Most of us who have been through instrument training are familiar with the traditional view limiting devices. There is the original hood, which does a decent job of blocking a pilot’s view of outside, but there are still gaps that allow “peeking”, though that peeking doesn’t really help a pilot fly an approach. It does help them figure out which way is up, so it’s not a true simulation.
The other problem with a hood is the process of putting it on to begin simulating IFR conditions, then taking it off when it’s time to land. This process takes time and the instructor has to take the controls (or the autopilot flies), losing some of the realism of the simulation.
Overall, an IFR hood is relatively comfortable. The elastic band sits under your headset, doesn’t squeeze your heard, and doesn’t press underneath your ear cups of the headset, giving you a headache. Hoods are large and somewhat unwieldy.
Foggles are another way to simulate IFR conditions for training. Most of the time, these are safety glasses that have most of the lens blacked out or fogged out, leaving little slits at the bottom for the pilot’s eyes to see the instruments.
Foggles aren’t quite as good as an IFR hood at blocking the outside. Due to their shape, there are often cracks that allow more “peeking” then a hood. The process of beginning to simulate IFR conditions and ending the simulated IFR conditions is easier though, since all the pilot has to do is put the foggles on or slip them off, which can often be done one handed (putting them on can be more difficult one handed since they have to fit underneath your headset). Wearing them for a long period of time can get painful as your headset is probably going to start crushing them against the side of your head.
The best comfort and view limiting combination I have found, so far, is called the ViBAN. It’s very comfortable and does a really good job of simulating IFR by blocking a view of the outside.
What’s the whole goal behind a view limiting device? When a pilot starts instrument training, ideally, all the training would take place in the clouds, since that is why someone get’s an instrument rating. As we all know, this isn’t possible, hence the need to simulate IFR conditions. The problem with simulating IFR is, it’s not true IFR. True IFR conditions are different then what a hood or a set of foggles can simulate. This can lead to spatial disorientation if a fresh instrument pilot enters the clouds for the first time, having done all his training in simulated conditions.
I’ve even heard a story of a pilot who did all his IFR training with a hood, passed his check ride, went into the clouds the first time, and put the hood on because he was getting disoriented since he hadn’t ever experienced true IFR.
What about full motion simulators? How I wish every airport had a full motion simulator for instrument training. Full motion sims are truly the best way to simulate IFR conditions. A pilot can easily get spatially disoriented in a sim if he or she isn’t careful. It’s a great way to simulate IFR conditions, but, alas, this just isn’t possible.
Are we doomed to just do an okay job of training instrument pilots in simulated IFR conditions with a hood or foggles?
Nope, at least not anymore.
Enter the ICARUS Device. The ICARUS Device, which stands for Instrument Conditions Awareness Recognition and Understanding System, is an amazing piece of equipment which truly simulates IFR conditions in the training environment. The ICARUS is a plastic shield that uses a Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal film that allows the degradation of a pilot’s visibility. It clips on to a baseball cap and is attached to a battery. That battery is then bluetoothed to an iPad or iPhone App that allows the instructor to put the pilot into and take him out of simulated IFR conditions.
Originally designed for helicopter training, it’s an excellent tool for fixed wing IFR training too. I’ve been using it for the last month and a half and I am hooked. The customer’s that I have used it with truly say that they cannot see a thing outside. Because the plastic shield turns white, it really does give the view that the pilot is in the clouds. The inner ear certainly believes it. The curve of it fits the glare shield in most planes nicely (there is some custom cutting that would have to take place for specifically rounded glare shields, but it fits Cirrus and Piper Saratogas nicely, the two planes I have used it in), and it sits away from the pilot’s face, blocking out all windows, which is what clouds do.
The greatest thing from an instructor’s standpoint is the ICARUS Device app. The pilot puts the device on before taxi and I set the app to VMC. This completely clears the ICARUS Device so the pilot can see just fine for taxi and takeoff. Then, at about 400 AGL, I tap the <1/2 VIS button on the app, and boom, the pilot is in the clouds. I even have a time delay to slowly make the ICARUS Device opaque to simulate slowly entering the clouds. I do the same thing on an approach, except in the reverse order, simulating we are slowly exiting the clouds.
The ICARUS Device is a game changer for IFR training. It’s comfortable, easy to use, the battery lasts for a long time (though bring a standard USB charging cord with you in the plane because the battery failure mode makes the ICARUS Device opaque instead of transparent. You don’t want that to happen at 200 AGL!), and, most important, it truly simulates IFR conditions.
After using it, I believe all flight schools and CFII should get one of these, both in the fixed wing and helicopter world. It’s the best option for simulating IFR conditions.
Texas Top Aviation, LLC was given an ICARUS Device by the ICARUS Device company to test. Texas Top Aviation, LLC was not paid for our above opinion on the ICARUS Device (trust me, if it was terrible, I would have told you!).