20 TIPS FOR VFR FLYING
Acknowledgements: Bill Cox (Plane & Pilot)
VFR flying can be more difficult than you might imagine, so here’s a series of suggestions to make it easier, safer and more fun.
1. Resist the temptation to fly direct on GPS.
Rather, put together a flight plan to include slight deviations to stay near highways, airports or flat terrain. You'd be amazed how far you can deviate from a Great Circle route without adding significantly to total distance.
2. Think twice about cruise altitude.
Even on short trips higher is nearly always better, for several reasons. Fuel burn is less, the airplane may actually fly faster, and range will be extended. Most GA airplanes can reach 8,000 to 10,000 feet, where they'll be above much other traffic, have longer radio range, usually operate above the convection layer in smoother air and have more sky beneath them in the event of a problem.
3. "The only time you can have too much fuel is when you're on fire".
You may never know what circumstances will dictate the need for more fuel, but it's nearly always a good idea to carry as much fuel as possible, cabin payload and CG permitting, of course.
4. Clean the windshield and front side windows every time you fly.
Author and humourist Rod Machado does that religiously and if it's good enough for Rod it's good enough for me. I've had too many instances of spotting another aircraft coming right at me, only to discover it's a bug spot with the light hitting at exactly the correct angle.
5. Minimise extra weight by leaving it in your locker or hangar.
Extra weight slows you down. You might be surprised at the amount of useless junk you're carrying around for no good reason. Also, store whatever you do carry aboard as far aft in the airplane as convenient. The farther aft the permitted CG, the faster you'll cruise.
6. When you're through using an air vent, remember to close it.
Most general aviation airplanes don't have air-conditioning, so many of us open the air vents in hot weather and forget to close them when it's cooler. The disturbed air associated with the vent will add drag.
7. Use “flight following” whenever you can, especially around heavily congested airspace.
Particularly if your trip is long, over water or remote terrain. If you have a problem, you won't need to scramble to find the proper frequency. A flight-following controller can also keep you clear of restricted or prohibited zones. And each subsequent controller will automatically update the altimeter setting with every handoff.
8. Route around big cities whenever possible.
Traffic is usually lighter, smog isn't as much of a problem, fuel, ramp and parking prices generally are lower, and you're less likely to receive vectors away from your course line or altitude restrictions to deal with.
9. On descent, don't automatically start down at 500 fpm.
In winter, you may want to stay high as long as possible to maximize the effects of tailwinds. And hot surface temps in summer may dictate the same technique to avoid the heat and convective turbulence down low. If there are gathering clouds ahead, you may want to descend early to make certain you don't get trapped on top.
10. Don't be paranoid about turbulence.
I flew with a G-meter in my first airplane, and was amazed to discover that I almost never encountered an "air pocket" stronger than 1.5 to 2.0 G. If you're uncomfortable, do whatever's necessary, but don't assume the airplane will start coming apart every time you fly through a section of cobblestone sky.
11. Think ahead for cross-country trips.
Take updated charts, food, water, pilot relief bags, a big watch, an extra pair of Ray-Bans and survival gear as necessary. Don't forget life vests if you're flying over large expanses of water.
12. Remember that water can be your best friend in some circumstances over landlocked trips.
A friend who suffered a total engine failure over the Swiss Alps picked out the biggest flat spot he could find, an alpine lake, and ditched the airplane rather than attempt a dead-stick landing against the side of a mountain. The airplane got very wet, but he swam away uninjured.
13. Temper your judgment about flying in high-mountain terrain at all, if you can avoid it.
There may be little margin for error if you accidently enter a cloud. A 180-degree turn won't necessarily solve your problem, but it's a far safer bet than continuing without any idea of where the tall rocks are!
14. If you fly with a panel-mount GPS, have a portable backup.
Panel mounts typically have their own dedicated battery specifically designed to avoid losing position information following an electrical power failure, but depending upon your situation, that may not be enough.
15. Avoid flying at any limit speed.
Vne is the obvious worst one, but there are a dozen others. Vle, max landing gear extension speed, is often specified to save the gear doors. Violate it consistently, and those doors may eventually fail. It's the same with flap extension speed, Vfe. If you use gear and flaps to decelerate, do so only well within the specified limit speeds.
16. Carry a set of low-altitude en-route charts for the trips you make most often.
A low-altitude chart can provide you with IFR MEAs, an instant measure of safe altitude along established routes. You'll also have an easy reference to leg distances between VORs and airports. IFR charts also provide sector frequencies in case you need help and there's no one awake on 121.5 mHz.
17. Remember that the most neglected quadrant of see-and-be-seen is directly behind you.
Studies of mid-air collisions have shown that the most likely risk is from the rear. That's especially true during descents when a following aircraft overruns preceding traffic. If you're descending, try throwing in some slight turns occasionally and check six for what might be gaining on you.
18. Think at least three times about flying VFR at night, especially when there's no moon.
There's no question night flying is more demanding than day VFR. Horizons often vanish at night, clouds become invisible and ground detail usually fades to black. Night can simulate a black hole, no place for a VFR pilot.
19. Every non-IFR pilot fears winding up on top of an overcast with little fuel, experience or options.
It can happen to anyone, accidentally allowing the clouds to thicken and turn solid below them almost unnoticed. There's a special risk over any body of water that can generate instant ground fog. So, keep an eye on the lower quadrant to assure you're not drifting into a situation you'll have trouble getting out of. And If temperature and dew point are approaching equality, it may be time to look for someplace else to go.
20. Don't wait too long to ask for help.
Whether you're trapped above clouds, "temporarily disoriented" or have some other problem, someone on the ground may be able to help. If you do get into trouble, remember the four Cs of an emergency other than a loss of power:
· Climb for better radio reception.
· Communicate with someone on the ground who can help.
· Confess the details of your situation.
· Comply with any directions.