There are weather days you should not fly. In the Southeast and East, there are about 30-40 days a year that should not have any single engine airplanes flying around in them. (Heck, there are 10 or so when they park the airliners.) An instrument pilot is not deterred by clouds, rain, or normal wind. I have many, many times done the pre-flight in the rain and scud under an umbrella and departed in complete safety to climb through the gunk to the brilliant sunshine above.
What deters single engine pilots are ice and thunderstorms. Ice is a sometime thing which occurs only in the presence of visible moisture some of the time. But it is a serious phenomenon when it occurs, and if you collect more than a little of it, you should proceed immediately to a precautionary landing at the nearest airport and wait a couple of hours. Fortunately, in most of the US, you will never more than 30-40 miles (15 min) from an airport, and ice doesn’t load onto the plane that fast.
Thunderstorms are no big deal when they are by themselves. You simply locate them on the screen of the GPS and steer around. But when they line up, watch out. Even big planes don’t play with squall lines. When you see this on the screen of the GPS, it is time to get on the ground. Again, fortunately, this sort of weather usually moves through at a fast clip.
Many people are spooked by turbulence. And bouncing around is not very comfortable. But as a pilot, you will know that it is simply rising and falling columns of air, which thump you as you pass through them. On a hot day, the air over the blacktop parking lot at Walmart is rising. This rising air displaces cool air at altitude, which falls. As you come along, these aerial potholes provide the bumps. Probably 99.99% of turbulence is benign. Dangerous turbulence is rare, and it is well forecast. At Windsong, you will be taught to fly high when going cross country. Most turbulence ceases at the base of the clouds. When you file an instrument flight plan and go high, it is cool and comfortable, but you still have to climb and descend through the bumps.
As with any complicated endeavor, you will not be an expert very quickly. Of course, the same can be said of many things. Most of us would not graduate from the bunny school at the ski slopes and immediately head for the 10 mile uber-expert trail. You could get killed. The same is true for flying. I usually recommend that new instrument pilots fly with an instructor for the first 10 trips or so, just for insurance. As confidence grows, so does pride in accomplishment and the practical value of the skill.
There are people who should not be at the controls. You will have to pass a medical exam every two or three years, and you will not pass if you are on mind altering medication, particularly anti-depressants. Other common reasons not to pass are heart trouble or high blood pressure. And you cannot fly at night if you are color blind. Surprisingly, type 2 diabetes is not usually a factor in passing. Nor are problems with eyesight or hearing. You can fly if you are correctable to 20/30 or have hearing aids that get you close to normal.
Also, the FAA is very strict about any substance offences in a pilot’s background. If a pilot gets a DUI conviction, he/she must report it to the FAA, and often the flying license is revoked as well, though not always. If you have any substance convictions in your background, the FAA will jump you through some hoops before allowing you to fly. And no one with such convictions is allowed to fly for pay.
And lastly, a short discussion on fear… I won’t address the normal insecurities of training. It is my job to minimize and eliminate them. If I do my job right, this will not be a factor. However, I would like to comment on a few of the common comments I have heard. First, will I get sick? Well, maybe. But your body and brain will adapt. After two or three days of training, it will go away. Only about 10% of students ever get sick anyway. Second, I am afraid of heights. Again, set your mind at ease. The sort of fear that comes from a 20 foot ladder doesn’t apply to flying. I have never had a student for whom this was a problem, including several who assured me that they were terrified of heights. Third, that plane looks mighty small. Well, I guess it is compared to an airliner. But single engine planes are incredibly strong and larger than you think when you really walk around them. My Cessna is 30 feet long, as big as the interior of and SUV inside, and has a huge trunk.
You know, most people would go deep sea fishing without a thought in a 30 foot boat and stay out all night. We are only going to be in the plane for four hours tops. And last, people say, “I don’t really like flying in an airliner that much”. Well, I certainly agree wholeheartedly. Personally, I hate being locked up in a metal tube with all the other cattle and whooshed somewhere by someone I can’t see. A single engine plane is another world. Everything makes sense. You pull back, just a little, and the nose goes up a little. Turn the yoke, and the plane responds. You can see what is happening and why. You have the best seat in the house for some of the most beautiful sights you will ever see, and you have lots of room to move around. It is not scary.
The conclusion of all this is that flying is like any complicated endeavor; there are many things to be learned, some from training and others from experience. They are no more difficult or unpleasant than the factors associated with driving, but they are there and must be addressed.