Inadvertent VFR Flight Into IMC (Part Two)


Turns are perhaps the most potentially dangerous maneuver for the untrained instrument pilot for two reasons:

  • The normal tendency of the pilot to overcontrol, leading to steep banks and the possibility of a “graveyard spiral.”
  • The inability of the pilot to cope with the instability resulting from the turn.

When a turn must be made, the pilot must anticipate and cope with the relative instability of the roll axis. The smallest practical bank angle should be used—in any case no more than 10° bank angle. [Figure 17-13] A shallow bank takes very little vertical lift from the wings resulting in little if any deviation in altitude. It may be helpful to turn a few degrees and then return to level flight if a large change in heading must be made. Repeat the process until the desired heading is reached. This process may relieve the progressive overbanking that often results from prolonged turns.

Figure 17-13. Level turn.

Figure 17-13. Level turn.


If a climb is necessary, the pilot should raise the miniature airplane on the attitude indicator no more than one bar width and apply power. [Figure 17-14] The pilot should not attempt to attain a specific climb speed but accept whatever speed results. The objective is to deviate as little as possible from level flight attitude in order to disturb the airplane’s equilibrium as little as possible. If the airplane is properly trimmed, it assumes a nose-up attitude on its own commensurate with the amount of power applied. Torque and P-factor cause the airplane to have a tendency to bank and turn to the left. This must be anticipated and compensated for. If the initial power application results in an inadequate rate of climb, power should be increased in increments of 100 rpm or 1 inch of manifold pressure until the desired rate of climb is attained. Maximum available power is seldom necessary. The more power that is used, the more the airplane wants to bank and turn to the left. Resuming level flight is accomplished by first decreasing pitch attitude to level on the attitude indicator using slow but deliberate pressure, allowing airspeed to increase to near cruise value, and then decreasing power.

Figure 17-14. Level climb.

Figure 17-14. Level climb.



Descents are very much the opposite of the climb procedure if the airplane is properly trimmed for hands-off straightand- level flight. In this configuration, the airplane requires a certain amount of thrust to maintain altitude. The pitch attitude is controlling the airspeed. The engine power, therefore, (translated into thrust by the propeller) is maintaining the selected altitude. Following a power reduction, however slight, there is an almost imperceptible decrease in airspeed. However, even a slight change in speed results in less down load on the tail, whereupon the designed nose heaviness of the airplane causes it to pitch down just enough to maintain the airspeed for which it was trimmed. The airplane then descends at a rate directly proportionate to the amount of thrust that has been removed. Power reductions should be made in increments of 100 rpm or 1 inch of manifold pressure and the resulting rate of descent should never exceed 500 fpm. The wings should be held level on the attitude indicator, and the pitch attitude should not exceed one bar width below level. [Figure 17-15]

Figure 17-15. Level descent.

Figure 17-15. Level descent.

Combined Maneuvers

Combined maneuvers, such as climbing or descending turns, should be avoided if at all possible by an untrained instrument pilot already under the stress of an emergency situation. Combining maneuvers only compound the problems encountered in individual maneuvers and increase the risk of control loss. Remember that the objective is to maintain airplane control by deviating as little as possible from straight-and-level flight attitude and thereby maintaining as much of the airplane’s natural equilibrium as possible.

When being assisted by ATC, the pilot may detect a sense of urgency as he or she is being directed to change heading and/or altitude. This sense of urgency reflects a normal concern for safety on the part of the controller. But the pilot must not let this prompt him or her to attempt a maneuver that could result in loss of control.


Transition to Visual Flight

One of the most difficult tasks a trained and qualified instrument pilot must contend with is the transition from instrument to visual flight prior to landing. For the untrained instrument pilot, these difficulties are magnified.

The difficulties center around acclimatization and orientation. On an instrument approach, the trained instrument pilot must prepare in advance for the transition to visual flight. The pilot must have a mental picture of what he or she expects to see once the transition to visual flight is made and quickly acclimatize to the new environment. Geographical orientation must also begin before the transition, as the pilot must visualize where the airplane is in relation to the airport/runway when the transition occurs so that the approach and landing may be completed by visual reference to the ground.

In an ideal situation, the transition to visual flight is made with ample time, at a sufficient altitude above terrain, and to visibility conditions sufficient to accommodate acclimatization and geographical orientation. This, however, is not always the case. The untrained instrument pilot may find the visibility still limited, the terrain completely unfamiliar, and altitude above terrain such that a “normal” airport traffic pattern and landing approach is not possible. Additionally, the pilot is most likely under considerable self-induced psychological pressure to get the airplane on the ground. The pilot must take this into account and, if possible, allow time to become acclimatized and geographically oriented before attempting an approach and landing, even if it means flying straight and level for a time or circling the airport. This is especially true at night.