Scud Running

If you’re a pilot, you’ll be familiar with the term “scud running.” In more formal terms, it means trying to squeeze between low clouds (scud) and the ground or minimum altitude restrictions. (That “hard deck” they’re always talking about in “Top Gun?” It’s that.) One’s often flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) where you’re not necessarily talking to Air Traffic Control (ATC). One might not be rated for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). One might not want to be bothered with all of the paperwork and control and planning involved in IFR flight and want to stay in the “easier” VFR flight rules.

In more snarky terms, it means “maintaining visual contact with the ground while avoiding physical contact with it.” To be legal in most controlled airspace you need to be 500 feet away from the clouds and 1,200 feet above the ground (depending on what airspace you’re in) with three miles of visibility. But if you can get into Class G (uncontrolled) airspace it’s 500 feet from the clouds and one mile of visibility. So if you get down low and can squeeze between those hills and mountains and the ground and that lowering cloud deck…

This is dangerous. Often VERY dangerous. Legal? Probably. Sometimes. Maybe. -ish.

Lots of things can go very wrong very fast. There are more and more things like cell towers, power lines, wind turbine towers, and buildings out there to make something very hard and very bad to fly into. At such a low altitude, if anything goes wrong (like engine problems) you have very little room for error or maneuvering. Scud is often found near the edges of thunderstorms and that can mean downdrafts that just reach out and slap you out of the sky. The clouds can close in and leave you in IFR conditions, blind, close to the ground, and in a world of hurt.

Got the picture?

The same thing happens in life. You take a “small” chance and get away with it. You know better, but it’s convenient and you just need to bend the rules a little bit, not really break them. Then the next time it’s easier to do it again. And the next time you bend the rules just a little bit more. You keep getting away with it. Again, and again, and…

…and then things go pear-shaped and sideways and you’re seriously up the creek.

I think this is basically the overall story arc of “Breaking Bad.”

Admire the scud in the sunset. Avoid the scud running in a plane or in everyday life.

Just something to think about.


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