VFR v IFR — Basic Difference

Ok this may seem too basic for many. My novice understanding (and I hope anyone can correct me if I’m wrong) is that besides relevant certifications for pilot and/or plane:-
—In VFR, you can only fly if you have visibility of your external environment throughout flight, and also no flying after dark.
—In IFR you can fly in clouds and at night.

Are there any other considerations? For example, if the plane has auto-pilot capability, and I engage it to follow a flight plan, does that mean that as long as I an using AP, I’m on an IFR flight?

In North America (Canada / US) you can fly VFR at night.

Another rule of VFR is you cannot fly through clouds, you must go under, around or divert.

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Below 17500 feet you can fly VFR on top. You need to be IFR certified to penetrate the layer of cloud. Then cancel IFR and fly VFR once on top of the cloud base.

In relation to using the AP, it does not change you from VFR to IFR.

If you want “practice” translation, in VFR you must have terrain always in sight and separation from clouds. If you want details, you can search the forum or the web. You’ll find exactly the distance from clouds etc. Rules vary from region to region. This said, also during VFR you can use nav aids (VOR, NDB, ADF, ILS if you want). When you fly IFR, then you must have nav aids reading capabilities, since you will be directed on an ILS for landing, for example. The AP is just for your convenience. Many years ago I used to fly IFR on a plane without AP. We just hand flyed what instruments indicated.

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You dont necessarily need AP to fly IFR.

And yes, your basic understanding is more or less correct, of course, it would go much deeper than that…

VFR Visibility requirements depend on country and also in the Airspace you fly in. But different types of airspaces would be a completely other topic to fill a thread. :slight_smile:

VFR at night (NVFR) or even VFR with less than the requirement visibility is possible in certain circumstances, then a pilot has to request SVFR (Special VFR) and if approved, he can fly to/from an airport for example even if the weather is not fullfilling the VFR requirements. But again, this goes way deeper than what i can explain here in a few sentences… :slight_smile:

There is also something called “VFR on top”, which means, if you find a hole in the clouds that respects the minimum distance to the clouds in that airspace, you can fly VFR trough that hole and then fly your route above an overcast layer, but you must be able to descent again trough such a hole or when you have overflown the layer, otherwise, you are in trouble and basically “stuck” above the clouds, which is bad, because at some point, you will have to go down, one way or another…

IRL, to fly IFR, a plane AND the Pilot need to be IFR certified, but Autopilot is not a requirement for IFR.

Also, one has to keep in mind, only because you as pilot are rated IFR and your plane is too, does not necessarily mean you should fly every weather! Flying in icing conditions for example can kill you, even if you are allowed to fly in an ice cold night trough the clouds does not mean you really should do that… thats one of the big killers in general aviation, pilots that think they should fly everything they are allowed, but their plane or the pilots is not capable of doing it…

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Thats not entirely true, you can fly VFR over the top of clouds. Might depend on country tho… as long as you dont have to penetrate the layer of clouds to go above and then below it again.

EDIT: attention, there are two similar but different terms around! VFR on top and VFR over the top. Sounds like it is the same, but it is different.

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In the sim you can break the rules, I fly mostly vfr but like to practice instrument hand flying in thick clouds as and when rather than requesting IFR and then being sent in the wrong direction.

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I fly IFR all the time by hand. I should really learn to use the Autopilot. I’ve hardly ever used it for anything. :joy:

Yes, we can! However, im one of these guys that actually likes to simulate VFR flying as close to IRL. Means i sit there with Foreflight on my iPad and the real VFR Manual Switzerlad and i respect every Airspace that i come across and ask the default ATC for CTR crossing if i need to and when i overfly bigger airports in the US, i use the Special VFR transit routes and all that stuff. I even change my Transpondercode when i fly into a TMZ (Germany for example) :grin:

This is what i call “simulation”. I try to apply realworld procedures to the sim.

The airliner-autopilot-jockeys sometimes think that we VFR flyers are the ones that just play this game for “sightseeing”. But i would assert that a big chung of these IFR-Airliner-Only guys would fail miserably if they had to read charts and understanding all the airspaces and the different rules that apply to them, because they dont have to care. ATC does the job for them. (This is about Sim-Pilots, not real ones, just to be clear!)

Litte excurse from the topic, but sometimes i have the feel they think the only “Hardcore-Simulation” can only be done in a PMDG when flying IFR, but simulating VFR flights is a bigger challenge IMHO.
(i also fly airliners IFR on VATSIM)

Oh and yes, as you, i also do some VFR in the clouds sometimes for fun, and honestly, it is disturbing how fast spatial disorientation kicks in, even at a desktop. Deffo something that an untrained pilot should be aware of IRL, and it amazes me how well it also works in the sim.

Nothing wrong with that, but maybe not ideal for RVSM airspace :yum:

Very true. :wink: I would respect more airspace rules if I knew them. I’d love to get my hands on some charts.

https://skyvector.com/ if you fly US mainly. Or you can always order a Paper chart online for your area for only a few bucks at a pilot store. I mean, you can use it for years, they dont have to be current in the sim. :slight_smile:

Way cool! I will use that. I truly dig an as realistic situation as possible. I live in Utah, and am fairly familiar with true to world air spaces here. But I’d love to have some charts. I’d fly em just to fly em. Thank you for the tip. I will be putting some of this information to use :innocent:

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also :
In IFR, you have to give and follow (if accepted) a flightplan, visibility or not.
Exchanges with controller are not the same also according to the class you fly.
Classification of Airspace | SKYbrary Aviation Safety.

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If you prefer a moving-map that highlights the airspaces you are about to fly in and also is a great planning tool, look at https://foreflight.com/ (works flawlessly with MSFS)

Yes, it is expensive, as it is a real world app, needs a subscription. But as a new user i guess they always have 30 days free trial. Its an awesome app for VFR or IFR pilots, sim or real world. It has all you need in one app.

That’s cool! I appreciate the info! I will get more on board with using these.:+1:t2: