Another of those “better to be down here” experiences

There is an old pilot’s expression: “It’s better to be down here wishing you were up there, than to be up there wishing you were down here”. In other words, it’s better to be disappointed than to be in trouble.

Today we were hoping to fly down to Pittsburgh for Laura’s move-out weekend, moving her out of her dorm room. But the weather forecast got worse and worse, and by yesterday evening it was apparent we wouldn’t be able to do it so I canceled the plane reservation and this morning we drove. Originally, the forecast was calling for “partially cloudy”, which usually means a scattered to broken layer, in Rochester, and “mostly sunny”, which usually means few to scattered clouds, in Pittsburgh.

I’ve accidentally let my IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) currency expire. Legally, that means I can’t even file IFR, but in terms of my own personal safety, I’d be willing to risk maybe punching up through a thin cloud deck that’s somewhere in the border line between VMC (visual meteorological conditions) and IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) and fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) on top, especially since the original forecast showed that I’d be surer of VMC by the time I got to Pittsburgh.

90% of my IFR flying is up through a layer, in the clear on top, and then down through a layer again, breaking out well before the approach starts, and I almost never get a real approach in real instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). That’s why my currency expired – you have to have done 6 instrument approaches and a hold in the last 6 months to stay current. And since I’m not getting them in real IMC, I really should have called up another pilot to go out and do some practice approaches under a view limiting device, but I didn’t do much of any flying over the winter.

For those sorts of conditions like I thought I’d be facing, I can’t believe I’m that much less safe when it’s been 6 months and 7 days since my last IFR practice than when it’s only been 5 months and 29 days since. But there’s no way I’d launch into real IMC while out of currency. And as we got closer to the day of departure, it was obvious that today was going to be a real IMC day, especially in Rochester. Last time I looked at the forecast before I got disgusted with the whole thing, they were calling for ceilings lower than 600 feet in Rochester.

As a matter of fact, on the drive we passed right through the “rabbit” (the approach lights) for Buffalo airport, and a large turboprop commuter was breaking out near minimums on the approach. That’s when I finally felt better about the decision. I’d known it was the right decision before, but that was when my heart was in agreement with my brain.