Max Trescott was the 2008 National Certified Flight Instructor of the Year. Based in Palo Alto, California, he publishes aviation books and software, including Max Trescott’s GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook and Max Trescott’s G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook. He teaches in Cirrus and other glass cockpit aircraft, and in Lake amphibians. He can be reached through g1000book.com. He says:
I worry that the FAA’s Private Practical Test Standard (PTS) does a disservice to private pilot candidates by requiring three hours of flying solely by reference to instruments. I suspect it creates complacency in some newly minted private pilots who think, “Hey, no problem if I blunder into a cloud. I’ve had three hours of instrument instruction, so I can handle it!”
Nothing could be further from the truth. VFR-into-IMC accidents have a 90 percent fatality rate and kill both private and instrument-rated pilots. Perhaps if the PTS required no instrument instruction, private pilots would get the correct message: “Don’t enter a cloud under penalty of death!”
So how can pilots enhance their safety? First, they can get thorough training on how to use the autopilot if there is one in the airplane they fly. Some CFIs feel that using the auto-pilot is “cheating” or they lack knowledge on autopilots, so you may need to read the manual if your CFI can’t or won’t give you detailed autopilot training. Use the autopilot at night when the horizon is poorly defined or any time there’s danger of entering a cloud.
Next, if there’s an instrument landing system (ILS) at a nearby airport, find its frequency and note it on a kneeboard or smartphone so you always have it. Then get a CFI to demonstrate using an ILS for a straight-in approach to the airport. Use the ILS as supplemental guidance when you fly into the airport at night to avoid the “black hole” type of accidents that occur when there are few lights on the ground as you approach an airport.