VFR into IMC is one of the most dangerous situations a VFR pilot can find themselves in.
VFR into IMC is when a pilot takes of in VFR conditions, and is only trained for these conditions, but ends up flying into IMC conditions. Things go badly so fast that it is actually said that an untrained pilot has 178 seconds to live at this point. When flying VFR you are flying by reference to visual points as soon as these visual points are taken away from you, you have to fly in a completely different way, a way which you haven’t learnt to fly which is by flying with only reference to your instruments.
Ask an instructor to take you into IMC and see for yourself how different it is if you haven’t already!
NOTE – VFR pilots can do a IMC course to learn how to fly in these conditions.
This is why your go/no go decision is unbelievably important. As the pilot it is your job decide if it is safe to fly and this includes looking up the weather en route before you even set off. We also have to be willing to turn around! I have flown into IMC conditions twice, with my instructor as part of my training.
The first time was on my practice cross-country qualifier where we had to end up turning back as the viability was just too poor to land. There was some visual reference left (not a huge amount) so it was possible just about to navigate but it isn’t something I would have wanted to experience on my own.
The second time was deliberate as my instructor wanted to show me how quickly the situation could go wrong with even a moderate workload in the aircraft, he asked me to do a few things such as tune a VOR and look up something on a map while keeping the plane level. By the time I had looked back at the instruments the plane was already banked while I thought we were still flying straight and level!
If you watch this video you can see how quickly pilots with different amounts of VFR flight time take to lose control of the aircraft in the simulator.
As you can see the pilots all seem to lose control of the aircraft and a lot of them end up in a steep turn or a spin. You also see that a lot of them end up flying way too fast and their altitude starts running out real fast! If you look at this next video you will hear stories of more pilots who found themselves in this situation, what caused them to get into the situation, how scary the situation was and most importantly what they think what could have happened!
This video shows a pilot has despite plenty of warnings and towards the end has ATC telling him the route he plans to take is not advised, yet he continues to fly this route. This unfortunately also ended in the death of the pilot so RIP to him also.
Last week I was doing circuits, I did plan to do a navigation flight but due to the weather not being excellent, I decided that was a no go as I didn’t want to risk getting stuck en route in bad weather conditions. On my second circuit I was on final with clearance for a touch and go when the skies opened up, in seconds visibility went from perfectly fine to hardly being able to see in front of me. I immediately called ATC to change from a touch and go, to instead land. That landing was much harder than any other I have done, it was harder to judge my height & to judge my flair and the simple reason for this was because the viability had became bad and I lost my visual cues. After I had got the plane on the ground the taxi was hard work, I could hardly see in front of me.
We all need to have respect for the weather, it is strong and it can come on very quickly.
Always remember there is no shame in turning back and there is even less shame in deciding not to go. I have learnt a lot from these videos that hopefully I can apply to my flying. Get-home-itis (OK not an official word, but the desire to want to get home) is also a thing that can affect us. This is where the desire to get home clouds our judgement and makes us proceed in situations where we should really stay put!
This video I have saved for last, as it is an hour long and I wanted people to watch the other videos first. This is a great lecture on VFR to IMC and most defiantly worth a watch.
Lessons to be learned.
- Your go / no go decision is important.
- Don’t be afraid to turn back.
- If ATC recommend you don’t do something, you should probably listen!
- Always get the weather for your route.
Remember, we are always learning!