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3 Answers

Inadvertent IFR – Fog, or trapped above/under the ceiling / “Scud Running”

Asked by: 1722 views , ,
FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Instrument Rating, Student Pilot, Weather

Gents, my question concerns the ramifications when weather changes from the reported predictions, and there is no way to avoid at least a bit of IFR. Any weather changed on you, be it fog, or trapped above the layer, or under the ceiling with varying elevations---all the same question really. Options and reporting. Examples: In the 2 flights I am specifically referring to for this question, the first was fog, where it was me as a student in dual trying to return to the flight school at KSNA from the practice area to the south east. Although we departed VFR and all seemed CAVOK for the day, a couple hrs later, ATIS check reveals fog rolled in at the home airport while we were out in the VFR practice area. The Dragon's Breath. The CFI (being IFR rated) called in and got clearance to return home IFR. But, if that had been my own solo, it would have been a little more of a problem, hence my question. The other flight was being trapped below the ceiling (though I've heard many trapped-above stories too, of equal importance...), where a friend of mine confessing to me his rather “adventurous” flight out of Catalina Island (KAVX) where the ceiling was 2500ft. KAVX elevation is about 1600ft, leaving about 900ft from ceiling, less 500 for cloud clearance, allowing about 400ft to takeoff and get clear of the island (KAVX has a steep drop-off at the end of the runway). But even a straight-out departure still leaves only 2000ft over the water to the main land, and such IMC at the departing airport, preventing simply turning around and going back for either a straight-in or a pattern landing. Leap of Faith. And thus Scud Running to the nearest coastal airport. So, what if? Options? In the first flight with Fog at the home KSNA airport, if it were me in Solo, I would be forced to either land at an alternate airport (a VERY long way off from KSNA), or call in and attempt an assisted return (which would not be impossible, just a bear for a rookie just a few hours after Solo). In the second flight with low ceiling out of Catalina KAVX (or anyone trapped above the layer for that matter), I thought he was stupid for a lot of reasons. KAVX is a near-miss in-and-out as it is. Too low a margin over water, I can only hope he checked the weather mins at the nearby coastal destinations BEFORE his departure, and any flight plan changes mid flight would force him climbing thru the layer to avoid terrain (CFIT---a term I always found an amusing oxymoron). He was not IFR rated, and the type probably not to call for help and have to fess up to anything FAA would get him for. Perhaps I'll end up reading about him at some point, but hope not. But beyond options in flight, what of reporting? If me in Solo fog, or him asking for help to get above (or below) cloud cover, would such get reported as VFR violations? Are ATC controllers obligated to report these otherwise just plain stupid “inadvertent IFR” incidents? And beyond a learning discussion with my CFI, do I as student need to report myself for violations? Seems a stupid question I know, but to withhold seems equally dishonest, and it brings to focus the question of honesty vs avoiding consequences. Imperfect pilots get the hammer? Any answers welcome.

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3 Answers

  1. Mark Kolber on Apr 23, 2015

    Start with this: choosing to continue into instrument conditions you know exist is not “inadvertent.” The violation of the FARs would be the most minor of your worries. “He was forced to land at an alternate airport (a VERY long way off from KSNA), so he decided to die instead” makes for a pretty nasty obituary.

    Google: “178 Seconds to Live”

    CFIT is definitely not an oxymoron. CFIT is not the death spiral of spatial disorientation. It’s keeping the aircraft under complete control, having ti do exactly what you want it to, all normal flight maneuvers. Except that you don’t see that terrain so you fly straight into it.

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  2. Ryan on Apr 23, 2015

    For situation #1 the only choice would be to land at another airport that is vfr. Plus, your cfi could get in trouble since he’s supposed to make sure your entire solo flight will remain in vfr conditions.

    Situation #2 as you introduced it, has a problem. If the ceiling is 2500 ft like you said, that means 2500 AGL so the airport elevation is not important. I don’t see a problem with flying over open water with a 2500 ft ceiling. If however, the cloud bases were at 2500 MSL and your friend took off in 900ft ceilings, then he should not have taken off in the first place since that is ifr weather by definition.

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  3. Claude Giroux on May 09, 2015


    Imagine on that day if your instructor had ask you : ” and now what would you do if you were solo?”, having you fly your plan, probably land at another (VFR) airport and call the school ( looking the frequency and details of that new airport, …)

    The lesson learned could have been you have options to stay away from trouble, here is how and you did it.
    I understand in that exact event the CFI may have to come back to the airport, is IFR current and the plane is IFR aswell but it could have been an excellent (scenario) real life based training.

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