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7 Answers

Can Scud-Running Ever Be a Safe Practice?

Asked by: 3282 views , , ,
Commercial Pilot, General Aviation, Instrument Rating, Private Pilot

While working towards my commercial certificate an instrument rating, I have done a number of "low" cross country flights, but they all were atleast 3000 feet AGL with 6+sm visibility, to avoid obstacles and other various dangers of "scud-running."  However, I'm curious if there are ever situations where scud-running is a relatively safe practice.  I can think of a few rare examples, such as flying a sea-plane over open water, but in general I don't know how often, or ever, it would be safe due to unforeseen obstacles, tower light outages, etc.  However, the bulk of my flight experience has been in the northern Ohio area, so I do not know if this practice is ever accepted in different regions of the country or in different types of aircraft.

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7 Answers

  1. Nathan Parker on Apr 23, 2013

    I ensure that the ceiling and visibility allows me to keep an airport in sight at all times. I’ll “hop” from one airport to another.

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  2. Mark Kolber on Apr 24, 2013

    You can ask an acquaintance of mine about this since he had a habit of scud running all the time.

    Oh, sorry. You can’t. He hit a tower.

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  3. Matthew Waugh on Apr 24, 2013

    I don’t know about safe – it is codified as a practice in the form of the contact approach – so certainly sanctioned.

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  4. Brian on Apr 24, 2013

    I read an interested book, The Thinking Pilot, recently and the author addressed this subject quite well I thought. He pointed out that long ago (50+ years) scud running could be done safely by a properly trained pilot. However, in today’s world with cell towers and other obstructions being built at an alarming rate it’s just too risky to even consider.

    Now the scud running he’s talking about, and what I consider scud running, is flying around in sub 1000′ ceilings. Personally I’m comfortable going on a flight, even one of quite a distance, with 2000′ ceilings so long as I’ve planned a way out should the weather deteriorate.

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  5. Bob Watson on Apr 25, 2013

    Whether or not it’s safe depends on many things, as with any risk assessment. For me, scud running is flying in minimum VFR (1,000 & 3) away from an airport. 3,000 & 5 is just another VFR day here in the Pacific NW. All of the following factors still apply, but I wouldn’t call it scud running. I guess it all depends on what you’re used to.

    Some of the factors to consider in your risk assessment include:

    Is the low ceiling stable and/or improving or is it deteriorating into a lower ceiling? How well do you know the geography and the weather’s “personality?” Here in the Puget Sound area, it’s pretty predictable, if you know what to look for.

    Are you flying into improving conditions or is it getting worse? Is it getting worse all around you (meaning a 180 won’t help) or just behind you (meaning a 180 isn’t an option)?

    Do you know the area/route? Is it clear of obstructions? How recently have you traveled it? Towers and power lines can spring up quickly.

    Is it day or night?

    What are your options along the way? Along I-5 in W. Washington, for example, there’s an airport every 15-20 minutes, so there are lots of places to “pull over” if things get too bad for you.

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  6. John D. Collins on Apr 25, 2013

    The regulations permit flying in class G airspace during the daytime below 10,000 MSL with visibility of only 1 SM and clear of clouds. That means that at an airport with a transition area where class G extends to 700 AGL, it is permitted to fly in the pattern as long as you stay at 700 AGL or below. I haven’t ever done this except on an instrument approach and it is a little disconcerting that you might pop out of a cloud at the MDA and see another airplane filling your windshield. Outside of transition areas, in class G, the same regulation applies, except the floor of controlled airspace rises to 1200 feet AGL. It may be legal, but you won’t find me doing it.

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  7. Kris Kortokrax on Apr 25, 2013


    Your mention of different aircraft comes into play as well. What might be acceptable in a 172, might not be acceptable for a Citation. What might not be acceptable in an airplane, might be doable in a helicopter. The Class G minimums for helicopter are “clear of clouds” during the day. On one trip from California, I flew a helicopter for about 5 miles over an abandoned railway in low weather conditions to reach an airport. While legal, it is something I’ve not done again. It’s not a comfortable situation.

    Unfortunately, with the advent of GPS and iPads with navigatoin software, I believe that pilots who would not consider flying in low weather conditions with just a paper chart are tempted to launch in conditions that they should not.

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