Better (Safer) Instrument Flying!

Totally autonomous MQ-9 Reaper flies in civilian NAS everyday @KSYR

Last week’s “VFR into IMC” blog generated a lot of comments and discussions online. Many readers were surprised at how poorly instrument-rated pilots do statistically with a simple 180-degree turn in IMC (when surprised) – usually not much better than VFR pilots. This problem illustrates out some interesting – and scary – facts about most instrument pilots.  Many IFR-trained pilots are pretty bad with manual control; either never trained well or rusty. Many IFR pilots have also never actually been in a cloud (not FAA-required). The trend away from hand flying is also accelerating as avionics become more capable. The modern pilot in most planes is increasingly becoming a “programmer.” There are endless YouTubes online covering “buttonology,” and all hell breaks loose when “George” goes away requiring hand flying to survive. These pilots might as well be standing on the ramp remotely operating their (MQ-9?) planes. This is obviously not just a problem with GA, but started with automated airliners and is now a problem in aviation at all levels:

In nearly 100 million flights by United States passenger airlines over the past decade, there has been a single fatality. Other than most landings and takeoffs, the planes have largely been flying themselves.

The origin of this problem is with the basic training and testing of pilots. One of the weakest parts of most IFR checkrides is the applicant’s demonstration of basic instrument flying skills (without the automation). This is an increasing trend despite the FAA’s urgent plea to develop and maintain manual piloting skills (and not just IFR). If you want to be safer as an instrument pilot – and have more fun – please get some actual IMC flying and work on your hand-flying skills (I am guilty too). We already know that the autopilot can fly in IMC just fine, we need to focus on keeping the hand flying skills sharp too.

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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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