March 25, 2013
When the ink was still wet on my private ticket, I found myself on a return trip from a 120-mile journey to a family reunion in my Cessna 172. I had trained and gotten my ticket in a four month period and had finished in February with no experience in spring weather. I had flown through rain and snow without incident and felt I had some kind of clue as to the effects of weather. I had not actually experienced a close up look at the bottom side of a developing thunderstorm though. I had circumvented storms before when I could see them from afar, but if you are flying under overcast and then transition to a storm environment it can be very subtle, that is until you are in the thick of it.
I began to notice that it was getting darker and the plane was beginning to climb. I pointed the nose down and saw myself diving at near VNE and still climbing at about 800 fpm while running the engine at near idle. That's when my brain finally clicked into the procedures from my training. I saw a clear spot to the west, pointed that way and leveled the plane to maneuvering speed. I reassured my wife and mother that every thing was fine in my best lying voice and rode the way out. There were lightning flashes all around and I saw myself climbing at 1500 fpm before I finally got out of it. It got very dark for a while.
In Washington State we have mostly small-localized thunderstorms unlike the biggies that are found in the East, and they pop up pretty quickly. Briefings often don't include a heads up since they don't exist until you are airborne. That experience gave me a pretty good lesson on the clues to developing TS. I know if I see virga under a dark cloud, that it is probably more than just rain and I find a way around it. I have over 1000 hours now and have never had anything close to that experience again.
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