What do VMC and IMC mean to the Pilot?

Posted on January 7, 2020 Jerold Perkins Aviation

When conducting flights, it is important for a pilot to understand what VMC and IMC conditions are, as well as their differences. VMC stands for “visual meteorological conditions”, while IMC is “instrument meteorological conditions”. VMC and IMC should not be confused with VFR and IFR, which are related but have very different meanings for the pilot. Both VMC and IMC relate to the meteorological conditions during flight, and often will decide whether VFR or IFR are utilized. In this blog, we will discuss what VMC and IMC mean, and what their differences are.

Before understanding VMC and IMC, it is important to understand VFR and IFR rule sets. VFR, or “visual flight rules”, describe a flight in which the weather conditions are good enough for the pilot to safely operate the aircraft and are able to see the direction of where the aircraft is heading. IFR on the other hand, stands for “instrument flight rules” and are utilized in situations where the weather or visibility is poor enough to warrant relying on the aircraft instruments only to maintain a safe flight. With both rule sets, the weather will decide what the pilot uses.

VMC conditions describe the weather conditions and situations in which a pilot can sufficiently and safely maintain visuals of all other aircraft and the terrain around them. The factors that affect VMC include visibility, cloud ceilings, and cloud clearances. During VMC, VFR flight is permitted. The pilot may use IFR, however, if the visibility or ceiling is low enough and the aircraft is not flying within the bad weather. Altogether, these factors and definitions lie under the authority of the FAA.

IMC conditions describe a situation in which visibility and the weather require the pilot to rely on their instruments, and thus conduct an IFR flight. This is typically done when flying through clouds, as well as general bad weather. Pilots are sometimes trained to fly in such conditions to teach them to rely on instrument indications. Instruments such as the attitude indicator and flight management systems can aid the pilot with flying without visual reference.

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