Aeromedical (Mind) Factors Under IFR

ifr aeromedical judgement

You can’t see Judgement (especially through the clouds)

Judgment isn’t something we can see and measure like stick and rudder skills.  It’s a little tougher to train as well.  In fact, the same judgement and attitude that got you to a point in your life where you could both financially afford to fly planes and have the desire to be a pilot, is probably the same judgement the NTSB will site as a probable cause when they write the report if you are ever unfortunate enough to have an accident.  Bullish, macho, aggressive, and risk-taking behavior is all great when it comes to making it in business and putting a roof over your families head.  It is slightly less great behavior when it comes to making sure you make it home to see your family again after going flying.  The accident case study at the end of this TOPIC should drive that point home for you.

The Basics

Every so often you may see or hear of a pilot who started up the airplane, only to realize when they went to taxi away that it was still tied down or had chocks on the nose gear.  Had they done a thorough and complete pre-flight, that certainly wouldn’t be the case.  In fact, now that you are taking your machine into a new realm, where you can’t see outside of the cloud you are in and only know which way is up or down by trusting your instruments, can you really say the pre-flight you’ve been doing up to this point is adequate to ensure your aircraft is safe for IFR flight?

Decision TimeIFR timer

For argument sake, let’s say that all decisions you ever make fall into two categories: those tied to time constraints, and those not tied to time constraints.

Examples of time-constrained decisions: engine fires, entering prohibited airspace, and smoke in the cockpit all require rather quick thinking to solve.  These “quick thinking” decisions are made best with the help of good training and rehearsal.  With decisions that are not time constrained, like a radio failure, GPS failure, or how thorough you should pre-flight your airplane or check the weather, logic is the best tool here.  Why are the airlines so safe compared to General Aviation?  How about answering these questions:

  • Ever see an airline pilot skip a preflight?
  • Ever see an airline pilot rush to takeoff
  • Ever see an airline pilot skip a checklist to save time?
  • Ever see an airline pilot skip checking the weather or NOTAMs before a flight?
  • ……you get the idea… takes patience…..flying little airplanes rarely gets you there faster than driving when you do the required steps.

There is no such thing as an emergency takeoff (no one will be bombing U.S. airfields any time soon).  So why is it that so many pilots act as if there is some sort of emergency that requires them to get into the air?  In fact, the NTSB identified that 80% of in-flight incidents and accidents (icing, engine problems, VFR into IMC, etc) were identified or could have been identified during a thorough pre-flight (remember we mean pre-flight in terms of checking weather, routing, etc, not just checking the oil).  That means that 80% of incidents and accidents could have been avoided if pilots had slowed down a little bit.  Had pilots treated each flight like it was their first one in that airplane, it may not have had to be their last.

12 Disciples of the Devil Pilot

  1. Get There Itis
  2. Duck Under Syndrom
  3. Lack of Adequate Fuel Reserves
  4. Mindset
  5. Flying Out of The Envelope
  6. Descent below MEA (on Approach or Enroute)
  7. Peer-Pressure
  8. Scud Running
  9. VFR into IMC
  10. Loss of SA
  11. Getting “Behind” the Airplane
  12. Lack of Flight Planning (Pre-flight Planning)

Don’t fall into one of those 12 traps!

thou shalt not

It’s Easy to “Rationalize” your way into a trap…


The noninstrument-rated pilot was conducting the accident flight under visual flight rules (VFR) without a flight plan. The pilot contacted the tower air traffic controller at the intended destination airport and inquired about landing. The controller informed him that the airport was currently under instrument flight rules (IFR). About 30 seconds later, the pilot informed the controller that he had inadvertently flown over the airport. The controller ultimately cleared the flight to land; however, the pilot decided not to land, informing the controller that he did not want to get delayed at the airport due to the weather. The pilot subsequently told the controller that the flight was “in and out of the clouds.” After asking the pilot if he was IFR qualified (and learning that the pilot was not), the controller transferred the flight to the local radar-equipped approach control facility for further assistance. That controller advised the pilot of several airports in the vicinity that were under VFR. After initially indicating that he would divert to one of those airports, the pilot told the controller that he did not want to “mess with the weather” and did not want to “get stuck in here,” and he declined to proceed to that airport. Radar data depicted that, shortly after the pilot’s radio transmission, the airplane entered a gentle right turn. About 90 seconds later, the right turn tightened abruptly, consistent with the airplane entering a steep spiral. The last 19 seconds of radar data depicted the airplane entering a climb of about 2,500 feet per minute (fpm) followed by an approximate 3,600-fpm descent. Witnesses reported hearing an airplane overhead, but they were not able to see it due to the cloud cover. They described the sound as similar to an airplane performing aerobatics. The witnesses subsequently observed the airplane below the clouds in a steep, nosedown attitude before it struck the ground.

Problems with this flight: Needed to get his daughter and her friend back to school after the Thanksgiving holiday, not wanting to land and get stuck where he couldn’t take off due to bad weather, needing to get his kids to Chicago, but needing to get himself back home that day as well (had plans to go to the Indy Colts Football Game the next day).

Our Pilot could have declared an emergency and probably got the airplane on the ground somewhere with the help of ATC.  Believe it or not, there isn’t necessarily a penalty for doing so.  The FAA will be a lot happier you realized you messed up and admitted it, than trying to push the limits and killing yourself and your passengers.

Pilot Experience: ~210hrs Total Time, ~28hrs Actual instrument time with an Instructor

Price for falling into traps 1,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12….our Pilot killed himself, his two daughters, and his daughter’s boyfriend.  He most likely had several seconds of realizing what he had done, listening to his children scream, knowing there was nothing he could do in the final seconds to fix his errors.  He did deploy the chute, but was far too fast and too low for it to help at all.

cirrus aircraft crash

Back to our X/C

So sounds like it might be best to just chill for the night and hang on the ground.  Hotels in the area only cost $100/night, you can get a good nights sleep and resume your X/C tomorrow when the weather improves.  While you may easily be able to takeoff and depart in those conditions with a CFII (150′ ceiling and 2sm visibility), what the heck are you going to do when you have a problem with the airplane at 500′?  You won’t be able to land back in KVPS since the weather is already below the lowest approach minimums there possible (you need at least a 200′ ceiling to land in KVPS, which we’ll talk about a lot more later when we cover approach plates).  We can spare $100 for a hotel right?  At the end of the day, if you live another 20-50 years, you’ll be able to make the $100 back, if you plow the airplane into the ground in low IMC, $100 will probably start looking like a really good deal to not end your flying career today.