VFR into IMC – – Execute Your “Parachute Option”!

Thunderstorms and icing get a lot of attention from aviation writers. But surprisingly, simple VFR into IMC is the biggest killer. And of these fatalities, half of the pilots are instrument rated!

Flying into lowering visibiity and ceilings while VFR is obviously a “slow motion accident” and usually avoidable by better pre-briefing. But unfortunately, pilots often both launch-and continue- into worsening weather. For mostly psychological reasons; “mission mentality”, the completion bias, and Newton’s fourth law: “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion,” we end up in the soup getting lower and scarier. So when you finally realize how trapped you are (and a 180 degree turn is no better) how do you save your life?

The “parachute option”is available for all planes (even if you don’t own a Cirrus). What I am recommending here is merely the precautionary landing while power and marginal visibility is still available. This amazing life-saving option is seldom mentioned or and almost never taught (its not on the pilot test). But executed decisively, it is a demonstration of savvy ADM; the best option given the existing curcumstances.

Consider the benefits for your survival. Continuing into worsening weather is proven to be 90% fatal whereas a precautionary landing has a 96% likelihood of you walking away. Yes, the plane may be damaged (as it also would be with a BRS deployment) but the important part is you and your passengers live. The difficult obstacle to overcome is entirely psychological; accpting the potential sacrifice of an airframe and the stigma of making an error in judgment; get-over-it and live. As when an engine failure occurs, your insurance company owns the plane if you are flying at treetop level. It’s time to act wisely and decisively to save your life, execute your “parachute option”.

The Courage To Stop

When it comes down to the real thing, the pilot has to have the courage to make the decision that continued flight involves too much risk given the fact that there are decent places to land safely. Once we’ve gotten low, in bad visibility, we are down where there are a heck of a lot of towers. We know that scud-running has become so dangerous as to be a last-ditch ploy a pilot tries when out of options, often just before dying. So, we get smart. We spot a field that may be acceptable…

Cirrus initially had tremendous resistance from owners to using their ballistic chute. To succeed in making their chute a viable option Cirrus had to be integrate the BRS into all their flight training operations. Frequent reminders and practice in a simulator overcame the stigma of percived pilot failure “ruining the plane”. Saving lives is always a win! LMK what you think…fly safely (and often).

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

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