Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

20 Tips For IFR Flying

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

5 If thinking ahead of the airplane is important in VFR flight, it's absolutely critical in IFR. For that reason, budget your time carefully, and don't give the airplane a chance to get ahead of you. On most IFR flights, there's just too much to do to allow daydreaming about the new Garmin 750 you're planning to have installed next week. Have the charts laid out prior to departure, and make certain you have appropriate approach plates for your destination, alternate, and any other possible airport ready and available. If you're flying at night, carry at least one camp light that you can strap to your forehead, so you won't have to scramble if an instrument or an entire panel goes dark.

6 Loss of communications in IFR conditions has some rules that most pilots are familiar with. If all com is lost, ATC will expect you to do exactly what you had originally planned: fly your flight plan route, shoot the normally assigned approach and land. If you've lost transmit only, one trick you may not have heard is to tune in the audio of the last or the next VOR and listen for your call sign. Even if you're flying with GPS, tune the nearest VOR to see if anyone is calling. If you hear your call sign, you may be able to respond to ATC using squawk/idents with discrete transponder codes.

7 Airline and military pilots can't even initiate an approach unless both ceiling and visibility are at or above minimums, but general aviation pilots can "take a look." Ceiling is always critical on every approach, as there's obviously nothing to hit if you're over the threshold at minimums and there's no runway in sight, but visibility is often a judgment call. If you fly an approach to minimums, especially down to a typical DH of 250 feet on an ILS and you have the lights in sight, you have the prerogative of landing. Even if the tower is reporting less than the required visibility, the controller is usually nowhere near the runway threshold. True, he may be reporting RVR, but he's still not in your cockpit. If you can see the lights, you're legal to complete the approach and land. Just remember, what's legal and what's smart may be two very different things.

8 Fly higher on practically every IFR flight than you would on a VFR trip. It's an intelligent hedge when you consider that everything becomes more critical in IFR conditions. No matter how low the MEA, file for 9,000 to 12,000 rather than settle for lower levels. Except in mountainous terrain, even most winter weather tops at that height or less, and IFR on top is a lot more comfortable than flying in the clouds. Also, if an engine quits, the taller altitude provides a little more time to troubleshoot and get ready for the emergency landing.

9 Consider using a "cruise clearance" if conditions allow it. It's one of the least known and most poorly understood clearances. A cruise clearance can expedite your flight and help streamline the process of cruise, descent and approach. Most cruise clearances clear you direct to the next navaid or destination, operating at any altitude from the specified height down to the MEA. You need not report leaving your altitude for descent, and you can be confident you're the only traffic in the area. You're automatically cleared for the approach at your destination, and your only obligation is to report "landing assured" or that you're executing the miss and going to plan B. This is a common procedure flying into non-tower airports on many of the mid-Pacific Islands, such as Majuro in the Marshalls and Tarawa in the Kiribatis, but it can work just as well in light traffic anywhere.

10 No question about it—IFR clearances are more serious business than VFR flight. But don't allow yourself to be cowed by the fact that you're flying IFR. While tolerances are tighter under IFR conditions, your rights as an IFR pilot don't change when you're wrapped in cloud. You're expected to operate within 200 feet of your assigned altitude and to maintain the assigned heading or course, but don't be paranoid about the consequence of not doing so. If the air is bumpy or you're having instrument or radio problems, tell the controller. Unless he or she believes you're a complete idiot, you'll almost never sustain a violation.


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