Visual flying can be much more challenging than flying using instruments as sole reference. Visual flying requires good pre-flight planning, knowledge of weather conditions at departure, en-route and destination and a careful study of winds aloft. Also requires a good knowledge of terrain along the route, obstructions, prominent landmarks combined with familiarity with your aircraft performance and speeds.
I have put a series of suggestions that will help you keep your VFR flying safer and enjoyable.
1. If you are flying VFR, keep under visual meteorological conditions. Countless accidents happened because of trying to keep visual conditions into deteriorating weather. If weather ahead of you starts pushing you between the clouds and the ground to keep visual conditions, the key element is to know when to turn back towards good weather or divert to a visual alternate. Remember, always have a plan B.
2. Study the weather forecasts and make a plan well ahead of your departure time. In the U.S., TV weather forecasts are very accurate and we can get a good picture of what to expect on the area of our flight. For complete weather information always rely on professional aviation related websites. Don’t stay only with the info provided by your briefer, sometimes is difficult to get a mental weather picture on spoken words.
3. Flight Plan, don’t leave home without one. Is the cheapest insurance you can get that someone is going to look for you outside there is you don’t arrive on ETA at your destination. You can file a VFR Flight Plan several ways: by telephone to your nearest Flight Service Station (FSS), with your Flight Dispatcher at your flying school of FBO or by VHF with your nearest FSS after you depart. Jeppesen’s provides a free service with access to MyFlitePlan online to file a VFR Flight Plan. Always remember to close your flight plan on arrival at your destination.
4. Use the advantages of GPS, but just as a backup source. With GPS accuracy and complete information provided, is hard not to fall into follow it blindly, resist the temptation and use it to create a path that includes relevant enroute landmarks and obstructions or to deviate around busy, prohibited, or restricted areas.
5. Avoid congested areas around busy airports and big cities. Even when VFR flights are routed through corridors around big airports, this can result in a big deviation or a series of radar vectors to avoid commercial traffic. Flying near or over big cities can reduce significantly the forward vision due to air pollution.
6. Are you a low timer, flying first time on a new area? If you can, get a qualified pilot familiar with the area to ride with you on the right seat. Learning by yourself in aviation is always the hardest way, two pairs of eyes are much more better to scan for traffic, help with navigation, do radio-communications and share the experience!
7. Fly high, whenever possible. Always keeping in mind to have visual contact with terrain, fly higher when conditions permit. Instead of staying at usual altitudes of 4000 or 7000 feet, a higher altitude, let’s say 10.000 feet (max allowed without supplemental oxygen), will give you a better environment perspective and save fuel.
8. Make a list of the airports with suitable runways along or near your route of flight. In aviation, the most challenging situation is the unexpected, there are several reasons why you may find yourself forced to divert or land at a different airport than planned destination, weather, an on board emergency or abnormal situation, even that lunch that you had at the airport can create a problem in an aircraft without toilette. Make a plan, and work your plan.
9. Use all resources available today. When I started flying we had to rely only on our eyes, a visual chart, a clock and a circular computer. Today all available resources are amazing, not only some general aviation aircraft are equipped with terrain display presentations, devices like the Ipad and GPS make our flying much more enjoyable and accurate.
10.Only fly at night if you are really qualified to do so. Moonless nights can represent a real challenge for visual flying for non-instrument rated pilots. Once the wheels leave the ground all outside references are lost, especially on runways in the middle of a dark spot, rapid acceleration can create a series of body sensations that tend to confuse our brain when no outside clues are available.
Be receptive to all clues that can be telling you is not the day to do a VFR flight, an aircraft that is not in proper condition, forecasted deteriorating weather or even yourself not being fit to fly, remember; be safe, as the old saying goes: “is better to stay on the ground wishing to stay in the air, than in the air wishing to stay in the ground”