Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS (Richard Collins)

(Ed. Note: Richard offers the benefit of long experience, edited for brevity)

Some things that had to be learned the hard way

You can’t say “been there, done that” until you have actually been there and done that. Then you should be able to add “and learned that”.

In the beginning, there are many unknowns up ahead. We might have theoretical knowledge, or have had a crack at it in a simulator, but when the chips are down only the real thing matters. How well was the challenge met and what lessons were learned? 

Most lessons to be learned relate to WEATHER. There are other challenges, but fortunately relatively rare. Engines may quit, systems fail and avionics sizzle or fade, but weather challenges a pilot on far more flights than those other misadventures.

Unfortunately, some pilots rate themselves on weather by thinking, “I made it, so I must have done okay.” Then they give it no further thought. Those who wish to keep on “making it” delve more deeply into it. So, let’s look at some logbook lessons that helped greatly in subsequent encounters with the elements.

The proper use of what we used to see on paper and now see on screens is definitely an important part of flying technique and there are many lessons to learn. The key is in separating fact from potential fiction. The facts in weather information are found in the reports, the current surface charts, and the picture on the weather radar.

The weather “big picture” is the critical first step in planning a flight, and for me the most important information has always come from the weather map.

For any trip, I wanted to know both where I was going and what sort of sky I would be flying in. The only way to get any idea about the latter was by knowing the location of the highs, lows and fronts in relation to your flight path.

The most important lesson I learned on weather is that what you see and feel is what you get:
·       The reports are for one spot at one location
·       The radar is for a few minutes ago
·       The forecasts are guesses
·       The actual conditions encountered are real

40 years ago, in the publication Aviation Weather, the FAA and the Weather Bureau included some words on the accuracy of aviation weather forecasts. I’ll summarise, with the caveat that forecasting has (hopefully) become better since then; but remember, Mother Nature hasn’t changed!
·       A forecast of good weather is more likely to be correct than a forecast of bad weather for a   period of 12 hours in the future
·       Three or four hours in advance, a forecast of below VFR conditions is likely accurate about 80-percent of the time
·       Forecasts of specific ceiling/visibility values are not likely to be accurate beyond the first two or three hours of the forecast period.
·       Forecasts of poor flying conditions are more likely to be accurate when there is an active weather system in play, though the weather associated with a fast-moving cold front or squall line is difficult to forecast accurately
·       Surface visibility is more difficult to forecast than ceiling height, and snow makes visibility forecasting “rather wild guesswork.”
·       Forecasts of the time rain or snow will begin within plus or minus five hours are accurate 75-percent of the time.
·       Things that are most difficult to forecast before they exist include heavy icing, severe or extreme turbulence, and ceilings of 100 feet or zero.

Those are some of the high spots. And I think that this reinforces my thought that the best weather flying lesson that I learned over many years is the one about what you see and feel being what you get.

So, do have a Plan B (and C and D) if what you see and feel doesn’t satisfy.
Remember that, and be careful out there while you learn your lessons!

Tony Birth