Of all the topics in my private-pilot ground school course years ago, weather was the one that bedeviled me the most. Being a student of languages (including a couple of “guy” dialects), I breezed through translating weather code into words. What baffled me was figuring out what those weather words actually meant to me as a pilot flying a specific airplane from one place to another. I eventually discovered a practical weather evaluation method. Last year, I had a chance to work through, or around, virtually all major meteorological conditions when I joined two friends flying from Virginia to Arizona and back in their Cessna 206.
Soup’s On! The importance of instrument currency and proficiency became obvious shortly after takeoff from Leesburg (KJYO) on a warm, but overcast, spring day. IMC prevailed for the entire first leg to Lexington, Kentucky (KLEX), and ferocious headwinds extended our ETE by nearly an hour.
Planning pays off: We knew which direction to fly for better weather, and we had the fuel to reach it if necessary. Equipment helps, too: The moving-map navigator contributed to situational awareness, and the capable KAP 140 autopilot left all three pilots free to focus on fuel management and discuss diversion decisions. It also kept the pilot flying fresher for the approach.
Wind, Sand, and Storms. The second day dawned over three faces studying the convective weather developing between Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and our intended fuel stop in Enid, Oklahoma. After much discussion and many questions to the Flight Service briefer, we opted to “meet” the approaching front rather than wait for it to make its way into central Missouri.
With datalink, three proficient instrument pilots, dozens of airports reporting VFR and MVFR conditions, and everyone-has- a-veto policy in place, we were collectively comfortable with the decision. Consulting with the controller and using datalink for strategic storm avoidance, we worked our way around the worst areas and emerged on the other side of the front to find…wind. Lots of it. With the Oklahoma wind sweeping around the plane, we reviewed crosswind-landing techniques and rechecked the maximum demonstrated crosswind component.
The high-desert elevations of New Mexico provided a clear lesson in density altitude. Accustomed as we are to elevations near sea level, flying out of Santa Fe meant considering the multiple impacts of high altitude and high temperature on both loading and leaning the airplane for best performance. We also dug deeply into the performance charts.
Ice Is Not Nice. You may not associate ice with flying over the desert, but, if you fly high enough in clouds that are cold enough, it’s there. Good planning, good equipment, and constant situational awareness were key to skating clear of conditions that would have been too much for the C206 to handle. At the first sign of light rime accumulation, we sounded the alarm to ATC and requested immediate clearance to a predetermined ice-free altitude and course.
I learned more about weather in that one trip than I ever got from books or local flights. If you have a similar opportunity, take it, but with all the planning and proficiency you need to ensure safe flights. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulyAug 2010)