Unicom

November 1999 Issue




VFR vs. IFR

Make up your mind. Is an instrument rating worth it or not?

I’m both amused and perplexed by the following excerpts from the September issue.

“I recently met an aircraft owner who has been in the aviation business for 30 years, flies 200 hours a year and has accumulated more than 6,000 hours, yet has no instrument rating. When I gently suggested that surely an instrument rating would be a plus, he said he felt safer without it. I find this thinking to be undiluted idiocy.” – Paul Bertorelli, page 7.

“In some ways, VFR-only pilots can be safer when flying VFR than pilots who hold instrument ratings and sometimes fly VFR, sometimes IFR. VFR pilots often are more self-reliant, while IFR pilots get used to the services provided by the system and miss important factors without the ATC input.” – Ken Ibold, page 21.

In excerpting these I have obviously removed the context. The first article was about VFR flight into marginal or IMC conditions, and the second about an IFR pilot who came to grief while making a VFR trip. But is there some friendly reconciliation to the two different views? I don’t recall having seen such a disparity of opinion within a single issue of your magazine; I wonder whether there is a single “right” answer or if this is just an “agree to disagree” topic.

-R.L. Billings
Via e-mail


I agree with Mr. Bertorelli that having an instrument rating is a good idea. The problem I was alluding to in the second article you cite is that some IFR pilots get so used to working in the system that they forget that they’re supposed to look out the window, too.

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Where Credit’s Due
After reading your story about the Beechcraft Debonair/Cherokee Six mid-air collision [Accident Probe, September], I wanted to relate a similar incident that could have been reported more recently had it not been for the dedication of an Oakland Center controller.

My fiancee and I were flying my Saratoga at 6,500 ft. VFR headed for Ukiah, Calif., from Bakersfield on Aug. 14 at about 2045Z and in contact with Oakland Center for advisories. At that time, we had just passed over Skaggs Island VOR when we heard our controller, who had been so busy that she was declining additional VFR advisory requests, call traffic to two aircraft converging at 2,900 ft. In my out-of-cockpit scan I happened to clearly see from my starboard side the two aircraft in question. They were less than a mile apart and traveling on courses that were approximately 90 degrees perpendicular to each other. It was obvious to me that, if their altimeters were accurate, a mid-air was in the making.

Neither of the pilots called the other traffic and the controller, as busy as she was, stayed with the targets and advised one to descend immediately. The westbound traffic complied and from my vantage point, slipped under the northbound aircraft by what seemed to me to be mere feet. My angle of view would have distorted the distance, of course, but I was holding my breath nonetheless.

I just want to say “thank you” to that anonymous controller from another VFR flyer for taking the initiative to help those pilots avoid what could have been a tragic mishap, and allowed them to enjoy what was an otherwise perfect northern California afternoon. This was another example of the system working as it should.

-Gregg K. Knowles
Alta Loma, Calif.

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This is Good for the Soul
I write in reference to your column, “The Lost Horizon” [Airmanship, September]. Here’s the deal. I can’t fly instruments. Can’t do it. Been flying a long time, off and on for 30 years. I’m relatively low time, with 650 hours. But I’ve got both SEL and helicopter on my ticket. Complex and tail dragger endorsements. I can hover. There are only 7,000 or so of us licensed to do that. I can slip my Cessna 140 in to 800 feet of turf with a 20 knot direct crosswind. You get the picture.

But I cannot fly instruments. I never told anybody this before, but it’s that damned attitude indicator. It turns the wrong way. I roll right wing down, and the thing tilts left! I know, I know. Look at the airplane symbol, fool. Tell that to my hind brain when I’m trying to picture a hold entry, the instructor just covered my ASI, and approach calls, oh so casually, for me to “Say altitude.”

Oh, I can recover from unusual attitudes. That’s like a snapshot. Instructor hands it to you, you’re ready, you assess the picture, the snapshot, and react. But if I’m looking at the thing move, I’ll respond backwards like as not. I can just see myself flying myself into an unusual attitude, totally confounding it by reverse responses, and losing it.

I took instrument training. My instructor actually thought I was ready for a check ride and it was even scheduled. Little did he know of my private and ongoing battle. I never took that check ride and I kept my dirty little secret. I mean, no one else had this problem.

People I can fly circles around if the sun’s shining, stare at that little instrument and fly perfect little holds and approaches, smiling all the time and saying “Now that’s flying,” while I sweat torrents just trying to decide whether the airplane is turning right or left.

Give me a 12-inch screen with a horizon that stays still and an aircraft symbol that moves and I might try it again. Someday.

-Name Withheld By Request

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A Little Knowledge...
I just wanted to say bravo regarding your Editor’s Log in September. It is definitely up to us pilots to do what we need to do to be safe. The responsibility of any flight lies primarily with the PIC. It is such a shame that the media machine gets such feast whenever they get a hold of a GA accident.

Maybe if they were better informed by people in the know within the aviation community, they would not go off half-cocked every time the phrases “small airplane” and “accident” are mentioned.

-Irv Singer
Via e-mail

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Help for Workers Comp Dilemma
In “Is Company Owner a High Risk Pilot,” [Unicom, September], George Haas Jr. asked how executives who are also aircraft pilot-owners can address Workers Comp issues.

Finally, I can put my vocation to some good use. Initially, Workers Comp has nothing to do with how safe or unsafe your operations are. You are grouped with all like employers and charged the same rate based on the history of the group. You may eventually get a break for no losses in the form of an experience modification.

For pilot-owner executives, there are two ways to solve the problem. The owner of the corporation has the option to exclude himself or herself from coverage.

The other is to educate the underwriter. The NCCI Workers Compensation Manual sets forth the rules and regulations including classification assignment and treatment of remuneration for all included employees of an organization. In summary, during any week you do not fly and are normally engaged in office duties, wages are assigned for that week to code the executive officer’s code. During the weeks that you fly, all of the wages earned for that week are assigned to the flight crew code.

Based on the limited information provided in your letter to Aviation Safety, it appears that you should only pay the higher rate for the weeks that the officer is engaged in actual flight duties. Your logbook is the reference for determining the weeks to apply to the flight classification.

For more information, contact the National Council on Compensation Insurance at (561) 997-1000.

I do not get to be the good guy very often; it’s nice.

-Jack Lamb
New York, NY


Jack Lamb is a Senior Premium Audit Specialist with one of the world’s largest insurance companies and audits workers compensation policies for his company.

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Who’s Lying Now?
I couldn’t help but notice with some unease, the incorrect information given in John Lowery’s recent article on instrument cross-checks, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” [Systems Check, September]. The article itself was great in terms of solid ideas for instrument flight safety, and his discussion of glide slope intercept altitudes and altimeter reference came close, but there was one big problem.

I’m sorry guys, but if you cross the Sacramento LOM (EXECC) at 1,400 feet you’re 53 feet off the actual altitude as indicated on the approach plate. The information is right there in black and white- that little “1347” has some reason for existing under the LOM on the descent profile.

He’s right in the sense that the glideslope should be centered at 1400 feet, but that occurs before reaching the outer marker. Granted the difference of 53 feet in this example shouldn’t be life threatening, but consider some other approaches where the disparity between GS intercept and GS altitude over the LOM is closer to 200 feet. In fact, I just took a quick glance through my plates and found that in many ILS approaches the disparity was over 100 feet. In these instances his suggestion could have disastrous results if indeed the altimeter was adjusted and referenced on a low day.

The base idea of referencing the GS altitude is certainly right on as far as cross-checking the accuracy of your altimeter. Just make sure you reference the correct number at the right position during your approach.

-Bruce Gunter
Via e-mail

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The Limit is All in Your Mind
I’m writing in regards to the response to the letter “What Crosswind Limitation” in your September issue, specifically the comment that “such a pilot (260 hours total time) would be well-advised to view the crosswind figure as an operational limitation, if not a legal one.” This implies that it could considered a “legal” limitation.

Let us be clear on this: It is not a legal or operational limitation. It is not a limitation in any sense. It is simply a number used to certify the aircraft. It in no way indicates an “upper end” of the performance ability of the aircraft.

As an airline pilot who spent years flight instructing, I routinely instructed my students on their crosswind landing techniques on the very windiest of days, where we had crosswind components nearing 25-30 knots in Grummans with “demonstrated crosswind components” of 15-17 kts.

As for whether this pilot, or any other pilot, should be landing an aircraft with a certain crosswind, let us not look at how it compares to the “demonstrated crosswind component,” which is irrelevant, but rather at whether the pilot is adequately experienced in handling that level of crosswind.

I can tell you that most of my students were handling crosswind components of 20-22 kts consistently and precisely when they were signed off for their private checkrides.

-Lynn Spencer
Houston, Texas


We applaud the notion of challenging your students to master the fine art of crosswinds, but we’re not so sure you should be so cavalier about dismissing the max demonstrated component. There’s much to be said for considering it as a personal limit until training and experience prove otherwise.

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