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IFR Fix: What's the window?

A stationary front undulates from northwestern Utah to the Texas panhandle, up into Oklahoma, then east across several states, edging offshore along the Virginia/North Carolina line.

Hardly a factor for a flight to a northern New England coastal airport—unless you noticed the low-pressure area off New Jersey and visualized how its counter-clockwise rotation might influence weather at a destination such as Maine’s Portland International Jetport. 

A pilot planning a day trip to the coast on a July morning, in the home FBO’s new IFR-equipped aircraft, would have more than just weather to consider.

As for the weather, a three-day hot spell is about to end, with rain and low ceilings forecast to arrive in the evening. But that’s no reason for a slightly rusty pilot who is ready, if not eager, to take on instrument conditions to rush off early, based on the 1251Z METAR: 21004KT 7SM OVC006 19/18 A2981.

That’s a pretty high dew point—a fact that any pilot would court peril to ignore. But the spread is likely to widen as the moisture is reabsorbed back into the air as it warms in the rising sun, an expectation corroborated by the terminal forecast, which says conditions should improve to a lovely P6SM SCT050 after 1300Z.

So, dinner in the Old Port

Tempting. But the window of benign weather is expected to begin closing at 2000Z, so keep your options open. After 0300Z, the forecast calls for 14006KT 2SM -SHRA BR OVC015. (Back inland at the home airport, a similar trend should prevail, with conditions generally more favorable than on the cooler coast.)

So that’s the weather picture. Now take that new rental aircraft into account. Is it an asset or a liability, from a proficiency standpoint?  

"Analysis indicates that pilots conducting operations in challenging conditions without significant experience in make/model of aircraft are at a greater risk for fatal accidents," notes a recently issued FAA advisory circular, "Transition to Unfamiliar Aircraft." Several type clubs "recommend that pilots accumulate significant day visual flight rules (VFR) flight time" before conducting operations such as night or instrument flight, it adds.

Does today’s weather window—trimmed at the edges to provide a proper safety margin—provide an opportunity to safely accumulate some of that experience?

Seafood supper or no, deciding will be a worthwhile proficiency exercise. What would you do? Share your reasoning for making the go/no-go decision in the comments below.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Weather, IFR, IFR

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