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  #1  
Old 12-30-2012, 09:26 PM
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ChiefPilot ChiefPilot is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Twin Cities, MN
Posts: 1,580
Default There's a first time for everything

Being an instrument rated pilot, I never really gave much thought to the "accidental VFR into IMC" thing. I mean, sure, it's great to tell folks without the ticket right? Anyway, this happened to ...ummm... a "friend" of mine recently. Ok, it was me. And I prostrate myself before VAF in the hopes that my experience might help someone else.

Low ceilings but great visibility meant nothing other than pattern work. The short flight to another local airport along with the pattern work was great. On the return trip, about five miles out, I saw the destination airport...then I didn't. In another few seconds, I didn't see much of anything at all. I was caught in sudden heavy snow shower.

My mind raced. Transitioning to instruments is no big deal if you're expecting it - I've done it hundreds of times if not more - but when you're not expecting it...wow. First things first - pitot heat on to keep the panel happy and the autopilot on to hold heading/altitude and give me a moment to wind my watch. Next, verify attitude, power, and performance. Those are good. Need alt. air? No, not yet - but watch manifold pressure closely! Are we still going in the right direction at the right altitude? Yep - locked in. Ok, now what are you going to do next?

I need a plan. The mantra of "climb, confess, comply" jumps to mind but I don't need to climb - our altitude is good and the sectional/TAC chart on my lap (well, iPad) as well as years flying this area assure me we have no immediate obstacle clearance problems. Time to talk to approach. Dial in the freq - but just what would the proper phraseology for this request be? Hmm, no need - the snow is done; we're through it.

Total time for this was under 30 seconds by my best estimate; I was almost 5nm out per my IFR GPS and was now just over 4nm away, moving at under 120kts ground speed. It felt like 20 minutes.

I learned/re-learned several lessons from this:
  • VFR-into-IMC isn't just about a VFR pilot finding the lone cloud in the sky and flying into it.
  • Sudden snow showers can happen. I've lived in MN all my life but had never seen something like this before, where snow literally materializes out of clear air.
  • Time compression is an odd thing.

Constructive(!) commentary welcome - what would you have done differently?
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  #2  
Old 12-30-2012, 10:12 PM
terrye terrye is offline
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Posts: 962
Default VFR into IMC

Your post makes me feel a lot better. My one inadvertent VFR into IMC occurred in the practice area north of my home airport, an area that I knew well, one that is flanked by mountains on the east and west. Ceiling was about 2500' and I was about 2000'. I was heading toward one of the mountains and thought I would start a turn back towards the airport as it looked like there were some individual clouds below the ceiling. I had just started the turn when WHOOMP! the world went white. I'd flown into a cloud that was hiding in the forground! The usual words were uttered, I kept the turn going, pulled the power back a bit for a descent, saw the ground a couple of times and finally broke out. The encounter was no more than 10 seconds. I'm glad I didn't panic, but I also found I didn't use the resources at my disposal, namely a portable GPS on my yoke to show me where the airport was. Or a note of the compass heading as I entered cloud and what the was reciprocal. So the element of surprise was the take away lesson for me. It slows the thinking greatly.
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Last edited by rv6rick : 12-31-2012 at 03:47 PM. Reason: Romoved expletive
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  #3  
Old 12-31-2012, 08:11 AM
Peterk Peterk is offline
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Texas
Posts: 1,378
Default

I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned how different it is when you are not expecting it. So much of "in the snow" flying is pre-planned and usually involves someone watching you on a screen somewhere with again, pre-planned communication. I think you are right, the suddenness of the unplanned event is an altogether different animal. Sounds like you kept it together and did all the right things. I used to have a multi instructor that insisted the first thing you do if you lose an engine (not on t/o) in flight is to sit on your hands. Good job.

Last edited by rv6rick : 12-31-2012 at 03:50 PM. Reason: Removed expletive
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  #4  
Old 12-31-2012, 08:29 AM
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LettersFromFlyoverCountry LettersFromFlyoverCountry is offline
 
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Location: St. Paul, MN.
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Default

Not instrument rated but I noticed on Saturday at your home airport that things were bright and sunny, and then we were in the middle of a blizzard, and then we were bright and sunny again. I stayed on the ground.

The other thing I noticed, those refineries near the airport put a lot of moisture into the air and over the last few weeks, I've noticed significant snow squalls around their "clouds."

Now, back to you. You didn't mention the one maneuver that I was always taught when you get into IMC... and perhaps it's different if you're instrument rated -- the 180 degree maneuver. The only time I've stumbled into IMC, I was in the turn within 2 seconds. I was on the instruments. I was doing everything the way I was taught. I was a real pilot. Then I came out of the cloud and I was in a much steeper turn than I'd thought.
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  #5  
Old 12-31-2012, 08:35 AM
novipilot novipilot is offline
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Novi, MI & Venice, FL
Posts: 66
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The one thing that scares me the most is towers under construction. Sure we're within 5 miles of the airport and sure, we know where all the charted obstacles are, but has someone started another rocket ship (my term for the symbol over 1000' AGL) that I haven't made myself aware of?

As for the unexpected transition to the gages, I like the Redbird simulator. Find an FBO with the motion one, not a desktop computer. Have the instructor turn on the clouds at an unexpected moment. No one gets hurt, it's very inexpensive, and it also applies to VFR types who may take more time to transition. Current training is one step to being safe.

Really smart tip to turn on the autopilot. Use all available resources to keep you safe.
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  #6  
Old 12-31-2012, 08:59 AM
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GLPalinkas GLPalinkas is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Venice, Fl
Posts: 1,022
Default Been there...Done That

Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I was in a situation a number of years back just like that. I was in my Taylorcraft, headed North from Venice to Jacksonville. Around Ocala (seems like the National Forest there is always an IMC generator) I started to see large fog banks. No problem, I'll just scoot around one, then BAM, I was IMC in an aircraft with no electrical system. I had my trusty Garmin 196 set to Panel Mode so I made a slow, climbing 180 and safely got back out.

I am instrument rated but haven't flown IFR in 20 years. Moral of the story is, like was stated earlier, get some training/practice and don't rely on GPS technology to get you out of the mess I was in.

This story makes me want to turn on the Navaid wing leveler in my -6 when I get near a situation like that again. Just so it's ready to engage when needed. This is exactly why I installed a TT Gemini PFD but I don't plan on using it .... unless
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  #7  
Old 12-31-2012, 01:06 PM
jchang10 jchang10 is offline
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: San Francisco, CA
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http://www.aopa.org/asf/acs/acs_intoodeep/

This topic reminds me of this recent AOPA accident case study - in case you missed it. The accident was hashed out quite a bit on the AOPA forums. Unfortunately, it was a high price to pay for a lesson to be learned.
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  #8  
Old 12-31-2012, 03:12 PM
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Lemmingman Lemmingman is offline
 
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Location: McKinney, TX
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Brad,
I've been VFR my whole flying life, but I can totally understand the time compression thing. When I was learning to fly, night flying was where I experienced it. Its hard to explain, but pattern work seemed to go by very quickly...a short trip to a field that usually took 20-minutes seemed to take 5. My flight instructor hadn't heard of it before. It was certainly a weird feeling.
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