Flying in the Clouds is Different From “Under the Hood”…

FAA Safety Team | Safer Skies Through Education
Pilot Insights – It’s just a little weather – what’s the big deal?
Notice Number: NOTC5940
There is a big misconception about the complexities of flying in clouds. There are lots of YouTube videos and flying magazine articles about flights into clouds that result in fatalities. Among them, you’ll find one that says: “I don’t understand how anyone could make that mistake. All you have to do is look at that artificial horizon thing to figure out whether your wings are level or not.” Or, perhaps you are a low-time Private Pilot. You received three hours of instrument training with a hood of some type, and you did pretty well. So, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that flying in a cloud is very different than pretending to fly in a cloud!

Here are two things to know before you fly in a cloud for real:

How flying “in the weather” differs from flying “under the hood”.
How to prepare for entering the clouds.

When you were certified you demonstrated your ability to fly straight and level, make climbs and descents and fly toward a VOR without looking outside of the plane. But, that hood, in short doses, does not demonstrate that you can maintain control of the aircraft while you are:

Entering data into the GPS.
Talking to someone.
Navigating to the correct point.
Fighting the fear that something very bad is going on.
Trying to calm your passengers who also know that you are in over your head.
Or, doing all these things at once.
And, never getting even a glimpse of the sky or ground to reorient your head.
Flying in the clouds for real, you see nothing outside but the inside of a cotton ball. Your head tells you one thing about your orientation; your instruments tell you something totally different. And, when you look away from the attitude indicator to retune a radio or GPS, the airplane has a tendency to roll into a bank without you seeing it or feeling it. When that bank degenerates into a descending spiral, all of the back pressure in the world will not stop the descent.

So, what do you do? Stay out of the clouds until you have your instrument rating. Do this by obtaining and HEEDING weather reports. Then, if you inadvertently find yourself in in a cloud, get out the same way you got in; slow turn back around, slow wings-level descent back down, or slow wings-level climb out of the cloud.

Even today, after years of flying with an instrument rating, I know that when I enter the clouds my head and my body will need a minute or so to fully accept the situation. So here’s what I do to prepare for entering the clouds:

My technique is the same whether climbing into a cloud after takeoff or descending into a cloud for an approach. About fifteen seconds before I enter the cloud, I ensure that I am wings-level, and that my eyes and my mind are focused on the attitude indicator. Then I start that familiar chant in my head: Attitude, altitude; Attitude, heading; Attitude airspeed… By being mentally “on the gauges”, before I need to be, I slide into the weather with a minimum of discomfort.

The next time you have an opportunity to fly with an instructor, ask to practice these techniques with some real clouds.

Want to see the aftereffects of inadvertent IMC? Check out this video. It has been around a while but, it truly represents the feeling of the first time in the weather. And, for pilots without adequate training, it depicts the typical ending, which comes in about three minutes. – –

Christopher Hope
2015 FAASTeam Representative of the Year
To contact the author, go to:
For more information on the GA Awards program go to

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *