Legal Vs. Safe

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


I was struck by the number of seemingly active pilots Ive 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 Ive had the same kind of problem. Through a combination of circumstances and an unusual winter, I didnt do much flying in IMC simply because there wasnt much around on those times when Ive used an airplane for travel.

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

An instrument check with a demanding instructor is good for knocking the rust off, but it cant really substitute for the real thing. Popping the hood off when the instructor decides youve 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 youll be in weather with it all hanging out when something crucial goes kaput, but lets face it, it can still happen. Sure, the odds are excellent that youll be within range of an ILS if the Garmin 430 goes out and youre forced to rely on that ancient 170B, but what about that one time in 1,000 when youre 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 youd never think youd get into by yourself. Isnt that the point?

Im 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 real world experience will help you get more out of the training. The two go hand in hand, and its unfortunate when one is ignored because the other is around.

-Ken Ibold


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