Flying IFR can get deceptively routine. Most of the time, it means taking off, climbing, cruising, descending, and an approach and landing-all along well-defined routes and usually in VMC. The majority of IFR pilots tend to fly the same routes and procedures again and again, to the point they might memorize communications frequencies and even approach minimums. Its possible to be extremely proficient at the type of flying you usually do while letting other skills atrophy.
All other things being equal, one of the benefits of a primary flight display (PFD, which presents flight instrumentation on an electronic panel) is its use of a solid-state attitude and heading reference system, sometimes known as an AHARS. By using an AHARS to determine which side is up and in which direction the airplane is pointed, the vacuum-driven system is avoided and usually only an electrical system failure or failure of the display itself can eliminate the flight instruments. (Certification rules require backup flight instruments when a PFD is present but not when steam gauges are energized by a vacuum pump.)
Checking the weather for a short afternoon flight showed visibility of more than 10 sm and clear skies locally, with a barely moving front off to the west. The forecast showed nothing unusual, although clouds and limited visibility were expected to arrive with nightfall several hours after my anticipated landing time. The temperature/dew point spread was narrow, but around the Great Lakes, we often had high humidity content at lower altitudes as moisture blew in off the water. Seeing ground-level dewpoints only a few degrees away from temperatures wasnt concerning. Overall, the weather looked great for a local sightseeing flight in the late afternoon.
I tap on a location I observe to be free of obstructions, offering a clear approach corridor and suitable landing surface, and after I get the dot on my apps chart, I change its name to an approach course, e.g., like F17, or G18, and use those designators (you can make up any letter/number you wish), as Field/Approach 170 degrees, or for the other as Grass/Approach 180 degrees. The letters can be for road, crop, highway or water, or whatever looks better-as always, the closer to roads, the better for emergency services access.
In my view, there are four basic categories of aviation weather threats: low clouds and reduced visibility; turbulence and low-level wind shear; airframe ice; and thunderstorms (which may contain the three other hazards in one nasty package). When evaluating weather for a planned flight, I look at observations and forecasts with each of these specific hazards in mind: what is are the chances Ill encounter each threat and how bad will each be? How close to (or beyond) the limitations of the regulations, my capabilities and the airplanes performance would I be if I attempt the flight?
Expecting that I had somehow unknowingly blown my check ride, we landed, shut everything down and he informed me I had...well...passed! A bit confused but obviously glad I hadnt actually blown it, I accepted the good news not wishing to open my mouth and undo it, and simply thanked him. I never told my instrument instructor what the examiner had said, only that he passed me.
For a supposedly CAVU day, I was now pointed at a solid cloud bank. I transitioned to instruments while still VFR and entered the clouds continuing toward VOR #3. It was still smooth as I crossed it and adjusted course toward VOR #4. Shortly after crossing VOR #3, there suddenly were a lot of pilots on the frequency asking for course and/or altitude changes to get out of this weather. I was still enjoying a smooth ride.
I had an interesting experience following recent painting of my Cessna 182. I flew it back from the paint shop uneventfully enough, but after tying it down following that two-hour flight home, we had a windstorm with 50-knot gusts, and the wind put enough force on the right wingtip to cause the screws holding it in place to drop out. So, the wingtip peeled off, and smashed into the cowling, creating a dent/crease just forward of the windshield.
The aviation industry in recent years has highlighted loss of control in-flight (LOC-I) as the leading cause of general aviation fatal accidents. Many aviation organizations, including government agencies, have devoted considerable time and resources to target this problem and develop effective mitigations to reduce the number of LOC-I accidents. Much of that effort focuses on a pilot losing control, and how to train and equip to prevent it, because its the final event in the accident chain.
After flying south through the Cajon Pass at 6500 feet msl, the airplane turned west and encountered what the commercial pilot presumed was leeside turbulence from the mountain range. She turned back south to find smoother air but the turbulence became more severe and the airplane began to descend rapidly. As the airline transport pilot struggled to change frequencies in the turbulence, the airplane descended to 2000 feet msl (about 500 feet agl). The commercial pilot applied full power but the engine did not respond. After the airline transport pilot enrichened the mixture and applied carburetor heat, the engine momentarily regained power. At about 2300 feet msl, the engine again lost power, and the ATP decided to land on the westbound lanes of a freeway. As he attempted to avoid a vehicle, the airplane landed hard.
I ts widely accepted that having good situational awareness is vital to safe and efficient flying. But what does situational awareness even mean? How do we develop and maintain the good kind? How do we fit ourselves into the big picture, and why is it important to do so? And once we understand these aspects of situational awareness, how can we use it to make things easier? On three recent flights, I feel I had a high level of situational awareness and used it to make a difference. In one I used my knowledge of my place in the big picture to help another pilot. In the second I used it to help myself. In the third I used it to eliminate a possible delay on an approach. Heres what Im talking about.