2 min read

You earned your instrument rating years ago, but you haven’t been current in a long time. Now you’re kicking yourself for that lapse in currency, because your VFR-only limitation is going to make an easy IFR flight a marginal VFR flight. You’re hoping to fly your 1972 Cessna 182 from your home in Middletown, Ohio (MWO), to Marion, Illinois (MWA). That flight should take just under two hours, but while the weather is great at your home airport and it seems to be good at your destination, in between isn’t as promising.

Proposed departure time is 3pm eastern (1900Z). Read the weather briefing below and tell us what you would do: go or no go?


The Maps page in ForeFlight shows a pretty calm weather picture, but the satellite layer suggests there might be some clouds to deal with.

The surface analysis shows a similarly calm picture, with a weak warm front running parallel to the Mississippi River.

The prog charts show no significant weather developing tonight.

Radar and satellite

The radar part is easy: there are hardly any returns anywhere in the central United States.

The satellite imagery is a little more complicated, especially for a VFR pilot. Your home airport is in a hole, but a thin layer of clouds seems to be sitting along your route.

The infrared satellite suggests it is indeed a shallow layer, so flying VFR over the top might even be an option.

Winds and clouds

The cloud forecast chart adds more details to the ceiling question. It looks like the layer starts at about 3000-3500 feet and the tops are at 5000 feet through southern Indiana. But remember, this is a forecast.

The winds aloft forecast at 6000 feet adds a little more detail—at least you won’t have much of a headwind.

Text weather

Your departure airport is showing severe clear, but is forecast to become marginal VFR overnight.

En route, a consistent ceiling seems to be hovering around 2500 or 3000 feet, but with good visibility and light winds underneath.

Your destination is showing good VFR conditions and is forecast to stay that way.

There’s one PIREP that might be helpful. Just south of your route, a regional jet reported bases at 3900 feet MSL and tops at 4700 feet.

Decision time

The weather definitely isn’t “bad,” but there are just enough clouds to make you think here. Do you launch and stay under the clouds, confident that you have good visibility and no rain? Do you climb up above the clouds and enjoy the sun, confident that your destination is clear? Or do you cancel, worried that this might turn into a scud run in the fading light of a December day?

Add your comment below.

John Zimmerman
33 replies
  1. Ed
    Ed says:

    The ceilings are greater than my personal VFR minimum of 2000′ and the visibilities are better than my personal VFR minimum of 5SM, and they are forecast to stay that way until after I land, so, this would be a definite GO for me.

    As always, be prepared to land short if the things go “sideways”.

    • Jaybird
      Jaybird says:

      Under these circumstances you can go but stay low, meaning VFR 500’ below clouds to stay legal. Looking at ceilings over airports and cloud coverage chart for the route means expect to fly at < 3000’ MSL and expect to maybe have to go down to 2500. Need to watch for towers at this altitude however. If I didn’t have IFR training albeit non-current however I would not fly. Need to be able to fly by instrument enough to turn 180 and get out possibly — go to alternate airport and land.

  2. Ziegler
    Ziegler says:

    I’m going but staying below the clouds. Some small hills but no real rugged terrain. Plenty of places to divert to. Good incentive to get instrument current.

  3. Enderson Rafael
    Enderson Rafael says:

    Without the IFR option, I stay under the clouds for sure. Visibility is ok, and the ceilings around 2500ft are not great, but shouldn’t be a problem. With the instrument rating, then up I would go. But seems fair enough to be duable both ways, always knowing where to divert to along the way.

    • OttawaCanuck
      OttawaCanuck says:

      An autopilot isn’t a substitute for IFR recency. If the pilot’s deliberately planning a flight where the A/P is their only way out of a not-unlikely situation (getting stuck above), then they need recurrent training before being allowed to exercise PIC privileges again.

      • Steve Boyer
        Steve Boyer says:

        I wouldn’t worry about it since I’m a jet rated pilot with all my instructor ratings. Good job John. I bought many items from Sportys. I’m now retired from Netjets. World at Fliteways Inc. Wright Bros. Apt. Previously. Good luck.

  4. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    I would go, but stay under the clouds. Terrain isn’t a factor in that part of the country and there’s no shortage of airports if the clouds come down. Not a chance I’m going to try VFR over the top, can you say sucker hole at KMVN? One could assume an illegal descent through clouds if trapped on top, but that would probably be the opening line of the NTSB report.

  5. Curt
    Curt says:

    I’m going to go VFR over the top. I’m also going to go back and get my IFR currency. Why would you let it lapse? In fact, maybe I’ll call a local CFII and have him ride shotgun with me on this trip….

    • Bruce Boyes
      Bruce Boyes says:

      @Kurt That’s what I was going to do, kill two birds with one stone: get a CFII friend to go along. Or if that didn’t pan out go alone and stay below. Here in Utah the only navigable area below 4000 MSL would be a coal mine but back east you can do that. Years ago we left AirVenture VFR after having waited a couple days for better WX and finally ceilings at 2500 was the best we could get, so my right seater was watching the chart for towers for the first couple of hours. Out west the only towers are on mountain peaks so that was a new experience for me.

  6. RichR
    RichR says:

    For a VFR only option I won’t put clouds between me and destination or diverts, hoping for a hole. Ceilings are plenty high. Freezing level and visible moisture could be a factor with no ice capability for a climb above and back down thru.

    I’d have left earlier, prefer daylight for my single engine flights, especially when weather (in this case temperature) really isn’t benign for an overnight stay in the case of an off airport arrival. Lack of currency may also be a factor for a dark (even if VMC) arrival…is the cockpit/exterior lighting good, current for pax if not alone, know the area or never been?

  7. John
    John says:

    Go under the clouds and be prepared to stop short if needed. Upon return call Sporty’s and get a CFII to spend a few hours to get ready for the next trip.

  8. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    As an air traffic controller in the mountain west, I’ve seen all too often pilots get in over their heads in the fading light of December or get overconfident and be unfamiliar with the rapidly changing weather that the mountains experience.

    My current flying experience almost exactly matches this pilot. I would definitely not fly VFR on top because if you are trapped on top waiting for a hole to descend through, fuel and time of day rapidly become a factor. Marginal VFR at twilight isn’t where I’d want to be. If I had more hours under my belt I may fly under the layer, but if this were me, just getting recurrent, I’d fly another day…

    • Ray Owen
      Ray Owen says:

      Go under the clouds.
      If your PLAN is to use your emergency authority to go through the clouds then it wasn’t an emergency it was your PLAN all along. Thus RECKLESS and a violation. No NASA form for you. Its up to you but thats how I would expect the FAA to look at it.

  9. Scott
    Scott says:

    Go but stay under clouds, land short if weather goes south. Definitely not a good idea for a rusty IFR pilot to attempt over the top. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

  10. Rick
    Rick says:

    I’ve learned my lessons over too many years of flying. Don’t trust the weather forecast! That line of precip just to the NW, will immediately start moving SE as soon as I take off… Stay on the ground, or drive.

  11. Pierre w Senneville
    Pierre w Senneville says:

    Not staying current IFR is almost a sin to me. However, I would plan VFR under the clouds, keeping a sharp update of current weather along the route. My mindset would be to update my escape plan if things go sideways (alternates) and be ready to stop or turn around. Renew my Instrument currency ASAP.

  12. mike
    mike says:

    I’d go VFR. You may not be in cloud at cruise going IFR but with a single engine plane without de-ice IFR seems more risky to me than VFR.

  13. José Serra
    José Serra says:

    I would go, but with a IFR flight plan. The weather doesn’t seem to be so nasty even for the situation of a pilot a little rusty in IFR flights.

  14. Douglas Derby
    Douglas Derby says:

    I’d save it for another day. I’m amazed at how fast it’s getting dark after 3pm in mid-December right now. The weather isn’t that bad, true, but you haven’t been flying lately, there’s the possibility of ice, that would be very hard to see in the dark. Going over the top is VFR fools gold. Going under in the dark is possible, but why risk it? You would be assuming that everything was going to go right. That will be the trip where that cylinder exhaust valve seat finally pops loose.
    Live to fly another day.

  15. Roger Rowlett
    Roger Rowlett says:

    If arrival time is pressing darkness VFR doesn’t look like something I would personally attempt. I would certainly not enjoy the 2 hour ride under the cloud bases, perhaps dodging towers. This is exactly the kind of weather that the instrument rating is designed to deal with safely in a light single. Shame for letting the instrument currency lapse. IFR this is nearly a no-brainer.

  16. Larry F Baum
    Larry F Baum says:

    I found this go no-go quite frustrating. I get that pilots can get out currency and staying proficient can be challenging. But why would someone lose IFR currency, but still want to regularly fly just VFR? If you’re already flying, it’s not that hard to regain IFR currency.

    This is one of those flights where currency is what’s needed and a good flight to build proficiency. Take a CFII with you, begin getting current, then work on proficiency.

  17. Ronald Lee Pogatchnik
    Ronald Lee Pogatchnik says:

    I have 24K plus hours total time. I made it this far not because I am an extraordinary pilot rather one who hasn’t done something stupid or un necessary (so Far). I would sit this one out. I give myself wide margins of safety.

  18. PatrolPilot
    PatrolPilot says:

    I’m going VFR below the clouds. Not familiar with the area, but I don’t see a problem. I think it can be done at 2500 MSL, but I looked at the route profile in FF (in that I’m not familiar with the area and what I would normally do). Even at 2000 MSL as the worst case, there are no obsticles within 619′ using a 4nm course width. Plenty of places to stop (I’m not used to that). Sunset is coming, is Pilot X up to speed with that? Me, I’m heavy with both IFR and night, I don’t see a problem as long as that C182 is up to it.

  19. OttawaCanuck
    OttawaCanuck says:

    VFR below, but with a checkpoint airport every 20 minutes, and a mandatory hard stop at each one if the ceiling or vis has dropped below my personal VFR minima or the forecast has gotten worse.

    The nasty thing about warm fronts is that when the weather goes down ahead of one, it goes down over a huge area all at once.

    • Elliott Cox
      Elliott Cox says:

      That sounds like a perfect compromise between go and no-go as long as you’re disciplined enough to stick to the plan. Speaking for myself, I think if I was 30 minutes away from my destination as the weather started getting worse, and the last stop was a non-towered airport with few or no services, I’d have a really hard time stopping, especially if it would likely turn into an overnight stop.

      I think your plan is solid, but I don’t think I’d attempt it because I know that I’d be way too tempted to “get there.”

  20. Steven
    Steven says:

    If you have to get there that day, then drive. The amount of time you’d spending doing a thorough preflight, planning sufficiently (including potential diversions) would be within an hour or two of the time to drive time. Plus, you’d be setting yourself up for get-there-it’s.

    Otherwise, weather looks better on the 9th.


    Point of origin looks good at departure and arrival times, the option to return to home base is an option from over the top. Night landing at home airport is always more comfortable, it’s an option I keep open as well as daylight alternatives. Over the top is my favorite option but Closing in weather or engine out or arriving after dark give me pause. Baring those it’s an easier trip on top as long as the destination stay clear. That is not assured.
    Hence I go low
    The below clouds route takes most of those off the table. Obstacle clearance even to an alternate needs to be assured in my flight plan. I leave planning on weather deteriorating So the alternate is ever present as my destination; monitoring it as part of my safety plan along the way, likely east of my destination.

  22. Ray
    Ray says:

    Looks doable. I would go. I would stay below the clouds and if the ceiling s began to get too low, I know that I can use my IFR skills to go ahead and climb above the layer.

  23. Frank
    Frank says:

    The possible fading light is what seals my decision to not go given all the rest. It could be the final “hole in the Swiss cheese” if I’m having an off day. No one has a gun to my head.


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