What is the best way to get out of IFR conditions when trapped as a VFR pilot?

Published by: Dave Schultz on 27th Mar 2013 | View all blogs by Dave Schultz
Subscriber Question:
"What is the best way to get out of IFR conditions when trapped as a VFR pilot?" 
- Chris F.
"Avoidance and training are really the important factors here. Appropriate training will help you avoid getting trapped.
Get a weather briefing before every flight and be sure to update your weather enroute with Flight Watch or Data Link, as well as at every fuel stop online or with Flight Service. Be really careful about flying in Marginal VFR or above/between layers since either or both of these can potentially lead to inadvertent flight into IMC.
All private pilots must possess a rudimentary level of instrument skill for certification. Be sure to maintain these skills because it will allow you to maintain control of the aircraft in less than VFR conditions. Of course an IFR rating is most desirable.
Having said all of the above, if you inadvertently encounter IFR conditions, make a 180° turn at the first indication that the weather is degrading to the point where you will have difficulty in maintaining VFR. Sometimes changing altitude can help but be extremely cautious with descents. If trapped as you describe - climb, communicate and confess to ATC (using 121.5 if necessary) and comply with instructions.
If you have autopilot, use it. It can be an invaluable aid to control the aircraft. At a minimum it can assist you in keeping the wings level thereby avoiding a graveyard spiral. In an emergency, if forced to descend through clouds without an autopilot, use your GPS if it has terrain, to ensure you have a clear path below."


1 Comment

  • Wesley Frey
    by Wesley Frey 5 years ago
    We had 2 IMC threats on my way from FL to PA in our trike. One was the video I just posted: I was already warned at the previous airport control tower that a fog developed every morning in the mountains in the fall, and doesn't rise above 1,000 ft until about 11 am. My plan was to get out by 7 (before fog) and land after 9 (in a clear area). We decided that it may not be clear where we planned to land and we would be lower on fuel. So we decided to take a closer airport under a low ceiling and wait till it lifted.
    The other was getting to the previous airport when I was headed directly into a line of rain. I had my iPad with Foreflight weather turned off to conserve battery, because I forgot to plug it in. My copilot pointed at the weather and asked if there may be a way around. By the time I got the radar on my iPad, we started to get a little wet. We were able to turn 70 degrees and outrun the rain, to the closest airport and landed in low ceilings, with permission from the tower as Special VFR. We were stuck there for the night, but were able to share a big hangar for the trike before the rain arrived. We are very thankful for the very nice controller in the tower, friendly FBO and hangar owner.
    Both times we thought it was a good idea to follow the interstate to avoid towers while flying low, but did not have the airport in site until we followed a side road or flew over the airport first to make visual contact. The large, accurate VFR map with our moving locator and weather on Foreflight was extremely valuable in both cases. We also never broke our number one rule: to see the ground, even if it was just at a glide distance away. We only flew under the low ceiling for a short time, when we knew it was reasonably safe to do so and there was no other option. After the experience, we decided it would be better to stay on the ground when we know these conditions could occur or are existing where we are headed.
Please login or sign up to post on this network.
Click here to sign up now.