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What is: Flying VFR into IMC?

Old 28th Jan 2015, 08:14
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spend all of that time and $$ learning to fly in cloud and then spend the rest of your life trying to keep out of it!!
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Old 28th Jan 2015, 08:15
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I don't understand how they lose control from using their visuals, to their instruments!
It can happen all too easily. I found myself in such a situation, where I had zero external visual references and was forced to rely solely on my instruments. Long story short, the instruments were telling me one thing, and my body was telling me something else altogether. I had been switching my view from the instruments to outside the aircraft, looking for some kind of reference, and back.....and looked outside the aircraft for a couple of seconds too long. Once I was able to see outside again, it was like a jolt through my body as it synched itself to what the aircraft was actually doing.
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Old 28th Jan 2015, 23:36
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Plenty of good replies here - remember, it's not the cloud but the sudden stop that kills. And if you haven't flown in real cloud, it feels nothing like being under-the-hood - probably the first time in your life that you really can't see and feel where you're going, and you're doing it an 1nm every 30 secs or so.

I'd like to offer a (very typical) scenario:
- Poor weather - not great vis and some drizzle patches - no real horizon.
- You're plodding along, at an increased level of alertness, navigating carefully and getting closer to your destination.
- Rising ground (or falling cloudbase) and you're being pushed from your planned cruise down to low level, but 500' AGL is still legal, and you're only a little below that - stress of weather and all that.
- Naturally, you're over the lower ground (the valley), because the hilltops are in cloud. Drizzle increasing, you're busy peering through the windscreen.
- Remember, grey cloud seen against grey drizzle with no horizon -> can't see it approaching at 100k until you're in it.
- Now, suddenly, you're in cloud.

The situation:
- You are actually only barely above the treetops - and you know it.
- You know you can't turn cause there's hills - somewhere - close.
- You know the only way to stay vaguely upright is to rely on that tiny bit of instrument practice from years ago.
- You can't both fly the instruments and look out.

Scary? If you get lucky and survive - you learnt a couple of things. You used one of you nine lives. VFR aircraft are not practical timely transport, if you can't wait, don't fly. Safe air transport really does require IFR, though IFR is no guarantee.

Last edited by drpixie; 29th Jan 2015 at 03:45.
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Old 29th Jan 2015, 01:48
  #24 (permalink)  
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Don't forget it can happen during Night VFR too. I was climbing out along a coastline doing Night VFR, beautiful starry night. The ships out to sea were also sparkling as were the homesteads or whatever individual buildings were lit up on land.

As I climbed out between using the instruments, the light from the airport/town, and just generally being on top of it my perspective stayed "straight". I put my head down to note my departure time, do my fuel log etc. My head came up and suddenly my eyes/body was telling me something different to my instruments. I set attitude off the AH but my body was screaming this was wrong. What was worse was, what used to be a good reference outside had now changed to 360 degrees of blackness with star like sparkles in all directions. I suddenly was in perfect VFR with "sky" all around as far as I was concerned.

It took a while of focusing on the instruments and eventually my inner ear caught up and the next time I looked outside I again could tell the difference between the lights in the sky and on the ground.
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Old 29th Jan 2015, 02:47
  #25 (permalink)  
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one of their better efforts here.
Jabawocky thanks for the kudos. I made this with my colleague a few years back for our Crash Scene Investigation series of seminars. I still remember scouring through dozens of CD's to get just the right music to make it impactful.

The skills of my partner in crime in SP who is the New Media Producer have been world class and he is still at it after 15 years. He outlasted me!

A change in management led to many changes away from promotion to marketing.


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Old 30th Jan 2015, 02:37
  #26 (permalink)  
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I think it's stupid and reckless to spread the 90 seconds to live thing upon entering IMC.

As well as the spacial disorientation being the killer, I would argue equally as high that it is also the freakout.

Flying schools and most of you here here alike peddle the probably true, but harmful idea that if you find yourself in IMC and you don't know what to do about it, you will die.

Implanting this kind of mindset into the VFR pilot's head sets them up to BELIEVE that they have no ability to control a situation involving sudden loss of visibility, and when you believe you can't control a situation, you lose your cool, adrenaline increases, you proceed to trust your senses while forgetting about your instruments.

Sure maybe the weather was marginal, maybe there were pressures, maybe a hypothetical pilot's wife was having a baby, maybe they didn't read the weather or maybe they didn't plan right. They made some mistakes that lead them into cloud.

Instead of saying it's very dangerous, that they are idiots for going, that their swiss cheese lined up, and that they have 90 get out before death, say this:

You CAN control this situation. You will be fine.

Do you have an autopilot that works? Turn it on. Do you know where you are on your WAC? Climb higher than the bold spot height for the square you are in, or the highest height in your general area if you aren't sure.

Do you have an AH? Watch it like a hawk, don't look outside. 80% attention to AH, 19% attention altitude and 1% attention to heading.

Are you in range of ATC? Call them and tell them you need help. Don't let your ego get in the way. It is their JOB to help you.

No AH? Alternate between turn and slip and altitude.

No instruments? Download one of those in-phone glass cockpits and hold it to your dash.

Airspace above you and mountains below? Forget it. Crank the transponder and climb into it. No transponder? Tell them you are going up and to get the jets out of the way. A phone call is better than a grave.

In my first week of flying school I was told of the imminent death awaiting me if I was to enter IMC, and to this day I think that was the stupidest thing to ever tell a bunch of people fresh out of their effects of controls.

Empowering people with the knowledge and the confidence to fly in any situation is a much better idea than simply telling them that they are finished and there is not a dam thing they can do about it.
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 03:03
  #27 (permalink)  
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I remember as a newly qualified IFR rated pilot flying a BE55 with very few hours on type.
Departed straight into IMC and whilst the flying itself wasn't overly difficult, the nav and comm workload of going straight into class C airspace was more than I could comfortably handle at the time. It wasn't until I got a friendly nudge on the headset from Pearce Centre .."errr *** confirm tracking direct to Jurien". I guess the fact that I was probably about 60deg off heading had them a bit worried. Aviate, navigate, communicate - never truer words spoken.

Another time, long before I had done IR I was VFR on top and decided I wanted to get back down below it without fully appreciating my exact location. Did a very nice cruise descent only find myself about 500' above tree tops. Power back to full, establish in the climb and back on top of the stuff until I found a break in the cloud. NEVER did that again.

So for my .02c worth, there are so many things that can bite (read kill) you by blissfully committing yourself to flying in IMC without proper training, instrumentation and preparation.
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 05:32
  #28 (permalink)  
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Flying schools and most of you here here alike peddle the probably true, but harmful idea that if you find yourself in IMC and you don't know what to do about it, you will die.
The stats back it up.

You CAN control this situation. You will be fine.
The pilots who have posted on here about surviving this scenario invariably describe their good luck at surviving and not by being in control of the situation. They usually follow it up with the statement that they will never get themselves into that situation again. The best message to spread is to fear the consequences and always plan and manage your situation so that you never have to rely on blind luck to survive.
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 06:25
  #29 (permalink)  
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Poonpossum did you manage to make it to one of the 10 Crash Scene Investigation Seminars CASA put on?

The first half was about what happened in a fatal VFR into IMC accident, and the second half was what to do if you find yourself in that situation. It included strategies to help you get out of it right down to ATC recordings of where pilots asked for help and got out of it. The years before we did that series, Air Sercices were getting 1 VFR into IMC call for help every 10 days! They are only the reported ones.

It is frustrating to see this type of fatality happen even with the technology we have in our reach today.

Dangly Bits
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 09:01
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The Canadians charged $400 per person to attend what was a carbon copy of the CASA version.
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 09:49
  #31 (permalink)  
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Interesting to read that Flight Safety Australia refers to studies in Illinois in the 1990s. I am only aware of the rather old 1954 180-degree turn experiment from Illinois. Does anybody have a more recent reference?
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Old 30th Jan 2015, 22:42
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That study was the one that came up with the "178 seconds to die" number.

But note:
  • the researchers chose the Bonanza C35 as representative of the most complex single likely to be encountered by non-professional pilots
  • the subjects were chosen so they had minimum or no time in the Bonanza, and no solo time - and most were low hour
  • the subjects had no instrument time, actual or in a simulator
  • the aircraft was loaded to its max aft CG and max gross
  • the AH, DG and VS were covered, leaving only T&B, altimeter, ASI and compass
  • etc ...

So the 178 seconds refers to novice pilots in an unfamiliar complex aircraft with full aft CG on a limited panel and their first time on instruments.

Like poonpossum, I think it's counterproductive to scare the bejesus out of our VFR pilots - if they do get into cloud, they need to be thinking as clearly and rationally as possible (not always easy in what is fundamentally a very scary situation - and totally different to being under the hood with an instructor next to you).

And particularly the 178 seconds, which really doesn't stand up to any sort of scrutiny.
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 04:17
  #33 (permalink)  
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My low-time VFR pilot into IMC story is very similar to that described by YPJT above. Descended a C172 into what I "knew" to be a thin cloud layer in order to stay VFR. Turned out to be many thousands of feet thick. Descended to a hastily calculated lowest safe, then climbed back out to VFR on top. Did a 180 and went home!

Can't say I ever put my survival down to good luck. At no time did I think I was going to die in the 15-20 min I spent in IMC.

I think good training, staying calm and a moderate degree of skill saved the day.

Never did again though!
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 04:20
  #34 (permalink)  
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The whole point of the 178 seconds message is that without training and practice VFR in IMC is a deadly threat and needs to be treated seriously.
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 08:22
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If it wasn't a serious issue and if it didn't keep occuring then there would be no need for this:

or this:

If pilots become complacent about the dangers then I imagine in 5 years time there will be another report about VMC into IFR. If you want to fly in cloud go get a PIFR rating if you want to live to fly another day and you are restricted to VFR then don't push into IMC. Simples!
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 12:39
  #36 (permalink)  
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the problem with the 178 second message is that it is basically a single data point. often quoted but never critically reexamined.

if you understand your aeroplane and remain calm and unpanicked, and the conditions are smooth, you can survive for a very long time.
I managed 20 minutes in total darkness without visible reference to anything because it was the only remaining safe option.

About the same time a guy in a beautiful Dragon Rapide got caught in turbulent conditions over east and speared in killing 6. so a happy outcome isn't guaranteed.

I do wish that the "178 seconds to death" message was replaced by the basic techniques required to survive message.

Keep your wings level, don't panic and don't stop flying the aircraft.

btw I only had the 5 hours under the hood done 20 years before before the incident I survived.
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 14:13
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All well and good speculating on the dangers of loss of control due to spatial disorientation and how long a vfr pilot might last in an inadvertent vmc to imc , but there are other issues worthy of discussion, notably icing/freezing level. Unlikely a vfr pilot will have that as a primary consideration when in a cloud ? what about water / ice on the pitot ? I've lost the ASI temporarily in a rain cloud in a 152 due to water. That can also contribute to disorientation even if you have a good instrument scan.

Poonpossum's dead right though. Instead of scaremongering the dangers, getting some strategies to deal with it is the right thing to do, specifically, proper training ! Nothing to stop any ppl getting some hood time or actual conditions with an instructor. Could be done at BFR time.

Here in the Uk, we have a rating between VFR PPL and IR, specifically for flying in IMC, which is 15 hours on straight & level, radio nav, a bit of partial panel, unusual attitudes and two 'getout of jail' approaches, plus all the common sense that comes with that.

Best thing I ever did was this rating - gave me some experience in actual IMC under controlled conditions and taught me how, why and when to avoid cloud. Also made me realise that sometimes its a lot safer to be in a cloud than scud running.
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Old 31st Jan 2015, 23:45
  #38 (permalink)  
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Originally Posted by custardpsc
Instead of scaremongering the dangers, getting some strategies to deal with it is the right thing to do ...
Absolutely! At best, scaremongering will stop us taking off into 1000m vis and 500ft overcast for a frolic in the clouds!

But of course, that's not how it happens. It creeps up on you, and then you're in cloud. My own experience was around Eildon, heading for a gap with clear weather beyond (cue narrowing valley, rising terrain and lowering cloud). I had just made the decision to turn around anyway when I found myself in cloud, seriously scary given the topography. But because I'd already briefed a 180, and was positioned so I could make the turn safely, I made it out - despite having planned, my first (and wrong) panicked inclination was to put it in a steep turn, fortunately I managed a reasonably graceful rate 1 turn out of there and back to clear skies. But those trees looked awfully close!

The Illinois studies test an interesting strategy - simplify everything. Forget the stick/yoke, trim and then use rudder for the turn - thereby minimising overcontrolling and workload.

Some interesting recommendations though, including letting it go to 500ft or lower in training before recovering - "An impending impact with the ground is an excellent convincer" - so much for scaremongering I guess!
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Old 1st Feb 2015, 03:01
  #39 (permalink)  
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And particularly the 178 seconds, which really doesn't stand up to any sort of scrutiny.
Sure doesn't ---- I would put the time to initial loss of control at 30-40 seconds, the rest of the time is the descent into Cumulogranitis.

How do I know this --- because I used to time PPL students who had done their five hours, after putting them in actual conditions, and starting a stop watch at "handing over".

If you are not IFR trained and current, stay in severe VMC.

Tootle pip!!
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Old 1st Feb 2015, 07:54
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Having trained in the RPPL/PPL days, and added a Class 4 rating later, the single biggest message that I took home was that I was by no means a fully competent instrument pilot. Over many later years of buzzing around the bush NVFR, that message was reinforced, despite one ot two pretty scary - and I suppose competently executed - episodes of escaping spatial disorientation. I would never say throw in the towel in any situation while there were recovery avenues to try but the message of avoiding the IMC situation in the first place can't be over-stressed.

Fast forwarding a bit, I can appreciate what instructors are up against in trying to transfer wisdom to students. I speak to quite a few RA Aus pilots and am dismayed at the level of confidence some seem to have in their abilities to navigate and control the aircraft in bad weather. I've met PPLs with the same problem over many years, but I think the availability of relatively cheap instruments and/or glass cockpits (of unknown actual reliability, btw) has noticably increased the level of bravado. I've found it almost impossible to describe the challenges for a novice to actually control the aircraft in IMC and turbulence, even if the pilot has (laudably) gained a theoretical understanding of the process.

Just as a bit of an experiment a few years ago, I decided to see how good I was on the clocks in my fairly nimble VLA bug smasher - similar to many of the LSAs around. With a RH seat instructor as safety pilot, and equipped with a pretty nice panel of fully-certified instruments (all of which work much better than those in many a spam can I've flown), my initial efforts on a bumpy day under the hood could only be described as crap. The VLA was no stable instrument platform and, taking the hint, I did quite a bit of practice to the point of recovering some honour. But it again brought home the enormous challenge faced by a recreational pilot, even before the quality of the instrumentation or systems is considered.

To add to those worries, there were some pretty dubious recent articles in "Sport Pilot" on the topic, one of which featured a guy in a Jab pushing on into IMC and claiming the Lord was with him. It left me shaking my head and, were I not a heathen atheist, suspecting the Lord would be better pleased if he got himself a PPL and an IR.
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