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Surviving VFR into IMC

VFR into IMC events have a distressingly high fatality rate. Here's why they happen and some strategies for surviving based on research into reports from pilots who successfully handled the challenge. ( More...

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Jay Ritzen 3
Excellent piece. Take a look at the other videos following 178 seconds.
While at CLE ARTCC we participated in a program called "Operation Raincheck" designed to acquaint private pilots with the air traffic control system. One of the instructors did a demo with a rotating stool and an upright stick. The person on the stool was to bend over (while being rotated) and then sit upright to a condition of no forward vision. Then they had to move the top of the stick in the direction they felt they were turning. After the stool had come to a complete stop they would indicate a right motion then an left motion--all while already immobile! It was a great illustration of the fluid motion in the inner ear and how spatial disorientation occurs.
Kris Durbin 2
Wonderful article. Saving this for sure.
bbabis 2
The article does not mention the use of an autopilot or basic wing-leveler. If the aircraft you're flying has one, that is your best bet to accomplish the 180 back to the VFR you just came from. Remember, it does not give you the ability to press on or go lower in hopes of remaining VFR. In that case, you are asking to become a CFIT statistic.
Ron Voss 2
I did this once as a C-150 soloed student pilot 48 years ago. Uncontrolled airport, the sky above was blue, but I ignored the cloud bank off the departure end of the runway. In the soup, I did as instructed, eyes on instruments, maintain climb attitude, and popped out into VFR in less than a minute. At the time I thought it was no big deal. My instructor both berated and praised me (and maybe patted himself on the back).
sparkie624 2
That reminds me of an event as a Private Pilot Student on My First Cross Country SOLO a long time ago... No A/P or Wing Leveler of any kind. Flight Service advised that there was beautiful weather with unlimited visibility and no chance of weather... UGH.. that should have been my first clue on a nice June Week Day. My flight to my destination went picture perfect. Landed, took about a 30 minute break to relax and double check my weather for the return trip home. Again all looked great. I filed my flight plan (as always), departed on my return trip. I was flying at 5500' and all of a sudden I notice that it was getting very black in front of me about 40 minutes from my Destination. I could not descend because mountains were over 3800' and had nice towers on top of them. I contact approach (who by the way was in VFR conditions). I requested Special-VFR and because my destination was VFR Conditions they could not approve but helped as much as they could. (Not trying to brag), but using my Avionics Experience I put all my trust in my instruments and ATC got me in. I finally got on top of the storm (14,000) in a BeechCraft Sundowner. I finally got over my station (KROA) at 14K and they were surrounded, but total VFR. I spiraled down through the hole and shot a perfect approach only because of a departing a/c who lost a fuel cap on take off (that was all I needed by this time). Came around and made another good approach...

My instructor met me at the plane when I arrived and said I did a great job that he was monitoring me along the way.... Not an event I want to try again, but I sure that I had all my Avionics knowledge and trust... It saved me that way as well as the Good Lord Above.
David Loh 2
I had one inadvertent vfr to vmc on a solo flight during training. I was in a gentle turn. Suddenly the whole view in front was all white. I immediately switched over to instruments. Continued to turn gently using the AH while maintaining altitude and speed. In a short time i was out in clear skies again.
Scott Wiggins 2
As a young Marine helicopter pilot, I was on a night training mission out of MCAS Tustin. We were using night vision goggles to fly a VFR route to Cayce Springs which is a plateau above Camp Pendleton. From what I remember Cayce Springs was at about 3000 MSL. On the way, we heard one of our sister ships report a crash. An aircraft from our squadron had flown into the mountainside a few hundred feet below Cayce Springs. They were trying to remain VFR on the goggles and flew into IMC resulting in CFIT. We lost three pilots and a crew chief. They had a pilot observer in the cabin with the crew chief. What did we learn? Lots, but one thing stands out in my memory. Coastal California has at times a marine layer of clouds which creep inland after sunset. Airports in the area, near sea-level, were reporting 2500 feet broken or thereabouts. Ceiling is reported in AGL as you know. If the crew had just done the math, they would have known that they couldn't get to Cayce Springs VFR as the layer was 2500 feet or so. Two Navy trained pilots with instrument ratings made that mistake. Easy to do in helicopters since we flew VFR 99% of the time.

When flying cross-country in my Bonanza, especially in mountainous areas I look at the reports from multiple airfields along my route. I add their reported ceiling AGL to the field elevation to get the cloud height in MSL. Since cloud bottoms remain relatively consistent in altitude based on the temperature of formation, I can get a good idea of the height of the cloud layer (bottom) and if I have enough room underneath.
cbent55 1
While a active IFR pilot, I continually trained for emergencies but one I found useful was to "pretend" I had lost control of the plane and then, take both my hands and feet off the controls to see what the plane would do. No matter what, If I left the plane alone to do its "thing", it always righted its self and flew straight and level is some direction..TRUST the plane to do what is right, it will save your life if you let it--BUT keep it trimmed.....
In re: cbent55's comment. The story was told of two pilots in training during WWII in a Stearman trainer. They wanted to see if they could tear the wings of in a dive recovery. After taking off seat belts they went vertical and they both of them pulled-back. When they came to (after having blacked out) the plane was doing just fine, flying straight and level over the plains of Texas. Trust your plane and it's instruments.
Loral Thomas 1
Prefer having an instrument rating and being PROFICIENT!
bbabis 3
That certainly gives you better odds but, as the article states, 30% of fatal VFR into IMC encounters were instrument rated pilots. Not mentioned in the article is that some were very high time and proficient.
Even a rated & proficient instrument pilot can become disoriented and lose control during inadvertent entry into IMC.


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