Be Responsible & Informed: FSS Weather Briefing
Oct 11, 2007 | Section II | Calling Flight Service
We have an amazing resource only a toll-free dial away—Flight
It's easy to be informed so don't slough off the call. I
know, you look out,
winds are light, gear is ready, you're running late, and you don't plan
to fly for that long—why bother with Flight Service?
The best reason
is that, if a flight restriction has landed in your area, you need to
know about it. The next best reason is that atmospheric surprises lurk
and, by getting information from an expert, chances of needing
that expert wing handling or reserve, decrease. Most of the time your briefer will
have local weather knowledge, too.
And they want us to call!
1-800-WX-BRIEF (800-992-7433) is now run by Lockheed Martin under contract to the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA). Their services remain the same: to provide pilot briefings to
everyone including powered paraglider pilots.
October of 2007 I was invited to visit the Kankakee Flight Service where
manager Kevin George showed me around to explain what they do. I was
impressed. Lockheed is obviously trying to win the pilot community over
after a somewhat bumpy start in 2006.
There will be a more thorough write-up in
Powered Sport Flying's December issue but this information should provide a
useful treatment of the subject. Thanks to Lance Marczak of Kankakee
for setting this up and for the helpful time of Kevin George and
Briefer George Tuonenin.
Making the Call
Procedures have changed slightly but nothing dramatic. After dialing
800 WX-BRIEF (992-7433) you will get a menu selection. Say "Briefer"
then respond until you get to the desired area. There are 18 physical
locations and you'll be routed to the one closest to your chosen area.
Tell them you're an ultralight pilot, what time you'll be flying, where,
how high and how long. Give you name since they have to enter something
in the "aircraft number" field. They work in Greenwich Mean Time, also
called Zulu time, but if you don't know the conversion just say "an hour
from now" or use local time and say so. It's best if you give the
location referencing an airport give what you got.
Don't sweat it if you don't have all the info, they'll ask what they
need to fill in the blanks. As you're doling out details, he's typing
into a computer, so you may have to repeat certain things anyway. Soon,
a bevy of relevant aviation weather data pours onto his 3-screen display
and he starts the briefing.
There are some minimum items they must cover but nearly all are
relevant. Most briefers know what can be skipped. Airport NOTAMS
(notices to airman), tower lights inop, and similar useless items aren't
required for our operation.
Some terms may be foreign but most are self explanatory. For example,
the briefing must include Sigmet (Significant Meteorological conditions)
information but they'll always tell what it's about. For example,
they'll say "Sigmet 4 charlie for thunderstorms..." I'm sure we all know
to avoid thunderstorms.
Calls are recorded which provides some protection for you. For
example, if airspace is put up at the last minute, you can confidently
tell an investigator you exercised due diligence in getting appropriate
information. Regardless of what happens, whether a violation or conflict
with another pilot, it looks good beyond the self-preservation value.
Always use your correct last name for this reason.
A lot of improvements are planned but one that's been implemented
already are Pilot Profiles. You can ask to store your information under
your telephone number then when you call them back, you can say that you
have a pilot profile under such-and-such. The field he types in to pull
up your information says certificate number but they can enter any
identifying number. The feature is intended to speed the process by
populating some data fields from stored info.
What you Should Know
I was impressed with how strongly George and Kevin encouraged pilots to call even
if they're not familiar with the lingo. The overriding message being
that it's much better to call even if you're not "Mr. Aviation."
It would still be helpful to understand a few things as covered in
Chapter 7 of the PPG Bible. Namely how wind information is given and Z
times. Briefers will frequently give information relative to these items
out o habit.
Wind directions are always the way the wind is from in degrees where
north is 0°, east is 90°, south is 180° and west is 270°.
Zulu time is local + x hours in the summer or local + x+1 hours in
the winter expressed using the 24 hour clock. So for the central time
zone, Zulu is local + 5 hours in the summer and local + 6 hours in the
winter. If you're summer morning launch is 7 am that's 1200 Zulu.
Californians (pacific time) must add 7 hours to local in the summer and
8 hour in winter.
Responsible behavior will help extend your acceptance in the aviation
community. Unless we want to fly looking over our shoulders all the
time, it's always best to work with other users of the airspace system
and this one first step. Hitting national news by flying in restricted
airspace will not endear us to anyone.
Fortunately, we've been provided a capable tool at a hard-to-beat
price. All we have to do is use it.