Editor's Log

May 2002 Issue

Legal Vs. Safe

Good for you if you have an ICC; congrats if youíre real-world current. But got íem both?

I was struck by the number of seemingly active pilots Iíve talked to in the days leading up to press time in early April who profess to be out of currency for instrument flying.

In some ways, this can be expected, since low freezing levels keep many pilots out of the clouds during the winter. Recently Iíve had the same kind of problem. Through a combination of circumstances and an unusual winter, I didnít do much flying in IMC simply because there wasnít much around on those times when Iíve used an airplane for travel.

I try to get an instrument proficiency check every six months, regardless of how much instrument flying Iíve been doing. Itís a strategy I adopted years ago for a rather simple reason: weather doesnít go below VFR minimums very often in Florida Ė and when it does itís usually due to thunderstorms.

An instrument check with a demanding instructor is good for knocking the rust off, but it canít really substitute for the real thing. Popping the hood off when the instructor decides youíve broken out is a pale imitation of squinting through the murk for a hint of runway lights as the altimeter winds down to nothing.

By the same token, getting all your instrument work in actual conditions can leave you a little short, too. Many pilots, including yours truly, have gotten terribly lazy through vectors to final on an ILS.

Backups and aggressive maintenance minimize the chances youíll be in weather with it all hanging out when something crucial goes kaput, but letís face it, it can still happen. Sure, the odds are excellent that youíll be within range of an ILS if the Garmin 430 goes out and youíre forced to rely on that ancient 170B, but what about that one time in 1,000 when youíre not?

Are you willing to bet it all on your ability to fly an NDB to minimums with a stiff crosswind? Do you even know if your NDB still works?

If it's done right, training allows the instructor to put you in situations youíd never think youíd get into by yourself. Isnít that the point?

Iím discouraged by the number of infrequent IFR pilots who traipse into the flight school twice a year to get a pencil-whipping to make them legal. Being human, we naturally tend to think highly of our own competence. Being pilots, that tendency is probably even stronger.

A good instructor can help you make sure that confidence is not misplaced. Following up the training with ďreal worldĒ experience will help you get more out of the training. The two go hand in hand, and itís unfortunate when one is ignored because the other is around.

-Ken Ibold