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. Air mass 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 seeking 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.
Flight Training News
The National Aviation Hall of Fame has increased the stipend for its annual A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Educator of the Year Award and pushed back the deadline to submit nominations. The stipend was raised to $5,000 from $1,500, and will be awarded to a teacher who demonstrates effectiveness, creativity, and ability to maintain high standards for students or themselves, with aerospace as a core subject matter of their curricula. Nominations are being accepted until June 30 at the website.
AOPA scholarship winner solos
Stacey Shrewsbury soloed a Diamond DA20 on June 8 at Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington/Normal, Ill. Shrewsbury is one of three people who received a $5,000 flight training scholarship at the 2012 Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In and Expo. She is assistant flight director at the Challenger Learning Center in central Illinois. Her flight instructor is Lee Moulic.
Preempting a thunderstorm’s fury
Thunderstorms can pack a powerful punch, and flying anywhere in the vicinity of one can be deadly. But, how do you recognize and deal with convective weather? Watch the Air Safety Institute’s “Preempting a Thunderstorm’s Fury: Cockpit Weather, ATC, and You.” In this recorded webcast, AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg and expert panelists discuss practical weather strategies beyond basics: How are ASR and WARP different? What’s the dBz scale mean to you? How do you interpret steep precipitation gradients? Find out how to minimize your risk of encountering a thunderstorm’s fearsome wrath. Watch the webcast >>
Man arrested for throwing nails on flight school property
A Venice, Calif., man was arrested last week for throwing nails onto the driveway of flight schools located at Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Six similar incidents had been reported in the past six months, and police had stepped up patrols in hopes of catching a suspect. Airport police observed the man tossing nails while riding a bicycle on the flight school driveway. He was charged with attempted felony vandalism and released on a $20,000 bond, according to The Lookout News. Santa Monica Airport has been the center of controversy for decades. The city tried to close the airport in 1981, and has tried to restrict access and operations in the ensuing years.
Liberty University gets new training aircraft
The School of Aeronautics at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., recently acquired a Cessna 172SP that will join the school’s fleet. The airplane was flown from Independence, Kan., to Salina, Kan., where Liberty students were competing in the 2012 National Intercollegiate Flying Association competition. Two Liberty students flew it back to Lynchburg. John Marselus, associate dean for flight operations, said the school’s flight program has grown from 90 students in 2010 to more than 180 in January 2012.
Understanding convective weather is key to avoiding violent storms, which can produce airframe-shattering turbulence and raging winds, accompanied by blinding downpours and damaging hail. Watching a storm from your front porch can be breathtaking. But in the air it can be a terrifying experience. Need a refresher on thunderstorm-avoidance strategies? Take the quiz >>
Did you know that student pilots who join AOPA are three times more likely to complete their flight training? Membership includes unlimited access to aviation information by phone (800/USA-AOPA, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time) or from Flight Training Online or AOPA Online. If you’re not already a member, join today and get the pilot’s edge. Login information is available online.
Ask ATC: Storm Week
We’re taught early in our training to avoid thunderstorms. But at this time of year, they frequently appear with little warning, and if a pilot is not staying on top of developments, he could find himself in an uncomfortable situation quickly. A call to ATC can help. Even if you’re flying VFR, controllers can help you get around the weather, but you have to ask. In the latest segment of Ask ATC from the Air Safety Institute, two tracon controllers talk about how pilots and controllers can work together to paint a bigger weather picture and help you out of a potentially dangerous situation.
United announces Houston cutbacks after Hobby changes OK’d
Hours after a Houston City Council vote May 30 to allow international operations from the city’s William P. Hobby Airport, The Houston Chronicle reported that United Airlines told employees that, as a result of the council vote, the carrier would cut planned operations at George Bush Intercontinental Airport by 10 percent and eliminate 1,300 Houston jobs. Southwest Airlines will pay $100 million up front to build five international gates and a customs facility at Hobby. Earlier this year, Southwest asked the city for approval to construct a new five-gate international terminal at Hobby so that it could launch service to Latin America.
Delta invests $65 million in Grupo Aeromexico
Grupo Aeromexico received $65 million from Delta Air Lines Inc. on June 4 as part of Delta’s investment in the capital stock of Mexico’s flagship carrier, strengthening its financial position, confirming its expansion project, and creating the leading airline alliance in the Mexico-U.S. market. The Mexican Federal Competition Commission allowed Delta to underwrite and purchase nearly 30.2 million shares of stock, equivalent to 4.17 percent of Grupo Aeromexico’s capital stock; the purchase gives Delta a seat on the Grupo Aeromexico board. Both companies will share best practices in sales, operations, equipment maintenance, and staff training. The financial transaction is part of a global contract the carriers signed last year to create a unique alliance in Latin America.
Piper isn't the first make that comes to mind when you see a low-wing taildragger built as a beast of burden taxi for takeoff. This aircraft is obviously a workhorse with its one-person, canopied cockpit. Is it towing a glider out to the runway for launch? If not, this Piper Pawnee may be getting ready to apply pesticide to a nearby field of crops. That too would be a regular mission for a PA-25. Several different models were built to fly behind engines of 150, 235, and 260 horsepower.
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.
Legally Speaking: ‘Signing’ an e-logbook
The regulations require that a CFI sign students’ logbooks and place endorsements in them. But the “logbook” isn’t always a bound book of pages. How can one sign or endorse a student’s e-logbook? Pilot Protection Services legal expert Kathy Yodice addresses the issue. Read more >>
Did you know? Opening your flight plan
Opening a flight plan just got a little easier, Flight Training Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman says. Also in this week’s Flight Training blog, Tallman wants to hear your memories of flying with your dad.
Sling LSA joins the market
For those of you who enjoy keeping tabs on the always-interesting light sport aircraft market, AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton K. Marsh brings you the scoop on the Sling, an import from South Africa. Read more, see photos, and watch a video in the Reporting Points blog.
AOPA Career Opportunities
Ever dream of turning your passion for aviation into a career? We’re looking for a registration, housing, and meeting planner; aviation technical writer; member services representative; and enewsletter and social media editor. To learn more about other AOPA career opportunities, visit AOPA Online.
AVIATION EVENTS & WEATHER