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Aviation Learning Center Document Flying in Flat Light and White Out Conditions
Author: FAA Date: 2001
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Pilot Inspired Techniques to Lower Flat Light Risks
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  • Always leave yourself an out.
  • Don't fly until you only have one visual reference left.
  • Try not to lose sight of your reference point at any time. Plan your approach so that your reference is always on your side when flying. Never turn away from your reference point.
  • Fly with your head straight, looking forward; believe what your flight instruments are showing you.

Getting caught in a no visual reference situation can be fatal. Physical awareness may tell you that you are flying straight but you may actually be in a spiral dive with centrifugal force pressing against you. Having no visual references enhances this illusion.

Just because you have a good visual reference doesn't mean that it is safe to continue. There may be snow-covered terrain not visible in the direction that you are traveling.

Flying Around a Lake

When flying alongside lakeshores, use them as a reference point. Even if you can see the other side, realize that your depth perception may be poor and it is easy to fly into the surface. If you must cross the lake, check the altimeter frequently and maintain a safe altitude while you still have a good reference. Don't descend below that altitude.

The same rules apply to seemingly flat areas of snow. If you don't have good references, avoid going there.

Other Traffic

Be on the look out for other traffic in the area. Other aircraft may be using your same reference point. Chances are greater of colliding with someone traveling in the same direction as you, than someone flying in the opposite direction.


Low ceilings have caught many pilots off guard. Clouds do not always form parallel to the surface, or at the same altitude. Pilots may try to compensate for this by flying with a slight bank and thus creating a descending turn.


Be conscious of your altitude when flying over glaciers. The glaciers may be rising faster than you are climbing.

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