Relieving the Stress of IIMC
DIRECTORATE OF ASSESSMENTS AND PREVENTION
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
We all know that Army aviation is an inherently dangerous profession. One of the most hazardous (and scariest) situations for any aircrew member is inadvertently encountering instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Army aviators are highly motivated and skilled warriors with an important mission to accomplish. Unfortunately, this same motivation can be a double-edged sword. A professional Soldier/aviator is driven by a sense of duty to country, accomplishment of the unit mission and the welfare of fellow Soldiers. This drive could, at times, cloud one’s judgment. For example, if an aircrew doesn’t get the needed supplies, ammo or water to the troops on time, the results could be catastrophic. Or if a combat medical evacuation pilot can’t take off immediately to pick up an injured Soldier, then the pilot feels the fate of the Soldier rests in their hands. That first “golden hour” is a critical time for a severely injured Soldier.
This is where training and discipline can and will make the difference between a successful mission and a disaster. We’re taught in flight school to “fly” the aircraft. If that’s not accomplished without hesitation, nothing else matters. Knowing all the procedures in the world will not save you if aircraft control is lost.
We train our aircrews to avoid entering IMC inadvertently at all costs. We tell them over and over to not fly visual flight rules (VFR) in instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions. It's dangerous. We've all seen accident posters showing the catastrophic results. If weather is bad, don't fly. If you launch and the weather gets bad, turn around and go back, or land and wait it out. Or, if you’re trained, equipped, prepared and proficient for IMC flight, request an IFR clearance from air traffic control and continue the mission IMC. Of course, that last option might not always be available while deployed, depending on local navigation aids and instrument approaches. IIMC causes
Some conditions that cause aviators to enter IIMC include poor pre-mission planning, failure to update the weather brief before takeoff, continuing the mission too long while encountering deteriorating weather conditions, self-imposed stress to accomplish the mission (real or perceived), flying with night vision goggles and losing situational awareness. Mitigate the risks
To prepare for IIMC, you must first make the conscious decision that continued flight under visual meteorological conditions (VMC) is no longer possible, and then decide to either turn around, land immediately (if possible), request an IFR clearance in-flight, or execute established IIMC procedures. Many aviators have said that for a split second they thought about trying to fly down to the ground when they encountered IIMC. The moment you “punch in,” the ground is no longer your friend! What happens next when IIMC conditions are encountered? Your IIMC tasks outlined in the appropriate training circular/aircrew training manual, local SOPs and other regulations should be second nature; therefore, appropriate actions should be taken immediately. What should you do?
Below is a basic overview of what to do when encountering IIMC. This is not intended to replace the published standardized IIMC procedures for your aircraft or unit. These basic items are here to make you think about the possible sequence of events if you should ever encounter IIMC.
- Maintain proper aircraft control and make the transition to IFR immediately. Level the wings on the attitude indicator; maintain heading and turn only to avoid known obstacles.
- Initiate a climb immediately to an appropriate altitude that has been determined during pre-mission planning. Adjust torque to climb power and adjust airspeed to climb airspeed.
- Comply with local IIMC procedures.
- Monitor the attitude indicator and immediately alert the other pilot of any unusual attitude condition.
- Tune the avionics to the appropriate emergency frequency and set the transponder to the appropriate emergency code.
- Request air traffic control assistance; acknowledge and record the appropriate information.
- Correctly perform crew coordination actions.
Again, this sequence of events does not replace your unit’s established SOPs or regulations. IIMC doesn’t have to occur. Staying ahead of the aircraft and the weather, coupled with compliance to established procedures, can prevent it. Through proper training, pre-mission planning, strong aircrew coordination skills and strict adherence to SOPs, much of the IIMC stress can be relieved.