For general aviation pilots, instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) can often turn a normal flight into a life-or-death situation. If the aircraft is not equipped for IFR flight, or if the pilot is not proficient with the instruments, an emergency will quickly develop. Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid dangerous scenarios like that, and plenty of options to get out safely.
VFR flying is often relaxed and unstructured. With minimal training, the average pilot is legally qualified to fly in a broad range of weather conditions, as long as they meet the requirements for visual flight rules. Skipping weather briefings, ignoring warning signs, and yielding to external pressures are all possible reasons that a pilot might enter instrument conditions without being prepared for them. Often times it is not a conscious decision to fly in marginal weather. Usually it’s because the pilot in command delays a diversion or attempts to continue to the destination as the weather worsens.
To survive an unplanned IMC encounter, it is imperative that the pilot recognize the danger and treat the situation as an emergency. At that point, he can begin to use available resources to get down safely. Many instructors recommend using the autopilot, if the plane is equipped with one. If the plane just entered the clouds, the pilot has to make a decision to either execute a 180 degree turn, or he can try to descend/climb out of them. Immediately talking to air traffic control and getting help from them is also important. If there is a risk of icing, pitot heat and carburetor heat should immediately be switched on; the outside air temperature should also be closely monitored.
IFR flying is a very challenging task, and for any VFR general aviation pilot, it is definitely an emergency situation. Getting out safely all depends on how fast the pilot responds to the problem, and if he is able to stay collected and focused. Once someone begins to panic or become disorientated, it becomes near impossible to recover. Receiving instrument training is a great way to improve safety, and it helps pilots be more prepared for challenging weather conditions. Hopefully with a greater focus on risk management in training now, new pilots will be more aware of the dangers of flying VFR into IMC, and will take appropriate measures to fly within their personal safety limits.