Terrain Flying Advisory Circular

What is Terrain Flying

Terrain Flying, Mountain Flying, Contour Flying, and Drainage Flying. All types of flying not often talked about in the lower 48 anymore. But more important than ever.  As we see flight training standards become laxer, and move away from real stick and rudder flying, it is more important than ever to remember the lessons learned by all those pilots who came before us.

While luckily it is not universal (yet), we see in some areas of our country where Flight Schools, Flight Instructors, and even some FAA employees push us away from high standards of airmanship in favor of what they claim to be “safer” training standards.  “Let’s not teach spins to our students because it is too dangerous and we’ll kill more people in training than we will save in the long run.”  “Don’t show students how to fly in low visibility and how to get out of it, just make sure they never fly in low visibility in the first place.”  “Don’t take instrument students into the clouds, just do all of their training under the hood in VMC, it is safer.”

Fortunately, those of us who have been around aviation for more than a few minutes can see through the veil of “safety” and know that the easy way is not always the right way.  Unfortunately, for those students who are new to aviation, they do not know any better that they are being deprived of skills needed to stay alive if they are going to set out to fly in conditions less than CAVU.  Some of these students and sadly their passengers, will die because the training they receive may meet the “minimums” set forth by the FAA, but in all reality, it is not good enough.

The Accidents

“Let’s not teach spins to our students because it is too dangerous and we’ll kill more people in training than we will save in the long run.”

I’d like to think the 20 people that died last year from in-flight loss of control accidents would’ve opted to go through spin training as a requirement during their private pilot training, rather than be dead.  I’d also like to think we can set standards in aviation to ensure flight instructors are well trained and spin training does not result in any accidents, but instead helps prevent them with increased airmanship skills.

“Don’t show students how to fly in low visibility and how to get out of it, just make sure they never fly in low visibility in the first place.”

Sadly, pilots routinely get themselves in over their heads, and some die.  To think we should impress upon all pilots that they must never fly in bad weather to such a degree that they never actually fly in bad weather (on purpose or on accident) is foolhardy at best.  Despite the best efforts of voices of reason, pilots will continue (on purpose or an accident) to get themselves in over their head with weather in-flight.  We MUST give them the skills not only to avoid such situations but also how to survive in those situations after they have erred.

“Don’t take instrument students into the clouds, just do all of their training under the hood in VMC, it is safer.”

I sadly have heard this too many times from flight school owners and flight instructors who were not taught to fly IFR in actual IMC.  It requires a lot of skill both as a teacher and as an instrument-rated pilot to be able to safely teach a student while flying in IMC.  That being said, those are the skills I’m looking for in a CFII.  A person not proficient enough to safely teach students in actual IMC conditions towards the issuance of their instrument rating should not hold privileges to teach instrument students at all.  Allowing students to become instrument-rated pilots without actual experience in the clouds is in my opinion, one of the great detriments to safety the FAA has allowed.

What is AC 91-15

Advisory Circular 91-15 is an AC published by the FAA over 60 years ago.  This booklet comes from a time before political correctness and “safety police” began whittling away at American Airmanship in our General Aviation pilots.  This booklet contains real, practical knowledge needed by anyone who intends to fly in the mountains, or anything other than the flatlands of Florida.  AC 91-15 talks about:

The Booklet

The original Advisory Circular was available in print in the 1960’s from $0.75 from the FAA.  It is no longer printed, and copies are much more difficult to find.  We have digitized all of the pages from the original booklet, so that this very hard-won knowledge from generations past can be passed on to future generations of aviators.  The knowledge shared here would take a lifetime and thousands of hours of flying to gain on your own.  This knowledge was paid for in the blood of pilots who were not fortunate enough in the past century to have it compiled in a nice neat pamphlet.  And, since the FAA has decided to stop distributing this knowledge, we thought we would step in and help.  Click here to start in Chapter 1: Terrain Flying.

For quick tips on Mountain Flying specifically, check out these notes here.