I know this is a basic question, but a lot of Q&As on here talk about being "under the hood" to simulate IMC.
My question is, is this a literal hood? Can someone please explain what this actually means to a non-pilot?
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When you read or hear the term "under the hood" as it relates to simulated IMC, it may or may not be an actual hood. The FAA does not require a hood, instead the FAA calls for a "view limiting device." Often the view limiting device used is a hood such as the ones depicted below. However, other view limiting devices can also be used, such as glasses with an opaque coating that limits your view such as the ones depicted in the last picture below the hoods.
Checkout this "superhood" at Sporty's!
This is the type I used for my IFR certificate back in the day.
This is another type of view limiting device that can be used to simulate IMC. It is commonly still referred to as "under the hood" or as "hood-word", but as you can see these are not a hood. There is a name brand of glasses like these called "foggles." And most people refer to these as "foggles", although, these, are a different brand.
Yes, old style view limiting devices were typically a light plastic hat like device, which was translucent, to simulate clouds I suppose. It was typically on a pivot so it could still be worn while the view was not limited. It was called a hood.
Today a popular replacement is white with a clear cutout for viewing instruments, and it fits on glasses or sunglasses. Foggles are more common, and I have students make them out of safety glasses. Newer view limiting wear was less expensive, and tends to work better with headsets than a traditional hood.
Years ago, I used a pair of industrial safety glasses with translucent tape, to be my view limiting device. I also put translucent tape on the side shields They were more comfortable than what was commercially available for pilots at the time.
Yes, most pilots practice flying in simulated instrument condition using a view limiting device, sometimes in the form of a hood, though the newer translucent eyeglasses e.g. Foggles, etc are becoming more and more popular for this purpose.
Another method which is preferred by the US military and other militaries are out the world for instrument training is a retractable curtain which covers all the windows or canopy enclosures in an aircraft, preventing the student pilot from looking outside the airplane.