by Dave Corbi, MedFlight 4 Pilot
Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Condition (IIMC) is a potentially deadly situation that flight teams may encounter while operating in marginal weather conditions. According to a recent FAA study: “Tests conducted with qualified instrument pilots indicated that it can take as long as 35 seconds to establish full control via instruments once visual reference to the horizon is lost.” While MedFlight operates under visual flight rules (VFR), each pilot is instrument-rated and trained to fly in IIMC conditions.
The pilot is always in command of the aircraft. However, safe operations is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone on-board the helicopter should have a vested interest in the safe completion of every flight. These crew resource management (CRM) actions during an IIMC event may assist the pilot and ultimately the safe completion of the flight:
- A clinical team member’s actions should always support the pilot’s actions. Keep the pilot situationally aware of deteriorating weather conditions. An example could be telling the pilot, “I can’t see the horizon any longer from the 2 o’clock to 5 o’clock position”.
- If the pilot is task-saturated, they may need you to make radio calls for them or perform other duties as requested. You may be asked to select and program frequencies or request assistance with air traffic control. Calls to your program’s communication center or operational control center are secondary to this radio traffic and should be completed following primary calls to local ATC.
- Assist in setting the aircraft GPS or communication radios as requested.
- Access information from the aviation resource manual or tablet and provide the pilot with requested information, such as frequencies, instrument approach plates and sectional charts.
- Ensure there is clear and concise communication between all team members on-board, and remain situationally-aware of the conditions you find yourself operating in.
It is important for crewmembers to understand IIMC avoidance and recovery procedures. Every crew member’s experience and knowledge can be helpful in the successful outcome of any in-flight emergency.. Take time regularly to train as a team, know where to locate and how to operate the above resources on your aircraft, and ask your pilot questions during your shift about these procedures.
Good crew resource management REQUIRES that you speak up when you have a concern. Do not let lack of experience, or pressure to accept a flight in less-than-ideal weather, influence your decision-making. Always trust your gut. Remember: “Three to go, one to say no.”