June 2009 Issue

Safe, Legal Or Proficient?

Recent instrument experience may allow you to be safe but not legal, or legal but not safe. Proficiency requires more work than you might expect.

Up until about 10 years ago, I was a typical private pilot. I’d built up about 1000 hours over 30 years of flying and even managed to add an instrument rating after about four false starts and uncounted times passing the written. I flew as much as 150 hours a year and as little as 10 years between flights. But I kept the passion, the interest, and continued vowing that someday I’d actually fly as much as I wanted. Does this story sound familiar? It probably describes a great number of us. Stuff happens. Finances, work, family and other recreational pursuits—life—all get in the way. Yet, somehow, we find a way to keep flying, if perhaps not as much as we might like and certainly not as much as we should. This can create some interesting currency challenges. Consider an all-too-common scenario. A typical instrument-rated private pilot mentioned above finds there’s a thin layer between cruise altitude and the destination. Our bold pilot tries to recall all his recent instrument operations and concludes that legal currency is, well, past. Continuing a bit further looking for a hole in the layer, he finally concludes there isn’t one. The layer began about 50 miles back and fuel projections raise concern about making the additional 100-mile round trip to get under the layer. Now what? Well, in defense of our friend, the forecast didn’t call for the overcast, so this isn’t a clear lack of planning. It’s not uncommon to fly above a layer and find it has disappeared as you near your destination. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Obviously, there was an opportunity to prevent this problem by simply ducking under the layer when it appeared. But, that raises the whole specter of scud-running for 50 miles—a notorious killer of pilots and destroyer of airplanes. None of this helps the present situation, though, of being on top of a solid layer, not being instrument-current and not having enough fuel to comfortably get under it.

To continue reading this entire article you must be a paid subscriber.

Subscribe to Aviation Safety

The monthly journal of risk management and accident prevention, is packed with useful, timely information on basic and advanced technique, accident analysis and, most important, practical articles on how you can develop the judgment that will keep you in the air and out of the NTSB's files.

Already subscribe but haven't registered for all the benefits of the website? Click here.

Subscriber Log In

Forgot your password? Click Here.