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Weather and Flight Experience

Marginal VFR in Tennessee

On an attempted flight from Michigan to Orlando I was flying into Knoxville in the worst haze I had seen in my 600 hours. I could see the expressway I was following, and forward visibility was VFR-Legal. Following the expressway, I would not expect a mountain to appear in the windshield.

The fairly short forward visibility made me nervous, even more so when a mountain appeared off the right wing. So I climbed, told the Knoxville tower that I couldn't see the airport, and the calm and beloved controller vectored me to the runway. I was VFR-Legal at all times, but VFR-Dumb. There could have been a tunnel on the expressway, or an unusually sharp curve around a peak.

But, so far, so good. The next day it appeared that the weather - I've heard it called a "confederate front" - would not let me go on to Florida for several days, so I decided to return to Michigan. The ceiling was VFR-OK over Knoxville. Haze was reported immediately north of Knoxville, with clear sky from there on.

It seemed sensible to fly through a little haze to get into the severe-clear a few miles North. So I took off, climbed to 2,000 feet R&R (between my rear & the ridges), and turned north into that VFR-Legal haze. I could see the trees. OK, it should be turning clear soon.

But then somebody turned a fire hose on the windshield. No lightning, no thunder, just frog-strangling rain. Extremely nervous now (read "scared witless"), I did a passable job on the instruments, made a shallow 180 to get out of it, flew east into clear air, and turned north for a clear flight to Michigan. Until that haze-turned-to-clouds-turned-to-rain, I was VFR-Legal, and VFR-Dumb. That could have been thunder & lightning and a busted airplane.

To other VFR-only pilots, I offer this advice:

  1. Spend a good amount of time practicing instrument flying under the hood with a safety pilot. I had.
  2. Don't fly in marginal VFR. If you can't see five or ten miles ahead, land someplace and read the book you brought along, or watch the soaps, until you can see that far.

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