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

Unless you're instrument rated, consider staying on the ground when conditions are marginal.
1 Don't judge weather for a cross-country trip by simply looking out the window, seeing clear skies and assuming it will be just as good at your destination. It's ironic that pilots, supposedly trained to make dispassionate judgments on weather, sometimes make illogical decisions.

Just because it's ceiling and visibility unlimited (CAVU) where you are, don't be seduced into assuming that's how it is at your destination. Such conclusions become especially relevant when the distance stretches to 700 miles or more and you may be flying adjacent to several weather systems.

Several years back, I was delivering a new Partenavia P-68 Observer from Naples, Italy, to Santa Paula, Calif., an airplane notorious for its intolerance of carburetor ice. Accordingly, I was forced to luxuriate under clear skies at Reykjavik, Iceland, for six days while winter storms dropped a ton of snow on Greenland and Labrador, Canada. I imagine I could have flown out a few hundred miles to "take a look," but it would have been a waste of very expensive avgas.

2 Be especially wary of any forecast that suggests marginal weather at your proposed destination will remain the same when you plan to arrive several hours later. Remember that "about the same" isn't far from "deteriorating to…" If the forecast suggests conditions may be "improving to…" by your expected time of arrival (ETA), you may stand a better chance of completing the flight without problems.

One question I've been trained to ask the briefer on every trip is, "Where is it good?" If the weather seems to fall on the positive side of my decision process, and I'm inclined to give it a try, I'll often ask the briefer for suggestions of alternates along my route or possibly a different route altogether that might avoid the nasty weather in the first place. That might give me more options, should I decide to park the airplane and wait for better conditions.

3 Think at least three times about flying VFR at night. A few years back, the FAA considered a requirement for extra hours of simulated instrument training for those VFR pilots flying at night. Ten hours was a popular number. Apparently, no one felt there needed to be a special VFR/night rating, but everyone agrees night VFR is more challenging than day operation. There's often no visible horizon at night, you generally can't see clouds, and if you're operating over remote areas where lights are sparse, you may not be able to differentiate ground details at all. Unless there's moonlight, night operation can simulate a black hole, and that's no place for a VFR pilot. On top of that, there are certain aircraft sounds that can be heard only at night. If that spooks you, perhaps you should stick to flying in daylight hours.

4 Unless you're IFR rated and totally up to speed, don't even consider flying in weather reported at 1,000 and three. Yes, technically, you'd be legal, as long as you're in the pattern, but it's hard to imagine what you could accomplish in such marginal conditions.


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