Wind and weather cause the majority of aviation accidents. But remarkably, these two causal factors are carefully avoided during most pilot training. “Blue sky flight training” does not prepare pilots for the real world of flying with actual weather challenges. This is a problem both for safety and for future professional pilots who will be required to dispatch in all kinds of challenging conditions. The majority of flight training is in the south seeking these optimal “blue sky” conditions (albeit sometimes oppressively hot). Not surprisingly, aviation accident statistics show the majority of accidents involve landing in windy conditions and/or bad weather. Crosswinds are not required to be demonstrated by the FAA, so they are seldom trained or tested (only by conscientious CFIs and usually not in accelerated programs). Any experienced CFI will tell you that most pilots cannot comfortably handle a significant crosswind. Fortunately, some 99% of these runway excursions are non-fatal – departures are the killer – but they do turn Cessnas and Pipers into beer cans and raise everyone’s insurance rates.
Fatal weather accidents primarily involve the en route phase of flight. Intuitively, you would think an instrument rating would help a pilot’s chances in these situations. However, statistics reveal that instrument-rated pilots (usually non-current with no actual instrument time) do no better than VFR pilots when encountering “VFR into IMC.” And Again, since the FAA does not require any actual instrument training, pilots never build this proficiency. Both crosswinds and simulated IFR reveal that for part 91 operations, the FAA only specifies minimums. Every FAA certificate or rating is a “license to learn” and consequently does not assure any level of safety! Unfortunately, some “alphabet groups” lobby for lower pilot training requirements and simultaneously plead for greater safety. To me, these seem like opposing values. So it is up to a savvy, safe pilot to build sensible personal proficiency to face the hazards of actual weather conditions. This is the mission of SAFE; to provide awareness, motivation, and resources to create safer CFIs and pilots. And every experienced, motivated CFI is a missionary for this initiative. It would seem avoiding accidents and living longer would be self-motivating? Every passionate pilot should step up to assure their own proficiency; but how does that work?
Step one for safety is building (and maintaining) crosswind proficiency; this is the most popular way to bend a plane. This requires getting serious dual training outside the usual “comfort zone” with a good CFI. Step two is training in actual instrument conditions (if you are instrument-rated) to become comfortable and proficient (wet wings!) Only then can you build the additional real-world instrument proficiency to deal with ATC and delays, which is another higher level of “IFR smarts.” If you are seeking a professional piloting career you will need these skills and it will put you ahead of the cattle drive. SAFE has put a recent focus on real IFR proficiency and created a new “IFR Focus” Landing Page with many good resources (more soon).
So how does a conscientious pilot get “good in the clouds?”
Realizing you have a serious training need and seeking to fill this gap is the first step and becoming safer. At the heart of this challenge is finding a professional pilot who is still an active CFI willing to transition you into crosswinds or the “cloud world” safely. This usually will not be your newly graduated academy CFI. Shop carefully for an experienced Master CFI with real cloud experience (scars and stories come free). Usually, this is a 135 pilot comfortable with flying in the weather (rather than over it). Find a freight dog or small charter operator who has good teaching skills (a rare combination). If you are an educator, insist that your learners achieve proficiency in these areas, beyond the FAA minimums. Fly safely out there (and often)🙏
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