Editor's Log

January 2005 Issue

Editor’s Log: 01/05

Just Do It
Often, once we obtain that magic piece of paper saying “Private Pilot,” for which we struggled so hard, we presume we’re good to go. We fill our Skyhawks with people, packages and petrol, and then blast off to the beach, to Grandma’s house or to a business meeting. Weather sometimes keeps us on the ground, but as we gain experience and confidence, we learn more about what kinds of weather we and our airplane can handle. Soon, depending in part on how many hours we accumulate and how regularly we fly, we settle into a comfort zone where we can pretty much come and go as we please without too much drama.

Of course, geography plays a major role in the way we deal with weather. Pilots living in Florida and flogging a piston-powered single rarely have to worry about airframe icing or widespread low IFR. But if you’re based in Seattle, these phenomena can be a regular “feature” of your flying.

Eventually, we find some trips simply can’t be flown without penetrating a cloud for just a few seconds or mucking around in the kind of visibility that has ducks walking. And that’s when we realize we have a choice: We can continue to fly ourselves and our passengers all over the place while hoping only our schedules get adjusted for weather. Or, we can get the Instrument rating and learn how to use it.

Sometimes, there’s a third option: ignoring the few seconds in a cloud—or the two miles of visibility in haze that you’re calling three miles and punching through. Even if we can’t really see the horizon for a short while, we figure we have enough training to understand what the flight instruments are telling us and, besides, what’s a few Gs or a wandering heading among friends? We got to the destination, didn’t we? Yeah ... but.

If you’re a VFR-only pilot who uses an airplane for transportation, you’ve likely been tempted to cheat a little bit by blasting through a cloud on a summer day, or washing off the plane by drilling through some heavy, visibility-reducing rain to get home. But this third option isn’t really an option—it’s a trap.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself shrugging off the 1200-foot overcast in three miles of visibility and motoring on your merry way. And that’s when you’ve bought into the siren singing your praises as a pilot. That’s also when you become a menace to your insurance company, to your passengers and yourself. And me.

If any of this reminds you of a recent flight, if you constantly tell yourself “I can handle this,” if you’ve had any weather-related close calls or if you really want to use your airplane regularly and safely, get the Instrument rating. Get the written out of the way and go do it. Borrow the money if you have to. Take a vacation to a sunny clime with a flight school and knock it out in a couple of weeks. Grab a roving CFII for a week or so and do it on your own turf. Enroll in one of the “quickie” courses and get it over with.

Once you get that new piece of paper, you’ll have the ability to better manage your schedule and can approach trip planning with greater confidence. And you’ll be safer.

Just do it.

—Jeb Burnside