I agree totally, Robert. There is no reason why a VFR flight needs to be operated any less safely, or less professionally, than an IFR trip. No reason why the VFR pilot should not challenge his/herself by maintaining heading +/- five degrees (inside the bug) and altitude +/- 20 feet. No reason why the instruments should not be scanned regularly, despite the regulatory requirement to keep your eyes outside the cockpit. Use every tool at your disposal, like ATIS broadcasts available on the VOR frequency or ARCAL (Aircraft Radio-Controlled Aerodrome Lighting).
My IFR ticket taught me to fly with greater precision, enhanced professionalism and firmer discipline when operating VFR. No need to land that plane on the button when the first available taxiway is 2000 feet down the runway. Be on the ground in the first third and you'll never come up short. Why not adjust heading for crosswinds while flying all four legs of the pattern, as the IFR pilot does in the holding pattern?
Why would you fail do a thorough weather briefing before climbing into your personal magic carpet, even on a CAVOK day? Why wouldn't you brief your passengers on how to egress the airplane in an emergency? Why stretch your range to the limit when a quick fuel stop would add at most 20-30 minutes to your trip, allow you to arrive with adequate VFR reserves and give your pax a chance to stretch their legs? You know those cheapo fuel gauges that come as "standard equipment"? They are less accurate in the last half of their travel, so why would you expose yourself to additional risk merely to save a few minutes? Natural risk takers in business or professionals need to leave that foolishness on the ground or take up a hobby that cannot kilor maim innocent passengers.
No reason why VFR pilots should flirt with obstacles or cruise below the highest point in that sector of the sectional. That is the VFR equivalent of the MOCA in IFR flight. Avoid non-standard radio phraseologyand fight the urge to show off by flying under bridges or buzzing your friend's house. Safe flying is largely an excercise in conformism so save your stunts for your desktop flight sim where they belong, or get an aerobatic endorsement. Any pilot who deliberately scares a passengers is assinine and should have his ticket pulled for long enough to see the folly of his ways.
Remember those aviation axioms that were drummed into you in groundschool? Safety first. Fly normal approaches at 1.3 Vso plus a sensible correction for your estimated weight at destination and for strong winds/gusts. High and fast beat the hell out of low ans slow. No old/bold pilots, right?
Fly indadvertantly into IMC? If you had the heading bugaligned to your direction you may immediately engage the autopilot's heading hold function and do a controlled 180. If you are the autopilot, remain calm while scanning the dials like you were taught. Innitiate a 180 at standard rate ASAP. You'll be back in VMC in two minutes or less.
Why would you even think of loading your aircraft beyond the aft limit? That is suicidal! Carry a light bathroom scale as standard equipment, to remove all doubt about the weight of pax + bags.
Embrace the idea that your license isn't the end of your learning: it represents a compelling opportunity, a call for life-long learning. Do read FLYING and other periodicals each month. Use the tools on the internet for enhanced learning. Fly while following the concept of Continuous Improvement, constantly striving to reduce your errors, flight by flight.
Be circumspect about your abilities. As Chuck Yeager has said on multiple occasions: "Remain withing your capabilities at all times". IF the weather briefer says it is three miles and 1000 feet, do you really want to take the chance of orphaning your kids and leaving your wife a widow with youngsters to raise alone? Discretion is often the better part of valor, in aviation and in life.
What are the five most useless things in aviation? Runway behind you, ceiling above you, air in the gas tanks, sleep you didn'tget the night before and a less than fully- engaged brain!
Surrey, British Columbia
The great thing about flight following is you can start it while you’re enroot. Its supper easy for VFR pilots to schedule and provides great experience talking to controllers. I find flight following extremely convenient when flying into area I am not familiar with and have precious cargo (my wife) on board. I recommend VFR flight following any time you go into busy airspace.
This is great advice.
I always request flight following - whether on a cross country or in a practice area doing some stalls and steep turns. Flight following can never hurt, it can only help, and even once prevented me from punching a Memorial Day 2010 TFR that snared 11 other GA pilots, mentioned in another article.
I am a VFR rated PPL. About a year ago I was returning home from visiting my god-children (LWM -> FRG) at about 23:30 local. The weather forecast was clear but it was a hot, humid summer night. Boston Approach called me to report a line of thunderstorms sprouting up, "15 miles ahead in my path of flight".
The guidance you'll get with flight following isn't the same as with IFR - instead the controller told me about the storms, recommended I deviate to the South, and will get back to me shortly to get my intentions. She went on to talk to a bunch of airlines. About two minutes later she asked me for my intentions; I responded "turning South, direct to Providence, RI and then we'll head West, Direct to FRG". The controller responded that this would get me around the storms with comfortable margins. She then asked for my on-course heading and "please verify enough fuel for the new course."
I was grateful to just not end up in a random storm... at night. All the additional support was above and beyond the call of duty for that controller. That kind of support for GA pilots is enormously appreciated and it speaks to the professionalism of the men and women who work ATC.
New York City
I use VFR flight following for every VFR flight, period.
There are, however, reasons to not file IFR in good weather, especially where I operate in the New York City area. The delays and circuitous routes are wasteful and maddening. One has to be careful though. There's no pop-up IFR here, so if you get stuck above a deck or your airport suddenly goes IFR (like when there's a moist southerly flow and cool air over land) one frequently has to take a long unexpected excursion to somewhere else to land and then file IFR. There are some tricks and work-arounds, but they're not for the inexperienced or faint of heart.
I've become much more conservative and now accept that part of the price of living in this area is spending the extra time and money for IFR handling.
They must be very high powerlines if center still has radar coverage to give flight following.
Also, if I recall correctly, flight following does not separate you from non participating non-mode C airplanes, say a Kolb or a glider.
I'm sure we're all aware that ATC actually WANTS us all to be on frequency so that they can communicate with US, when needed. I've listened to several ATC controllers would don't mind the extra workload to handle VFR traffic in exchange for having the awareness of your intentions and the ability to communicate with you.
I've personally used VFR flight following even when practicing flight maneuvers just circling in an area. It's great to have those extra eyeballs watching for traffic and they don't mind, especially at the fringes of a Class B area. It also makes life a lot simpler when transitioning through a Class C airspace en route rather than maneuvering around or above them.
Use it often and then when you're ready for your IFR training, you'll already have a great deal of comfort talking with busy controllers and learning how they operate.
Palo Alto, CA