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VFR Pilots - flight into cloud.

So how long should I be spending on this then? The syllabus says one hour of instrument awareness....

I'm trying to create a safe PPL at this juncture, who can develop their skills without causing injury or mayhem in the coming years - not somebody with my own full skillset.

Aren't I?


Boffin at large
Various, southern UK.

I think the problem is PPL (and presumably NPPL) students are told they will have 178 seconds to live if they enter IMC....which is possibly true if you are a total numpty....but an hour or so under the hood, even doing climbing and descending turns does not prepare anyone for the sensation of being suddenly enveloped in cloud...Paralyzing fear is probably the normal action...after all I am going to die in 178 seconds.....I think taking your students into actual cloud without a hood would do a lot to make them safer...

YPJT, United Arab Emirates

In my PPL training was no time under hood at all. This was long before JAR and the plane didn't have suitable instruments anyway. The main postulate was stay away from clouds and it was repeated like a mantra.

It is funny, but I still get an eerie feeling sometimes entering IMC. Not very often anymore, but on the rare occasion.

EGBE - Coventry, United Kingdom

So how long should I be spending on this then? The syllabus says one hour of instrument awareness....

If the result is that the student has proved that he would have killed himself without you recovering the aircraft, then I think that's the worst possible outcome. The student will be scared of IMC and believe the horror stories about how many seconds a VFR pilot can survive in IMC and when he ever gets himself in IMC he will panic and get himself killed.

In the UK you are fortunate with the easily accessible IMC rating. I think that should be mandatory for a PPL. I did the 180° thing in my PPL training but it was just a fair weather cumulus so pretty easy.

Personally I found IMC flying to be no big deal. I thought getting over the spatial disorientation was the most difficult thing in IFR but it was not. Once one is comfortable with the instruments and naturally relies on them to determine the attitude, it's dead easy. Modern instrumentation helps of course with GPS moving map etc. I would never fly IFR in a sixpack spam can like I had during training.

I think the real challenge in IMC is keeping straight and level or turning while doing other things. If you can teach them to scan back to the AI every couple of seconds no matter what else is going on then you have given them a good skill set. The best lesson I got during PPL training (re IMC) was to be taught how to hold attitude (descending, climbing and S&L) and turn while tuning a radio or setting an OBS or whatever. I think inattention is the big reason people lose control rather than technical spatial disorientation. Or perhaps more correctly they end up in an unusual attitude then have serious disorientation.

EGTK Oxford

Speaking as an ex-student, not an instructor, my first encounter with unexpected IMC was actually rather mild, but illustrates what JasonC just said.

I did my instrument awareness in actual cloud. Actually my instructor did an unofficial NDB let-down to get us back to the airfield, while I maintained headings and kept us right way up. It all went very well and I enjoyed it enormously.

Post-PPL I flew one day towards a low cloud base and decided to turn back. Part way through the turn I flew into a bit of cloud I had not seen, and in the time it took to work out what heading I should level wings at I was well over 30 degrees of bank. Nothing bad happened: I just included the AI in my scan :-) and flew out of it.

To me the difference between the "instrument awareness" training, and the actual inadvertent IMC was the unexpectedness. I knew I had to monitor the AI etc, but it wasn't the first thing I did.

So what I learned from experience, but what my FI could have taught me, was how to manage the transition: The immediate need to scan, the risk of distractions stopping you, and what the real priorities are. That has to be an almost instinctive reaction to it all going white.

The stuff he did address, e.g. the leans, various fancy diagrams of scan patterns etc, were also important, but more to do with a planned rational thought process once you are stably in IMC.

The actual flying practice was fine for demonstrating IMC survival once in it, but you can't really demonstrate an unexpected transition!

Booker EGTB, White Waltham EGLM

To me the difference between the "instrument awareness" training, and the actual inadvertent IMC was the unexpectedness.

Spot on...but second best is at least some experience of entering actual cloud, even if not unexpected, will still convey the suddenness of the situation....

YPJT, United Arab Emirates

Hi Genghis,

As you know I spent a few hours under the hood at a field somewhere up the M1 last year. (Blimey a year already)...

And I know that my instructor (who you also know :D) said I was quite good at the instrument flying malarky... but as I said to him I think I was VERY lucky with my original PPL instruction. I did actually do more than the 1 hour in the syllabus, and my instructor used to get me to fly around a lot on instruments focussing on wings level climbs and descents and level turns. The key was trim,trim, trim and trim again.

The rational here was that if I ever found myself in IMC the level turns would enable a 180 turn, but that with wings level climbs and descents that if I had to get on the blower to ATC for guidance at least I could follow their instructions to remain terrain safe.

I have only on one occasion had to use it in vane, but not cloud, in snow!!! I was heading south west over Devon and got hit by a huge blizzard of snow. It was odd because I could not see it against when compared to the rain, off to the left. But a 180 turn saw me back in clear air, and there was a nice inviting grass strip on the top of a hill that spoke to me, it said "Land here for a coffee, and a change of trousers"... :D

I can say now that the IMCr reinforced all of that, especially the trim, trim and trim. And I can now pop in and out of cloud without requiring new trousers (When I flight in Blighty, of course :D)

So, if I had to offer anything from a student perspective it would be to echo what others have said above - get him comfortable on a few key instruments and some basic manoeuvring...

Perhaps the moral of the story is keep clear of cloud. The 180 degree turn which is a product of JAR-FCL is based upon an assumption that its probably safer to turn than descend however; as Genghis has shown this is may not be a very realistic assumption! Perhaps it is an indication that instrument flying is not being taught correctly, I see the phrase "instrument appreciation" used but that is a precursor to teaching instrument flying skills. The EASA PPL Syllabus includes:

Exercise 19: Basic instrument flight:

(A) physiological sensations;

(B) instrument appreciation; attitude instrument flight;

(C) instrument limitations;

(D) basic manoeuvres:

(a) straight and level at various air speeds and configurations;

(b) climbing and descending;

(c) standard rate turns, climbing and descending, onto selected headings;

(d) recoveries from climbing and descending turns.

Now if this is taught correctly, the student should be able to complete a 180 degree turn. As Exercise 19 is not part of the NPPL or LAPL syllabus, students must be taught to keep well away from cloud.

This raises an issue as neither PPL nor LAPL holders are permitted to fly in cloud, but one group is taught how to deal with inadvertent entry and the other is not.

If you train pilots to descend, and of course under EASA this would be written into the ATO Operations Manual, if someone you have trained descends into the hills then the ATO will be liable to be held responsible. Equally, if the CAA allow you to put this in your manual they too will be liable so they will probably rule it out at the approval stage.

If you train pilots to descend, and of course under EASA this would be written into the ATO Operations Manual, if someone you have trained descends into the hills then the ATO will be liable to be held responsible

Is that really the case, Tumbleweed?

It would mean that the ATO is liable for just about any flying accident.

The pilot is officially trained to know what "MSA" is. If he busts that, all bets are off. How can the school be liable?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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