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10 Skills VFR Pilots Can Learn From IFR Pilots

Here are some habits that VFR pilots can pick up even before they become IFR certified...

1) Alternate Fuel Planning

Under IFR, day or night, you must have enough fuel to (FAR 91.167): fly to your intended destination, fly from the destination to the alternate (if required), and fly for an additional 45 minutes at normal cruise speed (minimum).

While VFR rules only require you to carry 30 minutes of additional fuel, you may want to follow IFR guidelines in terms of researching useable airports nearby and adding a little extra cushion of fuel.


2) Backing Up Visual Approaches With Navigation Guidance

Most airlines require their pilots to back up any visual approach clearance with an instrument approach procedure. Loading an IAP into your avionics adds situational awareness to make sure you're tracking a stabilized glide path to the correct runway.

Even if you're not an IFR pilot, have an instructor show you how to find and tune navigation courses to runways. One of the easiest ways to do this is with your GPS. This extra situational awareness will ensure you're aiming for the correct piece of pavement!


3) Unusual Attitude Recovery In IMC

Your body is unable to detect angular motion less than 3 degrees per second. It's called a somatogyral illusion. In IMC, if you were to unknowingly bank the aircraft to the left or right and maintain it for 20 seconds or more, you set yourself up for the oculogyric illusion. Because your body perceives your banked attitude to be straight-and-level, correcting the bank back to straight-and-level would feel like you've initiated a bank in the opposite direction. Having this happen in areas with terrain or when you're close to the ground could be lethal.

IFR pilots are trained extensively to rely on their instruments in situations just like this. Have CFI give you some extra practice "under the hood" for unusual attitude recoveries.


4) Stabilized Approach Concept

"The stabilized approach concept is characterized by maintaining a stable approach speed, descent rate, vertical flight path, and configuration to the landing touchdown point. Depart the final-approach-fix configured for landing and on the proper approach speed, power setting, and flight path before descending below the minimum stabilized approach height; e.g., 1,000 feet above the airport elevation and at a rate of descent no greater than 1,000 feet per minute (fpm), unless specifically briefed." (FAA)

If you're not an instrument pilot, this might sound a little confusing. The idea is that you should be fully configured, on speed, on glidepath before short final. For normal, VFR approaches from the traffic pattern, try making this "stable" check at 200 feet AGL.


5) Planning Go-Arounds

IFR pilots always have a specific go-around plan. If they're flying an instrument approach, it's usually dictated by the missed approach plan on their approach chart.

If you're flying VFR, have a similar missed-approach plan in place. Is there terrain to take into consideration? Parallel runways with other aircraft? Is it left or right traffic? Brief your go-around before you have to do it!


6) Communication With ATC

IFR pilots naturally become really good on the radios. Try picking up VFR flight following and flying into towered airports as much as possible to get more comfortable on the radio.

7) IFR Departure And Arrival Corridors

If you're going to fly around busy airports, you can call ATC on the phone to ask where the main routes in and out of the airport are located. Controllers don't mind taking those calls, and they'll appreciate your safety-conscious attitude. Plus, it will make their job a whole lot easier.

While IFR pilots are very familiar with these routes, you may not ever use them yourself!


8) Finding Temperatures Aloft

Icing typically happens when the temperature is between 0C and -23C. And clear ice, the less fun type of ice (not that any ice is fun), happens in the relatively warm temperature band between 2C and -10C. Most of the time when you see icing PIREPs in the summer, it has to do with building cumulus clouds. Cumulus clouds typically form due to strong convection, and on top of that, they usually have a lot of water in them.

There are many resources to find temperatures aloft, from freezing level charts to your standard winds/temps aloft report.


9) Instrument Approach Routing (+"Fix" Names)

Unless you're flying into a large Class C or Class B airport, it's unlikely that controlled airspace covers the majority of instrument approaches. For instance, let's take a look at a standard Class D airport.

Most Class D airspace measures just 8 to 10 miles in diameter. That's a radius of 4 to 5 miles from the center of the airport. The final approach fix (FAF) for nearly all instrument approaches lies just to the outside, or a few miles away from, the boundary of Class D airspace. Since ATC is required to vector IFR aircraft onto the final approach course well before the FAF, they will likely fly through miles of Class E airspace under IFR along the approach course before entering tower-controlled airspace.


10) How Different Cloud Shapes Indicate Turbulence

As an IFR pilot, you'll become intimately familiar with which clouds are turbulent vs. relatively smooth to fly through. Much of this knowledge comes from experience and visual cues. Some clouds, like the cumulonimbus mammatus below, you'll want to stay FAR away from...

MsaalMatt Saal

What other tips can VFR pilots learn from IFR pilots? Tell us in the comments below.

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