Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

20 Tips For IFR Flying

Yes, there could have been 200, but we decided to stop at 20

Last month, we published a list of 20 tips we hoped might help keep you healthy and happy during VFR flight. VFR operation dominates much of general aviation, not because we're not smart enough to fly IFR, but because flying surrounded by clouds is like operating inside a milk bottle.

Most of us who write about airplanes for a living are forced to fly IFR frequently in order to stay on schedule and realize maximum utility from our airplane. Those who operate in IMC long enough are bound to learn a little about it, and since I've probably learned as little as anyone, here's Plane & Pilot's list of 20 tips for IFR flying. Some of these aren't exactly revelationary, others are more all-encompassing. We hope you'll find at least one that helps simplify the sometimes complicated IFR process.

1 If you're trained, qualified and current for IFR, file it and fly it. I have many friends who work hard to earn their instrument tickets, then refuse to file because they're afraid of the added complexity of the IFR system. Here in Southern California, we have several months in the spring and early summer when we have early morning low clouds and fog, and that's often the limit of IFR exposure for many pilots, a quick punch through the low clouds to on top. Certainly, you shouldn't wade into situations you can't handle, but the IFR rating becomes little more than an expensive bragging right if you don't use it to maximum advantage.

2 Most general aviation pilots simply don't fly when the weather is truly adverse. Others indulge in a considerably more thorough weather briefing to determine what they'll do if the atmospherics go downhill faster than expected. Obviously, you should inquire about your destination and your alternate, but I always like to ask, "Where is it good?" and see if I have sufficient fuel to divert to that destination as a last resort. I'll do the same thing for my proposed route structure, sometimes planning my flight through the least inhospitable weather.

3 A clearance isn't sacrosanct. If you file an IFR flight plan and receive a clearance you don't like, you have two choices. Accept the clearance, depart and try to negotiate a better plan with ATC, or shut down, call flight service and find out the nature of the problem. Don't fight it out with the guy on the other end of the radio. Remember that ground control and/or clearance delivery are merely messengers that can only communicate your displeasure to higher authority. If you insist on arguing with them, you'll only succeed in tying up the frequency and irritating everyone else trying to use their services. Better to accept the flawed clearance, depart and work it out with someone who can actually do something about it.

4 Similarly, if you receive a directive in flight that you disagree with for safety reasons, you're not obligated to comply. Once, many years ago, I was delivering an Aerostar from Toussus-le-Noble, France to Boston and was assigned a very low 8,000 feet over the North Sea for the first leg up to Wick, Scotland. I had filed for 20,000 feet, it was early spring and there was ice at lower levels, pretty common in the U.K. during the cold months. I suggested to the always courteous British controller that I was picking up ice and needed higher, and he gave me a series of "Standbys." Finally, after about 15 minutes of this, I said, "London, Aerostar 3274B is requesting higher for the seventh time. We're icing up at this altitude. If you can't approve higher, I'll declare an emergency and initiate climb to my original flight plan altitude of FL200." There was a short pause followed by, "Aerostar 74B, cleared to climb and maintain FL200. Report reaching." You may have to explain your actions later, but better that than to compromise the safety of your flight.


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