Almost IFR


By
Robert
N.
Rossier,
EAA
472091


This
piece
originally
ran
in
Robert’s
Stick
and
Rudder
column
in
the
July
2022
issue
of


EAA
Sport
Aviation


magazine.

The
summer
haze
had
set
in
over
coastal
New
England
like
a
pall.
The
feathery
gray
blanket
didn’t
leave
us
blind
per
se,
but
blinded
us
to
many
of
the
visual
details
we
would
like
to
have
for
safe
flight.
According
to
the
regulations,
this
was
VFR
conditions

a
cloudless
sky
and
4
miles’
visibility.
The
plan
was
to
fly
an
insurance
agent
out
over
the
ocean
to
observe
a
fishing
boat
that
had
been
abandoned
due
to
a
fire.
But
as
we
set
out
across
the
coast
of
Long
Island
and
over
the
seemingly
endless
Atlantic,
it
became
apparent
that
even
though
the
visibility
was
above
the
3-mile
threshold
and
we
were
technically
VFR,
we
were
still
“almost
IFR.”


Into
the
Gray

The
rules
regarding
instrument
and
visual
flight
are
pretty
clear,
but
in
some
cases,
it’s
difficult
to
tell
if
conditions
call
for
VFR
or
IFR.
Regardless
of
which
rulebook
we’re
playing
by,
it’s
our
responsibility
to
see
and
avoid
other
aircraft.
If
we
aren’t
equipped
and
qualified,
the
only
option
is
to
do
the
flight
under
VFR,
and
steer
clear
of
any
clouds.

It
all
sounds
simple
enough,
until
we
find
ourselves
in
hazy
conditions
and
over
the
water
where
the
horizon
is
obscured.
Sometimes
the
only
way
we
know
which
way
is
down
is
to
look
straight
down
to
see
the
water.

In
conditions
such
as
this,
our
best
defense
is
a
good
instrument
scan
combined
with
a
vigilant
scan
for
traffic.
But
we
can
also
turn
elsewhere
for
some
assistance.
We
might
contact
ATC
and
ask
for
flight
following
to
provide
an
additional
measure
of
traffic
awareness
and
avoidance.
Yet
another
tool
that
can
help
us
cope
in
these
conditions
is
ADS-B
to
help
pick
out
the
traffic
that
we
will
undoubtedly
struggle
to
see
visually.
In
fact,
it
doesn’t
take
too
much
flight
time
in
such
conditions
with
an
ADS-B
to
see
how
impaired
our
visual
scan
really
is.


Into
the
Darkness

Another
place
we
run
into
trouble
in
visual
flight
is
in
the
darkness.
Where
we
might
be
fine
when
flying
over
populated
areas,
the
challenge
comes
when
we
fly
over
sparsely
populated
areas
and
wilderness.
Even
on
a
clear
and
cloudless
night,
we
can
easily
find
ourselves
struggling
to
maintain
orientation
to
ground
references
or
the
horizon.

The
challenge
is
made
worse
by
false
horizon
illusions
that
can
trick
our
brain
and
put
us
unwittingly
into
a
compromised
position.
For
example,
street
lighting
along
a
road
or
highway
can
take
on
the
illusion
of
lights
along
the
horizon.
Sparse
lighting
conditions,
such
as
on
hillsides
or
steep
terrain,
can
easily
blend
in
with
the
stars
to
erase
the
horizon
from
view.
Likewise,
when
flying
over
water,
lights
from
boats
can
easily
blend
in
with
a
starry
sky
to
obscure
the
true
horizon.
In
such
situations,
we
can
easily
fly
ourselves
into
an
unusual
attitude
trying
to
find
and
maintain
a
visual
horizon.

The
other
issue
we
have
with
night
flying
is
that
we
can’t
see
the
weather.
We
can
easily
and
unwittingly
fly
into
haze,
precipitation,
or
right
into
the
clouds.
Here
again,
when
it
is
dark,
we
might
not
recognize
right
away
that
we
have
lost
our
visibility
and
are
no
longer
seeing
the
horizon.
The
situation
can
quickly

and
literally

spiral
out
of
control.


Chaos
Among
the
Clouds

Any
time
we’re
surrounded
by
clouds

even
if
we
aren’t

in

the
clouds

we
can
suffer
the
effects
of
spatial
disorientation.
Many
years
ago,
while
training
for
my
instrument
rating,
my
instructor
demonstrated
this
clearly
by
having
me
fly
visually
while
in
a
“canyon”
among
the
clouds.
Without
an
actual
horizon,
my
brain
quickly
assumed
an
orientation
to
the
clouds
that
seemed
correct,
yet
put
us
in
a
gentle
spiral.
Only
when
he
had
me
look
at
the
instruments
again
did
I
see
what
was
going
on.
It
was
a
valuable
lesson,
and
one
that
I’ve
never
forgotten.
Unless
we
are
trained
and
practiced
at
immediately
transitioning
to
instruments
when
the
actual
horizon
is
not
visible,
such
a
scenario
can
readily
lead
to
an
upset.


Corrupted
Senses
and
Compensation

What
happens
when
we
lose
our
visual
orientation
is
we
attempt
to
compensate
through
the
use
of
a
built-in
“backup”—
our
vestibular
system

to
maintain
orientation.
Normally
used
to
augment
vision
to
maintain
balance,
the
vestibular
system
is
affected
by
accelerations
and
can
easily
put
us
into
a
compromised
position.
Such
was
the
case
for
my
aforementioned
instrument
training
experience.
In
fact,
some
well-known
illusions
can
occur
when
we
rely
too
heavily
on
the
inputs
from
our
vestibular
system.

One
good
example
is
what
is
known
as
the
Coriolis
illusion.
This
can
occur
when
we’ve
been
in
a
prolonged
turn
and
have
lost
the
sensation
that
we’re
turning.
At
that
point,
an
abrupt
head
movement

such
as
turning
our
head
to
tune
the
radio
or
check
our
navigation

can
create
an
overwhelming
sense
that
we
are
turning
or
rotating
on
an
entirely
different
axis.
In
our
effort
to
correct
the
perceived
motion,
we
unwittingly
maneuver
the
aircraft
into
a
dangerous
attitude,
possibly
resulting
in
a
loss
of
control.

Another
situation
where
our
incorrect
sense
of
motion
can
trip
us
up
is
the
graveyard
spiral. This
occurs
when
we’re
in
a
coordinated
turn
but
have
lost
the
sensation
that
we
are
turning.
If
we
see
that
we’re
losing
altitude,
we
might
easily
assume
that
we’re
in
a
wings-level
descent,
and
so
we
pull
back
on
the
elevator.
This,
of
course,
just
tightens
the
spiral
and
increases
the
altitude
loss.
Unless
we
realize
that
we’re
turning
and
level
the
wings,
we
can
fly
this
illusion
right
into
the
ground.


Epilogue

I
managed
to
keep
the
shiny
side
up
and
avoid
any
traffic
(I
didn’t
see
any)
that
day
as
we
flew
over
the
ocean.
I
kept
a
sharp
eye
out
and
constantly
cross-checked
the
instruments
as
we
continued
another
50
miles
over
the
ocean
in
the
summer
haze.
We
finally
found
the
fishing
boat
we
were
looking
for,
flew
around
for
a
bit
so
my
passenger
could
assess
the
situation,
and
then
flew
back
toward
the
coast.
It
wasn’t
a
difficult
flight,
but
it
certainly
wasn’t
a
relaxing
one,
either.

Every
pilot
needs
to
be
familiar
with
and
abide
by
the
regulations
pertaining
to
VFR
and
IFR
flight.
For
VFR,
we
need
to
know
the
visibility
and
cloud
separation
requirements
for
various
types
of
airspace

and
we
need
to
follow
those
rules
for
our
own
safety
and
that
of
others.
But
in
the
end,
it’s
not
necessarily
visibility
or
cloud
clearance
that
determines
whether
or
not
we
can
safely
fly
by
VFR.
It
all
comes
down
to
our
ability
to
rely
on
visual
references.
Once
we
lose
the
horizon,
and
can
no
longer
maintain
our
orientation,
the
jig
is
up
and
we
need
the
instruments.
The
best
medicine
for
this
ailment

whether
we’re
instrument
rated
or
not

is
to
get
some
recurrent
training
on
flight
by
reference
to
instruments.


Robert
N.
Rossier
,
EAA
472091,
has
been
flying
for
more
than
40
years
and
has
worked
as
a
flight
instructor,
commercial
pilot,
chief
pilot,
and
FAA
flight
check
airman.

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