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View Full Version : Would you fly IFR without an auto pilot?



Howie KMVY
02-11-2016, 08:46 AM
We're talking about that subject this week, on IMC Radio- Plane Talk. What would you do? Any alternatives? Options? How good are your seat of the pilot flying skills? Would you do well with a systems failure?

Radek.cfi
02-11-2016, 09:22 AM
We're talking about that subject this week, on IMC Radio- Plane Talk. What would you do? Any alternatives? Options? How good are your seat of the pilot flying skills? Would you do well with a systems failure?

There would be a difference between hand flying knowing that your autopilot is there to help you when you will need it but... how about going IMC knowing that your autopilot is INOP. Would you still do it?

Mike Switzer
02-11-2016, 11:22 AM
I got my IR in a 172M with no auto pilot. I generally only used an auto pilot on long trips to maintain heading easier.

Auburntsts
02-11-2016, 05:22 PM
Maybe. My personal minimums are that for lauching into widespread LIFR at either origin or destination the autopilot is a go/no-go item. For currency I hand fly every other approach but my comfort level dictates that for travel I takeoff with all of my tools in the tool kit or I wait for a situation that gives me more options. YMMV........

Mike M
02-11-2016, 08:30 PM
Interesting question. I flew my first airplane five years, many trips, many hours IMC & IFR with an Escort 110, KX145, and marker receiver. No xpdr, no intercom, no audio panel, no weather display, no moving map, no autopilot. I thought I had it made because I had TWO radios! The aircraft I trained in had only one VOR, one comm. Lots of people routinely did the same. Up to the mid-50s people did it Pt91 without gyro horizons & gyro compasses. Is the fact that people seriously ask this no-autopilot question the reason why the FAA is putting emphasis on evaluating the hand-flying skill of aviators flying aircraft which have autopilot installed? Hmmmm..............progress!

dusterpilot
02-12-2016, 07:37 AM
Is the fact that people seriously ask this no-autopilot question the reason why the FAA is putting emphasis on evaluating the hand-flying skill of aviators flying aircraft which have autopilot installed? Hmmmm..............progress!
What, no fancy moving map display for my autopilot to follow?! You expect me to fly fix-to-fix by hand by interpreting needles and DME and estimating headings to get there?! Definitely lost skills. On more than one occasion, I've flown 9 hours across the Atlantic into marginal destination weather with an inoperative autopilot. Not fun, but doable. You'll sleep well afterwards! (I'm definitely a dinosaur.)

FlyingRon
02-13-2016, 09:01 AM
Much as I love my autopilot, I believe the biggest contributor to IFR safety is indeed the moving map display. It takes an incredible amount of mental load off the pilot even in partial panel operations.

dusterpilot
02-13-2016, 12:29 PM
Much as I love my autopilot, I believe the biggest contributor to IFR safety is indeed the moving map display.
Agree! It's a tremendous aid to situational awareness.

More thoughts after rereading my previous post #6.... I didn't intend to demean technically advanced aircraft, but to stress the importance of maintaining the necessary skill and confidence to fly without those advanced capabilities. I recently rode in the back seat with a couple of friends on a 250 mile flight in marginal VFR weather. They punched the destination in a portable GPS, took off, and followed the purple line to the destination. The didn't have any paper charts or other backup navigation plan. They simply blindly flew on without any idea what they would have done if the battery operated GPS would have failed.

I know I'm going way off topic. My point is a pilot must maintain proficiency and confidence in the basic tasks as well as staying proficient in managing the autopilot, moving map display, radio management interfaces, and other modern cockpit conveniences. I wouldn't want to give any of those things up to go back to the days of needle, ball, airspeed and dead reckoning, but I'm confident I could safely complete the mission without them.

Mayhemxpc
02-13-2016, 12:49 PM
My answer is, like most things, "It depends." Long cross country (over 150 nm) with lots of IMC expected, it is a personal requirement. An hour total flight time would probably be fine without it (which is pretty much saying that has been my practice.) All things considered, an IFR trip of, say less than 150nm, and I might not even switch the AP on. But…as Ron pointed out, the moving map is a major factor to being able to do that. Shooting an approach the AP is more of a convenience than anything else. Between the GNS530 and Foreflight on the iPad and I have the SA I need to keep the airplane on course and glide path. Also note that in the O-2A I have a stable yet responsive platform to aviate. (Although it does have a tendency to rain in the cockpit.)

ssmdive
04-20-2016, 04:11 PM
We're talking about that subject this week, on IMC Radio- Plane Talk. What would you do? Any alternatives? Options? How good are your seat of the pilot flying skills? Would you do well with a systems failure?


I have done it. I would prefer an auto pilot, but it is not needed. It would depend on how long I was going to be actual IFR and if I had someone with me.
But the short answer is yes, I have done it.

rwhite
06-30-2016, 07:36 PM
I did all of my IFR training and check ride with the autopilot off. The airplane is really out of rig and as soon as you let it go, it will roll to the left. I did my instrument training in 5 days and took the checkride on the 6th day. Over 7 hours a day and a third of that was IMC, the rest under the hood. It was not fun, but doable. Now that I'm rated, I do use the autopilot IMC but I usually shoot the approaches without it, especially if I'm VMC. I haven't had an autopilot failure yet but I would probably cancel a trip if something was wrong with the plane, especially a long one. I just don't like taking off with something broken.

1600vw
07-01-2016, 07:26 PM
I did all of my IFR training and check ride with the autopilot off. The airplane is really out of rig and as soon as you let it go, it will roll to the left. I did my instrument training in 5 days and took the checkride on the 6th day. Over 7 hours a day and a third of that was IMC, the rest under the hood. It was not fun, but doable. Now that I'm rated, I do use the autopilot IMC but I usually shoot the approaches without it, especially if I'm VMC. I haven't had an autopilot failure yet but I would probably cancel a trip if something was wrong with the plane, especially a long one. I just don't like taking off with something broken.

IMHO when you flew an out of rig airplane you already broke your number one rule.

1600vw

Lrrryo
08-02-2016, 12:24 PM
IMHO when you flew an out of rig airplane you already broke your number one rule.

1600vw

Agreed,

I could accept no autopilot before an out of rig plane, especially if it rolls to one side with the AP off.

As for the AP being a required item, no, but there are some trips that I could understand why someone would not go without one. A long trip with lots of stress, weather, no copilot, perhaps other deferred items rapidly gets to be too much.

My first two planes did not have autopilots and they did fine, and so did I.

But, I'd value an AP more than a moving map... it's a major contributor to reducing fatigue.

Jim Clark
09-19-2016, 12:58 PM
If you're not comfortable and confident with your abilities to hand fly IFR than you shouldn't launch into IFR just because you have an autopilot to lean on. I had a Baron AP go inop just as we caught the glideslope in heavy snow with WX going down. It was a non incident as the problem was recognized immediately and I hand flew the approach. Do the recurrent training and practice as if the AP will fail at the worst moment, it happens.

Lrrryo
09-20-2016, 01:36 PM
If you're not comfortable and confident with your abilities to hand fly IFR than you shouldn't launch into IFR just because you have an autopilot to lean on. I had a Baron AP go inop just as we caught the glideslope in heavy snow with WX going down. It was a non incident as the problem was recognized immediately and I hand flew the approach. Do the recurrent training and practice as if the AP will fail at the worst moment, it happens.

Jim,

True, but even if confident no reason that one can't refuse a trip that doesn't have an operable autopilot. For the most part one can get buy without an AP but there are times that some folks feel that it's necessary... not because they don't have the skills, but because that's a useful tool that may make the trip safer, more tolerable and less stressful.

If it quits, just like any other piece of equipment... you evaluate the situation and make a decision to divert or continue. Heavy snow is fun, with or with out an autopilot. Now put that on the end of a six hour trip in the weather fighting ice and turbulence, at night after your wife and GF met each other, and the autopilot relieves a lot of stress and work so the approach is a piece of cake. If the AP quit on take off, could be a cancellation for some, and I wouldn't blame them.

Personally, I like one, not as a crutch for lousy skills, but as a tool that makes it easier. I've flown half way around the world without one, and it was tiring. Without a copilot, it would have not been possible. I've also flown a 300 mile trip that I would have cancelled with one... but still did most of the flying by hand just because it was fun and things were going well, but nice to know I had that backup.

I don't subscribe to the notion that all approaches should be hand flown like a lot of folks, reasoning to stay proficient. I like a mix... use it if appropriate.

Gil
09-26-2016, 09:54 AM
All of my instrument training was in the Air Force in jets with no autopilot. Then I flew cargo planes where the autopilot was used for almost every flight. Later, I owned a Bonanza with an autopilot that I depended on for single-pilot hard IFR. Now I have Cherokee without an autopilot and it does require a lot of attention because there is rarely a time when you do not have a fuel balance issue, so your attitude can change rapidly. But I still fly it IFR.

Lrrryo
09-27-2016, 07:29 AM
All of my instrument training was in the Air Force in jets with no autopilot. Then I flew cargo planes where the autopilot was used for almost every flight. Later, I owned a Bonanza with an autopilot that I depended on for single-pilot hard IFR. No I have Cherokee without an autopilot and it does require a lot of attention because there is rarely a time when you do not have a fuel balance issue, so your attitude can change rapidly. But I still fly it IFR.

Gil,

Need to get your Bonanza back. Nice to see you posting here.

From FL.....

Mayhemxpc
10-02-2016, 01:46 PM
Had a Warrior I flew IFR far more often than I think Piper ever intended. At least that is the impression I got from the leading edges of the wings and stabilator. Second paint job was much better. Absolutely agree about the fuel imbalance. The plus side of that is it kept me on my toes regarding a good instrument scan. The moment I got distracted I found myself 30 degrees off course with almost as much bank angle. Loved that plane. I was much younger then and I don't think I would do much of that now without an autopilot. I do sometimes. The CAP older round dial 182's and the GA8 don't have AP's and in benign IFR hand flying can be a lot of fun, I just don't make a habit of it. Of course the alternative to no-AP steam gauge set-ups are the NAVIII/G-1000 systems where, almost every time G flies the airplane, there comes a time where both pilots in the front seat ask "what is it doing now?"

gellisdds
10-17-2016, 06:11 AM
I currently own and fly a 1963 C model Mooney. No autopilot, not even the old wing leveler. I fly in IMC all the time and hand fly approaches. Not often but sometimes to minimums (just the way weather seems to work around here). I often wish I had an autopilot and all the super fancy GPSS and roll steering etc, etc, etc... but I do enjoy hand flying and disagree with folks that say you must have an autopilot to fly single pilot IFR. You just have to constantly keep training and keep your skills up. I don't fly IMC if I am towards the end of 6 month time period getting in my approaches until I do so. I do more than one or 2 IPC's a year with a flight instructor. And of course, as has been said, a well rigged airplane that will fly straight and level hands off is a plus.

somorris
10-21-2016, 05:44 PM
I agree with gellisdds and Gil. An autopilot is not a required item for single pilot IFR but is for sure a nice addition.

Tom Gilmore
12-23-2016, 08:23 AM
To my way of thinking after many hours in IMC, an autopilot for single pilot IFR flying is indispensable. I feel you are really rolling the dice, especially in situations such as when getting an amended clearance from ATC, having an unruly passage that demands attention and when shooting an approach to minimums. All of these scenarios require either a head down situation or more than just a quick scan off the panel for even a very short time.

Gil
01-23-2017, 09:27 AM
Gil,

Need to get your Bonanza back. Nice to see you posting here.

From FL.....

Hi, Larry. Can't justify the expense of the Bonanza on my retirement income, and my wife refused to keep paying for the fuel. I sold it in three weeks. I do miss it.

Mark van Wyk
01-27-2017, 06:39 PM
I've got about a solid 25 hours or so in IMC in my C-150. Never flown with an autopilot. Used one once in a C-172SP. As for IMC in a C-150 -- be careful. The C-150 is not a stable plane and you will get a workout. Stay out of storms and ice.

Cary
02-01-2017, 12:36 PM
Just zipped through this thread. I've been flying IFR occasionally for 42 years, the majority of that time in airplanes that had no autopilot. The 73 Skylane I trained in, although equipped with most other bells and whistles of the time, had no autopilot. Only one of the 4 airplanes I've owned had an autopilot. None of the airplanes I flew on charter or taught instruments in had autopilots. Even in the few I've flown with autopilots, I haven't used the autopilots except as wing levelers while I looked at a chart. I may have done one or two coupled approaches in training, but never for real. So I don't mind hand-flying in IMC, because the alternative most of the time has been that I couldn't have gone. I've had my present airplane for 13 years, no autopilot, and there have been many hours in IMC in it.

All that as background, I think a light GA pilot who absolutely relies on the autopilot to the extent that it's a go-no go item for flying in IMC should re-evaluate whether to fly in IMC at all. Autopilots are probably the number one glitch item in light GA airplanes. That means that on any trip, the likelihood of the autopilot failing is greater than the failure of any other item. The pilot absolutely must be prepared at any time to take over.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against autopilots or those who use them. There have been times when I would have liked to have one, especially on longer trips. But I'd never advise anyone to rely on them to work 100% of the time.

Cary

1964m20e
05-01-2017, 11:58 AM
Currently I fly with an AP. My original plane that I earned my IR in did not have an AP. I flew it several times in IMC for long l flights. I do prefer having the AP and will turn it off in IMC at times to stay in practice.

Bob Dingley
05-02-2017, 05:41 PM
Cary, you are so right about about unreliable autopilots, especially the old ones. Even the new ones must be constantly monitored. As for flying without one, I recall a trip up the eastern seaboard to Maine in a Cherokee. Ten hours enroute with seven IMC and no AP. I was surprised how fresh I felt on arrival. Lot younger then.

Remember; we sent young guys with about 200 hours to SE Asia where they flew Hueys through monsoons. Hueys have no AP and have a negative stability. These days, the FAA will not certify a civil helo for IFR unless it has a dual AP installation.

whodja
05-06-2017, 07:13 AM
If "George" the autopilot is engaged, then you now have a two pilot cockpit. Consider yourself the autopilot co pilot when it's engaged. 24k hours


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

aeromir
08-28-2020, 09:23 AM
I learned to fly with piper 180 and 140s with an instrument rating the 172 before I joined the Air Force as a pilot. I was later a T-38A instructor pilot. None of those aircraft had autopilots. Flying the aircraft trimmed up helps quite a bit as you can scan the cockpit without big deviations in heading, altitude or airspeed. Trim is your friend VMC and especially in IMC. I recently got back in the cockpit after 13-years off while I lived in Europe in GA aircraft. Nice to come back to my roots. I suspect I'll still fly without an AP most of the time even if one is available.

Mike M
09-04-2020, 04:18 PM
Cary, I concur. Over five decades flying imc in ASEL, AMEL, Rotorcraft/Helo both with and without autopilots proved to me that they are nice to have. Three attitude gyro failures imc without autopilots, all while solo, and multiple autopilot disconnects proved I could fly the aircraft without them. That's not unique, nor is it bragging. So can every proficient instrument rated pilot. So practice your skills ladies and gentlemen. Or take Cary's advice and don't fly imc until you're proficient with the basic aircraft again please. :)

FlyingRon
09-06-2020, 09:33 AM
As I mentioned earlier, I always practice my approaches twice: once with the autopilot, once without. I want to be sure that if I do fly it with autopilot that I don't get into the "what the **##@ is this thing doing" state.