Without visual reference to the surface

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dstclair
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Without visual reference to the surface

Postby dstclair » Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:58 am

I was flying home this weekend and forecast in Dallas called for an overcast ceiling of 4000' going to broken/scattered around my intended arrival time. The route was clear, going to scattered, going to broken with the last 60nm having the potential of being overcast. Ceiling was OK for flying under but would be very bumpy due to high winds.

I flew over the clouds for a very smooth flight noting weather through ADS-B and ATC all along my route (forward, backwards and sideways). Plenty of ground visibility especially since I was a good 3500' above the tops. Clouds started to fill in and most Dallas area airports were reporting overcast so I descended below the clouds before any overcast layer. I had my hands full landing in 18G28 winds but, otherwise, a great flight.

I was exercising Sport pilot privileges and am 100% comfortable I adhered to FAR 61.315(c)(13) that states an SP must not operate "Without visual reference to the surface". I had this at all times and descended with the appropriate cloud clearances.

This brings up a topic for discussion.

Clearly, flying over a solid overcast would not be consistent with the FAR but I've heard some CFI's state that an SP cannot operate over a broken layer. I don't think this is in line with the FAR. A committee member posted on another forum that the intent of FAR 61.315(c)(13) was for spacial orientation so flying above clouds was OK provided there was reference to the ground (which would include broken layers up to 7/8). This makes sense otherwise I would think the reg would have referenced cloud coverage.

Thoughts?

P.S.
And, no, I don't want an FAA interpretation :)
dave

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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby 3Dreaming » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:25 pm

I agree, at all times you must have visual contact with the ground.

jnmeade
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby jnmeade » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:52 pm

Let me see. The reg says, :
"(13) Without visual reference to the surface."
The words seem pretty simple and clear to me. How can they infer a broken ceiling isn't OK or keeping upright by references to the clouds are? Are we discussing aviation? Oh, well, then, that explains it. The words obviously only mean what we want them to mean, right?
I'm willing to believe that "surface" in the context of the FAR in question means the surface of the earth, not the surface of a cloud or something else, so the idea that one can maintain spatial orientation with reference to clouds doesn't seem to fly (sorry, couldn't help myself). As an added note, I was flying VFR at night many years ago and had occasion to encounter a cloud layer that was on a slant. My eyes told me it was level but my attitude indicator disagreed. I followed the attitude indicator but it was alarmingly distracting to see that slanted cloud in that very dark sky.
The words seem pretty simple to me. It doesn't even say you have to see the earth's surface clearly. One could make the case that one could fly over a layer of fog so long as one could see down through it (now, you and I know that what is a pretty transparent fog layer when you're are looking down becomes an opaque layer when you're looking at it on a slant as in landing). Where does it imply that a certain percentage of cloud cover is implied in "visual reference"? It seems like pregnancy to me - either you is or you isn't. Now, I am not arguing that one can say that a tower sticking up through a fog bank constitutes "visual reference to the surface".

I don't see any proscription about flying over a broken layer. That does not mean you can descend through a broken layer legally if you don't have cloud clearances. But let me ask you this - have you ever seen a cloud bank that had a well defined edge? Maybe one on one side of a front? I could and have flown SP over a solid deck while within easy vision was clear sky and a clear view of the ground. So, it's patently obvious that one can fly over solid clouds and not necessarily be in violation.

We need to keep in mind that what we see determines cloud coverage. AWOS/ASOS cover a limited portion of the sky. The cloud bank can be sitting right on top of the weather station and be called overcast while the end of the runway is in sunlight. When dealing with AWOS/ASOS, it's good to have both trends in time and reports from surrounding stations before putting utter reliance on them. ATIS are usually changed on the hour, and it is not at all uncommon for cloud cover to change without an ATIS change, especially if the clouds were high enough that the change didn't affect IFR/VFR conditions.

We should all be safe and we should be competent and we should obey the FAR's unless we need to ignore one due to emergency. We should also avoid interpreting FAR's more stringently than they are written. If the words don't mean what they say, we should have a Chief Counsel's decision or some other acceptable document that we can refer to, not what other's, no matter how well intentioned, "think".

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drseti
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby drseti » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:46 pm

jnmeade wrote:we should obey the FAR's unless we need to ignore one due to emergency.


In an emergency, you're never ignoring an FAR, you are merely exercising your PIC responsibility under FAR 91.3 (b) to deviate from any FAR to the extent necessary to deal with the emergency.

As for the question posed in the thread, it is my personal interpretation that the intent of the SP FAR was for you to fly under the broken layer, not above it. To the extent that regulatory intent seems to govern FAA actions, I wouldn't advise pushing it.
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC, iRMT
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jnmeade
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby jnmeade » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:01 pm

drseti wrote:In an emergency, you're never ignoring an FAR, you are merely exercising your PIC responsibility under FAR 91.3 (b) to deviate from any FAR to the extent necessary to deal with the emergency.


OK, given that I am focusing on the exact wording on visual reference to the surface, it is fair that you brought the exact reading to the point I was making. Thank you for correcting me. I should have been more precise.

As for the question posed in the thread, it is my personal interpretation that the intent of the SP FAR was for you to fly under the broken layer, not above it. To the extent that regulatory intent seems to govern FAA actions, I wouldn't advise pushing it.


One would hope the FAA intended what it wrote, wouldn't one?

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drseti
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby drseti » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:14 pm

jnmeade wrote:One would hope the FAA intended what it wrote, wouldn't one?


One can always hope that, but if past letters of interpretation from FAA Legal are any indication, those hopes are seldom realized. :(
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC, iRMT
AvSport of Lock Haven
fly@AvSport.org
http://AvSport.org
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dstclair
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby dstclair » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:22 pm

Paul - you would've gotten the highest rating on your Webinar tonight if it hadn't been for the question pertaining to this topic :D

You did answer consistent with your post and did mention it was not a 'legal' opinion but I believe you a confusing what is a prudent decision versus what is allowed via the regs. It would stand to reason that the FAA would've used their own language which has definitions for 'ceiling' and 'broken' if the intent was for a Sport Pilot to stay underneath a broken layer. The language uses the words 'visual reference to the surface' and does not reference specific cloud cover. Therefore flying over a broken layer that allows reference to the ground is within the realm of sport pilot privileges.

I'm sure we'll agree to disagree :-)
dave

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drseti
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby drseti » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:30 pm

dstclair wrote:I'm sure we'll agree to disagree :-)


Count on it, Dave. :wink:
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC, iRMT
AvSport of Lock Haven
fly@AvSport.org
http://AvSport.org
http://facebook.com/SportFlying

FlyingForFun
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FlyingForFun » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:41 pm

Delete
Last edited by FlyingForFun on Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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FastEddieB
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FastEddieB » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:50 pm

As an aside, I have many, many hours logged flying on top of, and within, overcast layers and cloud decks. As a Private, then Instrument Rated, then Commercial Pilot and CFI/CFII.

What seems nonsensical is that I can no longer fly "without visual reference to the surface" just because my medical expired. It's not like I lost any previously learned skill sets just because I don't have a medical. Same with night and over 10,000'. Makes no sense.

Oh, we'll, it is what it is. :|
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FlyingForFun
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FlyingForFun » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:52 pm

Delete
Last edited by FlyingForFun on Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FastEddieB » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:54 pm

FlyingForFun wrote:No way. A Sport Pilot cannot fly above a broken ceiling. That makes no sense. How would he get up there and how would he get down.


The same way non-instrument pilots do it every day - getting above it while in the clear and descending once clear of the layer.

How wise it is can be debated, but it's done all he time.
Fast Eddie B.

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drseti
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby drseti » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:55 pm

Eddie, don't you recall that, when you used to take FAA physicals, the AME tested your ability to see through clouds? Without a medical certificate, there's just no way we can be sure you still have that skill.
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D., CFII, LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC, iRMT
AvSport of Lock Haven
fly@AvSport.org
http://AvSport.org
http://facebook.com/SportFlying

FlyingForFun
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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FlyingForFun » Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:58 pm

Delete
Last edited by FlyingForFun on Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Without visual reference to the surface

Postby FastEddieB » Wed Sep 11, 2013 10:01 pm

drseti wrote:Eddie, don't you recall that, when you used to take FAA physicals, the AME tested your ability to see through clouds? Without a medical certificate, there's just no way we can be sure you still have that skill.


A bit far afield, and I know (hope) you're joking, but they did test my ability to differentiate aviation red, white and green in an aircraft using light gun signals, since I can't see squat on those stupid colored dot tests. By doing that I got the waiver needed for my Second Class medical.

Didn't have to do it through clouds, though! :lol:
Fast Eddie B.

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