Unexpected transition from VFR to IMC: An examination of training protocols to mitigate pilot gaps in knowledge and performance

Julius C Keller, Purdue University


During the past ten years, there have been 264 aircraft accidents identified as Visual Flight Rules (VFR) into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). These accidents have a nearly 90% fatality rate and hundreds of people have been fatally injured (ASI, 2014a). The general aviation community, including the Federal Aviation Administration, has called for measures to reduce the accident rate. To accomplish this goal, data analyses, education and training, and collaboration are recommended practices. This research study sought to examine the effectiveness of two training protocols as well as pilot knowledge, skills, and abilities pertaining to VFR into IMC. Data were collected at two sites, the William J. Hughes Technical Center (FAA Technical Center) located in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Purdue University located in West Lafayette, Indiana. Participants were recruited from the surrounding areas of each location. Researchers of the current study utilized a pretest and posttest experimental design. Furthermore, data were collected through researcher observation of pilot performance during flight training device (FTD) sessions. The only group to indicate a statistically- significant increase in posttest scores, was the control group from the FAA Technical Center dataset. The interactive online group had the highest frequency and percentage of decisions made to avoid instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) during flight scenarios, in both data sets. An examination of qualitative data revealed participants who decided to continue into instrument meteorological conditions did so because they misperceived the flight conditions and risks. Those who turned and/or diverted, did so because they perceived unsafe conditions and took action to mitigate the risks. Though the treatments did not appear to statistically distinguish posttest scores between groups or decision making, other notable results and lessons learned are discussed. Additionally, recommendations for future research are presented.




Carney, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Transportation planning

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