Scud Running - NO, Just NO

10 Dec 2019

With the rainy weather and low cloud we have been experiencing recently, many pilots may start suffering from withdrawal symptoms. We all know that staying on the ground is probably the best option. But, what if the weather clears and you find yourself in the air and then mother nature decides to close up the skies again. 

Getting under a cloud layer and proceeding visually to a destination has been a temptation for pilots since the beginning. Airmail pilots, cruising at maybe 80 mph, had plenty of time to see and avoid obstacles down really low, but they still crashed aircraft. There were a lot fewer obstacles back then, and what we’re likely to be flying these days is a lot faster and with proliferating cell towers and radio masts scud becomes running riskier than ever.

The temptation is still there, though, often resulting from overconfidence in one’s abilities and supposed familiarity with the route, among other factors. Add in some pressure to complete the flight, whether self-imposed or demanded by passengers, and you’ll do what you can to find a way to complete the mission. That’s when the temptation to do something less than smart can be at its greatest.

That said, it’s always surprised me how many scud-running accidents occur shortly after take-off. Why take off into bad weather for which you’re not equipped or prepared? Do you really think and expect things to get better? I can almost understand scud-running close to a destination—almost—but why anyone would depart with the intent to scud run will remain one of life’s little mysteries.

In fact, the classic scud-running accident usually occurs not far from a destination, whether the original or a divert field. The VFR-only pilot just has to go just a little further to make it home in deteriorating weather. The aircraft likely is equipped for at least light IFR and these days, there’s at least one moving map. It gets even sadder when the aircraft and pilot are fully IFR-capable.

The antidote is pretty much the same as it ever was: Turn around, or climb and confess your predicament to ATC. If you do either one right, you’ll likely live through it and not be subject to an enforcement action.

Please guys let’s keep it safe out there, and remember the aviation community in South Africa are generally good guys, if weather keeps you grounded someone from the community will be willing to put you up for the night and you will walk away with a new friend or two and your life very much intact.    

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