Flying In Poor Weather

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Photo: Bidgee [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
Photo: Bidgee [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The GlaStar is such a fine, stable airplane flying slowly that it opens up some interesting possibilities for poor weather flying. Have you thought about your weather minimums for the various airplanes you fly? When the visibility and ceiling come down I’ve learned to do a mental check on what my limits are. I’ve found the published weather minimums are quite accurate depending on the performance of the airplane. Have you ever gone with an instructor or an experienced cross-country pilot and purposely (with a better weather “out” for safety) flown into three miles and below 1,000 feet clouds? How about one mile and clear of clouds in the uncontrolled airspace near your airport? My limits change depending on all sorts of factors.

Mainly, I never want more than one big negative in a flight. If I’m pushing weather to minimums (a big negative) then I want plenty of positives like lot’s of fuel, daylight, skill with the airplane, personal knowledge of terrain including where the towers, high tension lines, canyons and obstacles (including airports) are located, etc.

My personal weather minimums rise with the higher speeds of an airplane and lower with an airplane’s improved slow flight capabilities. I need more time and space to maneuver

when slowed down to 120 knots (& half flaps) when flying a Glasair III compared to the GlaStar’s ability to do smaller diameter turns. The GlaStar® allows me to more comfortably remain at the lowest possible minimum.

Judgement and comfort are really important here. Your judgement can be improved if you want to learn. Your comfort (or your passenger’s) may never allow you to push weather much and that’s just fine as well.

How to improve weather judgement flying? How about flying low on those crisp, clear days and studying the terrain? Where are the hills and rising terrain, the valleys and low passes?

Once I flew up a river in the Peru jungle and had to fly over a low stratus layer to get to my destination. I did not know that the river I caught glimpses of below also had one single hill right at the village where I was to land. When I came down through a little hole and found myself looking horizontally at trees where I thought 500 feet of vertical space should be I learned my lesson.

Never push weather minimums if you don’t know the area. If I have to read a map, I don’t push weather. In poor weather (or terrible terrain) plan airport to airport rather than departure to destination. It helps stop the “get-thereat any cost.” Look at the forecasts. Are they improving or deteriorating? I use PIREPS and actual station reports rather than allowing the dire predictions of what may be out there to automatically stop flying.

Finally, I ask myself, “What’s the hurry? Do I really need to fling off into space?” It’s so much nicer being on the ground wishing I was up there, than being up there and really hoping I can get back on the ground safely. Am I really willing to do an off airport landing and possibly damage the airplane if weather is worse than I thought? By the way, one trick I use when the weather is bad is to leave the airport in a car. Go get some lunch or whatever. Give things time to really open up rather than push out as soon as possible.

In the GlaStar® I use 65 knots, half flaps, some power and trim for hands off, slow flight. I can turn around (and frequently do) in the width of a freeway and am alert for the changing variables of this type of demanding flying.