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AOPA - Single-Pilot IFR

AOPA - Single-Pilot IFR

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Published by Edward Rehr

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Published by: Edward Rehr on Jul 21, 2008
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05/09/2014

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Introduction
Is it safe to fly IFR as a single pilot? While mostpilots agree that an experienced and compe-tent copilot enhances the safety of IFR flight,thousands of single-pilot IFR (SPIFR) trips arecompleted safely every day.For pilots, two better questions are “How safeis it?” and “Can I do it safely myself?Unfortunately, there are no “one-size-fits-all”answers. Finding the correct answer for yourself requires more questions, such as “How safe doI want it to be? How much effort and moneyam I willing to invest? How much flexibility do Ihave in my transportation schedule?” ThisSafety Advisor explores the human and equip-ment variables that go into the single-pilot IFR(SPIFR) equation.
SAFETY ADVISOR
Operations & Proficiency No. 1
IFR
Single-Pilot
Single-pilot IFRcan be as safe asyou choose tomake it, and thereare many thingsyou can do tomake it safer.
 
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s accident database, whichcontains nearly 50,000 general aviation accident reports,reveals that SPIFR flights suffer several times more accidentsoperations flown with two pilots. Since most general avia-tion IFR operations are flown single pilot, exposure aloneexplains much of the difference in the number of accidents.Additionally, most two-pilot operations are flown in largerturbine powered aircraft, which operate in a different envi-ronment and typically have more extensive equipment thanlight GA aircraft. Nonetheless, SPIFR operations warrantsspecial attention.No type of flying requires greater skill or longer periods of concentration than SPIFR. Near perfect performance is theminimum standard, and that standard takes a commitmentfrom the pilot.
What’s the Problem?
Very simply, the problem is pilot workload, aggravated bythe need for multi-tasking. A single IFR pilot also serves asnavigator, radio operator, systems manager, onboard meteo-rologist, record keeper, and sometimes, flight attendant. Enroute flight in benign weather is usually not too stressful, butadd high-density traffic in poor weather conditions or a sig-nificant equipment malfunction, and overload may not befar away.Some pilots pride themselves on how many balls they can juggle at one time. However, studies have shown that oncewe start juggling more than three to five tasks, dependingon the individual, accuracy and effectiveness deterioraterapidly—very much like a computer with too many pro-grams running simultaneously. Overloaded computers leadto computer crashes and overloaded humans can lead toaircraft crashes.Practice multi-tasking and setting priorities. If you try to doeverything at once, the bad results will speak for them-selves. Practice will speed up your response to routineitems. If you can’t handle basics, you won’t be able to han-dle multiple tasks well. Learn to recognize when overload isstarting to occur; that’s the time to reassess priorities. Thismay mean asking for a delaying vector, telling ATC to standby, slowing the aircraft down, or using a VOR to get to anearby fix rather than programming that fix and insertinginto the GPS flight plan.Distraction is one of the leading causes of blown clearances,incidents and accidents. It means the pilot is not focused onthe most important thing at the time. It can be as simple asarrival at a fix without having planned the subsequentaction, or as complex as having an engine fail at localizerintercept. Most people can handle two tasks, but three ormore? The ability to react and regain control is one measureof a good instrument pilot.
Before Flight
So, what can you do to assure peak performance as the sin-gle pilot of an IFR flight?IFR flight, even before takeoff, can cause a heavy workload,especially if there is complex weather. Any surprise or dis-traction can start to wrest control from a pilot, and a secondor third problem arriving at the same time can rapidly esca-late to an out-of-control situation.Preparation keeps problems from compounding when theunexpected happens. With computerized flight planning,online airport directories, and literally dozens of sources of weather, thorough preparation should be easy. There is somuch data, however, that sorting and making sense of it allcan be challenging, more so for new IFR pilots or those whodon’t fly in instrument meteorological conditions very often.We offer two suggestions: Get an experienced IFR pilot (notnecessarily an instructor) to walk you through the planningprocess. Take notes so you remember how it’s done.Secondly, plan a trip at least once a week for several weeks,
Safe Pilots. Safe Skies. •
Pg. 2
Beat the rush! Any programmingyou can do on the ground freesup time in flight for other tasks.
 
right up to the point of filing the flight plan. This is a greatway to practice getting weather, looking at NOTAMs, select-ing alternates, determining fuel reserves, reviewingapproach charts, etc.Get your IFR clearance, and load the navigation radios orthe GPS flight plan before leaving the parking area. Youlearned this in primary IFR training, but it is one of the keysto good SPIFR. The pros do it this way so that when theyget to the run-up pad it takes just a minute or so for thefinal before-takeoff check, and it doesn’t hold up aircraftbehind them. Feeling rushed on the run-up pad is a primecause of mistakes.If the aircraft has a ground power switch, so much the bet-ter. You’ll save 10 minutes of engine time if you can obtainATIS, get an en route clearance and program the GPS priorto engine start. Pilots flying airplanes without a groundpower switch often carry a hand-held aviation transceiverfor the express purpose of listening to ATIS and getting anIFR clearance, all before starting the engine, which alsostarts the Hobbs meter.
Equipment—How Much is Enough?
Let's take the airplane first. Is the equipment right for the job? Light IMC—say, an 800-foot overcast and three milesvisibility, with reasonably smooth air in a low density areashouldn’t be too challenging if you are familiar with the air-craft. But think ahead. Suppose a crucial piece of equip-ment, perhaps the vacuum pump, fails on this flight? Haveyou recently practiced controlling the aircraft on partialpanel (without the artificial horizon and directional gyro?)One way to minimize the chance you’ll have an in-flightemergency is to make sure all the maintenance and inspec-tion requirements for the aircraft and its accessories are upto date. If you own the aircraft, that should be easy; pilotswho rent aircraft, however, typically put faith in the FBO’smaintenance practices.Where there’s a choice, renters should look for an FBO will-ing to put a little extra into its IFR airplanes, both in equip-ment and maintenance. There is nothing worse thanlaunching into instrument conditions with poor qualityequipment that doesn’t work or doesn’t work well. A panelwith equipment that would be acceptable for low densityVFR operations may be completely inappropriate for the IFRenvironment. If it doesn’t work, turn it back in!One more caution: if the rental aircraft is new to you, andyou’re not yet comfortable with this particular type of air-plane or its avionics suite, don't gamble on an IFR flight—get dual instruction!Today, minimum IFR equipment is usually considered to bedual nav/coms, an audio panel with marker beacon receiv-er, and a transponder with Mode C. Many pilots would addat least a yoke-mounted GPS as a supplement to theapproved IFR equipment. (No yoke-mounted GPS unit isapproved for use as a primary navigation unit for anyrequired IFR GPS or DME functions.) Here are some otheritems that can greatly reduce your workload and are highlyrecommended for SPIFR:
1.High quality navigation and communication radios—
They have to work well—no excuses.
2.Headset and push-to-talk switch
missed radio callsand poor quality radio transmissions hamper the pilot’s abil-ity to communicate effectively, which raises both pilot andATC workload when transmissions have to be repeated. Theability to talk without reaching for a hand microphone elim-inates a major distraction, and a headset provides cleareraudio reception, minimizing missed or misunderstood trans-missions. Invest in the best quality equipment you canafford. Active noise canceling headsets are expensive butworth every penny if you plan to do much IFR flying.
3.An autopilot
slaved to a heading bug is invaluable forkeeping the airplane right side up and going in the properdirection while the pilot reads charts, copies revised clear-
Safe Pilots. Safe Skies. •
Pg. 3
More is not necessarily better when it comes to flight gear andpilot accessories.

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