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

8 Every pilot without an instrument rating fears winding up on top of an overcast, especially if you're doing everything right and the insidious clouds sneak in beneath you.

This is a special risk over swamps or coastal areas where water can contribute to instant ground fog. Too many times, pilots insist on watching the sky rather than the ground and barely notice when clouds creep in insidiously and blot out the ground. Keep an eye on the bottom quadrant and be certain to maintain ground contact.

9 If everything goes down the tubes and you do accidentally blunder into IFR conditions, the quickest route to safety is usually a 180-degree turn. Usually. No need to wrap the airplane into a steep bank and risk vertigo. Make the turn standard rate, and in a minute, you'll probably be headed out of trouble. After all, you got into this mess in VFR conditions, so a reverse track is often the safest way out.

Too many times, pilots who accidentally intrude on instrument metereological conditions (IMC) delude themselves that they can bluff it out by climbing through to on top or letting down a little below the clouds. Climbing through may solve the current problem but leave you with the obvious question of getting back down through the overcast. Letting down is nearly always a bad choice unless you know exactly where you are and what's below. After all, down is where the ground lives.

10 Finally, should you wind up in the clouds, alone, scared and without a clue, call for help as soon as possible. Assuming you can maintain control and keep the airplane level, don't blindly try to find your way out without help. Controllers aren't magicians, but if you have some vague idea where you are, they may be able to identify you on radar and provide vectors to clear air and low terrain. Equally important, they can warn legitimate IFR traffic to stay out of your way.

Don't assume just because you made some dumb mistakes that you'll have automatically earned a Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) violation. Most controllers are reasonable people who accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes, and if you're honest about the situation and they're convinced your poor judgment calls were exactly that and not deliberate recklessness, they'll probably let it pass. Even if they don't, a violation is better than the worst alternative.

The obvious solution to weather accidents is an instrument rating, and even that won't solve all your weather problems. For those who had rather not spend the time and money to learn instrument flying, fine. There's no disgrace in flying only when the skies are clement. Just don't make the mistake of trying to mix IFR and VFR.

You may fool some of the weather gods some of the time, but you won't fool all of them all of the time.


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