VFR Unleashed: Managing risk

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A group of AOPA event staff met up in Indiana in a pair of Cessna 182s full of camping gear crammed in the back seats. We would camp all week in the AirVenture “North 40,” taking in all the camaraderie and late-night hangouts, surrounded by cool airplanes and hundreds of fellow aviators.

But it was the trip getting to and from Oshkosh that really advanced my passion, experience, and wisdom for unleashed, long-range VFR flight.

The flight along the east side of Chicago’s shoreline was perhaps the most memorable part. Perfectly lit with my co-worker’s Cessna 182 a thousand feet or so off our left wing, I couldn’t believe the amazing view. On the trip home, we flew over Chicago’s Class B airspace as the sun set, affording stunning images of the city’s twinkling lights with the mammoth Chicago O’Hare International Airport and a brilliant orange sky in the background. This is VFR flying at its best, seeing the world and nature in some of its most beautiful forms.

Far beyond the beauty and enjoyment, however, I learned some critical lessons during those flights that have shaped my decision making during long VFR trips.

Lesson One: Always have a VFR way out. Better yet, do your best to not need one.

The flight to my overnight stop in Indiana to meet up with the second Skylane crew proved educational about the risks of summertime thunderstorms.

My right seater was a CFII, and he claimed pilot-in-command for the leg into Indianapolis Executive Airport because a wide swath of scattered but severe storms was closing in on our route of flight. There was a large enough hole between storms pictured on the EFB to initiate the flight, and an Indianapolis Approach controller who was providing flight following encouraged us that he could vector us between the radar-indicated precipitation.

We committed to have a clear VFR route to the nearest airport available to us at all times. But when visible lighting was striking ground a few miles off our left side, and when the storm cell closing in on Indianapolis Executive made the prospect of a go-around on landing untenable, we had clearly put ourselves too far at risk. By the time we taxied up to the FBO, the torrential rain had let loose and the FBO manager—who also happened to be the Skylane pilot we had come to meet—had a few choice

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