Last week’s “VFR into IMC” blog generated a lot of comments and discussions online. Many readers were surprised at how poorly instrument-rated pilots do statistically with a simple 180-degree turn in IMC (when surprised) – usually not much better than VFR pilots. This problem illustrates out some interesting – and scary – facts about most instrument pilots. Many IFR-trained pilots are pretty bad with manual control; either never trained well or rusty. Many IFR pilots have also never actually been in a cloud (not FAA-required). The trend away from hand flying is also accelerating as avionics become more capable. The modern pilot in most planes is increasingly becoming a “programmer.” There are endless YouTubes online covering “buttonology,” and all hell breaks loose when “George” goes away requiring hand flying to survive. These pilots might as well be standing on the ramp remotely operating their (MQ-9?) planes. This is obviously not just a problem with GA, but started with automated airliners and is now a problem in aviation at all levels:
In nearly 100 million flights by United States passenger airlines over the past decade, there has been a single fatality. Other than most landings and takeoffs, the planes have largely been flying themselves.
The origin of this problem is with the basic training and testing of pilots. One of the weakest parts of most IFR checkrides is the applicant’s demonstration of basic instrument flying skills (without the automation). This is an increasing trend despite the FAA’s urgent plea to develop and maintain manual piloting skills (and not just IFR). If you want to be safer as an instrument pilot – and have more fun – please get some actual IMC flying and work on your hand-flying skills (I am guilty too). We already know that the autopilot can fly in IMC just fine, we need to focus on keeping the hand flying skills sharp too.
In a good instrument training course, the first 1/3 of the training should be learning to control the aircraft entirely by instrument reference and without automation. This involves discovering and utilizing standard power and attitude references for performance targets. This is naturally disappointing for many pilots because there is an urge to play with all the fun computers in the panel they paid so much for. But only when an IFR trainee can hand fly as confidently by instrument reference as by visual outside cues are they ready to move on to tracking, holding and approaches. (BTW, there is a completely analogous situation in VFR training where every new learner wants to start off with landings, before the basic skills are mastered).
So if your CFII starts your IFR training off with approaches (as is the case in most quickie “crash courses”) have a discussion, or just fire them. And saving money by hiring the cheapest CFII you can find is also a dumb idea; it takes years to learn to teach instruments well with a perspective of actual experience; hire a pro. You are developing skills that will save your life in an emergency (or not). Fly safely out there (and often)!
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