What part of “cloud” don’t you understand?

October 30, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

VFR pilots getting into clouds is an old story. According to the 2007 Joseph T. Nall Report, 20 single engine pilots had accidents, most of them fatal, from this type of weather encounter. Everyone in the business warns against VFR cloud busting, but we don’t know how many successful attempts are made.

Perhaps the odds on any particular flight are pretty good, which is why some pilots continue to press on. In many cases though, do you ever wonder why the pilot is the only one who can’t see looming disaster? ASF developed a case study on the topic which recreates one of these tragic accidents .

It’s been one of our best. One recent reviewer said, “This has to be one of the best courses I have ever taken or viewed. …Not only is the material of great use, the emotional value hits home. You can’t help but to watch this and know what that pilot was going through. The use of the simulation as a component of this training was very helpful. Very, very well done.”

I encourage you to watch and send us your comments – constructive criticism is always welcome along with kudos. Better yet, if you know a VFR pilot who doesn’t get the cloud thing, forward the link!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Jay Hopkins

    The VFR into IFR case study is awesome. I will probably write about it in Flying to try to steer more pilots to taking it. I believe it could save many lives.

    One problem – at the end it showed a quiz, but no quiz came up on the screen. If there is a quiz, it isn’t working. If there is not a quiz, you need to remove the quiz tab.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • joe grimes

    As with all AOPA web info, the case study was well though out.

    Regarding VFR flight into IMC, I believe peer pressure is a significant influence.

    Far too often we hear tales of daring-do from “heros” who have dared to “go where angles fear to tread”. The unitiated believe this baloney and try it themselves. Fools survive their own stupidity because of blind luck.

    Conversely, professional pilots (paid or un-paid) use good judgement, preparation and an honest assessment of skills to protect themselves and thier passengers.

  • J. R. Merola

    What part of flying through a cloud don’t you understand? Sometimes the only way to get from “A” to “B” is to fly through a cloud, even a newly minted Private Pilot can do that. If you’re not current on the gages then get a competent instructor, that is if you can find one. That’s what you should be telling people not all this cloud nonsense……J.R.

  • Daniel

    I expect will be reading a great deal more about J. R. Merola in an upcoming NTSB accident investigation.

  • Dan Hayes

    I would recommend the “Accident Case Study: VFR Into IMC” to others – very nicely done!

    There are no guarantees expressed or implied of the accuracy or correctness of the contents of this message, and the Author is not liable for the taking of any action in reliance upon the contents of this message. As always, do your own research.

  • Aaron Schardt


    Absolutely terrific lesson on why not to fly into IMC! I would encourage you to do more of these interactive type of lessons. Nothing hits home like a true story and to present it in this very realistic format truly made me sit back and think. As someone else said here, very nicely done.

    Thank you,

  • Jim McCord

    A tragic, but well presented, case story that I will recommend to my students. This was not a flight where an instrument rating would have been the answer due to the low temperatures and icing, so a plan B was needed – either an alternate travel arrangement, or a plan to stop short of the bad weather and wait it out or rent a car.

    I believe that sometimes the “utility” of GA is not put in a proper perspective for new (and experienced) pilots. While traveling in a light airplane is a wonderful way to get from point A to point B, and is often a very reliable form of transortation, it is simply not the way to go if you absolutely, positively, have to be there. This is true with the airlines also, of course, but if they cancel, you have someone to blame it on :-)

  • R. Kennel

    The second comment said conversely professinal pilots use good judgement ,preparation and and an honest assesment of skills to protect themselves and passengers. Have you’ve ever gone on U tube and seached aircraft accidents. What about Tener Reef the all time worst aviation accident, those pilots weren’t GA Pilots. Everyone can make mistakes. Thats why professionals crash too, they think it can’t happen to them, Just like GA

  • R. Kennel

    I see (paid or unpaid) following professional pilot was added. I would have to change my last statement. Professional pilots do you use good judgement,preparation,ect. to protect themselves and passengers. May all passengers of planes get a professional pilot.

  • Frank Reinmiller

    Excellent Job Bruce keep up the good work, see you in san jose

  • Debie

    Just a big thanks for the time & effort put into the video. My husband and I are both failrly new pilots with less than 250 hours each.

    This Wednesday we were headed from New Mexico to MMNG, enroute to a lake in Mexico for Thanksgiving. Just West of Douglas AZ, the sky looked like we were headed into very heavy rain with dark clouds. We called flightwatch on 122.0 and they said it looked like a thin line of light to moderate showers, so we continued on & assumed the aircarft would get a much needed wash. Within minutes it deterioriated into heavy rain and visibility dropped to zero. Reminded of your video, which we watched last month, we made an immidiate U turn and landed Dougas, cancellng our flight plan and filing a pilot report.

    After about 15 minutes on the ground (a chance to regroup and a nice potty break for our children!), the line passed, the sky cleared to the South & we continued our flight into Mexico without event.

    We were very grateful for having watched your video. It became very apparent that conditions can turn bad in a hurry. A short break allowed us to continue a nice flight, a wonderful weekend & a chance to finish our IFR training!

    WE will be watching everthing you publish!