Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

10 Tips For VFR Flying In Marginal Weather

A few simple suggestions to help keep VFR pilots safe in marginal weather

It was the classic example of baby- bird stupidity. I had flown myself into a box of clouds without the benefit of training, experience, or even a properly equipped airplane. I was a two-year private pilot at the time, flying above the mountains of Arizona on my way to Albuquerque, N.M. Although I knew exactly where I was, that only served to define where I'd probably crash.

My first airplane, a defenseless, little Globe Swift, wasn't even close to being instrument flight rules-equipped (IFR). It had no artificial horizon, a venturi-powered directional gyro (DG) to tell me where my plane's nose was pointed and a VOR (a short wave radio navigation system) that only worked on alternate Thursdays in March. My instrument proficiency consisted of about 1.5 hours under the hood, acquired two years ago, in preparation for the private pilot test.

The fact that I'm writing this suggests the ending was anticlimactic. With clouds coming down and the terrain coming up, I finally identified where I was along Route 66 and turned to follow it east as it climbed toward the overcast. Within a few minutes, I spotted the barely visible, unimproved short strip known as Dinosaur Caverns. I had seen it several times before. (Don't bother to look it up. It's been closed since 1975.)

I landed the little Swift on the sagebrush-strewn runway, tall weeds scraping the bottoms of the wings, and rolled out onto a small ramp that also served as a parking lot for a local gas station.

Although I had done practically everything wrong, somehow science and technology had triumphed over fear and superstition. There was also a major amount of blind, dumb luck.

Quite a few flight hours and a number of ratings later (including an instrument ticket), I've learned a few things, although not nearly enough. I'm determined never to make those same mistakes again. I'll find some new ones.

One benefit of writing for the magazines is that I've been given the privilege of flying with 100 or more check pilots in conjunction with pilot reports. That's given me a virtual cornucopia of ideas on all things aviation, especially the pitfalls of flying into IFR conditions without proper training or equipment.

The following are some of the suggestions made by these instructors, check and test pilots, bush pilots and miscellaneous aviation bums who very well may know more about flying than I could ever imagine. Most of these suggestions are more common sense than revelation, more homegrown flying philosophy than scientific fact. Take them for what they're worth.


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