U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


January 2000 




Thought for the month.....Rehearse difficult situations and visualize the desired results.

FLYING ON LESS THAN A FULL PANEL...A number of accidents have pointed out the importance of being able to fly the aircraft with only minimal instrumentation available. We often call this emergency panel or partial panel flying, and it usually means that we have lost the use of gyro instruments such as the attitude indicator. What we end-up with are the airspeed, vertical speed, turn indicator (maybe), and heading indicator or compass.

I did a lot of instrument flying and instructing in Army helicopters. The UH-1 Hueys that we flew had just enough instrumentation and avionics equipment to call them instrument equipped. There was one VOR (no ILS), one ADF, one VHF radio and 2½ hours of fuel. Needless to say, we had to do some careful planning to actually go anywhere IFR, and it was pretty much standard procedure to level off at cruise altitude and immediately declare a minimum fuel advisory with ATC. They must have thought we were crazy because we had just taken off and we were already telling them that we could not accept any delay once we got to our destination.

In a Huey, the pilot sits on the right side and that's where all the instruments are. The instructor's side was pretty sparse, but it forced us to become very good at looking at raw data. In training with the FAA, I flew aircraft and simulators that were well equipped and had a lot of "magic" to play with. Like all instructors, the FAA instructors would load us up with emergencies to verify that we could keep the greasy side down while things were coming unglued. To their amusement, the busier I got, the more "magic" I would shut off. I'd always go back to raw data, because that's what I was comfortable with. I'm not relaying this information to blow my own horn and impress you with how good a pilot I was, but to make the point that I was at least competent at flying with only a needle, ball and airspeed.

After some recent accidents I got to thinking about my own proficiency. I fly regularly to maintain currency, and try to get in a variety of approaches while under the hood, but I had been doing it with everything working. It occurred to me that it had been awhile since I'd flown without an attitude indicator, or just tried using the magnetic compass for directional control. What I discovered is that it isn't like riding a bicycle. I was able to keep the aircraft in the air, but I found myself slow on the cross check. My instrument scan was hesitant and unsure, and I had to stop and think about which instruments were telling me what. Not the kind of situation you want if you experience a vacuum or electrical failure in the clouds.

Flying partial panel is a skill that all of us who fly IFR must be able to do. In the situation that I gave myself, I knew in advance that I was going to be flying partial panel, and I still had some difficulty adjusting to it. An actual emergency is not going to be that generous. Murphy's Law dictates that bad things will occur at the worst time, like in the clouds at night, and will usually be combined with some other problem, such as loss of radio communication. The ability to smoothly transition to partial panel, accurately interpret the information, and deal with the emergency, is vital to survival.

Of course one of the things that can make instrument failure so dangerous is the fact that when we lose the power source, the gyros don't immediately stop. Keeping the aircraft flying on partial panel can be difficult, but it's even more challenging if the attitude indicator is still flopping around while the gyros spin down. We become so used to including it in our scan that our eyes automatically pick it up and interpret the information it presents. Many pilots carry suction cups used in instrument training for partial panel work, to cover the offending instruments so they don't become a distraction. I find that sticky notes do an adequate job, and they're easy to carry.

Being instrument rated and flying in the clouds are not the same thing. Many people find that flying in cloud is actually more enjoyable and less disorienting than wearing a hood or foggles. We're no longer restricted to tunnel vision, we can see the entire panel and it's much easier to scan the instruments. That's assuming of course that we're flying in daylight conditions and we're not being pounded by a driving rain. The first time inside a cloud at night can be quite a different story. The cockpit lighting on most GA aircraft often leaves a lot to be desired. The glow of the position lights can create an eerie light scene outside the aircraft, and if we've forgotten to turn off the strobes before we get inside, we'll quickly be reminded why we should. Flying in IMC at night is so different, that I have known pilots who will actually put on a hood or foggles to help them deal with it. Any distraction at this point, like a flickering instrument light, can be just enough of a problem to get a pilot into trouble.

Whether we fly VFR or IFR, it's important to be proficient and have the confidence to rapidly transition to raw data and partial information on the instrument panel. This is not a skill that occurs naturally, and it disappears quickly so regular refresher training is vital to maintaining it. Perhaps during the next flight review, instrument proficiency check, or Wings training, it might be a good idea to schedule the flying at night. Work with minimal instrumentation, and develop the skills and habits necessary to confidently deal with the loss of a full panel. Mentally review possibilities and play the "what if" game. Know the systems and know what will remain operational if they fail. Rehearse difficult situations and visualize the desired results so when bad things happen, you have already thought about how to act.

Upcoming Events

Feb. 11&12
IA Renewal and Maintenance Exhibit
Belleville Area College
Granite City, IL Campus
7am to 5pm.

Feb. 12
BFR / VFR Clinic
Scott Aero Club
Scott AFB, IL
Call (618) 256-2170 for information and reservations.

Feb. 17
Go / No Go Weather Decisions
Pizza Inn, Westplains, MO
6:30 to 9:00pm.

Feb. 19&20
FIRC - Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Renewal Clinic. St. Louis University
Non-CFIs and CFI wannabes are welcome
Call (636)286-9905 for information and reservations.

Mar. 18
Mid-America Airport
Mascoutah, IL
Aviation Safety Seminar.


Safety Program Manager

1-800-322-8876 x 4835