Category Archives: Flight School

Weather meant for flying a … desk

images

Ick

TAF CYTZ 080148Z 0802/0902 06025KT 1SM -SN BLSN OVC008 TEMPO
0802/0803 3SM -SN OVC010
FM080300 06025KT 6SM -SN OVC010 TEMPO 0803/0806 3SM -SN OVC008
PROB30 0803/0806 2SM -SN -FZDZ BR OVC005
FM080600 06020KT 3SM -SN OVC010 TEMPO 0806/0808 11/2SM -SN OVC008
PROB30 0806/0808 3/4SM -SN BLSN
FM080800 06020KT 3/4SM -SN OVC008
FM081100 06020KT 1/2SM SN VV005 TEMPO 0811/0821 1/4SM +SN BLSN
VV002
FM082200 02020G30KT 11/2SM -SN BLSN OVC012 TEMPO 0822/0824 3/4SM
-SN BLSN VV008
FM090100 35020G30KT 3SM -SN BLSN OVC015
RMK FCST BASED ON AUTO OBS. NXT FCST BY 080800Z=

Pilot types will recognize the above information as a TAF. For non-pilots, a TAF is weather forecast. TAF stands for Terminal Aviation Forecast. It’s a tool used to predict weather at a given airport. The TAF shows the weather at an airport for a radius of five statute miles.

I’ve provided below the translation of the TAF I’ve included here. It shows the weather at Toronto’s Billy Bishop (Island) Airport, an commuter airport located near Toronto’s downtown. It’s about an hour-and-change drive from my home.

This particular TAF, issued at 08:48 p.m. Eastern time (01:48 in the morning, Universal Time Coordinated), on the night of Thursday, Feb., 7, 2013, depicts weather that is, well, pretty ugly, commensurate with the nasty storm due to roll through southern Ontario and much of the U.S. northeast. Cloud ceilings are low, Visibility is terrible. Lots of blowing snow. And what’s striking is how often the conditions are forecast to shift through the night. Not the kind of stuff you want when landing an airplane.

Some translations of the translation:

  • SM means Statute Miles, and refers to the miles of visibility.
  • Z means Zulu Time, or Universal Time Coordinated.
  • The numbers after the word “Overcast” state the cloud ceiling, so Overcast 800′ means the ceiling is at 800 feet above the ground.
  • The numbers that look like this: 060° 25 KT, depict the wind direction and speed. In this case it means the wind is blowing from the direction of 060 true degrees, or northeast, and at a strength of 25 nautical miles per hour.
  • IFR means Instrument Flight Rules.
  • VFR means Visual Flight Rules.
  • MVFR means Marginal Visual Flight Rules.
  • LIFR means Limited Instrument Flight Rules.
Reported
Fri, Feb 8, 01:48 Z
Valid
Fri, Feb 8, 02:00 Z – Sat, Feb 9, 02:00 Z
Initial Weather
Light Snow, Blowing, Snow
Overcast 800′
1 SM
060° 25 KT
MVFR
Temporary 2:00 – 3:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 1,000′
3 SM
MVFR
3:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 1,000′
6 SM
060° 25 KT
MVFR
Temporary 3:00 – 6:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 800′
3 SM
IFR

3:00 – 6:00 Z
Light Snow, Freezing, Drizzle, Mist
Overcast 500′
2 SM
MVFR
6:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 1,000′
3 SM
060° 20 KT
IFR
Temporary 6:00 – 8:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 800′
11/2 SM
LIFR
6:00 – 8:00 Z
Light Snow, Blowing, Snow
3/4 SM
IFR
8:00 Z
Light Snow
Overcast 800′
3/4 SM
060° 20 KT
LIFR
11:00 Z
Snow
Vertical Vis. 500′
1/2 SM
060° 20 KT
LIFR
Temporary 11:00 – 21:00 Z
Heavy Snow, Blowing, Snow
Vertical Vis. 200′
1/4 SM
MVFR
22:00 Z
Light Snow, Blowing, Snow
Overcast 1,200′
11/2 SM
020° 20 KT Gusts 30 KT
LIFR
Temporary 22:00 – 0:00 Z
Light Snow, Blowing, Snow
Vertical Vis. 800′
3/4 SM
MVFR
01:00 Z
Light Snow, Blowing, Snow
Overcast 1,500′
3 SM
350° 20 KT Gusts 30 KT
In short, get your snow shovel out.

Ring rust

So just before Christmas I flew a fairly long five-hour mission in two legs, the first 3.8 hours and the second 1.2. All of it VFR (visual flight rules, for those of you new to aviation). I hadn’t flown prior to this in nearly six weeks. The experience was sobering. Allow me to list all the things I screwed up:

1. Forgot my usual practice of giving myself a pre-flight briefing (the kind you’d commonly perform if you were flying IFR in a two-crew environment). I forgot not once, but twice.

2. Didn’t call or check “airspeed alive” on the takeoff roll.

3. Realized too late that my en route track would take me directly over a busy general aviation airport and as a result was late deciding how I would transit their circuit and late communicating my intentions to other aircraft.

5. Made a complete butchery of my initial radio call as I began the approach for the landing on the first leg. My attempt to clarify the first call with another was nearly as bad. Looking back, had there been other aircraft in the circuit, they wouldn’t have had a clue what I was up to.

6. Didn’t check the runway length (with 5,000 feet available it wasn’t an issue, but the point is I should have checked).

7. Didn’t use VORs and ADF as backup navaids to my GPS until half way through the first leg.

Quite the shameful litany.

Now, none of the mistakes above fell into the category of what I’d term egregious. They were without question sloppy. But I don’t like flying sloppy. I don’t think any pilot worth his or her salt does. And any of the seven issues could easily have mushroomed, with the right amount of unlucky circumstance, into a dangerous problem. Needless to say, post flight I was mentally flogging myself.

So. How did it happen and what did I learn? Well, looking back, I can see I was lulled into a false sense of competency. Here’s how.

I knew going into the flight I hadn’t flown in a while and had made a mental note to be extra vigilant and to take my time doing pre-flight checks and running check lists. Fine and good.

A half hour or so into the flight our work took us into the Pearson (CYYZ) control zone, between runways 06L and 05 and a half mile or so west of the tower. Now, Pearson is a busy place, the busiest airport in Canada, and it’s not a place for a novice pilot or a Nervous Nellie. Was I apprehensive? A little, truth be told. But we got clearance to enter without issue and set about doing our work. My radio calls were crisp, we followed our instructions to the letter, accomplished our work within five minutes or so and exited promptly. I congratulated myself out loud, thinking I did fine given I hadn’t flown in a while and also thinking the hardest part of the flight was over with. The rest would be a breeze.

Hold on. Stop the tape right there.

That — thinking the rest would be a breeze — was, in my opinion, an egregious mistake. What I did was let my guard down, gave myself permission to be complacent and set up the environment in which mistakes happen.

The lesson? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t’ it? Don’t get complacent. The light at the end of a tunnel could well be a train. Or an airplane. The flight isn’t over until the engine is shut down. Simple. We’ve all heard it a thousand times, and now and then we need reminding.