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Training Tip: 'Things get fuzzy from there'Training Tip: 'Things get fuzzy from there'

There are two ways to learn aviation weather.

Weather is ever changing and pilots should be ever watchful to ensure not just their safety but that of others as well. Photo by Mike Fizer.

You could read airman certification standards-recommended source material; watch your favorite TV meteorologist daily, flying or not; practice working with aviation weather products; and get full briefings before you fly. Note weather you encounter, constantly evaluating your forecast’s accuracy. Share your observations by filing pilot reports.

Here’s another way to study weather. This method, as flight service specialists say when a VFR pilot calls for a briefing on a no-go kind of day, is not recommended—but it seems to remain popular with a segment of the pilot population. It starts by cutting corners, and it goes downhill from there.

A 362-hour VFR pilot who only had the three hours of simulated instrument training required for private pilot eligibility checked weather on his cellphone, but didn’t get a briefing.

Departing for a scenic flight/cross-country across several New England states with a passenger aboard, the pilot took off from a small Maine field into good visibility beneath an overcast. Winds were out of the southeast—that is, off the ocean—often a cautionary clue in those parts.

About an hour and a half into the flight, near Laconia, New Hampshire, the single-engine aircraft “descended to 2500 MSL to continue sightseeing” around the mountains.

Excuse the FAA-report shorthand, but from here the story mostly tells itself.

“The cloud cover/ovcst was concealing some of the peaks by then but valley visibility was still good. A little further south, near Concord, some of the valleys began to show signs of mist/fog and the ceiling was getting lower.”

The pilot descended to about 1,300 feet msl. South of Concord, “with light rain/mist on the windscreen and deteriorating vis,” the pilot began a 180-degree turn to head for Concord’s airport.

“Upon completing the turn, he lost visual reference with the ground. At this point he added power and initiated a climb to approx. 2200’. Things get fuzzy from there but it appears that while trying to level the wings and continue the climb he actually tightened the turn resulting in a steep descending spiral. Shortly after that the aircraft entered the trees.”

Both occupants survived with injuries.

Asked for recommendations, the pilot offered this solution: “better weather understanding and management.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Weather Briefing Services, Flight Training, Safety and Education
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