IFR Fix: Dangerous game

August 3, 2012

IFR fix

The next time you and your favorite instrument instructor head out for a practice session, focus on some basics—and take a noninstrument-rated pilot friend along.

It might save your friend’s life someday.

With heartbreaking regularity, VFR pilots, often flying high-performance aircraft, continue to tangle with instrument weather despite odds that never improve for that dangerous game. Whether the result is a graveyard spiral from spatial disorientation, or colliding with terrain in a bid to escape weather, pilots keep trying, often with passengers.

Many probably wouldn’t if they had an instrument-rated pilot’s respect for IFR.

Market the message to someone you care about. Explain to the back-seat passenger that the flight’s sole purpose is for you to maintain hard-earned proficiency in basic instrument skills through drills including climbs and descents at prescribed speeds and rates, and flying assigned headings, altitudes, and turns. There will also be some instrument-referenced slow flight. (Save unusual attitudes for another day.)

What? No IFR flight plan and clearance? No instrument approaches or holding? No chance to impress—rather, to demonstrate—the high art of flying the approach, made more masterful with a miss at minimums?

Save your money. You know you can do that stuff.

What may be slightly more in question is whether you can fly an assigned profile in turbulence or with your gyros jabbering gibberish behind stuck-on instrument covers.

It gets lost in the demands of proficiency requirements and the desire to derive tangibly happy results from a training session, but boning up on basics has the added benefit of fleshing out flaws in a pilot’s advanced IFR skills. Sharp aircraft control frees up more pilot attention for navigation and communications. More importantly, you are adding to the safety insurance that your instrument training was designed to provide.

If you have coyly concluded since your checkride that your rating immunized you against control problems faced by VFR pilots, let’s see how the practice goes.

Evidence supporting that overconfident conclusion is underwhelming: An FAA advisory circular on spatial disorientation notes that “tests conducted with qualified instrument pilots indicate that it can take as much as 35 seconds to establish full control by instruments after a loss of visual reference with the surface.”

Surprised?

Imagine the effect on your noninstrument-rated friend.