The following stories from the August 17, 2007, edition of AOPA ePilot were provided to AOPA members who expressed an interest in the particular subject areas. Any AOPA member can receive information tailored to their areas of interest by updating their preferences online.
My ePilot - Student Interest, Training Tips
THE MEANING OF 'MARGINAL'
What does the term "marginal VFR" really mean? How should a noninstrument-rated pilot respond to seeing "MVFR" in a weather forecast or pilot report?
One definition of MVFR is the terse one given in the discussion of outlook briefings in Chapter 7 of the Aeronautical Information Manual: "MVFR (Marginal VFR). Ceiling 1,000 to 3,000 feet and/or visibility 3 to 5 miles inclusive."
Here's a narrative definition rendered by an instrument-rated pilot in an AOPA Aviation Forum. "Monday I flew IFR in 3 to 5 miles visibility in haze. Started during daylight, ended after sunset. No way was this suitable for VFR flight. It was soup. I could see down to the ground, but not very clearly. Around me was nothing. Not once did I see traffic ATC pointed out. No horizon, no visual references, just nothing. I kept thinking the plane was in a slow left turn and had to check the instruments to be sure I was straight and level."
An MVFR memoir from "Never Again" in the November 2006 AOPA Pilot tells how a VFR-only pilot encountered lowering clouds and precipitation in the mountains, missing the early clues about what lay in store. He wrote, "Although my flight training taught me how dynamic weather can be, that wisdom did not sink in until this flight."
Thomas Horne's remedy for that kind of problem is found in his June 2002 AOPA Pilot article "Weather Savvy: Facing down the clouds," in which he urged all pilot trainees to taste nasty weather safely in an instructor's care. "That goes for students working on their private certificates, as well as instrument-rating candidates. This way pilots get the chance to see what lousy weather looks like, and learn how to carry out the procedures needed to bring a flight through to a safe conclusion," he wrote. Then make viewing the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Weather Wise: Ceiling and Visibility online course part of your MVFR curriculum.
Your instructor should note weather limitations for solo flying in your logbook that prevent flirtations with forecasted marginal conditions. (Remember also that student pilots and sport pilots are prohibited from flying when visual reference to the surface is not possible.)
Bottom line: Don't underestimate the red-flag implications of the word "marginal" in a forecast prophesizing VFR weather.
My ePilot - Training Product
SPORTY'S IFR FLIGHT GEAR BAG NOT JUST FOR INSTRUMENT PILOTS
Is your flight bag getting beat up? Is it time to upgrade or just treat yourself to a new one? If that time has come, check out the IFR Flight Gear Bag from Sporty's. It's a leather version of a popular bag in Sporty's line, with dedicated pockets for charts, a transceiver, a flashlight, a fuel tester, or a water bottle. There's an organizer section that has room for pens, a cell phone, a pilot certificate, and keys. The padded interior is divided into three sections. The bag measures 16 inches in length by 9 inches in width and is 9 inches high. It comes in black and sells for $119. For more information or to order, see the Web site.
Note: Products listed have not been evaluated by ePilot editors unless otherwise noted. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors.
My ePilot - Student Interest, Final Exam
Question: I just started working on my cross-country flight requirements, and I am noticing the difference in airports and their signs and markings. What resources are available to help me learn more about airport signage?
Answer: The Aeronautical Information Manual outlines some of the basic airport signage and markings that are commonly used at most airports. There is also a more detailed listing of information in two FAA advisory circulars: Standards for Airport Markings and Standards for Airport Sign Systems. Finally, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has developed runway safety flash cards as a handy learning aid. Additional information on this important subject is discussed in the AOPA Flight Training article "Signs and Signals."