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Lamentations: Flying by Instruments (6 of 20)
Introduction: A watching nation was shocked on July 16, 1999 when another member of the Kennedy family met a tragic end. Young John Kennedy, Jr. had become a celebrate in his own right when at the age of thirty-eight years the small private plane he was piloting crashed into the waters off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife and sister both died in the crash as well.
Investigators finally concluded that while Kennedy was not necessarily at fault, he did fly into a situation for which he was not prepared or trained. Kennedy was a qualified pilot but only according VFR (visual flight regulations). He was not qualified to fly by instruments (IFR--instrument flight regulations). All was well when he took off, but as he flew along the Atlantic Coast, he was gradually surrounded by fog. Only an IFR trained pilot would be prepared to navigate his way through the confusing haze.
A professional pilot friend of mine that I flew with on occasions explained the phenomena to me. He explained that when a pilot flies into fog or through clouds blocking any visual reference points. As strange as it seems, the pilot soon looses all sense of direction, even up and down. Without a horizon or at least lights in the distance, the pilot doesn't know what direction he is heading or if he flying straight into the ground or even upside down.
The only way to safely fly in such conditions, he insisted, was to keep your eye on your instruments. The electronics on a plane provide an artificial horizon, height, air speed, and whether the plane is climbing or descending. The instruments can keep things straight even when the fog blinds the eyes and brain of the pilot. The toughest part of earning IFR certification, according to seasoned pilots, is learning to have unquestioning faith in the instruments. Even when your eyes and your head say one thing and the instruments tell you another, you must trus ...
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