KEY FLYING LESSONS: PART 1 - THUNDERSTORMS

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.

THUNDERSTORMS can look benign from the trailing side, but the leading edge has plenty of power. I had never thought about the fact that a storm would look more benign from the trailing side, or that it would get worse as you flew from the back to the front of the storm.

That was a lesson learned in my first encounter, in a Twin Bonanza. The sky ahead became dark, the rain started, and the turbulence set in. Then the sky got darker, the rain heavier and the turbulence more enthusiastic. After the flight, I decided that while the turbulence was manageable, the whole package was pretty bad. The noise of the extremely heavy rain hitting the windshield was distracting; the rain water dripping on my left leg was an annoyance. Most of all, the thought that I had no clue about whether it would continue to get worse was particularly unsettling. In short, I was convinced that it was not something I ever wanted to do again.

·     If severe weather is forecast, or if the actual weather looks severe, stay out of all clouds associated with it. All such clouds are terrible places to be, especially in light airplanes.
·     Beware wispy clouds in the vicinity of thunderstorms, even well away from precipitation. These can be signs of greatly disturbed air. This is also true in frontal zones where the disturbances are milder but still enthusiastic.
·     Learn to visualise the flow into and out of thunderstorms. This can help avoid wind shear encounters.
·     If you come upon a broken line of thunderstorms, don’t expect a smooth ride, even clear of any precipitation. The disturbance causing the broken line to develop will be present to some extent all along the line even though storms don’t come to maturity all along it.

I never forgot the above basics which had served me for many years. With or without the good modern equipment available I never flew through another thunderstorm. I did fly around them and under them many times and had plenty of wet and bumpy rides caused by factors other than storms, but I had learned a lesson from that first encounter. I had been there, done that, and learned that I didn’t want to do it again!

FLY SAFE!
Tony Birth