Winging the Weather
To appreciate the following screed, first click on this video . It's only 30 seconds long. I'll wait here while you watch it.
I picked this little clip off a longer World War II training film on flying the B-26 made by the famous First Motion Picture Unit, Ronald Reagan's old outfit. The entire film is about an hour, but this scene struck me as amusing because if an instructor did that today—"weather good"—he'd be sued for malpractice and stripped of his Flight Instructor of the Year merit badge. Somewhere between the end of World War II and today, we somehow accreted the idea that good training also has to be exhaustive across every phase of flight and if the checklist says review these 10 weather items, well, by Geezus, we teach our students to do that, whether it's necessary or not.
When I started editing IFR magazine 20 years ago, I preached to the choir by printing an article about weather every month. It was pretty long-haired stuff, too, not just the boilerplate how-to-get-a-weather briefing drivel. In printing these articles, the underlying suggestion was that you had to know this stuff. The reality was that I didn't believe that then and I believe it less now, although such articles still have a place for those academically inclined.
The point is, we still lard up training with this sort of non-pertinent detail making it that much harder—and more boring—for people to become students and students to become pilots. That's a long way of saying that what the current training edifice should focus on is less theory and more on how to find and use the resources to recognize hazards—online briefings, tablet apps, in-cockpit datalink and ADS-B and so on. We're actually getting there, albeit slowly.
I noticed this week that Lockheed Martin just rolled out, with amusing fanfare, a new web-based flight service feature that sends out alerts on hazards, notifies of TFRs and even reminds you to close your flight plan. Good idea, I suppose, but pardon me for being a little underwhelmed. The voice briefing has been an anachronism for at least 10 years and building new web sites to support this sunset activity that very soon now the FAA is probably not going to want to fund strikes me as a version of that futile act relating to rearranging furniture on a doomed ship. I think pretty quick now the long and occasionally unnecessary palaver you get from an actual FSS briefing will be gone. We just haven't accepted that yet. We'll get there, too.
Meanwhile, I hope the new age of instruction will return to the days of yesteryear when you could look outside, like that old B-26 IP, and pronounce "weather good," and proceed to commit lift without further federal intervention.