You are here

Things that go bump in the flight. Part 1.

If there’s one thing that most pilots do not equate with summer time trips its dealing with single-pilot IFR operations. IFR in winter: sure. IFR on a sunny summer’s day: not so much. In fact, while I have no concrete data to prove it, I’d say that pilots flying in the summer will encounter more “pop-up” IFR conditions than they will in the winter.

Why? Well, in winter your trips are typically a bit shorter and you’re probably going to be flying more at night. So you plan and prepare for IFR conditions on practically every flight.

In the summer time, your trips are typically longer, thanks to family vacations, longer daylight hours and generally better weather. More time in the air allows more time for the weather to change en route. And that leads to those pop-up IFR conditions, which all too often catch pilots unprepared for things like in-flight filing, choosing alternate airports, and setting up approaches to unfamiliar airports. Oh yes, and you’re faced with doing it all while bouncing around in some level of convection-induced turbulence – well, it’s not easy, fun or comfortable.

This is where your autopilot can play huge safety and workload reducing dividends. Just reach over and press a button or two and you’ve turned over control of your aircraft to a highly-qualified and always current ‘co-pilot’: A co-pilot who doesn’t get fatigued, distracted or, dare I say, air sick.

With ‘George’ at the controls, you’re free to dial up frequencies, check weather, look for alternate airports and familiarize yourself with approaches and landmarks – all while periodically looking outside for traffic. (Hint: if you’re flying with your kids, putting them on “traffic watch” is a great way to put an end to the constant drone of, “Are we there yet?” in your headphones. And it works even better on clear sunny days. I’m just sayin’.)

Okay, you say, I’ll stay one step ahead of the weather and do all of my flying in the early morning or late afternoon. Well, that may work in many parts of the country on most days. But, have you ever flown along the western or eastern seaboard around sunrise or sunset? Mix airborne moisture with salt, smoke, and dirt in the air, add in low sun angles and you have the recipe for fog-like haze that drops visibility down to zero in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Does the term “spatial disorientation” mean anything to you?

Again, the solution or at least enough of one to help keep you out of trouble until you get things sorted out is to use your autopilot. I promise it will not diminish your piloting skills in the eyes of your passengers one little bit.

If anything, your reduced workload and level of stress will make the trip more enjoyable for you all.


Until next time, fly safely,