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June 11, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
The passengers are settled in and the course is nailed. Time to break out your low en route chart and look over some minor changes ATC made to your clearance.
How helpful that the passengers are so well behaved. Their demeanor, proven on brief VFR outings, gave you confidence to upgrade them to the IFR environment for this longer, potentially demanding flight.
They appear at ease as you cruise between solid cloud decks. And there was only a brief interval of nervous giggling as you climbed through the stuff. Now they are serenely chatting about a recent visit to Tucson, Ariz.
You have friends in Tucson, and you’d like to fly out and see them. Oh, you’ll love hiking Mount Lemmon, says a passenger, launching into a tale.
Center radio traffic has been steady. A new transmission begins: “Attention all aircraft ….”
Still on Mount Lemmon and loath to be rude, you hesitate to cut off the story as the short radio call (a Center Weather Advisory) comes and goes. Your right-seat passenger is dying to ask you what a “ convective sigmet” is, but refrains because you appear preoccupied.
Whatever. You’ll have to try to catch up with that radio call at some point. But it’s getting bumpy—and surprise, it’s raining!
It’s a bad feeling, thinking you missed something. Makes you wonder if you could have prepared the passengers differently for the IFR cross-country.
Endlessly cooperative, and admiring of your piloting, they paid close attention to your stock safety briefing, proud that they remembered how to work the seatbelts and cabin doors.
But maybe you should have gone beyond basics, and talked about weather flying and the workload demands of IFR procedures.
Coaching the passengers to recognize your N-number when called on the radio would have been useful. You might mention that occasionally you may cut them out of the communications loop, or isolate yourself from cabin chat.
Planting the seed of a diversion to an alternate might spare you any adverse reaction to your dropping that bombshell later.
Yes, you think as you re-enter the clouds, more could have been done to prepare the passengers for IFR.
An aircraft on the frequency is painting cells and wants to deviate. It’s a King Air, on descent toward your destination.
Time to find out what that announcement from the Center was all about.
Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective. Catch up on what you may have missed in the IFR Fix archive.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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