Prepare for IIMC
- Get Rated. Take the first step to surviving IIMC: get a rotorcraft instrument rating and maintain IFR flight proficiency in your type of aircraft.
- Practice IIMC Recovery. Whether you’re a VFR- or IFR-rated pilot, practice realistic transitions into simulated IMC as often as you can, even if it’s only for a few minutes. If you can swing some hours in a Level D simulator, great. But don’t be a simulator snob; aviation training devices or desktop programs are also effective—and less expensive—ways to accomplish this training.
- Fly IFR-Rated Aircraft. Whenever possible, fly IFR-certified aircraft equipped with autopilot and stability augmentation systems. Know how to use these systems and how to transition to them in flight.
Before You Take Off
- Understand the Weather. Complete a thorough weather assessment before every flight using every modern tool available. Make sure you understand the weather conditions throughout your route and their implications for safe flight.
- Know Your Route. Before takeoff, obsessively plan your route of flight, and make every effort to avoid areas susceptible to changing environmental conditions.
- Create and Follow a Response Plan. Always have a clear plan for when you WILL return, divert, or land if your flight-control inputs change in response to environmental conditions. These en route decision points must always be clearly announced, observed, and supported by management, air crews, and customers as NONNEGOTIABLE.
- Learn to Say No. Delay or cancel flights when the weather is questionable or could deteriorate, or if you’re just unsure you can continue the flight safely. Often, that gut feeling is trying to tell you something. Listen and conquer your desire to complete the flight at any cost. Professional pilots know when to say no.
During the Flight
- Stay in VMC. Follow the FAA’s guidelines on how to remain in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) during a flight (see bit.ly/FAA-HFH, pages 11–24 through 11–26 for more information):
- If the weather ahead appears questionable, slowly turn around BEFORE you’re threatened by deteriorating visual cues. Proceed back to VMC or to the first safe landing area.
- Don’t proceed further when the terrain ahead isn’t clearly discernible. It’s called VFR for a reason.
- Always have in mind a safe landing space (such as a large open area or airport) for every segment of the flight.
- Follow Expert Guidance. If you do find yourself in the clouds, follow FAA guidance on how to respond to VFR flight into IMC. (A brief summary of these steps is included in this issue’s “5 Dos and Don’ts,” on p. 19.)
- Be Calm and Confident. If you experience IIMC, remain calm and trust your instruments and your IFR/IIMC training. It will pay off.
The guidance available on dealing with IIMC is much too extensive to cover completely in this article. I strongly encourage all pilots to refer to the 2019 release of the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook, FAA‑H‑8083‑21B. Chapter 11, pages 24–26, includes several updates that address how best to avoid and respond to VFR flight into IMC.
Additionally, the US Helicopter Safety Team has identified several helicopter safety enhancements focused on addressing the primary causes of fatal helicopter accidents, including IIMC. Visit www.ushst.org.