...And Maybe Not For The Careful

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What if that VFR pilot does end up descending into the clouds? An oft-cited 1954 study found that non-instrument-rated pilots then had a hard time controlling the airplane when faced with a loss of visual cues. In experiments conducted in real Beechcraft Bonanzas, 19 out of 20 pilots entered a graveyard spiral within three minutes after losing visual contact. The 20th avoided the graveyard spiral only because he was occupied in yanking the airplane into a "whip stall." The FARs for large and turbine-powered aircraft do specify that over-the-top operations under VFR are allowed "only if the airplane is equipped with the instruments and equipment required for IFR operations." In Canada, the procedure is OK for non-instrument-rated private pilots only if they have completed a "VFR Over The Top" rating that requires 15 hours of dual instrument training. In a 2001 article on the topic, AOPA offered this advice: "VFR over the top is not something to be approached casually. In fact, it's really helpful if you approach it with a combination of pessimism and out-and-out paranoia. Always assume the worst, and plan accordingly." So why isn't there a rule that prohibits VFR pilots from flying up there? Because, sometimes, AOPA says, it's the best choice, and it works.