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I am guessing that flying in IMC is much easier when you're not expecting to smack into something? Any second now!


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#1 Odysseus

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 18:37

So I’m on a ferry flight, scud-running because its Marginal VFR and I’m hungry for discounted R44 hours, when in front of me I see the entrance to a small valley. On the hill to the left is a tower whose wires follow the hillside down to the right. The overcast layer sits just above top of the tower.

 

My navigator (the aircraft owner) says to fly towards the tower. I express my concern with the overcast layer, but staring at his ipad (at a program which apparently tells him we are high enough to not hit anything) he says to stay at this altitude and we’ll be fine.

 

As we pass over the tower (barely) I express my concern as I begin to see the fog getting a bit too close, but my navigator says he still has reference to the ground so we’re ok. A few moments later the ground disappears, the white fills the windscreen and I say, "…and we’re IFR". Staring at his ipad he instructs me to make a 180 to the left. Staring at the Artificial Horizon I make the turn, however struggling to not make it too steep.

 

Eventually the ground reappears, but as we find ourselves now trapped in this valley surrounded by hills and fog I find myself getting slower and slower in a struggle to stay VFR. Soon after he expresses his concern about my airspeed, "You wouldn’t want to have an auto at this speed", the ground disappears and the white once again fills the windscreen, to which I reply again, "…and we’re IFR"

.

This time, still staring at his ipad, he instructs me to head slightly left. Again staring at that Artificial Horizon, I’m able to keep the "wings" level, but cannot seem to keep the nose level! Despite watching the blue get higher and higher on the gage, I just can’t get myself to push forward on the cyclic! I have no idea what the other gages are saying since all I can focus on is that one!

 

As it turns out (although unbeknownst to me) I was getting into Settling with Power and was now dropping vertically, a fact suddenly realized to me as the ground finally reappeared accompanied by the Low Rpm Horn and the helicopter shuttering!

 

Out of the corner of my eye I see him reach for the controls (which confuses me) so I say, "You got it?", he says, "No", to which I dump the Collective and lower the nose.

 

After regaining control I see a clear patch of dirt on top of a hill to my right and express my desire to land there, to which he replies that it seems to be clearing towards that highway to the left so follow it. This time the path does clear up, we exit the valley and within ten minutes land at a small airport, where I tell him I’m done and get in a cab.

 

This was all just to get a handful of hours in an R44 in order to meet the time in type minimums for a summer job next year!

 

So why did I do it? What I told myself I’d never do? What I thought only a moron would do? Intentionally fly VFR, in a VFR only ship, towards what was obviously IFR?

 

I’d been to several IIMC seminars from the FAA Wings Program to two Rotor Safety Challenges, as well as "Land and Live" at Heliexpo! I’d heard many accident reports of pilots killing themselves trying to dodge the clouds! Robinson Safety Course stories of R44 IIMC deaths! I knew better, yet I still did it!

 

All I can think of, is that the night before the flight he imparted several stories of ferry flights he had done with much more experienced pilots than he. Flights where he took the controls because they were not comfortable flying into the Marginal VFR conditions, including one nasty rain storm and one scud running incident in the mountains, in which he actually saw lightning. So I guess, maybe, that I just didn’t want to seem like a pussy? Plus I really wanted those discounted hours!

 

He, the aircraft owner, and just a private pilot, had more total time than me, but less than half my helicopter time. He was an instrument rated fixed winger with apparently most of his time from long cross-countries such as this flight was to be. So maybe that’s why I trusted his direction? He’d done this flight many times before.

 

One thing I did find odd though. When we found ourselves trapped just before that second IMC encounter and I found myself slowing more and more, to which he remarked that I should speed up because I wouldn’t want to do an auto at such slow a speed? It stuck me as odd that I was concerned with hitting something as visibility got worse and worse (which is why I kept slowing down) but he was concerned with an engine failure?! Is this because he was an experienced instrument pilot, even if it was fixed-wing? I am not instrument rated.

 

Regardless of his direction, it still comes down to me. This was my fault, not his. I was the one on the controls! We should be dead, and if that Low Rpm Horn had come on just two seconds earlier, when all I could see was a wall of white, we would be dead!

 

So here’s a great example of poor decision making. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we never should have taken off in Marginal VFR for a ferry flight in an R44! Not to mention the many opportunities I had to land!

 

You know after surviving that first Inadvertent encounter with Instrument Meteorological Conditions one might think that I would have said, "This is f*cked up!" (which I actually did say) and just landed? Yet I continued on, trying to find a way out of that fog covered valley!? In fact the idea of landing never even occurred to me until after that second encounter! A fact that I still struggle to understand?

 

I don’t know how long I was in the white, but it felt like an eternity! An eternity waiting for a sudden SMACK! Not a good feeling to have, and one I’ll never forget!



#2 ridethisbike

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Posted 08 September 2015 - 16:47

Glad you made it out alive. You're seriously lucky.

 

This is why having personal minimums is such a huge deal.

 

How low will you allow the clouds to push you before you say no?

How slow will you allow visibility to get you before you say no?

How low will you let the visibility drop before you say no, regardless of airspeed?

 

 

The fact that he had MORE experienced pilots telling him they didn't want to fly in certain weather is a HUGE red flag for me! You should never get pressured to fly into a situation that you aren't 100% sure you can come out of alive, no matter who that other person is. Boss. Chief pilot. Friend. Subordinate. No one. Make your choice and stick to it.

 

Develop some personal minimums regarding weather and stick to it. They will always be changing based on various things. Is the terrain mountainous or flat? Are you familiar with the area? Develop your personal minimums and when you hit them, divert or land.

 

Thanks for sharing your story. Hopefully everyone can learn from this, as I'm almost certain you did.


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#3 WolftalonID

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Posted 08 September 2015 - 18:38

This is a great story, and it sounds like a good outcome from the lesson has been achieved.

I appreciate you taking a moment to show how a normal pilot with safety training can still get caught in some less than safe moments.

I would like to impart some perspective from reading this being verbage can change how someone understands written words. IMC is not IFR, and VMC is not VFR. Pilots tend to mix them up in conversation. The FAA, as well as DPE's like to be specific when it comes to these.

Remember IMC, and VMC are actual weather conditions. VFR and IFR are regulatory rules we can fly under. We can always fly IFR in VMC and as helicopter pilots we can fly VFR in IMC when following visibility allowances in the airspace we are in.

3 miles, 1000 foot ceiling is the defining difference between VMC and IMC.

Great story, thanks for sharing.
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#4 12-7

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 00:52

The great candor of this story really helps it sink in. Thanks for sharing life lessons.

#5 aclark79

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 05:06

Thank you for being brave enough to share your story.  I'm very glad you made it out alive. 

 

I've had moments that I regret, where I would do it differently if I had it to do over again.  I hope that you know now what you should have done and will use this moment to help you do the right thing if you ever find yourself in the same situation.  It's hard as a new / young / inexperianced pilot to countermand another more 'experianced' pilot, but it has to be done!  


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#6 Falko

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 07:54

Thanks for sharing. Iam sure most of us here on VR had their fair share of "oh-$hit-moments" thanks to poor decision making. And yes, flying IMC on an IFR flight plan is much more relaxing than scud running. Whenever the wx is turning towards special-VFR, I change to IFR right away... I scared myself and did stupid stuff in the past..so I learned my lesson.

In my early days as a greenhorn helicopter pilot, I remember flying a helicopter from a controlled airport to an uncontrolled airport which was like 30minutes away. My departure airport was fogged in but became 800ovc with 3 miles vis later that morning. My destination airport had blue sky all morning long and was supposed to be like that for the rest of the day. It was a Friday and I wanted to see my girl later that day, so I pressured myself to fly and thought, well it's crappy here but it will be blue sky shortly after take off.

So I took off special-VFR and after 2-3 minutes the clouds came lower and the vis dropped down, it crossed my mind to turn around but I pressed on. I knew there are towers around so I slowed down and dropped lower and lower. I then picked up a major highway and followed that at low altitude. The height of the clouds slightly increased and the vis got better. I didn't have much extra fuel for the trip and following the highway all the way to my destination would have taken longer than flying straight to my destination. Again, in my mind iam thinking, great, the wx is getting better already so why not taking a short cut and fly directly to my destination. So I did and after 10 min, the wx got worse and worse to a point where I thought: you are so stupid...why are you flying, why didn't you wait for better weather before taking off......

All the sudden I find myself facing a wall of clouds right in front of me, starting from the ground up into the next ovc cloud layer at like 300ft over a swamp, knowing there are huge power lines somewhere ahead of me. I started turning away from the wall of clouds and then I saw the sun shining through a little hole in the cloud layer right over me. at that point I realized its way too dangerouse flying down low, my only safe option is to climb... So I did and broke out of the clouds around 1000ft and continued VFR on top to my destination. After 10 min or so the could layer just stopped and i could see my destination on my horizon in server clear.

I had lots of luck that day and iam glad iam still alive today....since then I became more careful with weather and change to IFR as soon as the WX gets scatchy.

#7 RkyMtnHI

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 08:09

This is a great post/topic.  Thanks for sharing.  This should be pinned to the top of the Ferry Flights, Time building forum.

 

dp


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#8 Wally

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 08:53

Moment of silence for the deceased, just a question of when that's going to happen to your iPad buddy, Odysseus. Don't be in any aircraft under any condition- ever!- with that individual. I would leave the vicinity, immediately, anywhere he showed up. Stupid isn't contagious, but combined with foolish, it becomes a black hole that sucks the luck and judgement out of one's universe.

 

Been there, did that. It's harder to abort a flight than anything else I've ever done. Even in preflight planning... The farther into the leg you get, the harder the abort decision is, so I abort as soon as ANY doubt occurs. I plan legs so that aborts and precautionary landings are easy to accept. If it means longer legs to divert for weather and comfortable options, the earlier I adopt the plan the better. My rule is that I'm landing or diverting to land as soon as I'm not at a regular and comfortable cruise altitude and airspeed. Period. Especially in a VFR only aircraft, PERIOD! 

 

Weather minimums are planning numbers, if the leg isn't comfortably within the pilot and equipment capability to operate normally, get out. VMC, IMC, don't really define safe operation until the accident investigation...


Edited by Wally, 09 September 2015 - 09:00.

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