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IFR Fix: Free soup

Step one for an instrument pilot is learning how to keep the aircraft under control and maneuver precisely without visual references. Then it’s on to step two, navigating horizontally and vertically while flying to tolerances mastered in step one.

Combining the two steps isn’t recommended. Under actual conditions, there’s no calling a timeout if you find yourself task-saturated, or if the aircraft misbehaves, or if the weather worsens. Don’t count on requesting a change of altitude or vectors to visual conditions; an amended clearance may not be available when needed if you find yourself “falling behind the airplane.”

For these and other reasons you can read about in accident summaries and deviation reports, it’s important to get a polite and gradual introduction to IMC—one that leaves you imprinted with both its satisfactions and its capacity to make unexpected demands.

A well-intentioned instrument pilot flying an unfamiliar airplane may not be the ideal choice for making that introduction: Consider a scenario in which an instrument-rated commercial pilot decided that a “relatively easy IFR flight” presented an opportunity to give a noninstrument-rated pilot friend who had logged some previous “hood time” a taste of weather flying before the friend started instrument training.

Carrying out the plan meant relinquishing the left seat of the friend’s Piper PA–28 while remaining pilot in command in the right seat­.

Piece of cake. “I would do radio and navigation work and his only job was to keep a good course and altitude while I advised him. I could fly from the right if I needed to,” the well-intentioned instrument pilot wrote later in an Aviation Safety Reporting System submission.

Trouble began during the departure climb in IMC, when the noninstrument pilot deviated from the assigned heading by up to 40 degrees despite being “advised” on technique by the right-seater, who was unprepared for the flight’s rapid deterioration.

Then—as if on cue—radio glitches cropped up, and unforeseen turbulence added to the misery.

At go-plus-15-minutes, a controller watching things unravel northeast of John F. Kennedy International Airport offered priority handling through the airspace, which the PIC accepted, back to the departure point.

The rest of the return flight, the PIC noted, was “uneventful”—as you’d expect for “a relatively easy IFR flight.”

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