Single-engine IFR in IMC

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Hey Phillip,

I was talking with a relative, regarding flying in IMC in a
single-engine piston. How do you feel about its safety? How would you
handle an engine failure in cruise in low IFR conditions? What are
reasonable minimums for flying in the soup?


-- Joshua Levinson, June 19, 2009


I did think about this in a Piper Malibu once at 20,000'. We'd climbed through a heavy snow storm to reach sunshine on top of the clouds. Then we heard Southwest 737 pilots discussing with ATC what to do because Providence had gone below minimums. I thought "this would be a bad time for an engine failure".

With the Cirrus you have the parachute option.

My default personal minimum for single-engine single-pilot piston flying is 500' ceiling. This enables an instrument approach without depending on heroic piloting skill and also enables some time after breaking out to look for a road or field.

Realistically the risk of engine failure is too small to affect the safety of most flights. On an IMC flight, you've got the risk of incompetent maneuvering, the risk of icing, and the risk of disorientation with or without equipment failure (JFK Jr. flew a perfectly working airplane into the water).

-- Philip Greenspun, June 20, 2009