|The following stories from the June 15, 2012, 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|
Easy weather’s hard lessons
Taking your lumps in the lower altitudes is a rite of passage for VFR pilots when strong solar heating is stirring the air. After a calm start to the day's flying, the air may become roiled with up- and downdrafts, with fair-weather cumulus clouds popping out of the clear blue, as described in the June 8 “Training Tip: Trial by turbulence.”
Now as you fly along, those “fair-weather cu” seem darker than before—and some have grown to impressive heights. What’s going on?
Don't let your preflight expectations of a benign-but-bumpy ride blind you to unexpected changes. Airmass thunderstorms could develop far from frontal boundaries, as discussed in this safety advisor from the Air Safety Institute. If a hot, humid day is becoming hotter, or if a temperature inversion capping moist air at the surface begins to give way, conditions may become favorable for the development of convective weather.
When? “It all boils down to the rising air parcel’s reaching the altitude at which it becomes warmer (and less dense) than the surrounding air. This altitude is called the level of free convection,” Thomas A. Horne explained in the September 2008 AOPA Pilot article “Wx Watch: Bustin’ Caps.”
Time to get busy and confirm any suspicions that your visual observations of the actual weather raised.
Check reporting stations ahead along your route. Monitor air traffic control. Have any weather advisories been issued? Have you heard any aircraft requesting deviations for weather?
Ample resources are available to pilots to make in-flight weather updates. One key resource is the continuous hazardous inflight weather advisory service broadcasts available on selected navaids. They are shown on your sectional chart.
If it becomes necessary to steer away from trouble during your retreat, it is recommended that you give a thunderstorm at least 20 miles clearance. Severe turbulence or hail (METAR symbol GR) could be out there—even in clear air at a seemingly safe distance.
So, you are up to the task of making a sound weather judgment and avoiding trouble? Good. To be sure, test and sharpen your knowledge with the Air Safety Institute’s safety quiz on thunderstorms before your next flight.
Safe Pilot online course from Gleim
As you become a certificated pilot, safety and proficiency should be your goal on every flight. The Gleim Safe Pilot Course is a recurrent ground training course designed to increase pilots’ knowledge and abilities with regard to operating safely in the National Airspace System. The course covers recent aircraft accidents and highlights causes as well as lessons that can be learned. Thirteen study units discuss safe practices during all phases of flight. The $29.95 fee grants six months’ access to the course, which also qualifies for FAA Wings credit, and you can try the first study unit for free.
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.
Question: How do I file, open, and close a VFR flight plan?
Answer: You can file a VFR flight plan over the phone with flight service by calling 800/WX-BRIEF, or online with programs such as the AOPA Internet Flight Planner, which will access your DUAT or DUATS account for weather and online filing. To open the filed flight plan, contact the nearest flight service station (FSS) to your departure airport using the radio frequency listed on top of the VOR communication box on the sectional chart. An “R” listed after the frequency indicates that flight service will only be able to receive your transmission and you will have to listen over the VOR frequency for a response. You can close your VFR flight plan via an FSS frequency or by calling a briefer on the phone after landing. Be sure to cancel within 30 minutes after your estimated time of arrival to avoid the initiation of search-and-rescue operations.
Got a question for our technical services staff? Email [email protected] or call the Pilot Information Center, 800/872-2672. Don’t forget the online archive of “Final Exam” questions and answers, searchable by keyword or topic.