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Thread: Planning to divert...

  1. #1

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    Planning to divert...

    J. Mac McClellan and I are very different sorts of pilots. In fact, he would start with me right there, as he's an aviator and I'm a stick-and-rudder man through and through that likes the word pilot for the precise definition that fits what I do in an aircraft. He's an IFR/GPS/autogizmoed bubblepump actuator/Nextgen automaton guru that writes stuff that leaves my eyes more glassed over than a CTLS cockpit most of the time. Indeed, based on a lot of his articles I'm convinced that I simply can't afford to be an aviator - my whole homebuilt costs less than five inches of his panel!

    In the June issue of SportAviation (space omitted to ensure proper hipness is acknowledged), I sort of scanned over his article (we can't even agree on flight sims - MS Flight Sim is a snoozer; I prefer Rise of Flight) he had a little gem tucked into the usual IFR worship stuff he peddles that caught my eye:

    "[W]hen a forecast contains the chance of poor weather ahead, but your departure point and first part of the trip is okay, you need to fly up to where the chance of bad weather is forecast and see what happens."

    Emphasis is mine on the middle bit there, as it's the difference between "Mac wants me dead" and "Oh, I get it, he wants me to stretch and improve."

    Initial reaction on reading the quoted section was suitable horror. So was the second. But really it's no different from my own individual training program, which includes flying in conditions at the edges of my personal minimums (which my CFI - I'll never think of him otherwise - says is narrow as a [descriptor redacted]). I'm supposing he's implying a healthy dose of common sense as well.

    "Bad weather" means a lot of different things to different pilots. To Mac it's probably a thunderstorm producing EF3 or greater tornadoes made of sleet and ball bearings. To me in the Champ I rent while I plod along with the Nieuport, it's 15kts wind with any number associated with the letter G. I live in Alabama, so one can add 5kts "variable vertical" to any wind condition as well. Naturally, one would have to research the type of couches at the Planned Diversion Airfield, and also be prepared to just turn around and go home if it got flaky on the way there...

    But I thought it would make a good topic to get opinions on...
    Last edited by Frank Giger; 06-09-2013 at 12:47 AM.
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  2. #2
    steveinindy's Avatar
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    Frank, you just started the thread I was dreading when I read through the magazine. Any mention of any sort of non-VFR operations tends to have the same effect on many members of this forum as walking up and kicking a male pitbull between it's hind legs. In other words, things get really ugly and really messy really quickly. Then again, back when I was training for my PPL up in Michigan, my instructor drilled it into my head that you have a planned departure alternate, enroute alternates along the flight path and then a destination alternate so that if anything goes wrong (weather, mechanical or just the "hairs on the back of your neck") you know where you're going and what to expect (frequencies, runways, approaches, etc). Probably a little much for your fair weather "only flies on Sunday afternoons" type of pilot but if you're going any considerable distance by GA, it doesn't hurt to have such plans. It minimizes the stress level and work load if something goes awry.

    I am going to go get my popcorn. Be back shortly. LOL
    Last edited by steveinindy; 06-09-2013 at 03:11 AM.
    Unfortunately in science what you believe is irrelevant.

    "I'm an old-fashioned Southern Gentleman. Which means I can be a cast-iron son-of-a-***** when I want to be."- Robert A. Heinlein.



  3. #3

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    Well, I'm hoping for something a bit more sage, Steve....and we've plenty of experienced, reasoned people around to produce dispassionate discourse.

    What caught my attention was Mac suggesting to intentionally go for a diversion towards an end destination based on a forecast of crappy weather, with a go-no go decision once one gets there. Mac's point that for as many good forecasts that go bad there are many forecasts for bad weather that turn out to be good weather hits home as well.

    I'm batting 700 on using my "weather gut" and showing up to the airfield when by the computers said it would be out of my skill set and it being okay. Then again I fly mostly local and have no compunction about hightailing it to the safety of a hangar at the hint of weather trouble.

    Nothing like racking up a whopping .3 hours of flight time of touch-and-goes because the ceiling suddenly drops to just above pattern altitude. Or having the weather gut be completely wrong and the scientists right and making a two and a half hour round trip in my truck to drink coffee and grouse about zero-zero.

    Oh, and Steve, us Sunday Local Pilots have to be ready with all the same info as Cross Country guys; I've had to divert to another airport while flying local due to problems at the home field. I keep a cheat sheet of every field in 50nm on my kneeboard with freqs, runways, etc. printed in a large font so I won't be caught squinting at a sectional while maintaining the aircraft in flight. I even look for NOTAMS when all I'm doing is an hour of touch-and-go therapy.
    Last edited by Frank Giger; 06-09-2013 at 03:43 AM.
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  4. #4

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    I do not get your initial horror. But then I was pleaseantly surprised to see that quote as a component of the message that practicing your bad weather skills on nice days does not actually prepare you for using those skills on actual bad weather days.

    I hammer on that message every opportunity that I get. Lots of VFR into IFR accidents occur, in my view, because pilots who never fly in anything but perfect weather around their home base decide to fly a trip away from home and Mother Nature decide to throw out weather that does not match the output of the forecaster's computers. So the accident pilot is away from his or her familiar aeronautical neighborhood, in much more challenging weather, under real decision making pressure, with real stakes, and they have to get it right the first time.

    The way you learn to make good big decisions is to start by making a number of good small decisions. Translated into flying VFR airplanes in marginal weather this means flying around your comfortable local aeronautical neighborhood for the $100 hamburger in days when the weather is predicted to be stable, but the ceiling is something like 2000 and 7. Short VFR hops on less nice days watching the weather to build up first hand knowledge of what less nice weather looks like up close and personal, and how it might change in unexpected ways. There is a lot less stress in getting your airplane stuck 50 miles from home and having to telephone the family for a pick up, than there is when you and the family are 400 miles from home and Mother Nature decides you are not getting home in your VFR airplane that day. And you WILL get stuck if you fly your VFR airplane away from home so it is better to learn close to home. Strategies for when you get stuck due to weather are part of VFR cross country flying. I offer that perspective as a pilot who has flown VFR-only antique airplanes from coast-to-coast and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Now all of the official training syllabus seems to be oriented towards deciding that you should not fly on a particular day. But very little of the official training seems to teach about working around weather. There is a lot of discussion about the generic characteristics weather, but very little about actually flying up to weather and looking at it one on one.

    As we learn, weather is dynamic and 3 dimensional. So the advice to either not fly or file IFR falls apart when it makes contact with the real world. I have enough ratings but I have many many hours in little VFR-only airplanes flying around the country. Having built up enough experience, I might fly 1000 miles in weather that is 1800 and 5. But on the other hand, I have been stuck EVERYWHERE. If you name an airport between my home neighborhood and OSH, I have likely had to sit and wait for weather there. I will advise newly certificated pilots that "no one learns patience voluntarily." And I tell them that if they will be using their pilot certificate for a long time, they will learn patience.

    Mac's article is a little ironic because for many many years Flying Magazine regularly crusaded against "scud running" and that everyone should earn and instrument rating and file for every flight. That was not, and is not, reality for the vast majority of pilots. That said, what has been ignored is how pilots can develop practical VFR skills for working with the weather that Mother Nature churns up. That has been left as an aptitude test for new pilots. Pilots either figure it out on their own, frighten themselves into only flying on nice days, are repeatedly stupid and lucky, or eventually fly into a granite filled cloud. I will suggest that it is a testament to the pilot population being composed of overachievers that the number who fall into the last category is small.

    So since all of the decision matrices that end with result of "don't fly" stop working in the real world of flying away from home base, I will suggest that just like we have advice on how to structure expanding the flight envelope of your new homebuilt airplane, we need real practical and effective advice out there on how to structure expanding the pilot flight envelope for operating VFR airplanes around marginal weather. That said, such advice does not really match the official party line and so will likely remain confined to pilot lounges and old guy to young guy conversations in cockpits and flight departments.

    Don't know if the above qualifies as sage. But slip me a beer and ask what I REALLY think.....

    Best of luck,

    Wes
    N78PS

  5. #5

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    Well said, Wes!,

    I like Frank fly a lot of local VFR coffee and pie trips. I do some longer X-countries to Wis every summer and the season is now upon us. Flying from Ohio to Wis in summer means T-Storms in the afternoon forecast most everyday. I still keep my minimums at 5 miles vis and 3500 MSL ceiling for cross countries. Having flown several routes I'm familiar with all the airports along the way and as Wes indicated there are many. We have lots of resources available regarding weather info and if you keep your "weather eye" open a few days b/4 the trip you get a good feel of what to expect as you fly along. The weather you get is what you see out the window, but you can call-up AWOS or ATIS all along your route and check conditions against your plan, or you can just land and check the "screen" at most any FBO these days. I have had to divert a couple of times and it took about 13 hours to complete a 3 hour trip a couple of years ago. I wound up flying the backside of a slow moving frontal T-Storm that just would move east fast enough. I do some locals in conditions below my minimums but I won't fly with less then 3 miles that "1 mile legal" thing is pretty nuts. Go out with an IFR pilot on a an IFR flight plan and take a look at low ceilings and 1 mile and you'll get religion.

    Joe

  6. #6
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    Let me preface this by saying I don't normally agree with Mac, but this time I (generally) did, and that surprised me.

    Flying "ability" comes from real experience. It can not be gained in a Sim, it can't be gained with the defacto PIC in the right seat. If it could, wouldn't we do away with the ritual of Solo?

    Training like you are going to Fly using Sims, Instructors and Mentors is the smart way to go, but at some point you have to be the Real PIC and expand your envelope.

    i have thousands of hour in the backseat of military aircraft and hundreds of hours piloting civil aircraft. One of the things I enjoy about flying is that nearly every flight I did something I had not done previously.

    IMO, the essence of command is being acclimated to stress and being able to overcome the stress of a new situation by keeping the brain engaged. However, Habit Patterns are vitally important, because when you do become overpowered by stress you will default to your habit pattern. This fact was hammered home as I flew as a mentor with new crews on their first combat mission, when over-stressed by the fear of combat they fell back to near automaton use of their habit patterns. Most of those were good but there was occasionally some goofy peacetime habit that was truly dangerous in combat. But it was surprising to see how quickly most adapted to the stress of combat and typically by their third mission were operating at their normal stress levels and staying well ahead of the situation with their brain engaged. Civil flying is essentially the same, it is about acclimatizing to the situation.
    Last edited by TedK; 06-09-2013 at 08:53 AM.

  7. #7

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    That was actually one of the most appropriate columns Mac has written for SA.

    Most VFR trips that involve more than a couple of hundred miles and/or an overnight stay are going to face some weather decisions. I'm typically a go around or go over kinda decision maker, but I've gone under plenty of times and have stopped and waited. There are plenty of ways to skin the cat, but you have to understand that if you're not paying attention, the cat can skin you too.

    And sometimes, your best decision is not to go, so maybe there are 3 classes of VFR trips - go, go with your eyes open, and cancel...

  8. #8
    Flyfalcons's Avatar
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    My first flying job was flying 135 VFR in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. As you can imagine, it was a bit of trial by fire in learning how to fly long VFR cross countries in varying weather conditions. There were many times when a planned diversion type attitude was necessary to safely complete a trip. It boils down to breaking up your flight into smaller segments mentally, and proceeding from one segment to the next based on actual conditions when you complete the current segment. "I want to get to Airport C. I know I'm comfortable flying from A to B, but there is weather between B and C. So I'll take off and head for Airport B, and reassess the conditions when I get near Airport B". Never in the decision-making process is there a requirement, or pressure, to fly in conditions lower than you're comfortable with (or legal minimum), but it gets you closer to your final destination and allows you to evaluate the weather from a closer perspective, which is often better than reading a few lines of text and trying to get the big picture from that. I've flown numerous trips VFR, taking the trip a few miles at a time while working through low weather in a seaplane, but have also flown landplane trips in the same manner using my comfort level in getting from one safe diversion point (airport) to the next. Keep the golden rule of cross country travel ("Always have an out") in the forefront of your thoughts and you'll be able to safely accomplish trips that you may have otherwise cancelled.
    Ryan Winslow
    EAA 525529
    Stinson 108-1 "Big Red", RV-7 under construction

  9. #9

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    A fellow pilot long ago shared his opinion about a rash of weather related accidents. He had a lot more time than I had and I respected what he said. He thought that years earlier, pilots flew low performance planes. Weather was pretty much unchanging throughout their limited range. eventually, they could afford faster planes with more range. They could quickly move into whole other regions of vastly different weather. They couldn’t handle it. I had to agree with him. Weather was usually no problem in my Champ or Luscombe. Cut and dry. Go if it was good or find something else to do.

    Later, in IFR capable planes it was different. Usually if the weather was getting iffy it was natural to land short of the destination, top off .and file instead of diverting. I got my logs out one day and looked at the XC flights. If it was over 500 NM, there was at least some weather time. Maybe only 10 minutes. Once a solo 10 hour flight in a PA-28 had 7 solid IFR hours. An exception.

    Lately, I have been invited along on IFR flights with two different plane owners with new instrument ratings. I’m a passable co pilot and speak fluent Garmin. I do not instruct. Well, maybe a pointer or two. They are building confidence and judgment.

    I just got my SA yesterday. Mac’s article seemed to be very much on the money. I’m with him. The separate issue that he finished with incidentally struck a nerve. I also had a throttle cable come loose on my Luscombe, but it was in flight and I was stuck at cruise power. You rock, Mac.

    Bob

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