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Flying with an IFR clearance near IMC but with visual references where VFR would be prohibited I have the following questions:

  1. Are you technically even in VMC if you are that close to a cloud? Technically flight is not strictly by reference to instruments, but VFR would be illegal.
  2. Can an instructor log instrument time? (a PPL would not be allowed to fly through tiny holes in a cloud)
  3. Does an instrument student need foggles or can it be logged as "actual"?
  4. Are you still required to see and avoid (obviously still a good idea)

Example: you are 100ft above a cloud and 1000ft horizontal in class E airspace under IFR. You can technically see but need the IFR clearance to be legal.

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  • $\begingroup$ Outside of Class B and C, ATC is responsible for keeping IFR traffic separated from other IFR traffic. If you are in VMC conditions they are not responsible for separation from VFR traffic—that’s where 'see and avoid' comes in. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Jan 3 '17 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ The main source of confusion here is the difference between VFR/IFR and VMC/IMC. Logging actual instrument time requires you to be in IMC, regardless of the rules under which you operate (even if it would be illegal to do so when VFR). $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 3 '17 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ VFR and VMC are entirely separate. Clear day at FL 250, you can't fly VFR but you're in VMC. Moonless night over water with a high cloud deck, you might be legal to fly there VFR but without a horizon you're effectively in IMC. Don't log the former as instrument time; your discretion how you want to log the latter. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jan 3 '17 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ This is kind of a pub quiz thing but you can fly VFR at FL250 in the US. You just have to be in Hawaii, there's no class A airspace there :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 4 '17 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife Actually, 91.135 offers deviation authority to fly VFR in Class A airspace with permission from ATC, so it doesn't even have to be in Hawaii. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 4 '17 at 14:55
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14 CFR 61.51(g) says (my emphasis):

(g) Logging instrument time. (1) A person may log instrument time only for that flight time when the person operates the aircraft solely by reference to instruments under actual or simulated instrument flight conditions.

(2) An authorized instructor may log instrument time when conducting instrument flight instruction in actual instrument flight conditions.

Based on that, the answers to your questions are:

  1. Are you technically even in VMC if you are that close to a cloud? Technically flight is not strictly by reference to instruments, but VFR would be illegal. You're in IMC (i.e. you're operating below the visual minimums in 91.155) but as you said, that doesn't mean you're flying "solely by reference to instruments"
  2. Can an instructor log instrument time? (a PPL would not be allowed to fly through tiny holes in a cloud) If the conditions are IMC, yes (61.51 doesn't require an instructor to operate the aircraft using only instruments)
  3. Does an instrument student need foggles or can it be logged as "actual"? Whether you're wearing foggles or not, you can log instrument time only when you're operating solely on instruments. Practically speaking, using foggles guarantees that you're doing that and can therefore log the time. Without them, some or all of the time might be loggable, i.e. only the part that you really spend flying only on instruments.
  4. Are you still required to see and avoid (obviously still a good idea) Yes, absolutely. According to 91.113(b):

    When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.

It's very common to fly cross country under IFR without logging any instrument time, or logging very little, simply because you're never solely on instruments.

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    $\begingroup$ So really there are three distinctions: flight rules, meteorological conditions, and then the phrase solely by reference to instruments, and a pilot could be in many valid combinations, i.e. VMC under VFR, VMC under IFR, IMC under IFR, and flight could be "solely by reference to instruments" in any of the three. $\endgroup$ – OneChillDude Jan 3 '17 at 23:33

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