Safety Publications/Articles


Weathering weather effects

Training in poor conditions can require creativity

Wouldn't it be great to instruct in a weather vacuum, where we can schedule a hop for next Wednesday and know for a fact that we'll actually fly it? Just think how much more progress we could make if weather wasn't constantly gumming up the works, and how much more predictable our revenue stream would be.

Having flawless weather sounds like the ideal flight training situation, doesn't it? But when we're wishing for nothing but perfect weather aren't we looking at flight training strictly from the instructor's point of view? Would never-changing, calm, cool, ceiling and visibility unlimited conditions benefit the student? I don't think so. When we kick him out of the nest and he gets his certificate, he'll be out there flying in the real world and the real world has real weather, which is seldom perfect. So, at least on occasion, we need imperfect weather in which to train students for the imperfect world.

There will always be days when the weather doesn't match the student. For that reason, we as instructors have to view our students against the backdrop of the weather at hand and make the fly/ no-fly, decision with their needs in mind. We need to look at the specific weather and analyze how it'll affect the student's learning at that stage of their progress.

How bad can it be?

There is a tendency among many instructors to avoid adverse weather conditions and fly only on relatively calm days with good visibility. Others, especially those in northern states, know that if they do that they'll never get a student finished. Regardless of the geographical location, there are common sense no-fly limits that are based on two student parameters: Will the weather cause the student any apprehension, and will the weather teach them anything or prevent them from learning? Hard crosswinds or turbulence have the student hanging on for dear life, but unless the student is advanced in the learning cycle, he won't learn a thing.

How about rain?

Do we fly in rain and low visibility? The answer to that question depends on what we mean by rain. The sound of rain hitting the airplane and the resulting reduced visibility not only make it scary for a student, but even if conditions are within legal limits, it may not be safe. Also, drastically reduced visibility to a new student robs him of the horizon at a time when he is just learning to orient himself.

If we're flying in an area where low visibility and questionable ceilings are more the norm than the exception, then we need to work those into our students' skill set. It's critical that if we're flying a student in reduced visibility that we constantly remind them that flying in marginal VFR kills more pilots than any other area of aviation and is to be approached with great care. We could even consider flying a short cross-country in less than ideal conditions. We want the result of that kind of instruction to be the ability to operate in such conditions while at the same time having a healthy respect for weather of any kind. No one ever died from having too much respect for weather. The reverse, unfortunately, is true.

Too much wind is bad, none is worse

As we've often said, crosswinds are general aviation's boogeymen because far too many students become certificated pilots without a complete mastery of them. Of all the fears that keep new pilots on the ground during nice days crosswinds are it, and that's our fault. It's important we get students safe in wind before they leave on the cross-countries. At the same time, however, the timing issue raises its ugly head again: We don't want to work them in the pattern in hard crosswinds too early.

When we're preparing students for solo, the ideal situation is a long series of balmy days with nice, steady five-knot winds right down the centerline. At that stage of the student's progress, it's essential that he feel everything the airplane is doing and can clearly see the effect of his own inputs. If it's windy or turbulent it'll be hard for the student to separate what they are doing versus what the wind is doing to them. If we let them get too beat up by the wind, we may set the stage for them to begin avoiding windy days to the point that they are psychologically limited.

The real problem with the concept of having calm-or at least steady-winds early in training is that far too often it just doesn't turn out that way. In many parts of the country there are times during the year when the wind is always blowing. Oklahoma flight instructors, for instance, are only half kidding when they say they use log chains for windsocks. What do we do when the wind is a potential problem for a student? Truth is, there are simply some days that we have to tell a student that we're going to sit this one out. Yeah, we could fly in it easily ourselves, but just being off the ground isn't our goal.

Most of the time, even if the wind won't allow us to work the pattern, we can go ahead and fly because we'll have other things we can work on in the practice area. However, if it's Arizona-in-August rough, or we barely have VFR minimums, we're going to lose yet another hop. And that's just the way it is.

Budd Davisson is an aviation writer/photographer and magazine editor who has written approximately 2,200 articles and has flown more than 300 different types of aircraft. A CFI since 1967, he teaches about 30 hours a month in his Pitts S-2A Special. Visit his Web site.

By Budd Davisson

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