by Jonathan M. Stern
Limitations of Visual Flight
My father worked for a Fortune 500 company that owned several corporate jets. When I was 13, I occasionally rode along in the jump seat. These little jets seated only 7 or 8 passengers and pilots but they had a tremendous amount of power and could fly to 30,000 or 40,000 feet. I remember being amazed at the sensation of power as the planes would quickly take off. From that time, I've always wanted to fly.
Visual flight involves control of the airplane with reference to the horizon and navigation by visual reference to landmarks. Some call it fair-weather flying.
Flight under visual flight rules—or VFR—vastly limits what can be done with an airplane. Say, for example, you've planned a weekend flight from Santa Monica out to Catalina Island, a short hop over the Pacific of only 38 nautical miles. The weather is perfect, except that there is a broken layer of clouds 600 feet above the ground. Above that one layer of clouds, the sky is as blue as the water lapping at the shores of Aruba. Chances are you're grounded (see Figure 9.1).
Figure 9.1. It may be beautiful above the clouds, but, without an instrument rating, you can't get there.
The Federal Aviation Regulations (at 14 Code of Federal Regulations § 91.155) set forth the minimum visibilities and distances from clouds for VFR operation of airplanes. These appear in Tables 9.1 and 9.2.
Now, suppose that you bought the Brewster Sporty, a high-performance, turbo-charged single capable of climbing to 26,000 feet in only 12 minutes and equipped with a supplemental oxygen system for pilots and passengers. Too bad! No VFR flights are permitted above 18,000 feet.
What if you have planned a 350 nautical mile trip, say from Atlanta to a quiet beach town in Florida, but the weather forecast in Florida calls for some low clouds upon your arrival. Do you make the trip and risk not being able to land at your destination?
Whether in real life or with Flight Simulator, being instrument flight capable (and, of course, proficient) gives you exponentially greater opportunity in an airplane. If you made it this far, I believe that you'll enjoy continuing to learn to fly on instruments.