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IFR Fix: The quick pickIFR Fix: The quick pick

The pilot spent a prodigious amount of time preparing for this evening’s instrument proficiency check, and is surprised to find the normally meticulous instructor exhibiting a seemingly casual attitude about the flight.

Was there some misunderstanding about the goal of the session? Evidently not. Both the preflight discussion and a logbook check indicate that the CFII is on the case. What’s different is the emphasis—lack of it, really—on reviewing route specifics and filing the IFR flight plan well ahead of the ETD.

As for a destination, at least the CFII is holding true to form, declaring the flight bound for one of the airports in the coverage area least familiar to the learning pilot. The destination also lies in the direction of poorer weather—possibly of a less-than-VFR character. But that will be a tricky thing to monitor because of the no-radar-coverage airport’s limited weather reporting capabilities. Perhaps the weather will remain above the airport’s nonprecision-approach minimums.

Quite a sketchy scenario has begun to materialize. Also beginning to materialize is the reason for the CFII’s apparent disdain for the usual preflight pomp and circumstance.

"If we need an IFR clearance you will pick it up in the air," the CFII says. "That call will be yours. Just be sure you can maintain VFR if there is any delay in ATC’s being able to accommodate your request." 

It’s comforting to assure yourself that you can always “pick up an IFR” clearance if conditions deteriorate en route. It’s another thing to pull the trigger and manage any complications, especially in weather at night.

Complacency has no place in an air-filed-IFR scenario. In November 2013, a Cessna T210 pilot who was in the process of transmitting information to complete the transition from VFR to IFR flight lost control and crashed near Cedaredge, Colorado, in an accident attributed to spatial disorientation and diverted attention.

Not even on-board technology averted trouble: “It is likely that the airplane entered instrument conditions, and the pilot became spatially disoriented as he was coordinating the instrument clearance and was unaware of the airplane's left turn and climb after the autopilot disconnected,” said the National Transportation Safety Board’s report

Picking up a clearance is something a pilot usually does when conditions have become uncertain and seem destined to stay that way. Confronting such scenarios under controlled conditions deserves a place in an IFR proficiency regimen.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, Technique, Safety and Education

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