IFR versus VFR

Just for clarification, my blog articles are geared towards the new flight sim enthusiast.  2017 is “The Year of Flight Simulation”.  With new and updated flight sim platforms from Lockheed Martin (Prepar3d v4), Laminar Research (X-Plane 11) and the new kid on the block Dovetail Games (Flight Sim World)…a lot of hype (very good hype) has been focused on our wonderful hobby.  If you build it, they will come…is just as fitting on the flight sim scene today as it was years ago in that Iowa cornfield. 

Today’s “How To” article is designed to help the new virtual pilot understand the differences of VFR and IFR flight rules as they relate to the flight simulation hobby.  But before we get started and to satisfy the attorneys….allow me to post the fine print.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way…let’s get started!

The Flight Rules

There are two sets of rules for flying and operating aircraft.  VFR and IFR.  The choice between these two sets of rules is generally determined based on weather conditions.  However, other factors may come into play such as flight operations, type of aircraft and terrain/border considerations.  But before we dive into these specific sets of circumstances, let’s clear the air on exactly what VFR and IFR means.  Let’s start with IFR first.

IFR

IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules and is a set of rules that govern aircraft which fly in what is considered Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  IMC, in general terms, just means flying in the clouds.  More to the point, IMC weather conditions are defined as weather that is below the prescribed minimums for VFR flights. 

Essentially, under IFR flight or IFR flight conditions, the pilot or pilots will operate and fly the aircraft by instruments without any outside visual guidance.  In the real world, pilots who wish to fly IFR are required to possess an instrument rating and required to undergo additional training. 

VFR

VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules.  Just as the name implies, VFR flight rules require the aircraft must, at all times be clear of any weather situations which would prevent the pilot from maintaining visual separation with other aircraft, terrain, obstacles etc.  While some VFR flights may be under radar coverage by ATC, under VFR the responsibility for traffic separation lies solely with the pilot in command. 

Other Considerations

While weather certainly plays a crucial part in determining whether one flies VFR or IFR, also the type of aircraft, the type of flight operations being conducted and also general terrain and border considerations must be factored in.  Of course, the other really important factor is pilot rating/certifications.  However, pilot rating/certifications are not applicable in the virtual flying environment. 

Simply put, unless the pilot holds an instrument rating…if weather conditions are not VFR (meaning they are classified as IMC as discussed above) then the aircraft and the pilot will remain firmly in place on the ground. 

The type of aircraft also carries an important factor in the decision.  Something like a J-3 Cub with no lights and no radios will remain grounded under non-VFR conditions.  At a minimum, (along with pilot certification) any aircraft filing for IFR flight must have two-way radio communication capabilities, a transponder and navigation equipment. 

Any sort of scheduled passenger flight operations will require an IFR flight plan to be filed and the pilot/aircraft must fly under IFR flight rules at all times.  The exception to this rule might include certain charter operators, but for insurance purposes even these may be required to always operate IFR.  Obviously all large jet aircraft will generally file and operate IFR. 

Finally, depending on terrain and altitude restrictions, these type of flights might be IFR type.  Also, crossing of international borders will also most likely require an IFR flight plan.

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.

Again,  while much of what I’ve discussed above comes directly from real-world aviation rules/guidelines, I just want to remind readers this information is not geared towards real world aviation. 

Virtual Flying  – IFR or VFR?  What is most common?

In the virtual world, and specifically speaking about the virtual multi-player networks of VATSIM and IVAO, the most common type of flight operations are IFR.  While both networks welcome and encourage VFR flying, the most common will be IFR. 

Even yours truly, got started on VATSIM flying IFR and of the almost 2000 hours I’ve logged flying on the VATSIM network, I’d guess that 95% of those hours will be under IFR.  As someone with over 17 years of VATSIM experience, if there is any regret I have today, it’s that I didn’t do more VFR General Aviation type of flying on the network to gain a better understanding of the key functional differences between the two. 

What’s Next?

This really is only scratching the surface and this article is really only providing the explanation and differences between IFR and VFR flight.  In a future set of articles I’ll provide more clarification specific to IFR and VFR flying as it relates to virtual flying on the various online, multiplayer networks.

Until next time…happy flying!

Jerry

Fine Print:  Unfortunately I feel the need to state for the record that my “How To” articles and tips are for flight simulation purposes only and should not be used for real world aviation.


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