Scud Running - Flying VFR into IMC - An Idea for Instructors (and others)

In the past I have flown aircraft into met conditions that were way worse than the legal met minima (scud running).  In fact on occasions I was down right stupid!  I am not proud of the fact and I am sure not going to do it again.  Some of my friends and other aviation associates tell scud running war stories that I simply do not understand.  I can't see how they would have been able see to fly the aircraft.

I'm sure you can all relate similar stories.  Like the young C Cat ferrying an aircraft back to their aero club…   Needed to get there...   Sighted flying at tree top height in near zero visibility...   Planted the aircraft into one of those trees...   Took out the left side of the cockpit...   Luckily they were flying from the right seat.

A buddy of mine, co-pilot in a chopper in Antarctica, had to take control from the disoriented pilot and only just managed to maintained control by reference to a lone sea lion or some such animal, the rest was complete whiteout.  He was not amused!

Many are not so lucky.  But how can we stop the resulting unnecessary loss of life?

I used to think the Darwin principle would eventually purge the gene pool of those inclined to such folly.  But that is patently not an adequate strategy.

Simply telling pilots to follow the law and never fly below 500 ft, regardless of the weather, would certainly stop these scud running accidents.  But I'm not sure this is as effective, on its own, as it needs to be.

A while ago I read an article by an Aussie researcher who was exploring visual illusions that he hypothesized were inducing pilots to fly on into deteriorating weather, without fully appreciating the extent of the deterioration.  Seemed plausible enough, but again I'm not sure that knowing about the illusion, on its own, is enough to stop it trapping pilots.

Now for my bob’s worth...   I reflect back on my own experience, and I don't think I'm too different to most others.  I found it hard to decide to divert away from bad weather the first time I needed to, but I found it a little easier the second time, and easier still the third time, etc.   Now it's very easy!   Scud running is a mug's game, essentially Russian Roulette.

I wonder if instructors can help by deliberately creating situations where students, and other less experienced pilots, are required to make real weather related divert decisions. The objective being to support these pilots through the first few divert decisions, so that when they are PIC and faced with weather decisions they have real experience to help them.

And I mean real weather.   Instructors should look for opportunities the fly in less than optimal weather.  For example, Special VFR in controlled airspace - appropriately cleared, and at the legal minima outside controlled airspace.   Initially local, and then on cross-country flights that they know are not going to proceed as initially planned.   These may well be the most valuable flights students will undertake, and should not be avoided because of the Holy Grail of 'limited hours’, 'the syllabus' or 'it costs too much'.

Now exactly what is "less than optimal weather" depends on instructor experience, on the terrain and on the trend in the weather pattern.   And I strongly advise extreme conservatism in this assessment.  It is better to choose only mild conditions to start with, and at all times instructors should remain well within the law and within their capability.  Less experienced instructors should talk to other instructors if they think it will help.

The last thing I want is to induce a poor airmanship decisions, but part of instructor responsibility is to create learning experiences for their students that will keep them alive in their future.