Training Tip: Six lifesaving tasks

A flight instructor with, let’s say, airplane—single-engine land teaching authorization can give the “3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments” mandated by FAR 61.109(a)(3).

However, those basic skills are only intended to help you avoid losing control of the aircraft if you get trapped “on top,” or inadvertently enter clouds. (Think of that training as the glass you break in a fire to get the fire axe—a last resort.)

A much different instructing project is that of preparing certificated pilots to pass an instrument-rating practical test that permits them to fly in the air traffic system under instrument flight rules (IFR). For that, states FAR 61.195, the flight instructor needs an instrument rating “on his or her flight instructor certificate.”

To put it bluntly, if you pass the private pilot practical test, with its six tasks on “basic instrument maneuvers,” any presumption of instrument-flying skill goes no further than the notion that if you inadvertently enter instrument meteorological conditions, you can:

  • Recognize that the situation requires “immediate remedial action.”
  • Maintain aircraft control.
  • Obtain “the appropriate assistance in getting the airplane safely on the ground,” according to the Airplane Flying Handbook (page 17-15)

An example of “appropriate assistance” can be found in an Aviation Safety Reporting System filing submitted by an air traffic controller at the Des Moines, Iowa, Terminal Radar Approach Control facility who provided lifesaving service to a Cirrus SR22 pilot who had begun “flying erratically and losing altitude” during an arrival at a destination with deteriorating weather.

The controller applied numerous ideas and methods to keeping the pilot focused on aircraft control and directing him away from obstructions for descent out of the clouds.

The incident had a safe outcome—and in the report the controller echoed what all flight instructors should teach their primary students during the introduction to controlling an aircraft by reference to instruments.

“The FAA should continue to make pilots aware of the dangers of IMC flight to VFR pilots, low time IFR pilots, and pilots who are not current flying IFR approaches to minimums,” the ATC specialist wrote.

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