All posts tagged 'VFR'

4 Tips for Safer Summer Flying

There's no doubt about it, summertime is hot and it feels like it gets hotter every year this time around. 

You walk out to go preflight and just feel the heat wave take over you. As a CFI in Texas I feel this all too often this summer, so I wanted to share some tips on how to overcome it and make sure you don't put yourself in a dangerous scenario.

Pictured above is a photo I took flying above the Houston coastline the other day, and then edited it to make it look like I'm flying somewhere like Hawaii instead.

You have to know how to finesse the system my friends.

The relevance of this photo is that I took it on one of my last flights of the day and this was actually around sunset. All day I had been drinking a ton of water and before going up for this flight ran out and didn't have any left at the flight school. I decided "oh, it's okay I'll be fine. The temperature is starting to cool off now anyways."

Well, I was fine. But on this flight I did land close to exceeding my personal minimums. Preflight was hot enough to do without having a sip of water here and there, coupled with the fact that as a CFI our job is basically to talk the entire flight. I remember taking this photo while in the middle of a ground reference maneuver and realizing how much I was still sweating and how quickly I really wished I had water with me. So tip #1:

Bring. Enough. Water.

-Not just A bottle of water, but enough to last throughout the entire flight. I also remember being on a cross country last summer and running out of water in the middle of the flight. It was about 35 degrees Celsius outside and about an hour into being out of water I started to feel slightly dizzy and have a blur in vision. It was a very very faint dizziness and change in vision, but I knew it wouldn't be long before it got worse. Luckily I was near my home airport and landed shortly after, but what if I wasn't? what if I had 200 miles left to go? This could have easily turned into an emergency had the problem persisted. Don't let the Macho attitude take over and make you feel like you can overcome anything. Bring water, bring food, make sure you're well rested...all those aeromedical factors need to be addressed before EVERY flight and taken seriously. 

Pack Windshield Cleaner

-Summertime is when all the bugs like to come back out. Love bugs, mosquitoes, lightning bugs, you name it. They hit the windshield and leave guts everywhere. Make sure the windshield is clean before you fly, and if for some reason it builds up too much during flight then land at a nearby airport and clean it off. Bug spots seem so minuscule but they're important in looking for traffic and can easily be a risk factor. A good tip is if you have trouble getting spots off, don't scrub the windshield harder. Let the cleaner sit on the problem area for a minute or two and then it will wipe right off. 

Do Your Performance Calculations

-Remember that the hotter it is outside, the worse your airplane will perform. It causes your density altitude to increase, and factors such as fuel burn, takeoff, and landing distances will increase. If you're pushing fuel minimums, have a short runway, or especially an obstacle to clear after takeoff these numbers are extremely important. 

Prepare for More Air Traffic

-Even though our planes perform better in the wintertime, people just don't like to fly as much when it's cold. Summertime is when not only airlines are at their peak travel season (outside of corona times) but also general aviation. One thing to talk about here is the new requirement of ADS-B Out this year as of January. While there is the requirement of ADS-B Out there is NOT the requirement of ADS-B In, meaning you don't have to be able to receive the signal of other planes to display on your map screen (ex through syncing an iPad with ForeFlight and seeing it there).   

the busier the skies are, the safer it is to start using ADS-B In. If you can't see them physically then at least you can see them on a screen (like a redneck version of TCAS is what I jokingly say) to avoid them. If you'll be flying this summer, take all the precautions you can to help see and avoid traffic. While midair collisions are rare, they are possible. 

In conclusion, summertime flying is fun and should definitely be enjoyed but with good caution. Never just go out and fly the plane without doing a thorough flight plan and risk assessment. 

Have any tips to add for summertime flying? The more we have the safer we are! Feel free to comment below. 

 

178 Seconds to Live: A Personal Account of Spatial Disorientation


As a flight instructor, I've always considered myself to be a safe pilot. Bad weather? Not flying. Under the weather? We'll cancel.

So when I found myself in a real-life VFR-into-IFR scenario, I actually wondered how it could happen to me. I was able to get my bearings that night, but not all pilots are so lucky.

I'd always heard about this "VFR into IMC" phenomenon and how bad it was, but I was always under the impression that I wouldn't need to worry about it. After all, if a pilot gets a proper preflight weather briefing, why in earth would he or she fly into bad weather?

The day I flew VFR into IMC was a definitely a lesson in weather and personal minimums and hazardous attitudes, but for me, it was also a blunt reality check. I had comfortably flown hundreds of hours in the Cessna 172, I had a lot of night time, cross country time, multi-engine time, IFR time, and apparently just enough instructor time for me to get slightly over-confident.

I was about to take two private pilot students up for a night flight when I realized I wasn't night current. I decided to start up the Cessna 172 and do my three full-stop take offs and landings before the students arrived. I checked AWOS first, and noted that the temperature/dew point spread was close - within three degrees- but a look at the clouds and sky told me it was a beautiful night.

During the first turn in the pattern I noted that the clouds were, indeed, lowering, and that maybe I should pay closer attention to the temperature and dew point. But it was the second take off that provided the reality check I apparently needed.

I turned crosswind, staying at about 800 feet AGL instead of the usual 1000 feet. I could see the ground, the buildings and lights, but was skimming the bottom of the clouds, and at one point went into IMC. Although brief, it was enough to disorient me. In what I suppose was an attempt to stay below the clouds, I had inadvertently commenced a turning descent during the crosswind turn.

I didn't notice until maybe a minute or two later, when I began a turn downwind and heard the sound of increased engine RPM. It sounded as though I'd increased power, but a quick check of the throttle indicated I hadn't. I knew something wasn't right. The engine sounded louder, faster. Thankfully, my brain was quick enough to tell my body that I was in a descent, headed quickly toward a "controlled flight into terrain" scenario that I'd read about in accident reports.

I was able to land safely that night but not every pilot is as lucky as I was.

An FAA publication from 1993 describes a study in which 20 student pilots flew simulators into instrument weather and all of them "went into graveyard spirals or roller-coaster like oscillations." The time until loss of control after entering IMC varied between 20-240 seconds, with the average being 178 seconds.

This harrowing video made by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) shows a common scenario in which a pilot might only have 178 seconds to live after flying VFR into IMC. It's a somber reminder for all of us flying around out there:


Source: 178 Seconds to Live: Spatial Disorientation can be a Killer, by Verdon Kleimenhagen, Ron Keones and James Szajkovics of FAA, and Ken Patz of MN/DOT Office of Aeroanutics, FAA Aviation News, January/February 1993.

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