IFR: Preparation for Flight

Careful planning for a flight on instruments is important. Besides satisfying normal IFR requirements, an instrument pilot flying in clouds or at night must be conscious of high terrain or obstacles that cannot be seen, and ensure that a safe altitude above them is maintained. You must be aware of the danger of icing (both airframe and carburetor icing) and take appropriate precautions; you must have an alternate airport in mind in case a diversion becomes necessary; and you must have sufficient fuel to get there, and still have a safety margin remaining in the tanks on arrival.

The best time to organize these things is prior to flight.

Today, we’ll discuss preflight considerations for an IFR flight with excerpts from our textbook The Pilot’s Manual: Instrument Flying (PM-3C).

Preflight considerations, which are all logical, include:

  • Am I properly qualified (instrument rated and qualified for this airplane, instrument current)?
  • Am I medically fit today?
  • Is the airplane suitably equipped (serviceable radios, anti-icing equipment, lighting, etc.)?
  • What is the weather? Are changes expected?
  • Is the departure airport suitable for my operation?
  • Is the destination airport suitable for my operation?
  • Is an alternate airport required (or more than one)?
  • What routes are suitable in terms of terrain, weather and available en route NAVAIDs?
  • Are there any relevant NOTAMs (FDC, Class I, Class II)?
  • Are there any Terminal Flight Restrictions (TFRs) for my planned route of flight?
  • Prepare charts (DPs, en route charts, instrument approach charts, VFR sectionals, etc.).
  • Compile a flight log with courses, distances, times, MEAs and cruising altitudes calculated.
  • Compile a fuel log, with adequate fuel reserves.
  • File an IFR flight plan.
  • Prepare the airplane.
  • Organize the cockpit for flight—select charts, ensure that a flashlight is kept handy for night flying, etc.
  • Brief passengers.

To operate in controlled airspace (Classes A–E) under IFR, you are required to:

  • file an IFR flight plan (usually done in person or by telephone to FSS or ATC on the ground at least 30 minutes prior to the flight); and
  • obtain an air traffic clearance (usually requested by radio immediately prior to departure or entering controlled airspace).

The 30 minutes is required to allow time for ATC to process your flight data and (hopefully) avoid delays to your flight. The preferred methods of filing a flight plan are: in person by telephone or by DUATs — by radio is permitted, but discouraged because of the time it takes. Closing a flight plan by radio is typical because it takes just a few seconds.

Closing an IFR flight plan is automatically done by ATC at tower-controlled airports after landing. At an airport without an active control tower, you must close the flight plan with FSS or ATC by radio or telephone. Do this within 30 minutes of the latest advised ETA, otherwise search and rescue (SAR) procedures will begin.

  • An IFR flight plan is required in both IMC and VMC in Class A airspace, and in IMC conditions in Classes B, C, D and E (controlled) airspace (and also in VMC, if you want to practice);
  • An IFR flight plan is not required in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace.

To assist you in completing the flight plan and performing the flight, you should compile a navigation log, calculating time intervals and fuel requirements. A typical navigation log is shown in figure 1, and a typical flight plan form is shown in figure 2.
Figure 1. Click for full-size.
Figure 2. Click for full-size.

Important navigation log items to be inserted on the flight plan include:

  • the planned route;
  • the initial cruise altitude or flight level (later altitudes or flight levels can be requested in flight);
  • the estimated time en route (ETE), in hours and minutes, from departure to touchdown at the first point of intended landing;
  • the total usable fuel on board at takeoff, converted to endurance in hours and minutes.

If you wish to fly part of the route according to IFR procedures and part according to VFR procedures, you can file a composite flight plan, signified by you checking both IFR and VFR in the Item 1 box on the flight plan form. You should also indicate the clearance limit fix in the flight-planned route box, to show where you plan to transition from IFR to VFR.

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CFI Brief: BasicMed

Hot off the presses from the FAA, Tuesday January 10th 2017 :

FAA Issues General Aviation Medical Rule

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today issued a final rule (PDF) that allows general aviation pilots to fly without holding an FAA medical certificate as long as they meet certain requirements outlined in Congressional legislation.

“The United States has the world’s most robust general aviation community, and we’re committed to continuing to make it safer and more efficient to become a private pilot,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The BasicMed rule will keep our pilots safe but will simplify our regulations and keep general aviation flying affordable.”

Until now, the FAA has required private, recreational, and student pilots, as well as flight instructors, to meet the requirements of and hold a third class medical certificate. They are required to complete an online application and undergo a physical examination with an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner. A medical certificate is valid for five years for pilots under age 40 and two years for pilots age 40 and over.

Beginning on May 1, pilots may take advantage of the regulatory relief in the BasicMed rule or opt to continue to use their FAA medical certificate. Under BasicMed, a pilot will be required to complete a medical education course, undergo a medical examination every four years, and comply with aircraft and operating restrictions.  For example, pilots using BasicMed cannot operate an aircraft with more than six people onboard and the aircraft must not weigh more than 6,000 pounds. A pilot flying under the BasicMed rule must:

  • possess a valid driver’s license;
  • have held a medical certificate at any time after July 15, 2006;
  • have not had the most recently held medical certificate revoked, suspended, or withdrawn;
  • have not had the most recent application for airman medical certification completed and denied;
  • have taken a medical education course within the past 24 calendar months;
  • have completed a comprehensive medical examination with a physician within the past 48 months;
  • be under the care of a physician for certain medical conditions;
  • have been found eligible for special issuance of a medical certificate for certain specified mental health, neurological, or cardiovascular conditions, when applicable;
  • consent to a National Driver Register check;
  • fly only certain small aircraft, at a limited altitude and speed, and only within the United States; and
  • not fly for compensation or hire.

The July 15, 2016 FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 directed the FAA to issue or revise regulations by January 10, 2017, to ensure that an individual may operate as pilot in command of a certain aircraft without having to undergo the medical certification process under Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, if the pilot and aircraft meet certain prescribed conditions outlined in the Act.

The FAA and the general aviation community have a strong track record of collaboration. The agency is working with nonprofit organizations and the not-for-profit general aviation stakeholder groups to develop online medical courses that meet the requirements of the Act.


The final rule and regulatory changes were published in Wednesdays January 11th, 2017 Federal Register and is available for public viewing here. ASA will be issuing updates to our 2017 FAR/AIM series shortly to include these regulatory changes. To be notified immediately upon any and all updates visit this link:

For additional information the FAA has issued Advisory Circular 68-1, Alternative Pilot Physical Examination and Education Requirements.


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Human Factors: The Blind Spot

Of all the senses, vision is the most important for safe flight. Most of the things perceived while flying are visual or heavily supplemented by vision. As remarkable and vital as it is, vision is subject to limitations, such as illusions and blind spots. The more a pilot understands about the eyes and how they function, the easier it is to use vision effectively and compensate for potential problems. Today’s post is excerpted from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

The area where the optic nerve connects to the retina in the back of each eye is known as the optic disk. There is a total absence of cones and rods in this area, and consequently, each eye is completely blind in this spot. As a result, it is referred to as the blind spot that everyone has in each eye. Under normal binocular vision conditions (both eyes are used together), this is not a problem because an object cannot be in the blind spot of both eyes at the same time. On the other hand, where the field of vision of one eye is obstructed by an object (windshield divider or another aircraft), a visual target could fall in the blind spot of the other eye and remain undetected.


The figure below provides a dramatic example of the eye’s blind spot.

  1. Print the figure below. Hold this page at an arm’s length.
  2. Completely cover your left eye (without closing or pressing on it) using your hand or other flat object.
  3. With your right eye, stare directly at the airplane on the left side of the picture page.In your periphery, you will notice the black X on the right side of the picture.
  4. Slowly move the page closer to you while continuing to stare at the airplane.
  5. When the page is about 16–18 inches from you, the black X should disappear completely because it has been imaged onto the blind spot of your right eye. (Resist the temptation to move your right eye while the black X is gone or else it reappears. Keep staring at the airplane.)
  6. As you continue to look at the airplane, keep moving the page closer to you a few more inches, and the black X will come back into view.
  7. There is an interval where you are able to move the page a few inches backward and forward, and the black X will be gone. This demonstrates to you the extent of your blind spot.
  8. You can try the same thing again, except this time with your right eye covered stare at the black X with your left eye. Move the page in closer and the airplane will disappear.


Another way to check your blind spot is to do a similar test outside at night when there is a full moon. Cover your left eye, looking at the full moon with your right eye. Gradually move your right eye to the left (and maybe slightly up or down). Before long, all you will be able to see is the large halo around the full moon; the entire moon itself will seem to have disappeared.

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CFI Brief: FAA Safety Briefing—January 2017

Check out the latest FAA Safety Briefing for January/February 2017! Click the image below for your very own PDF copy. We’ve also made this available through the ASA Reader App for iOS.


Also available in ePUB and MOBI.

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CFI Brief: Who got a drone for Christmas?

Did you get a drone for Christmas? Does it weight over 0.55 lbs? If so, you better register your drone ASAP or you can be subject to civil and criminal penalties! To begin the drone registration process follow the link or click on the image below, it’s quick and easy: 



The next question you will want to ask yourself is: do I need a remote pilots license to operate my drone?

Check out one of my earlier posts to determine if you do using a simple flow chart: CFI Brief: Earning a Remote Pilot Certificate (Drone)

Lastly, if you have access to the Apple or Android device, download the free FAA B4UFLY Smartphone Application. B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.

Apple App Store:

Google Play Store:

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CFI Brief: Awarded Top 50 Aviation Blog!

It’s nice to report that the Learn To Fly Blog received an early Christmas present this year. Earlier in the week, it was announced that the ASA Learn To Fly Blog would be included as one of the Top 50 Aviation Blogs on the Planet! We are honored to be included on this list and would like to give a big shout out to all of our weekly readers and subscribers.



Reminder that the ASA offices will be closed on Friday December 23rd through Monday December 26th in observance of the Holiday. We will be back to our normal blog posting schedule following the New Year.

Happy Holidays!

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Editor’s Picks: Last-minute gifts for the pilots on your list!

Time’s almost up, but ASA has you covered! Here are three books for the pilot in your life! Be sure to check out our list from earlier this month and all of our editor’s picks as well.

The Basic Aerobatic Manual
by William K. Kershner

William K. Kershner started his solo aerobatic career in a Stearman N2S at the age of 17, so it’s never too early to start learning about aerobatics. The Basic Aerobatic Manual is a complete reference for the beginning aerobatic student, with invaluable unusual attitude and spin recovery information for the more straight-and-level flyer. This book emphasizes techniques for the Cessna Aerobat models, but the described maneuvers easily translate to other aerobatics-certified airplanes. Starting with stalls, chandelles and lazy-8’s, the student is guided through spins and the Three Fundamentals of basic aerobatics: the aileron roll, loop, and the snap roll. Once these basics are learned, the combination maneuvers (the cloverleaf, for example) are covered in-depth. Pilots will also find content on safety and recovery.

Finding Carla
by Ross Nixon

In March 1967, a Cessna 195 flew from Oregon towards San Francisco carrying a family of three: Alvin Oien, Sr. (the pilot), his wife Phyllis and step-daughter Carla Corbus. Due to weather, their plane went down in the Trinity Mountains of California only eight miles from a highway and beneath a busy commercial airway. This was before radio-beacon type emergency locators were required equipment for airplanes; the family survived the crash for almost two months but the ruggedness of the terrain and the fact that they were far off their intended course made finding them by sight impossible. Searchers determined the weather in the mountains also made living impossible after a period of time had passed. Half a year later, the eventual finding of the wreck by hunters shocked the nation. A diary and series of letters from the survivors explained their predicament. Ultimately, this tragedy spurred political action towards the mandatory Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) that are now carried aboard all U.S. civil aircraft. ELT radios have saved thousands of lives since they were mandated and their technology continues to improve and find more lost people. The family’s complete story is told for the first time in Finding Carla, including the never-before-published Carla Corbus Diary and family letters. Autographed copies are shipping now while supplies last!

Pilots In Command
by Kristofer Pierson

This book goes beyond the requirements of flight training curricula into what is both a rarity and a necessity: sage advice from real pilots, for student and professional aviators alike, about how to be true leaders. In an easy-to-use format, on a range of topics that all tie into the application of basic leadership skills, the author covers crew roles, crew briefings, flight attendants, crew resource management (CRM), threat and error management (TEM), ground services, dispatch, customer service, abnormal and emergency situations, layovers, crew dynamics, 14 CFR Part 117 rest rules, and a new model of transformational leadership and professionalism for pilots.

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CFI Brief: Hazardous Attitudes

Am I fit to fly? I like to think of myself as pretty fit, I hit the gym 3 or 4 times a week, eat healthy (most of the time), I even ran the Runway 5K this year at AirVenture in Oshkosh and absolutely crushed it! Ok, maybe I didn’t crush it but I did finish without pulling a hamstring. Physically I can say I am fit to fly, but I need to ask myself, does that alone qualify me as “fit to fly”? In truth, no. My physical fitness alone is not the sole qualifier in determining my fitness to operate an aircraft.

When determining fitness the FAA expects you to take additional qualifiers into consideration, a prime example is attitude. A person’s attitude will immensely affect the quality of decisions made by that particular individual. I like to think of this as mental fitness. In FAA handbooks you see attitude described as a motivational predisposition to respond to people, situations, or events in a given manner.

During a student pilots training they learn of five hazardous attitudes which have been identified through several studies: anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho, and resignation. Each one of these hazardous attitudes is a detriment to a pilot’s ability to make sound decision and appropriately exercise authority. Part of maintaining a high-level of mental fitness is the ability for a pilot to recognize each one of these hazardous attitudes and then employ the corresponding antidote. The table below shows and explains each hazardous attitude and then provides corresponding antidote, click to enlarge.


Once a pilot makes an aeronautical decision, part of the process is quickly running through that decision to verify that it has not been influenced by a hazardous attitude. This is just a small part of the bigger picture known as the aeronautical decision making (ADM) process.

ADM is a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances. You can find out more about the ADM process in chapter 2 of the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

Check out some of these FAA test questions on hazardous attitudes, I’ll post the answers on Friday afternoon!

1. Hazardous attitudes occur to every pilot to some degree at some time. What are some of these hazardous attitudes?
A—Poor risk management and lack of stress management.
B—Antiauthority, impulsivity, macho, resignation, and invulnerability.
C—Poor situational awareness, snap judgments, and lack of a decision making process.

2. In the aeronautical decision making (ADM) process, what is the first step in neutralizing a hazardous attitude?
A—Making a rational judgement.
B—Recognizing hazardous thoughts.
C—Recognizing the invulnerability of the situation.

3. What antidotal phrase can help reverse the hazardous attitude of “antiauthority”?
A—Rules do not apply in this situation.
B—I know what I am doing.
C—Follow the rules.

4. What antidotal phrase can help reverse the hazardous attitude of “macho”?
A—I can do it.
B—Taking chances is foolish.
C—Nothing will happen.

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Human Factors: Managing Risks

This week we’re featuring an excerpt from the just-released latest edition of the Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2, Change 1). This FAA handbook provides tools to help pilots determine and assess each situation for the safest possible flight with the least amount of risk. This handbook presents methods pilots can use to manage the workloads associated with each phase of flight, for a safer, more enjoyable and less stressful experience for both themselves and their passengers.

Risk is the degree of uncertainty. An examination of risk management yields many definitions, but it is a practical approach to managing uncertainty. Risk assessment is a quantitative value assigned to a task, action, or event (Figure 1). When armed with the predicted assessment of an activity, pilots are able to manage and reduce (mitigate) their risk (Figure 2). Take the use of improper hardware on a homebuilt aircraft for construction. Although one can easily see both the hazard is high and the severity is extreme, it does take the person who is using those bolts to recognize the risk. Otherwise, as is in many cases, the chart in Figure 2 is used after the fact. Managing risk takes discipline in separating oneself from the activity at hand in order to view the situation as an unbiased evaluator versus an eager participant with a stake in the flight’s execution. Another simple step is to ask three questions—is it safe, is it legal, and does it make sense? Although not a formal methodology of risk assessment, it prompts a pilot to look at the simple realities of what he or she is about to do.
Figure 1. Types of risk.
Figure 2. Using a risk assessment matrix helps the pilot differentiate between low-risk and high-risk flights.

Therefore, risk management is the method used to control, eliminate, or reduce the hazard within parameters of acceptability. Risk management is unique to each and every individual, since there are no two people exactly alike in skills, knowledge, training, and abilities. An acceptable level of risk to one pilot may not necessarily be the same to another pilot. Unfortunately, in many cases the pilot perceives that his or her level of risk acceptability is actually greater than their capability thereby taking on risk that is dangerous.

It is a decision-making process designed to systematically identify hazards, assess the degree of risk, and determine the best course of action. Once risks are identified, they must be assessed. The risk assessment determines the degree of risk (negligible, low, medium, or high) and whether the degree of risk is worth the outcome of the planned activity. If the degree of risk is “acceptable,” the planned activity may then be undertaken. Once the planned activity is started, consideration must then be given whether to continue. Pilots must have viable alternatives available in the event the original flight cannot be accomplished as planned.

Thus, hazard and risk are the two defining elements of risk management. A hazard can be a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters.

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CFI Brief: Frost

It’s been cold here in Seattle and across many parts of the country over the last several days. All week long I have had the pleasure of scraping an inch of ice and frost off my windshield each morning. If my car’s windshield is icing over, the same can probably be said for all the aircraft parked on the ramp at the local airport. As a pilot, whether you are flying a sport aircraft or a 737 it’s important to understand the effects of frost and ice on you aircraft, particularly the lifting surfaces.

Frost is described as ice deposits formed on a surface when the temperature of the collecting surface is at or below the dew point of the adjacent air, and the dew point is below freezing. Frost causes early airflow separation on an airfoil resulting in a loss of lift. Therefore, all frost should be removed from the lifting surfaces of an airplane before flight or it could prevent the airplane from becoming airborne.

Test data indicates that ice, snow, and frost formations having a thickness and surface roughness similar to medium or coarse sandpaper on the leading edge and upper surface of a wing can reduce wing lift by as much as 30%, and increase drag by 40%.

Prior to flight, it is extremely important that the aircraft is completely cleaned and clear of any frost or ice. This is often accomplished through deicing.

Deicing is a procedure in which frost, ice, or snow is removed from the aircraft in order to provide clean surfaces. You may often see ground deicing accomplished by applying a fluid solution containing glycol and various other chemical agents to the aircraft. The image below depicts a typical commercial airliner going through a deicing process using a glycol solution. If you do not have deicing fluid on hand, simply moving your aircraft into a heated hanger for a short period of time will solve the problem. However, it’s important the water resulting from the melting is wiped off or you could encounter a re-freeze as you taxi to the runway. Other times all it takes is a quick brushing of the aircraft to remove frost from the surfaces.

Take a look at some of these sample Private Pilot test question dealing with frost and ice.

1. Which conditions result in the formation of frost?
A—The temperature of the collecting surface is at or below freezing when small droplets of moisture fall on the surface.
B—The temperature of the collecting surface is at or below the dewpoint of the adjacent air and the dewpoint is below freezing.
C—The temperature of the surrounding air is at or below freezing when small drops of moisture fall on the collecting surface.

2. Why is frost considered hazardous to flight?
A—Frost changes the basic aerodynamic shape of the airfoils, thereby decreasing lift.
B—Frost slows the airflow over the airfoils, thereby increasing control effectiveness.
C—Frost spoils the smooth flow of air over the wings, thereby decreasing lifting capability.

3. How does frost affect the lifting surfaces of an airplane on takeoff?
A—Frost may prevent the airplane from becoming airborne at normal takeoff speed.
B—Frost will change the camber of the wing, increasing lift during takeoff.
C—Frost may cause the airplane to become airborne with a lower angle of attack at a lower indicated airspeed.

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