Low clouds
5 min read

Well I finally met that guy. That guy everyone has read about. That guy who seems to be at every airport. That guy whom no one admits to being. You know, the guy who willfully violates significant federal aviation regulations and openly brags to total strangers about his near death experiences. Well I finally met him last week and what a piece of work this guy was.

Low clouds

Solid IFR and no instrument rating? No problem.

I really don’t know where to start with this one. Perhaps at the beginning of my close encounter with Mr. Invincible. I was at a small privately-owned strip checking out a relic of the past when in walks Mr. Invincible. As in most hangars throughout the world, it did not take long for two total strangers to start swapping flying stories. Swapping stories is really an overstatement. I was actually just a member of the audience at this show. Mr. Invincible began telling the tale of a recent VFR trip that unexpectedly (to him anyway) turned to IMC. No problem for an IFR rated pilot but the problem here is that Mr. Invincible is not IFR rated. No bother to him. He simply flew into the soup for three hours before he finally had to land for fuel. After gassing up he decided that since he was such a good IFR pilot he would launch into the abyss and continue on to his final destination. Really? Is this guy for real? He was either a really good story teller or a really crazy pilot.

To be honest I am dumbfounded to know that Mr. Invincible’s three hours of illegal (and extremely dangerous) instrument experience emboldened him enough to willfully take off back into the soup. How do some pilots get to the point where their reasoning results in what most would agree to be an irrational conclusion? The line of thinking that Mr. Invincible followed had to counter everything we are taught as student pilots.  I am sure that if we took a close look at his reasoning we would see several of the hazardous attitudes outlined by the FAA.

A report published by the FAA put the total percentage of VFR into IMC at 18% of total General Aviation accidents.  The low percentage shows that most pilots respect the weather and fly accordingly. Eighteen percent isn’t very frightening but the corresponding number of fatalities causes concern. The FAA reports that more than 80% of VFR into IMC accidents results in a fatality. This means there is a high probability that Mr. Invincible will soon meet Mr. Darwin!

During my Private Pilot check ride I thought my DPE gave me a pretty thorough oral examination. The process and questions asked seemed to be in line with what other pilots had experienced. I recall explaining to the DPE the different kinds of airspace and its associated cloud clearances and visibility requirements. I knew then and I know now that being familiar with these limits plays a crucial role in my safety when operating an aircraft. I think that Mr. Invincible went through the same oral exam the rest of us went through and I know for certain that he had to pass the same written test where knowledge of these regulations was tested. I have no doubt that he knew the regulations. After all his attitude clearly indicated that he knew he was getting away with something worth bragging about.

As pilots we are allowed to deviate from regulations if doing so is essential to the safety of the flight. Obviously Mr. Invincible was not deviating to ensure the safety of his flight but rather for a personal reason. Perhaps he made the illegal flight to avoid the inconvenience of being temporarily grounded. Or perhaps he needed the experience to feed his ego. Only the pilot knows for sure but I suspect it was a combination of both with a hard leaning towards the latter. I come to this conclusion based on how willing Mr. Invincible was to share his adventure with a total stranger. Other than ego why would a pilot share this type of story with a stranger? As a private pilot I know that Mr. Invincible is a rare breed and that the majority of pilots do not operate in this manner, but how would a non-aviator view this story? Generally speaking, news reports of General Aviation accidents do not portray the industry in a positive light. A pilot like Mr. Invincible only worsens the problem by flying recklessly and then sharing the story with anyone who will listen, or worse, causes an accident that endangers himself and those on the ground.

I am not so sure Mr. Invincible has much concern for the image of General Aviation. He really doesn’t seem to be very concerned about his safety and the safety of those around him. This was my first meeting of “That Guy” and to be honest I was not prepared to adequately respond. I was dumbfounded and totally caught off guard with what I was being told. Reflecting on the encounter I know that I should have expressed my concerns or at least given a disapproving look but I did not. I have made a personal promise that the next time I have such an encounter I will speak up. We all have too much to lose when pilots behave in this manner and if we don’t all share the responsibility of keeping our airspace safe then things can quickly reach a tipping point.

So I finally met that guy. It was indeed an interesting experience, and one I will not soon forget. I hope to someday again run into that guy. I really do. Unfortunately the odds don’t favor a second meeting. I can only hope that Mr. Invincible changes his name to “Mr. I was lucky to get away with it but will never do it again.” One thing is for sure. If I again run into that guy I will have plenty to say.

Michael McDowell
Latest posts by Michael McDowell (see all)
12 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    Well, Mr Invincible was a partner in our high performance single engine but, we found out the hard way that he was indeed not invincible. Decided that he could fly off into a raging thunderstorm despite not being IFR rated and having way too many adult beverages. Oh, and his companion, who wasn’t his wife, but of the same gender as his wife also found out the hard way. He Buried our little pride and joy in a hole that was 6 feet deep, 1,000 yards off the end of the runway. The FBO people tried to stop him but, he either didn’t care or didn’t want to hear them. BTW, if he had just activated the auto pilot chances are he would have flown out of it but, I am not sure that in that condition he even knew what an auto pilot was. Sad for his family, very sad for us, too. Thanx Mr Invincible You can’t legislate intelligence

    • Mike B
      Mike B says:

      Thanks for the share. It amazes me that anyone would actually consider flying an aircraft under the influence. I guess some people really do think they are invincible.

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      I’m pretty sure that flying off into a raging thunderstorm, even if he was IFR rated, would not have changed the outcome. The IFR rating does not buy invincibility; only more options.

  2. Greg
    Greg says:

    It is pretty sad that there are pilots like this out there. As a pilot myself, I have a high respect for aviation safety and weather and will not fly if I am not 100% comfortable with the entire situation. Maybe Mr. Invincible is able to get away with straight and level in IMC with only 3 hours of training but I’d like to see how he plans on dealing with a vacuum failure in the soup. These are the types of people that hurt the GA community with their negligence.

  3. Mel Eaton
    Mel Eaton says:

    On the matter of speaking up, I relate this experience. I was leaving my home base and noticed a crowd of 5 people preflighting a 172S model. I’ve flown the aircraft lots and have a good working knowledge of its load capabilities. My thoughts as I left for home was to hope that everyone at the plane were not passengers. On my 5 minute drive home I decided to call the FBO and inquire as to the status of the impending flight. I was assured that proper loading and passenger count was being followed. I could only imagine my feelings and thoughts had otherwise been true and the craft went down just off the runway. I was a little ashamed that I had to ponder my decision in the first place. Let’s all be proactive when we believe a pilot is about to make that “ruin your day” decission.

  4. Guido B
    Guido B says:

    Yeah, I’m sure you’ll really give him a piece of your mind. Like what stopped you from doing that the first time?

    Sounds like the coward on the schoolground, “…yeah next time I’ll show him!”

  5. Guido B
    Guido B says:

    Yeah Michael, I’m sure you’ll really give him a piece of your mind. Like what stopped you from doing that the first time?

    Sounds like the coward on the schoolground, “…yeah next time I’ll show him!”

  6. Lou Gregoire
    Lou Gregoire says:

    Wow, there Guido. No name calling needed. It is not uncommon for someone, when confronted for the first time with a scenario, to react totally different than they thought they would. Hence the old saying, ” Experience is the best teacher.”
    I teach pilots and police officers, and in both worlds, people react a lot different after going through a scenario once and then de- briefing it. Next time, they are not caught so off guard. Perhaps you react perfectly every time you run into something, but the rest of us are just human.

  7. David Heberling
    David Heberling says:

    Let’s not be too fast to draw out the guns. Not everyone thinks fast on their feet. Surprise has a way of freezing up higher cognition. There are people who believe that rules are for losers. They really do not worry about their own safety because…they are invincible. Most of us do not want to be rude to strangers. But you have to be prepared to take action when you do encounter one of these “Mr. Invincible”.

    This reminds me of a pilot I mentored through to his PPL. He had a total disregard for airspace requirements. We were flying in the Baltimore/Washington area with some of the most restrictive airspace in the country (pre-9/11). I tried to get him to see the light. He bought his own plane and disappeared from the area, so I lost track of him.

  8. Michael McDowell
    Michael McDowell says:

    Guido- thanks for reading Airfacts and sharing your insight into the situation. I would have to disagree with your assessment of me being a coward. I was simply unprepared for the situation. This is exactly why I wrote the article. I know that if I was better prepared to handle the situation I could have used the opportunity to help Mr. Invincible become a safer pilot. I was not, and do not want, to give this guy a “Piece of my Mind”. I just want that pilot and all of us to be safe in the air. The point of my article was that discussing his violation of the rules in a mature way is something that should have happened. I want other pilots out there to think about my experience so that they are prepared the next time they are in a similar situation. Our reactions do not need to be confrontational, just constructive

  9. N. King
    N. King says:

    If “Mr. Invincible” is bragging to total strangers about his exploits, there’s a very good chance that they never happened. I’ve known a couple of those types of folks that you’ve mentioned in your article. They tend to cancel flights at the slightest weather excuse, yet when they do finally get up the courage to actually go flying it’s 3 hours of unfiled IFR in mixed icing, turbulence, and dodging MIGs in a restricted area, all while doing it in .5 hobbs time.

    About 15% of what you hear in a hangar is actually true. The trouble is determining how much is story and how much is flying. Good luck with that!

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