Weather and Aviation

I have always been fascinated with weather but not to the extent that aviation has mandated since I started flying.  A constant look to the skies now not only includes the hum of an engine but a look to assess the cloud cover, wind speed and direction as well.  A review of the weather is to see if we are under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions or VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions will determine whether I can fly or not on a given day.

Cumulous clouds
Cumulous clouds

One thing you learn very quickly when you start to fly is that you’re completely dependent on the weather conditions.

Cumulous clouds
Cumulous clouds

In the summer, when I started flight training, heat was a factor for lift and altitude as well as afternoon popup thunderstorms that can cause wind surges or even microbursts.  A microburst is a strong downdraft of up to 6,000 feet per minute that can produce a hazardous change in wind direction of 45 knots or more.  I’ve seen what this can look like and it scares me to think about encountering one.  Without experience, this could be very dangerous to a student pilot like me.  One of the reasons you have to know what the weather is and what the forecast will be for where you are flying is so that you can determine if it will be safe to make the flight.

Cloud cover at Wilgrove
Cloud cover at Wilgrove

Now that fall has arrived, it’s brought plenty of cloud cover, rain and steady gusting, persistent winds.  Last weekend I flew, but the winds were gusting 18 – 20 knots.  It was work but a great experience practicing for me.  I even got blown off the runway on one landing as I cleared the trees and was about 30 feet above it.  It was the first time that I’ve been startled since I’ve been flying.  A gust caught me just as I came over the trees and I had to work to get it back over the runway, give it some power and finally get it down.  It wasn’t too ugly but it did catch me off guard.  Practicing landings in these kinds of winds is great but it will wear you out and it’s a little stressful too.

I never realized how much flying is so dependent on the weather.  Once I start cross country training, it will become essential to flight planning.  You have to know what you could run into and whether or not you can get around it or make an alternate course if you run into adverse conditions.  One of the mandatory parts of flight planning is listening to a weather briefing.  I know they can be long winded and give you much more information than you might want to hear but it’s crucial to making a good decision about whether you should fly or not.

A windy day.
A windy day.

One of my favorite lessons in ground school was weather.  Everything about flying is weather dependent.  Temperature and humidity affect altitude and engine performance.  There are calculations for determing the affects on your aircraft and on hot humid days, you need to know if you can clear the trees with passengers in your plane if you are on a short field whether landing or taking off.  It takes longer to get in the air on a hot humid day, so you want to make sure your weight and balance are such that you can clear any obstacles on takeoff.  One of the things I love about my home field is that I’m always performing a short field takeoff and landing as it’s only 2835 feet long and 40 feet wide.  It’s great practice and you can definitely tell a difference in the planes performance on the hot days as compared to the cooler days of fall we have been experiencing.

As weather is so important to flight planning and I find it so interesting, I think I’ll do a few posts about weather and weather reports to give you an idea of how it can affect you when planning to fly.

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