U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation
Administration

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office
10801 Pear Tree Lane Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074

 

JULY 1998 

 

AVIATION SAFETY NEWSLETTER

Thought for the month....How long a minute is depends on long we've been in the rain shower.

VFR = VENUS-FLYTRAP RULES....Each condition of flight has it's own challenges but pilots who fly VFR face more substantial and numerous complications because VFR flights are more diverse than most IFR flights. If you don't think that's a true statement, ask some pilots who regularly fly IFR if they would consider taking the next trip VFR. Not likely. Most instrument rated pilots are far more cautious about flying VFR than VFR pilots are.

To a VFR only pilot, night flying really means something. Getting from point A to B on a dark night isn't just a flight, it's an event. Class B,C or D airspace can become as big an obstacle on the landscape as a microwave tower or a mountain. Restricted areas and MOAs eat up chunks of the chart where a straight course line should go. Then of course, there's always the weather, the classic trap for VFR pilots. Those darn bright areas between the rain showers keep beckoning, tempting the pilot with the promise of better weather. Sucker holes, the meteorological equivalent to a Venus-flytrap. The unwary go in, but never come out.

If the weather begins to deteriorate for VFR only pilots, they have to turn to using judgment, rather than instruments. Unfortunately, judgment has proven to be less reliable than a panel full of gages. Once airborne, the inertia of the flight takes over. The pressing appointment, impatience, desire to demonstrate the utility of the airplane (and justify the cost of flying it), become the motivation. Sometimes it's very difficult to know when to stop. Many aircraft are equipped with very effective navigation equipment. These can be great aids, but they can also get us further into trouble faster. A pilot flying a simple airplane with no radios or navigation gear isn't likely to go "on top" when encountering a layer of clouds. But, pilots who have a VOR and GPS available might be less reluctant, knowing they can track their position without visual reference to the surface. Not a problem as long as they can descend and land in VFR conditions. If things don't work out however, they could be faced with a situation that is almost always fatal, as opposed to a diversion or even a precautionary landing for the pilot who stays under the clouds. Maybe a good second meaning for GPS is: Good Pilots Scrutinize.

Most VFR flights require no more difficult decisions than how much fuel will be required and the route we intend to fly. Sometimes we're presented another level of difficulty because we must deviate around weather. Our carefully prepared flight planner suddenly becomes useless, and we find ourselves literally out there "winging" it. Even if we have a GPS with a moving map, it won't be much help if it tells us we're in the middle of the Mark Twain forest and the nearest airport is in the direction of the heaviest rain we just deviated to avoid. If we're flying "eyeballs out", using visual references to keep the greasy side down, it's not likely that we'll have the time to glance inside at the engine gages, much less spend several precious seconds interpreting the information on a hand held. This is when those bright areas begin to appear. The ones shaped like a pretty flower! A Venus Flytrap?

The most difficult aspect of VFR flying is establishing clear-cut limitations. Most of us were taught the standard line: "If you encounter weather, make a 180° turn and get out." Early in our flying, the sight of a rain shower along our route of flight was enough to send us back home to wait for another day. Eventually however, some of those previously mentioned pressures might convince us to punch through, and if we're successful, our established limitation is gone. If we don't replace it with something we can end up like the Cessna pilot who recently flew over West St. Louis County, scud running in rain showers and fog, over populated areas at about 200 feet. The fact that there wasn't an accident reported is a shining example of good luck combined with poor judgment.

I have more time flying helicopters than airplanes. Having the ability to hover or land at almost any time is a great temptation to go further into deteriorating weather conditions to take a look. The regulations almost encourage it by allowing helicopters to operate clear of clouds if flown at a speed that allows the pilot to see and avoid any air traffic or obstacles. By failing to establish realistic clear-cut limitations, I allowed myself to get suckered into a situation where the only option left was to stick the chin bubble on a stationary object and hold a position at a hover because the visibility went to nothing. I was taking a close at the flower.

Successful VFR flying is recognizing when another layer of difficulty has been added to the flight and what it means to us. Our challenge is to understand the limitations of the aircraft we are operating, as well as our own limitations. In 1941, Assen Jordanoff published his third aviation book called, Safety In Flight (Funk & Wagnalls Co., New York, 1941). In his Preface he wrote: "Flying is safe and most enjoyable only when you remove the unknown element and kill ignorance with knowledge. There is nothing more disturbing when flying, particularly cross-country, than to be constantly concerned with what decisions to make in case of adverse weather conditions."

At some point in history, an early aviator discovered that if we must have visual conditions to maintain control of our aircraft, disaster will quickly result if we fail to do so. All the VFR into IMC accidents that have occurred since then are nothing but a repetition of the same mistake.

Upcoming Events:

September 9th-13th
Adam's Mark Hotel.
American Bonanza Society 30
th Annual Convention & Industry Exhibit
Seminars and exhibits, 10
ththrough 12th, 9 to 5.

LET'S NOT MEET BY ACCIDENT
FRED P. HARMS

Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 x 135
Fred.Harms@faa.dot.gov
www.faa.gov/fsdo/stlfsdo

"May Day"