Safety Publications/Articles

Eyeballing The Weather

A Tool To Teach About Pilot Reports

One of the most challenging aspects of flight instructing is teaching students about weather. Learning about such a broad subject and knowing where to find needed weather information before and during each flight can seem overwhelming to students. Let us help. AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation (ASF) provide several weather-related resources that you can direct your students toward.

Weather Strategies ( ), one of ASF's safety advisor publications, explores weather-planning strategies and techniques, how to avoid weather traps, and how to find accurate weather information online. Another safety advisor, Weather Tactics ( ), takes pilots on a tour of en route and approach control radar facilities. You'll read about what controllers can and cannot do to help pilots avoid hazardous weather, and you'll learn how to work effectively with ATC to fly around weather. Both publications are available online at no cost, or you can request a hard copy by calling 800/638-3101. The booklets are also the basis of two ASF free live seminars about weather. For seminar schedules, visit .

AOPA members can access Meteorlogix online weather at A complete preflight weather center, the service includes METARs, TAFs, area forecasts, weather radar, forecast graphics, and winds aloft. From that same Web site, your students can also access DUATs for area or route briefings. AOPA's flight planning service ( is an additional resource that would benefit your students - at an appropriate point in their training, of course - as they plan their flights.

The most recent addition to ASF's collection of weather products is the SkySpotter program. If teaching your students about weather is discouraging because you are often challenged by inaccurate forecasts, it's time to do something about it. Forecasts are one thing, but real-time weather is even more beneficial. That information comes from pilots who submit pilot reports (pireps).

"It's a waste of time because pireps never get into the system anyway." Stop right there - we've heard all the excuses. Giving pireps is not a waste of time. We've all checked the weather before a flight and wished there were some pireps to help us make a better go/no-go decision. Flight service briefers always ask us for them. Now, you can do something to help. SkySpotter, created by ASF, the FAA, and the Aviation Weather Center, trains pilots who are dedicated to providing pireps on each cross-country flight. If more pireps are given, more will be entered into the system to help pilots - and to help forecasters validate their products.

SkySpotter is an interactive program that teaches students how to identify weather phenomena to include in a pirep, whom to give the report to, and the correct format in which to provide the pirep. You can use it as an instructional tool by having your students participate in the program before you talk about weather with them.

By now you're probably wondering where you have to go to get the training to become a SkySpotter. It's as close as your computer keyboard. Log on to and participate in the program at your convenience.

After they complete the training, your students will have more confidence in their ability to identify cloud types, estimate visibility, and change frequencies to give a pirep. Quiz questions are strewn throughout the program to make sure participants are paying attention. Each pilot who answers 80 percent of the questions correctly will complete the course as an official SkySpotter, receive a certificate and lapel pin, and find out the secret word to use when giving a pirep.

Encourage your students to join the ranks of proud SkySpotters dedicated to improving weather information available to pilots by visiting the ASF Web site. If your students actively participate in providing pireps and help to improve weather information available to pilots and forecasters, they'll likely become certificated pilots who do the same.

Let's stop complaining about the weather - and do something about it!

Kathleen Roy is a research specialist for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation and a CFI.

By Kathleen Roy

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