Flight over Water, Whiteouts, and Mountain Flying

Flight over Water

Common sense is to wear a life jacket whenever your aircraft is beyond gliding distance from shore.  Ditching in water will create panic among already traumatised pilot and passengers as icy-cold water floods what will likely be an inverted cockpit.  The dark cabin will be full of debris, loose wires, cables and seatbelts, making the retrieval of life jackets after ditching virtually impossible.

The key is remaining calm.  Do not release your seatbelt until you are ready to exit the cabin.  Locating the exit handle will be difficult while upside down in murky water, so locate the exit handle while still in your harness.  Even with the water pressure equalized on both sides, the door could still be difficult to open, so be prepared to push hard.  If unsuccessful, force a window by anchoring yourself firmly, pushing out against the window with both feet.  Once the door is open, never let go of the handle until you are out; should you let go, you may not be able to locate it again.  Therefore, release your seatbelt while holding the handle and pull yourself out (do not kick as someone may be behind you).  If you get stuck, do not panic; back up and turn a little, then try again.  Once you are clear of the aircraft, inflate your lifejacket (if you inflate your life jacket in the cockpit, this could impede your egress).

Further Readings:

Transport Canada's Take Five on Underwater Egress.

Transport Canada's Importance of Underwater-Egress Pre-Flight Briefing for Passengers


The lighting associated with whiteout conditions is such that the terrain is virtually devoid of visual clues.  The eye can no longer discern the surface or terrain features.  There is a uniform white glow without the normal spatial indicators such as shadows, horizon, or clouds.

Whiteouts occur whenever unbroken snow-covered terrain lies below a uniformly overcast sky whereby the light from the sky is about equal to the light from the surface.

The danger of controlled flight into terrain (know as CFIT ) in whiteout conditions is especially high when a pilot does not recognize the condition.  When recognized, immediately climb and turn toward areas where sharp terrain features exist—be prepared to transition to instruments.

Further Reading:

Transport Canada's Coming to a Theatre near you: Whiteout

Mountain Flying

Mountain flying presents increased risks.  Never fly in the mountains without extensive pre-flight planning and a thorough weather briefing.  Here are some rules of thumb derived from Tips on Mountain Flying published by Transport Canada, Aviation Safety:

  1. Flight routing should be arranged to avoid topography that could prevent a safe landing.
  2. Flight routing should be along populated areas and well-known mountain passes.
  3. Sufficient altitude should be maintained at all time so as to enable a power-off glide to a safe landing area.
  4. VFR Navigation Charts (VNC) should be used rather than World Aeronautical Charts (WAC) as they provide greater detail for air pilotage; the routing, including ground clearances, should be carefully studied before flight.
  5. When faced with a “sea of mountains,” believe your compass (bearing in mind compass irregularities) as it may be your only means of getting out of trouble.
  6. Do not fly when the winds are at or below mountain peak level, or at your intended cruise altitude, are above 30 KTS.  Winds above 20 KTS should be avoided.
  7. In anticipation of possible down drafts, always cross a mountain ridge at a 45° angle so as to allow a turn away from the ridge.
  8. Know the wind direction at all times, and be on the lookout for changes in wind direction and velocity.
  9. Never fly in the vicinity of abrupt changes in the terrain, such as cliffs or ridges as they can be associated with severe turbulence.
  10. In anticipation of downdrafts and severe turbulence, cross mountain ridges at maximum altitude, and never with less than 1,500’ separation.
  11. Anticipate downdrafts on the leeward side of mountains, and updrafts on the windward side; anticipate downdrafts between 1,500’ and 2,000’ per minute.
  12. Do not panic if a downdraft is encountered; they usually cease with sufficient height above ground that will enable manoeuvring safely away.  Do not count on this, however, in extremely turbulent air or in canyon areas.
  13. If you encounter a severe downdraft, use full power and maintain the best rate of climb speed for the altitude at which you are operating; being cautious of the stall speed, attempt to fly to an updraft or smooth air.
  14. Remember that the actual horizon is near the base of distant mountains; improperly using the mountain peaks as the horizon will place the aircraft in a slow-flight attitude unable to climb.
  15. Never fly up the middle of a canyon; instead, fly along one side or the other in case a 180-degree turn is required.
  16. If possible, fly up the right side of a canyon in anticipation of other aircraft flying in the opposite direction.
  17. Beware of flying up canyons, valleys, and passes where the rise in terrain could exceed an aircraft climb capability.
  18. Beware of flying below a cloud ceiling in mountain passes—while the cloud base could be constant, the distance between the cloud base and the ground could decrease owing to rising terrain.

Further Readings:

Transport Canada's Tips of Mountain Flying Part I

Transport Canada's Tips on Mountain Flying Part II

Transport Canada's Looking Back: Flying into a Mountain Trap