress that part of your brain. :)

Then you observe that it isn’t that different from all the practice you’ve been doing. The plane still responds the same and you’re still tracking your GPS course or VOR needles or other navigational aid. However, it *can* get more bumpy, and now you need to remember to look outside every now and then – not because you can see anything of use for navigation, but to check for any signs of ice accumulating on your airplane.

The first time I flew into the cloud, it was a benign layer sitting above the airport that we tunneled through on the way up and then back down, up, down doing practice instrument approaches. The second time, the clouds were piled up unevenly at our altitude so we flew in and out of them horizontally, getting spatterings of rain and finding small pockets of clear air (but cloud below) before we plunged into the next gray wall. The in-and-out was a little distracting, plus the plane took a little more management, but it was great to see various ways that clouds can manifest for real.

I look forward to getting more experience with clouds. Certainly not all of them are clouds you want to fly into, but knowing how to handle reduced visibility is an excellent skill to have.

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  1. Jim said,

    December 6, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    Wow, you have described so well my first time in the clouds! With the foggles, you still have a sense of “up.” In the clouds, that’s absent. It feels *weird* the first few times, then your brain adjusts and NBD.

    What makes it all worth it are those days where you can pop up above the thick, calm layer, greeted by clear skies above.

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