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Gypsy Skies

by meghan simpson

Low Visibility AKA Scud Running

In general aviation, scud running is a practice in which pilots lower their altitude to avoid clouds or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The goal of scud running is to stay clear of weather to continue flying with visual, rather than instrument, references. (1)

Let’s just say that if you’re scud running, it is not the ideal weather to be flying in! If you’re a bush pilot or a pilot who does a lot of ferry flights, then you know all about flying in bad weather. Maybe it’s an “I’m a helicopter pilot and I can push it further than a fixed wing pilot” kind of attitude. Maybe it’s instilled in us from the first part of training, or maybe it’s something we picked up along the way and haven’t been scared bad enough to think other wise.

If you have flown in the Yukon or any coastal weather, you also know that weather can change in a matter of minutes. Wind conditions in the mountains can damn near scare the s**t right out of you, and when you have a solid layer of fog blanketing your route to the next fuel stop it’s important to have the sense to turn around.

Many of my “scud running” flights are quick trips to move hunters or to pick them up after a long period of time in the hills. In those cases, the hunters are usually done and ready to be brought back to camp - if the weather is going to be bad on the extended forecast then I’ll hustle to pick them up quickly. This may be in rain, fog or winds gusting over 30 knots. Some key tips to flying in these conditions are to know your low and high routes, and most importantly, trust your instruments and instincts. A GPS is a nice touch but will not help you out if a mountain is in the way. There will always be that guilt of not getting the job done, but at the end of the day, it’s a lot smarter to not push Mother Nature. 


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