Fly High and Fast – Vol. II Chapter 12: Flying Weather Part I
THUNDERSTORMS, ICING AND LOW CEILINGS
I have over one thousand hours in instrument flight (IFR) conditions. This refers to weather with ceilings below low 1,000 ft and 3 Miles or in some cases the clouds maybe have higher ceilings but you have less than 3 miles of visibility. In many cases you are in clouds and have no visibility. In some cases you are better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground. When preparing for IFR flight it is critical to get a good weather briefing and also as many pilot reports as possible. When you fly a specific area a lot, you can also become very good at knowing the weather patterns for the area. All of this is important for safe IFR Flight. Equipment is also very important. If you have radar or even a storm scope you are in a better position to go take a look than if you do not.
Lightening is beautiful but it is also very dangerous. When flying it also gives you a clue as to where the energy of the storm is located. In most cases you want to say away from lightening. As weather builds the clouds can have updrafts and downdrafts that will move at 5,000 ft per minute. You normally will climb at 500 to 1,000 ft per minute so if you get caught in a downdraft of 5,000 ft per minute you are going down. On a flight from Indianapolis, IN USA to Cedar Rapids, IA USA one summer I was climbing out of Indianapolis on a flight south of a storm which was 60 miles to the north. I experienced downdrafts of over 1,000 ft per minute. I was flying a twin Navajo and was not able to climb and for a while I was loosing altitude. The Navajo normal will climb at 1,000 ft per minute. Remember I was 60 miles to the south of the storm. I had planned my flight to go about 75 miles south of my normal flight path to Cedar Rapids with the goal of staying south of the weather.
Winter brings cold and ice to the flight decision. I’ve flown a lot of icing and my plan for flying in ice is not to fly in ice. Even if I have deicer equipment on an aircraft, I will do everything I can to find an altitude where there is no ice or if possible get on top of the weather. I can remember again flying in a Piper Navajo on a trip from Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis where I was using all my deicer equipment and working with Minneapolis Center to find an altitude where there was no ice. I also had trouble on this flight with turbulence. The coffee pots were bouncing out of their holders in the back of the plane. I never did find smooth air but I did manage to get out of the bad icing. On a flight to Des Moines, Iowa USA, we were in a twin Baron and above the clouds but on approach to Des Moines, we were using our deicer boots and shading a lot of ice. A Mooney landed just after us and as we taxied into the Fix Base Operator (FBO) we noticed that he hit hard and a ton of ice came off his plane. He was very lucky. Another problem is that your windshield might pick up ice on an approach and you will not be able to see the runway. Some light twins and larger aircraft have heated windshield. If you do not have a heated windshield make sure you have the defroster on high. I’ve landed several times with out any forward visibility just what I could see out the window on the side of the cockpit.
If you manage to get around the weather and through the icing, you may need to make an instrument approach when you land. Always make sure you have an alternate landing site in case you loose your instruments or need visual conditions. The following link will take you to a fantastic video on YouTube that shows an approach to a very low ceiling in an actual Instrument (IFR) situation. This is what they call a CAT III approach and I’ve shot several IFR approaches and many look just like this. Go to
In any case, flight planning is critical to safe flight. Flight Service and Air Traffic Controllers can give you updates but you have to make the final decision. You also have to be very careful walking on the ramps during winter. There is a lot of ice and the ramps are normally very slippy because of all the de-icing.
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Written by jjmeehan13
January 23, 2010 at 11:49 am
Posted in Flying