Weather Flying

Aug 15, 2007 (added Sept 17, 2007)

The culture of a profitable, safety conscious company is refreshing. Most airlines are, but I've seen examples of those that push their pilots in varying levels of directness. For example, how about paying only for completed flights? That's guaranteed to apply pressure, however subtle, in unhealthy ways. It certainly does not encourage decisions based solely on safety. Believe it or not, some airlines—primarily a few commuters—pay that way. Thankfully, I've never worked for one. I'll bet, on a very few occasions, they fly in conditions that other pilots would skip.

The nice thing about flying PPG is that, when the weather isn't perfect, we can pass. Fortunately, weather flying in a modern jet airplane is surprisingly simple, especially at an airline that encourages, with all policies, safe behavior.

Enroute weather flying is easiest—give a wide birth to storms—a task made easy by keeping the magenta line (or white heading line) well away from the echo edges. Mind the wind at your altitude and don't get downwind of taller cells. The downwind avoidance should sound familiar—kind of like avoiding the wind shadow of big obstructions.

An aside, when we fly in an area with weather like that shown at right, we have the flight attendants sit down. It's probably going to be perfectly smooth, as it was on this flight, but there's a 1 in 100 chance that we'll get a jolt. The airplane only has to drop 5 feet suddenly for an unbelted occupant to get whacked against the ceiling.

Dealing with storms in terminal areas is more of a pain but things almost always change dramatically in 10 minutes. Watching nasty weather spend itself from the comfort of a tarmac is a great way to insure uneventfulness.

Fuel is rarely an issue. Every flight leaves with enough to make the destination, fly to an alternate (in marginal weather), fly around for 45 minutes and then an additional 20 minutes or more just for the kids. Another good reason to fly for a safety conscious outfit is the willingness to carry that  extra 20 minutes. It costs extra money to fly that fuel around but it's well worth it. I'm thankful we do.

I fly a small airplane, too, and it has no radar. That's no fun when clouds threaten and it means there are some trips that don't get made and some that shave the margins closer than I'd like. The only way to fly through weather in that case is to go below the clouds so you can see rain shafts. Its utterly impossible to fly around thunderstorms at night in an airplane without radar and I've never tried. Too much aluminum has been scrapped in that endeavor. Intentionally flying through anything remotely resembling a thunderstorm would earn the pilot a Darwin Award.

This is why, on long trips, I'd just as soon take the airlines and leave the driving to them.

City of Brotherly Above

Sept 29, 2007

This was supposed to be a 4 day trip. It turned into more of a 3 day twist with one day from hell. And there's quite a story as to why.

Be forwarned: this is more about rolling than it is flying since there was a lot more rolling done. Those of you who have flown into Philadelphia need only know that we were using a less-desirable runway configuration and there was weather along our departure route. Storms. The stuff that few pilots will go through.

Just like your phone--the moving map display shows an electronic version of what we see out the window only it's real time. This is one reason why your pilots will likely seat the flight attendants. Even though you circumnavigate the stuff, it can reach out and touch through clear air. Rare, but possible.




Most of us enjoy hand flying the departure and arrival. George, the autopilot, is pressed into service for the enroute phase. On average, the autopilot is flying whenever the airplane is above 3000 feet AGL.

Ahhh, the day is done. I'm lucky to enjoy relaxing at the hotel as much as relaxing or working on projects at home.

© 2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!