A few days ago I departed with a full load of passengers from Apahapsili (apa hap silly). The weather had been building on the ridges between Apahapsili and Wamena, but blue sky above the lowlands promised great weather to the north.
Even with full seats, I was pretty light. With 750 horse power up front, my Quest Kodiak posted a solid 1000fpm climb from the runway all the way up to 8000′. Above 8k I was seeing something more like 800fpm. Given my climb performance, I turned toward the top end of a valley. The ridge beyond lead to North Gap, which is the closest pass to Wamena. North Gap remains open and clear much of the day, even when storms brood either side of it. The ridge between me and North Gap had characteristic high build ups on them, but nothing concerning.
As I approached 10,000′ I worked myself into a corridor between clouds. At the end was a nice low spot where I could pass over and into North Gap. It was a little like flying up a canyon with a low pass at the end. As my climb performance degraded though, I began to realize I wouldn’t out climb that last bit of cloud.
The mountains are no place to mess with illegal IMC. No matter how confident you are that there’s no mountain there, never go IMC in the mountains unless you’re on an established route. I wasn’t about to do that, so I elected to circle once in the climb.
I knew my margins, I’d kept my out. I had room to turn around. What I’d not counted on was the disorientation from a steep turn out with no horizon. With clouds towering all around blocking my view of the horizon, I couldn’t visualize my bank angle or pitch.
It took less than a second. I lost my perspective, said out loud “disorientation!” and snapped inside to my instruments. Ahh! Better. 45 degree bank, slightly more pitch up than needed. A minor correction, and I finished my turn and passed over the clouds into North Gap uneventfully.
After years of flying, and even after recently reviewing here my past experiences of disorientation, it happened again. It can happen to anyone. The solution is simply however, when things get crazy, always go back to the basics. Check your instruments and fly the plane.
There’s a life application here too. For me, I find my time spent with God to be the thing that re-centers my life. When things start going sideways, I know I can trust God to be my steady guidance. What helps you find a balance, a center to orient your life?