Unicom

February 2000 Issue




Scud Missiles

Low altitude survival tactics encourage scud running by irresponsible pilots

I’ve subscribed to Aviation Safety for several years, and find it to be the most educational and useful publication in our circle. That’s why I was so surprised to see “How Low Can You Go?” [Proficiency, December].

A 4-page article dedicated solely to avoiding power lines? Is this a common problem that pilots routinely experience in normal flight regimes?

Mr. Snyder makes several poor excuses for those who operate aircraft dangerously low, and does not once mention the proper procedures for inadvertent flight into IMC.

And as far as short-field operations are concerned, use the performance specs published in the aircraft flight manual. If the numbers say you won’t clear an obstacle, you probably won’t. Flying under an obstruction is never an acceptable option to any sane pilot.

Though I’m sure Mr. Snyder does not encourage such reckless flying, he may convey the idea to some of your readers that scud-running is OK as long as you keep your eyes peeled. Such notions are incorrect and dangerous.

No pilot should ever be “forced into pressing on into a lowering cloud deck.” Follow the emergency procedures you learned in your training! This article is useful only to that small minority of idiots who insist on operating their aircraft against regulations and plain common sense.

I believe that it is every pilot’s responsibility to learn, and stay current with, basic instrument survival skills. It’s required in Private Pilot training (with good reason) and should be periodically practiced, whether or not one aspires to the instrument rating. Some day it just might save your bacon.

I am not yet an instrument-rated pilot, but have a fair amount of hood time and a handful of actual IMC hours. When faced with a decision between clouds or ground obstructions, I will take my chances in IMC any day.

-Jim Dramis
Netcong, N.J.


First of all, we can construct many scenarios in which otherwise conscientious pilots may find themselves wanting some tricks for surviving low-altitude flight, ranging from partial power failure on takeoff to loss of radios during widespread instrument conditions. Suggesting that you add these tricks to your bag of skills does not constitute an endorsement of scud running.

Second, it’s our opinion that the instrument training required for a private certificate is a joke. We agree with your position that anyone who plans to fly when conditions are anything other than severe clear ought to have far more practice than the FAA requires.

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Scud for Thought
I just finished reading J.J. Snyders’ article and, I gotta tell ya, it scared Hades out of me. I suppose that this is good advice but I think the best advice would be to get an instrument rating. Short of that, I believe the VFR-only pilot would have been better served by an equally in-depth article on “inadvertent IMC encounter survival techniques” than a how-to on scud running.

Flying under wires? How to land trailing a wire you’ve snagged?

Come on, guys. You know as well as I do that pilots engaging in this kind of flying can’t be taught anything anyway or they wouldn’t be in the predicaments you describe, so why bother. Unfortunately, pilots indulging in such are only accomplishing “thinning the herd.” There but for the grace of God …

By the way, I am a 10-year subscriber and I attribute a lot of my knowledge (assuming I have any) and judgment skills to your publication but I can’t go along with this one.

Thanks for otherwise great advice.

-Matt Bauman
Via e-mail


It should have scared you. Some of those sad-but-true scenarios would have scared any sane pilot.

An instrument rating isn’t necessary for everyone, in our book, but regular practice on instrument flying in actual instrument conditions is a good idea. Don’t be so quick to paint everyone who gets into wire-strike territory with the same brush. As you say, there but for the grace of God … Think of it this way: Every time you fly you’re holding two bags. One is filled with skills, the other with luck. If you can’t pull out the right skill when you need it, you have to dip into the bag of luck. And when that’s empty, what do you have?

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CFIs Can Be Part of the Problem
I’d like to make a few comments on the VFR/IFR safety debate, and I hope a few CFIs will take note. The fact is a lot of pilots will not get an instrument rating. While training for my private license I was taught not to get into IMC, but more importantly I was taught how to survive if I did.

My CFI purposely put me in clouds, heavy fog and over water at night. Teaching a student in VMC while under the hood is too controlled. Putting students in IMC will teach them to stay calm, use the instruments only and to use their heads. Flying into IMC for the first time and feeling panicked is not a good time to try to remember what the CFI told you while at the FBO.

Explain it but also show the student what it’s like to be in actual IMC. It might save a life one day.

In addition, I’ve noticed a common problem while flying with several different CFIs.

As the student flies the plane making small incorrect control inputs, the CFI sometimes adds his own inputs because the student isn’t controlling the plane as he would. This creates a tug of war with the controls. Unless the CFI is explaining the input and the effect it has on the plane, adding corrections as the student flies the plane will only add to confusion.

It’s important for the CFI to let the student make mistakes and learn from them. It will lead to a better understanding and shorter training time for the student.

-Kevin Gilbert
New Orleans, La.


You’re right that there’s no substitute for experience in actual IMC. VFR pilots should seek it out with a proper instructor in a properly equipped airplane. As for the other CFI problem you mention, we’ve noticed the same thing with inexperienced CFIs, but have noticed that a good instructor will let you hang your tush pretty far out before taking the controls. Keep shopping for a CFI who does it right.

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Continue to Do What?
I would like to report a confusing, potentially disastrous communication failure, which I have been unable to resolve in the FAR/AIM.

I was VFR, returning to HNL from the west with an approach clearance into the Class B. My clearance included, “via Ford Island and the Navy golf course for runway 4L.” This is basically a long, straight-in descent to a right turn for the downwind at the golf course.

At Ford Island (about five miles out), the controller told me to go to the tower frequency, a normal procedure at this point. The tower controller responded only with one word, “Continue.” I “continued” on course, waiting for further instructions that never came. Soon, I was near the takeoff end of 4L and 4R, listening to planes being dispatched in front of me and watching other planes flying opposite direction in the departure corridor.

I called the tower for instructions, and was told that I “need to tighten up my downwind a little.” I told him I had been “continuing,” as directed, but was now turning downwind. The Tower explained that “Continue” meant to continue with your last instructions.

I said, “Thank you.”

My last instructions were from an approach controller, some 25 miles and 10 minutes out. Yes, I wrote it down. But I have never considered an approach clearance as a clearance to enter the pattern, and have always been instructed by the tower as to the landing clearance and final runway. To me, “continue” means to continue doing what you’re doing, which means present course and altitude.

Seems to me, if the tower expected me to turn into the pattern at the golf course, he would have called me after I passed it. I just don’t understand why a tower controller would expect you to enter the pattern in Class B airspace without a landing clearance. Had I not called, I’m sure he would have just let me fly on by into the opposite arrival corridor.

In any case, I won’t make that mistake again, but I’m sure others may be confused about the term “continue.” Am I stupid, or just using too much logic for our air traffic system?

-Brian Barbata
Honolulu, Hawaii


Sorry, but we’re going to have to side with the controller on this one. You said you wanted to land and the approach controller told you how. Absent a specific instruction (“report golf course” or “report entering base leg”), the approach and tower controllers assumed you’d go to the assigned runway via Ford Island and the golf course.

In our opinion, “continue” meant keep following your last clearance (not present heading). Don’t rely on the controller to call your pattern, although he or she sometimes will for spacing purposes. Yes, FAR 91.129 says you need to hear “cleared to land,” but that may not come until you’re on final. If it doesn’t, hit that little xmit button and ask, “Yo, Tower, we cleared to land or what?”

Having said that, it’s also true that the controller certainly doesn’t get any points for clarity of communications, which is why we have those radios in the first place.

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Turning This Way and That
I just read “The Impossible Turn” [Airmanship, November]. Working in a training environment that places heavy emphasis on emergency procedures, I’ve ridden through a lot of simulated engine failures after takeoff.

Since winds during takeoff are seldom right on the nose, an additional bit of planning that will enhance the probability of a successful “Impossible Turn” is that of making the teardrop reversal turn into the crosswind. Having seen it tried both into the crosswind as well as away from the crosswind, I can testify to the greatly reduced turn radius realized by turning into the crosswind. Turning the other way almost certainly dooms the attempt to failure.

One other point: Figure out how to do “The Impossible Turn” in your own airplane, but not predicated on a Vx climb. Vx is a poor place to operate as an SOP, as has been so eloquently explained by articles in recent past issues of Aviation Safety.

-Wendell Piepgrass
Waxhaw, NC


You’re right about turning into the crosswind. We thought that self-evident but should have included it anyway. As far as climbing at Vx, it can be a useful tool in those cases where the departure end of the runway is particularly inhospitable, such as heavy forest or suburban office towers, but should not be used as a matter of habit.

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Old-Fashioned Attitude
The guy who wrote “This Is Good for the Soul” [Unicom, November] says the attitude indicator screws him up may be dealing with an ancient instrument design. He says he’s an old pilot, has a Cessna 140, and the attitude indicator works backward. There’s the key.

The WWII attitude indicators have the pointer at the top attached to the horizon line. When the airplane banks left, the pointer appears to move right. Those indicators were manufactured by the thousands and were available so cheap after the war that they were overhauled and installed in new planes until the late 1960s. Cessna switched in 1967, Piper in 1968. The new three-inch gyros have the outside ring hooked to the horizon and the pointer hooked to the airplane. In a left bank, the pointer appears to move to the left. I would suggest he spring for a new set of gyros. (See how easy it is to spend other people’s money?)

-Billy Gibson
Farmingdale, N.J.

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Preventive Medicine for Carb Ice
I enjoyed Raymond Leis’ fine article “Sucking on Ice” [Systems Check, December]. I believe, though, that he was too brief in his coverage of the very useful carb temperature probe and gauge. This helps avoid carb icing in the first place. It also permits the safe return to partial carb heat after using full heat for initial de-icing. This helps minimize the ingestion of unfiltered air and improves engine efficiency.

Miniature temperature probes are available from Mid-Continent Instruments in Wichita, Kan. Typical installed cost for a single-engine plane is about $600.

-Malcom Murray
Baytown, Texas