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Anyone can go IIMC no matter how experienced you are

Posted 1 years 199 days ago ago by Admin

No matter how experienced you are anyone can enter inadvertent instrument metrological conditions, IIMC.

I received this direct message on Facebook from a Mr. Jerry Murray after he read my comments on my Facebook page about the video 56 seconds to live about going inadvertent IMC and having only 56 seconds before you die.  Jerry wanted to add his personal story about going inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions as a cautionary tale for others. As he put it, “What I hope to convey to over-confident pilots is that I was prepared, current and proficient and had alternatives available. But it only takes a few seconds.”

Here is Jerry’s background:  Jerry graduated from Army flight school in February 1974.  He flew general support/VIP unit flying UH-1 Hueys in Korea from 1974-75.  He returned to Fort Rucker as an instructor pilot teaching undergraduate Contact Tactics, and NOE (nap-of-the-earth) from 1975-1977. He stayed flying with the National Guard until 2003.  While flying for the National Guard in California, Jerry says he was fortunate to gain a wide range of experience to include providing support to Special Forces, Navy Seals and Marine Force Recon. He served two short tours in Germany flying the OPFOR (opposing force) helicopter and some time flying flood and fire duty in the UH-1, OH-58 and CH-47. 

To fill in more of the back story of his experience, here are related publications he has written and technical presentations he’s given:       “Environmental Factors for I2 Night Vision Device Requirements” American Helicopter Society, Virginia Beach, VA, 1997

"Content and Media Analysis for Intelligent Helmet Mounted Displays" Society of Optical Engineering, Orlando, FL, 1997

"Object-Oriented Programming in the Development of Real-Time Rotorcraft Simulations" [SCS] European Simulation Symposium, Dresden, Germany, 1992

"Integrating Multiple Expert Systems in Intelligent Crew Stations" Expert Systems Applications Conference, Los Angeles, 1991

"Automation in Complex Man-Machine Systems: The Role of Planning in Evaluating Design Alternatives"

The AAAI Workshop on Automated Planning for Complex Domains, Eight National Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Boston, MA., 1990.        Contributor for “Human performance models for computer-aided engineering”

Jerome I. Elkind, National Research Council (U.S.). Panel on Pilot Performance Models in a Computer-Aided Design Facility.

Contributor, National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Human Factors. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Academy Press, Washington D.C. 1989

Now, here is Jerry’s IIMC story that he wanted to relay:

Hi Randy.  I wanted to comment on your post of 56 seconds to live about going IIMC. It can happen to anyone no matter how experienced you are. I am retired and there is no other purpose for my post than to suggest how a lesson can be provided from my event.   

In my view, too many pilots assume it is always someone who is not experienced or proficient who finds themselves in trouble. The only thing that matters at this stage of my life is we do not lose any more friends hence my message to you.  It is my wish to convey to over-confident pilots is that I was prepared, current and proficient and had alternatives available. But it only takes a few seconds and it could have turned out much more differently than it did, thank goodness.

At the time, I had an ATP-Helicopter IFR rating and was flying an IFR certified BH206L3 for a bank on a flight from Boston to a VFR only airport on Cape Cod. The weather was clear everywhere except on Cape Cod. The nearest airport with reporting weather was 15 miles away from my destination which reported a 800 foot overcast. I was current for IFR in both the BH206L3 and the military helicopters I flew at the time. I had recently passed a military IFR checkride and also had recently flown a practice IFR approach to the nearest approach available to my destination.

Weather was clear except for a low ceiling starting about eight miles from my destination. I attempted to remain VFR but I as a precaution I tuned in approach control to monitor traffic in the area.  There wasn’t any.      Soon the low ceiling was developing into a fog layer and I knew I was close to becoming IIMC. I started a climb and called approach control and received an IFR clearance immediately. Everything was fine, that is until the passengers had trouble calling for alternative transportation on their phone.   

While in a level climb, I turned my head to the right to address the passengers in the back of my helicopter. After only a few seconds, I turned my head back forward and noticed my attitude indicator had failed – or so I thought.  It showed a descending right turn. I looked at my standby attitude indicator to confirm the failure of the primary attitude indicator, but to my horror, it showed the same descending right turn I was in. To verify that I was actually in a descending right turn, I checked my radar altimeter and the pointer was close to the bottom of the scale. Realizing by now I was flying in an actual unusual attitude, I fell back on my training and executed the procedure for unusual attitude recovery.  Luckily for me, and the passengers I was flying, everything else went smoothly. The passenger in the front seat did not recognize that this was a true emergency.

I flew that passenger a few weeks later and he told me he had mentioned the incident to a friend who was a pilot and his friend say "Oh my god, were you afraid?" The passenger said he told his friend "I wasn't scared if the pilot wasn't scared." Then he looked right at me to read my expression and asked "We weren't scared... were we?" I lied and told him I was not.

I'm just a retired guy with memories but you are in a position to help people so anything I can do, I would be happy.

About Randy:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].