A Decent IFR Hood

There are lots of choices, none ideal. The Thunderhead and Best Hood are our top picks.

Most pilots acquire (and discard) a variety of view limiting devices over the years. The logbooks often label the column for ersatz instrument work as under the hood, but these contraptions actually fall into three separate categories: sun visors with a thyroid condition, glasses of one sort or another and appliances that look like left-over props from a 1940s Creature Feature.

Each type of view limiter has inherent strengths and weaknesses. Some simply do a better job within those constraints. Given the number of entrants in this field, youd have to conclude that either the Alphabet Groups are wrong and every adult in the entire free world is in flight training or this is a problem still in search of a universally acceptable solution. Based on our product review, we vote for B.

The Criteria
What counts here? View field, apparent durability, portability, ease of donning and removal and whether and how badly they tend to break the earseal on the headset or otherwise annoy and distract.

The ideal view limiter would cover the entire area of the windscreen and sides without unnatural head or neck movement while allowing unimpeded scan of the full panel. They wouldnt foul the headset earseals, are durable, easy to apply and remove one-handed and would fit in your pocket. Dream on. None of these products do it all just right.

We tried these gizmos in a Cessna 182, with a high glare shield but a relatively low left corner to the windscreen. Low-wing drivers may take our carping about too much lateral field view with a grain of salt. Conversely, the Skylanes cavernous cabin has more room than a Mooney, thus affecting donning and removal.

Glasses and Clip-ons
The sole advantage to view limiters which look like or snap onto glasses is portability. These are the smallest and most easily stored and transported of all devices. As a group, the ubiquitous Foggles and its kin -particularly Sportys Clip & Flips-suffer some of the worst peekiness of all.

The exception to entirely too much lateral view is the Overcasters clip-on from ASA ($19.95 list). Durability could be a problem, however, as the black plastic front piece is thin and doesnt come with any sort of sleeve or case. The clip mechanism on our evaluation sample broke on the third use.

Clip-ons are obviously useless if youre not wearing something to clip them to, so contact lens wearers or those who don’t need glasses are outta luck.

By definition, donning clip-ons is a two-handed procedure, so you can either walk around on the ramp beforehand looking like an extra in The Attack of the Killer Bees or you’ll have to let the safety pilot log .01 hours while you get set.

If you wear regular glasses with plastic lenses, watch out for the prongs. Sliding $20 clip-ons with denuded wires over $250 bifocals could ruin your sunny disposition.

Foggles do a better-not great-job of obscuring vision laterally than do the Clip & Flips, but the ear pieces have nowhere to go except under the headset seals. The degradation in noise can range from unnoticeable to actual interference, particularly on the missed.

With just normal handling, the plastic on both Foggles and Clip and Flips scratches and degrades in short order, which can obscure all those round thingees youre supposed to be able to see. With scratched up Foggles, you’ll get a new perspective on blind flying when pointed sunward in the evening.

Tinted varieties do a better job of suppressing reflections from the instruments in sunny IMC, but the flare persists. We found the dark Clip & Flips too obscuring, reducing the much needed contrast between white pointers and black instrument faces. Then again, if you wore the dark amber clip-ons with sunglasses, you could simulate a night zero-zero landing with an electrical failure.

Foggles start at around $18, depending on the source. The yellow version is a couple of dollars more. Sportys Clip & Flips are $19.95 for frosted and $22.95 for clear. ASAs Overcasters list for $19.95.

A couple of products went the Bug Men from Mars route and we didnt like either one. With either, glasses wearers need not apply. Jepp comes right out and says it doesnt recommend use of its JeppShades with glasses and they arent kidding. This device uses a saddle bridge for the nose and there just isn’t any way to wear both (including sunglasses) comfortably or effectively.

Instead of elastic, Jeppesen uses rubberized straps which close with Velcro. In our opinion, the straps are too short. Application over the headset produced unacceptably annoying clamping pressure on the bridge and there was substantial peripheral view.

Makers of the Francis IFR hood don’t say it cant be worn over glasses, but it fits directly against the face and felt pieces slide over the nose. Even without glasses and with the elastic strap at full extension, we experienced a fair amount of fouling and general knocking about during application and removal.

The rubber seal, extensive coverage and close fit can make wearing the Francis a claustrophobic and sweaty experience. If you can manage without vision prosthesis, JeppShades have a flexible shield which flips up, but the Francis IFR hood has to be slid up onto the forehead or pulled completely off to get it out of the way; a real nuisance.

Both of our testers found the view field of the Francis IFR Hood too tunnel-like. The flight instrument T was clear, but reading insignificant items such as the engine monitor and vacuum gauge requires a major head turn.

A hybrid member of the Goggle Group is called the Hoodlamb. This product has side brackets that attach only to stirrup-type, not band-type, headsets, so Peltor owners have to make other arrangements. The owners manual (no kidding) doesnt say so, but weve been advised that some modification may be necessary for certain David Clarks as well.

Attachment to the headset takes a bit of effort and you might be better off to leave it attached permanently, if possible. Once attached, however, it can be adjusted up and down on the stirrup to place the center field of view precisely and it swivels easily out of the way with one hand.

As with the true goggle devices, the side field is substantially restricted and head-turning is a must. The Hoodlamb will fit over large lens glasses, once you get the knack of angling it out before moving it up or down.

One tester loved the Hoodlamb but found that the lower portions interfered with looking at his kneeboard. A little surgery (on the product, mind you) cured the problem. This was the most expensive tribe of view limiters, with the Francis Hood and Hoodlamb listing for $29.95 and the JeppShades at $24.95.

Sisters of the Sacred Scan
Last, we consider the cowl and wimple clan. With one semi-ingenuous exception, none is particularly portable. As a result, theyre best suited to pilots who can leave them in the airplane or who don’t mind the thing flapping around on a flightbag strap.

All allowed the same corner peek, but each was better at encouraging a realistic, natural scan of the panel because they surround the field of view instead of forcing you turn your head to look at engine instruments or the ever-important Hobbs meter.

Youd think that the designers of this variety would take advantage of the inherent commodiousness to head off all the other inconveniences, kinda like a 1956 Caddy. But nooooo. One of the least diminutive versions managed to ball absence of flexibility, durability, ease of use and noise degradation into one unhandy, not-so-little package. Hands down winner of the Ergonomics-Rnt-Us Award is the Super Hood.

First off, the Super Hood has a one-piece rigid plastic headband ring with outward (not downward) turning ends and a separate clip-on visor.

According to the label under the visor, its supposed to go over the headset, which its really not wide enough for without increasing the clamping pressure significantly.

Moreover, there’s enough weight hanging out front on a substantial moment arm that you have to use the Velcro strap to make the thing stay in place if you fit it over the headset.

If placed under the headset, those outward turning end pieces make the procedure semi-comical and almost three-handed, not to mention the clumps of hair that get snagged.

It looks to us like youd be better off taking the hint in the shipping materials to throw the head band away and just use the visor clipped directly to a ball cap. The ASA Jiffyhood is rigid plastic and what you see (or don’t see) is what you get. (A similar product from Jeppesen, the Deluxe Instrument Training Hood, is no longer being offered.)

The ThunderHead gets the nod among the traditional hoods on simple comfort. Unlike the others, the forward portion of the ThunderHeads head band is wide, padded and covered in terry fabric. Were not sure whats inside the fabric covering (it feels like cardboard), but the visor is flexible, unlike the ASA entrant.

As a result, the view field can be customized to a degree. It also appeared less likely to warp to permanent unuseability if abandoned on the seat of a Piper Solar Grill some August afternoon. The terry facing makes it easier to do minor up and down placement adjustments.

A new entrant in the hood category deserves an Honorable Mention for taking a different tack on the issue: The Best Hood is a stone simple, folded piece of light cardboard with a thin strap of elastic stapled to it. At $5 a piece, $12 for three or $15 for five, its the least expensive, by far.

Our guess is that you’ll never need the three-pack, however. If you like it, you can use the old one as a pattern and make your own for a couple of bucks spent at the dime store.

On the other hand, for major quantity orders (flightschools), the cost goes down to as little as $1.58 a piece and a handwritten notation on one of our samples indicated that you could have your own logo printed on it.

The advantages of The Best Hood include the five-section fold, which lets you mold the field of view somewhat. The visor is significantly longer than the others.

If too long, you can slide it up your forehead readily or custom trim with scissors. In fact, it comes perforated for cutting off as a simple sun visor, if you want. Once youre done with the approach, it pulls off easily and folds up flat.

The other thing we found refreshing is that The Best Hood is apparently marketed, at least in part, on the honor system. A blind Reader Service card inquiry from a national slick brought a sample with a photocopied generic inclusion which thanked us for our inquiry and told us to send them $5 if we liked it and, if not, to pass it on as a gift for another pilot.

As noted in the materials enclosed, the apparent flimsiness can be misleading as the flat-folding cardboard can be stepped on, sat on, even driven over and still be useable. Try that with Foggles.

The true hoods covered the broadest economic ground, ranging from $5 for The Best Hood, $12.95 for the generic ASA Jiffyhood, $19.95 for both the Super Hood and ThunderHead.

All things considered, wed recommend the ThunderHead. At $20, its mid-range in price for the regular commercial offerings and seems to offer the best compromises among flexibility, field of view and comfort. If either portability or price is your Holy Grail, try The Best Hood. You can hardly go wrong.

If you go with something else, shop around. Sportys is the only commercial source we found for the ThunderHead and The Best Hood is marketed by the inventor. Among the more common types of view limiters, we found as much as a $5 spread among retail sources.

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by Jane Garvey

Jane Garvey is an attorney, freelance writer and owner of a Cessna 182 based near Raleigh, North Carolina.