Nail Your Scan
The foundation of successful instrument flying is in how you scan your instruments. Good IFR scan is similar for every maneuver in that you should focus primarily on the attitude indicator, while scanning the altimeter, heading indicator, and other required instruments for backup. That’s because so long as you hold constant attitude, other instrument movements will remain minor and predictable. But once your attitude begins fluctuating, successfully chasing the rest becomes impossible.
To accomplish a good scan, simply focus on your attitude indicator between everything else you do − meaning never look at ANY OTHER two things in a row. So your scan should go something like this: attitude indicator → altimeter → attitude indicator → heading indicator → attitude indicator → nav display → attitude indicator → altimeter → attitude indicator → heading indicator, etc. No matter what else you check, always return to the attitude indicator between scanning other things. Even checking charts and setting radios should take place one-at-a-time between visits to the attitude indicator. And always use the attitude indicator for any attitude changes, like initiating turns, climbs, and descents, leveling off, and rolling out from turns.
Fly with Your Feet
Now for a tip: Surely you’ve noticed when hand-flying on instruments, that whenever your eyes leave the panel for more than a few seconds the plane drifts off heading or rolls into a bank. Well here’s a secret for addressing that problem – fly with your feet! Experiment a little and you’ll find that with the plane properly trimmed, you can control its bank and heading to maintain straight-and-level, using nothing but rudder. At first that will feel a little sloppy, but flying with your feet is less sensitive than controlling with the yoke, and therefore slower to respond. Along with freeing up your hands to unfold charts, make notes, and tune radios, you’ll find far less tendency for the plane to roll into a bank when flying with your feet.
To practice this technique go up with your CFI or a safety pilot buddy, trim for level flight, and experiment with some VFR straight and level, shallow turns, and course tracking, all flown with nothing but your feet and trim. Once you have the hang of it VFR, put on the hood and try those things again with the addition of the above scan techniques. Flying with your feet effectively slows things down, and it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to get good enough that you can more easily conduct cockpit business with fewer and lesser altitude and heading deviations. Just continue your scan through the process and use your feet to maintain wings-level. It’s almost as good as having an autopilot!
©2012, 2016 Gregory N. Brown