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Volume 25, Number 40a
October 1, 2018
 
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FAA Approves Ultralight VTOL
 
Russ Niles
 
 

Hoversurf says the FAA has signed off on the first eVTOL to be approved for general use in the U.S. and orders are now being taken for the Scorpion 3 from the Watsonville, California, company. It costs $150,000 and the first one has been sold to the Dubai Police. The single-seat quadcopter has been accepted as an ultralight by the FAA, which means no pilot certificate is required. The device is said to be able to go up to 60 MPH with about 20 minutes of endurance. 

While the aircraft is limited in both performance and market appeal, its approval is considered significant by industry watchers. TransportUp, a newsletter that follows the eVTOL industry, said the FAA approval, which was granted Sept. 10, should make it easier for others, including more complex and capable designs, to follow. “HoverSurf sets the stage for step by step certification of larger and more advanced aircraft,” the newsletter said. “This step means that the FAA is ready to begin certification hardware and software technology for flying cars.”  Titan Top List prepared the following video.

 

Is Pilot Training Keeping Up With The Pilot Shortage?
 
Kate O'Connor
 

It’s been hard to miss that things are changing in our industry and that pilot training is much a part of that shift. I escaped my office long enough to attend the University Aviation Association’s (UAA) 71st annual Collegiate Aviation Conference last week and talking with representatives from schools both large and small helped verify some of the trends I’ve been keeping an eye on in flight instruction, airline hiring practices and student recruitment.

Aviation education is an area I find fascinating for a variety of reasons. When I started class at a university flight school, I was struck by how adaptable, driven and engaged the majority of my aviation professors were compared to other teachers I’d had. Watching the pilot penchant to adopt what works and drop what doesn’t used in the classroom taught me a lot, not just about flying, but about how people learn and why teaching methods are so important in a field where both risks and rewards can be life-altering.

One of the things that caught my attention at the conference was how much the employment conversation has shifted since I graduated nine years ago. Back then, aviation jobs were difficult to come by—a fact that’s partially responsible for my writing career—and those who had them were staying put. Quite a few of my classmates ended up finding employment in other fields. Not so now.

Airlines are actively seeking new pilots. There were several carriers in attendance at UAA aiming to develop relationships with aviation universities and flight schools. More and more airlines—and not just the regionals—are putting serious time and resources into developing programs focused on both teaching new students and funneling university graduates directly into their hiring processes. Why?

The pilot shortage. Wherever folks might stand on how it happened or what the best solutions might be, it’s become a reality for the airlines.

In a speech at the UAA awards banquet, Christopher Broom, the managing director of flight and training administration for American Airlines, said that the company expects to lose about 8000 pilots in the next ten years. Looking out further, Broom said that 75 percent of the seniority list at American Airlines will be retiring in the next 15 years. Clearly, they have some seats to fill—and not just for first officers.

According to Broom and others, concerns like age are less of a barrier than they’ve ever been. Pilots are coming out of retirement and airlines are hiring them to fly. The American Airlines Cadet Academy recently opened its doors to its first class—no previous pilot training required and graduates are guaranteed an interview with American’s three wholly owned regional carriers (Envoy, PSA and Piedmont).

Partnership programs with universities and flight schools are also becoming more common, particularly for regional carriers. PSA and Republic were on hand at the conference to talk with schools about their collegiate programs. Although the exact details differ from airline to airline, the basic idea is to provide interviews or conditional job offers to students who complete the program requirements. From where I’m sitting, it beats job hunting after graduation.

Whether there are enough students to meet the future need for pilots is more contested. For now, the answer seems to be yes. Most of the schools I spoke with reported that enrollment numbers for aviation majors were steady or rising over the past few years. The American Airlines Cadet Academy reports that it has received several thousand applications in the few months it has been accepting them. There are interested students out there. There are just two trouble spots: flight instructor availability and number of students.

I know I just said that there were plenty of students coming in—and it looks like there are, for the moment. But looking down the road, there are concerns about the low number of young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. That’s not a new revelation, but with the need for aviation professionals expected to continue to grow over the next decade, it could lead to a shortage of students entering aviation careers in the not too distant future.

Several conference attendees mentioned that they’re having a harder time finding experienced mechanics. It has also been suggested that the lack of STEM interest is creating a wider experience gap that teachers need to overcome when taking on new students. This seems particularly relevant for incoming aircraft mechanics and engineers.

Several aviation organizations already have outreach programs in place. EAA Young Eagles, GAMA’s Build-A-Plane and AOPA’s high school curriculum initiative come to mind. What’s different is that awareness of the issue is growing. Organizations such as the Frontiers of Flight Museum have been working on STEM outreach initiatives for long enough to begin to have hard data on program effectiveness.

Colleges are looking into free aviation- and STEM-based summer camps for elementary-age kids. Most agree that repeated exposure and access to STEM activities is one of the primary predictors of interest in STEM fields.

Finally, flight instructor turnover is getting a bit ridiculous. For obvious reasons, the number of instructors at a school is a major limiting factor in how many student pilots can be trained. The experience of those instructors is also an issue, particularly when it comes to finding teachers for more advanced ratings.

Most of the folks I talked to at the UAA event were saying they’re keeping instructors for an average of a year to a year and a half. That’s about on par with what I’m hearing from other schools I’ve spoken with over the last six months. Several larger flight training operations said they track flight instructor hours closely, knowing that once instructors have enough hours to apply for a job at the regionals, most of them are gone.

Beyond trying to find enough instructors to hire, it also means schools are having to come up with new plans to get new hires onboard with school practices and policies. Schools are running more standardization classes—and having to find instructors experienced enough to teach those—and are actively looking for ways to foster good teaching habits and skills in the high turnover environment. Most are in the process of developing these programs and waiting to see how they work out.

Lots of questions are being asked about how these trends in training will play out and there aren’t many answers yet. New training programs will endure if they work and be replaced by something else if they don’t. The industry is adapting, and even with all of the uncertainty, I have to admit it’s good to see hiring vitality in an industry that lacked that even a decade ago.

JP International - Video Library
Engine Corrosion Tips From RAM Aircraft
 
Paul Bertorelli
 
 

With flying activity declining, many aircraft sit idle for months at a time. This causes serious corrosion issues inside the engines and in this AVweb video, RAM Aircraft of Waco, Texas, tells us how to avoid these problems.

Two Rescued From Dangling Plane
 
Russ Niles
 
 

Sometimes there’s a razor-thin line between good luck and bad and the unidentified pilot and passenger of what appears to be an ultralight had some time to think about that in South Africa on Friday. The aircraft hit a zipline over a 1,000-foot gorge near Rustenburg in the northwestern part of the country about 8:30 a.m. The line held as the aircraft became entangled in it and hung there for much of the day as authorities puzzled over a rescue. Meanwhile, inside the aircraft, the two unhurt occupants were doing nothing more than trying not to tempt physics.

"After some time, rescuers reached the aircraft and found the man and woman inside the aircraft,” search and rescue spokesman Russel Meiring told enca.com. Rescue personnel equipped both patients with harnesses and began to lower them to the awaiting paramedics, 300 meters below. Once on the ground, the occupants were taken to a local hospital for a checkout but neither was hurt. "They explained to paramedics that the only thing they could do was not to move as they were scared that the aircraft would fall,” said Meiring. That included trying to call for help, which only happened when a passerby called it in sometime in the afternoon.

F-35B Crashes, Pilot Ejects
 
Russ Niles
 
 

The first crash of an F-35B has been reported in South Carolina but early reports say the pilot safely ejected. Circumstances of the crash have not been released but it’s the first operational loss of the fifth-generation fighter. One other F-35 has been written off by fire damage to internal components in 2016 but that aircraft’s pilot was able to make an emergency landing. Friday’s accident occurred near the Marine air training base at Beaufort, South Carolina. The Marine version of the aircraft includes a downward facing ducted fan that allows for short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The crash came a day after the type was used in its first combat sortie. The aircraft launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex and did an airstrike on a stationary Taliban target in Afghanistan. The Marines released the video below after the successful mission.

One Missing In Micronesia Crash
 
Russ Niles
 
 

Officials in Micronesia say they are now looking for man who was unaccounted for in the crash of an Air Niugini flight that landed short of the runway at Chuuk Airport on Friday. Initial reports said that all 47 passengers and crew evacuated the Boeing 737-800 safely but revised the tally on Saturday to say that one was missing. It’s not clear if the man was seen after the crash or got missed in the head count but the Saturday statement said the airline was working with local police, medical authorities and investigators to find him. He has not been identified.

The aircraft ended up in a lagoon about 150 yards short of the single runway at Chuuk Airport in Weno. “It was supposed to land but instead of landing it was 150 yards short and she went down,” the airport manager told Reuters. It was reportedly raining heavily at the time. Seven passengers and crew were initially hospitalized but no serious injuries were reported. Chuuk is in the Caroline Islands between the Northern Mariana Islands to the north and Papua New Guinea to the south.

Skydiving Instructor Lost During Tandem Jump
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Authorities have found the body of a skydiving instructor who went missing during a tandem jump on Thursday near Skydive New England in Lebanon, Maine. As is standard for a tandem jump, only the instructor, who has been identified as Brett Bickford, 41, of Rochester, New Hampshire, was equipped with a parachute and the unidentified student was harnessed to him. A Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman reported that investigators believe instructor and student became separated approximately a mile above the ground. The student landed safely without Bickford, leading to unconfirmed speculation that Bickford somehow slipped out of his harness, leaving harness and chute attached to the student.

The jump took place at approximately 2 p.m. local time on Thursday. The student contacted police immediately after landing. Search and rescue teams were deployed until 9 p.m. on Thursday and the search was resumed on Friday morning. According to a spokesman for the Maine Warden Service, Bickford’s body was found in a wooded area 750 feet southwest of the Skydive Lebanon Airport (ME64) runway at about 5:30 p.m. on Friday. An investigation is underway.

Starr - 'Click to read about Basic Med'
Industry Round-up, September 28, 2018
 
AVweb Staff
 
 

This week, AVweb’s news roundup found reports of online safety training for the International Business Aviation Council, a new Recommended Service Facility for Hartzell Propeller, the first U.S. dealer for Aeroprakt USA and STC approval for Gogo’s AVANCE L3 and L5 systems. The International Business Aviation Council announced that it will be using Advanced Aircrew Academy's new Safety Management Systems for Safety Managers online training module for accreditation purposes. The eLearning module provides web links, background, references and example scenarios of safety management systems in action.

Hartzell Propeller named Texas Aircraft Propeller & Accessories a Hartzell Recommended Service Facility. The company, whose services include propeller and governor overhaul, repair and sales, is based near Houston at Pearland Regional Airport (KLVJ). Also forming a new service partnership, Kestrel Aviation Services will become the first U.S. service center and dealer for Aeroprakt USA. The company is located in Cottonwood, Arizona, and will provide sales, service, training and delivery for Aeroprakt’s A22 and A32 aircraft.

Finally, the FAA has approved Silverhawk Aviation's Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the Gogo AVANCE L3 and L5 in-cabin Wi-Fi systems. The STC for the AVANCE L3 and L5 systems includes the Cessna Citation 560, Ultra, Encore and Encore+ aircraft. It also covers the Cessna Citation XL/XLS/XLS+ aircraft for the AVANCE L3 system.

Brainteasers Quiz #248: Love Is In The Air
 

Airline passengers may not feel the love that the carriers seem to be showing for just about anyone with a Commercial certificate, a pulse and, of course, the ability to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Top Letters And Comments, September 28, 2018
 
 

The 411 On 406s

Mr Nelson's description of the ELT technology, be it 121.5 or 406, is fairly accurate. The application of this technology in the real world is not quite up to par. The ELT as we know it is based on antiquated 1950's concepts with numerous single points of failure incorporated in the design. This was the technology available at the time and it sort of worked all along. Our research in this area shows that the ELT's work in approximately 40% of cases. I say approximatly because various databases, from different institutions, in different countries, state numbers from 30% to 60%. This is a wide range of statistical figures and I would not call any of them more reliable than the next. They all agree on one thing: ELTs do not work reliably. A piece of aeronautical equipment that does not work reliably is always extremely expensive, particularly when used for life saving purposes. Canada has been considering mandating 406 for a few years and it does look lke it will happen soon. The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) has been pushing back on this potential mandate because we believe 406 is an old technology that does not work reliably, it is the wrong tool for the job, and this makes it expensive. We are currently leading a joint effort between COPA, Transport Canada, NavCanada, CASARA, and some elements of DND to identify a better, more reliable technology for the purpose. We have come to notice that too many lost aircraft remain unfound for too long with resulting loss of life due to unreliable ELTs. Sadly, one only confirms the reliabity of the ELT when it is needed, sort of like a parachute.

JC Audet, Director of Operations Canadian Owners and Pilots Assocation

While the 406 ELTs are a very significant improvement on their predecessors, they are still subject to some of the same inadequacies, especially destruction or loss or masking of the antenna in an accident. More robust installation requirements (at least in Canada) go a little ways to alleviate the problem, but I think there will still be a fairly small percentage that are truly helpful in a typical GA serious accident. ADSB will help a bit, but coverage is incomplete. IMHO the better procedure might be use of one of the electronic "bread-crumb" services (eg. SPOT or Spider-Tracks). The cost, although subscription is required, is fairly reasonable, and they have the advantage of generating aircraft position before an accident, significantly narrowing the search field as compared to a crash that destroys an ELT.

Andy Smith

Well and good for complex airplanes, but face it, cell phones cover most of America and they can do the job just as well at no cost. In Seattle, there are crashes where the cell phone tower ping was the thing that made them find the plane. Add to that the new ADS-B tracking mandated, I wonder if the ELT is even needed anymore. Most flying is local by hours, so the ELT should be case by case by the owner. Flying a 70 year old non-electrical airplane.

Mark Peterson

It was with some interest that I read Myron Nelson's article on 406 ELTs. It came out on the same week as a COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) published an article questioning the effectiveness of all ELTs. In Canada we have seen a number of airplane disappearances in Southern Alberta and British Columbia in the past couple of years where the ELTs failed to activate and the planes were never found. In fact, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Transport discussing the problem and suggesting that alternative technologies such as PLBs and ADSB would be a much better approach.

I would recommend that Myron look out the COPA article and perhaps research the Canadian experience.

Bob Kooyman

Flying Without A Valid Certificate Or Medical

Under normal circumstances, the short answer is "No" to either situation. However, in an emergency, where there was no one else to pilot a needed flight, I would probably do it. By emergency, I mean a life-threatening situation, not just a case of get home-itis.

John McNamee

I enjoyed Bertorelli`s article on who needs a certificate. But He forgets one giant glaring thing... What happens when the idiot kills an innocent person, because that person believed the pilot was a trained, licensed individual. This hits very close to home for me. I have a family member who thinks he`s ace of the base, doesn`t have a license nor any common sense, yet he is a physician...He used the 9/11 adage, I just want to learn how to takeoff and land the aircraft... These are the people who cost us more money for insurance, make us all jump thru tighter and tighter security hoops, because they don`t want to follow or even know what the regs/rules are.... Oh yes, I lost two friends in Florida a few years back because they thought the guy taking them flying was a licensed pilot... I`m a firm believer in the Darwin Principle, but not for the innocent who get trapped by the idiots Darwin is pursuing. There has to be a proper way to ferret these people out. This type of activity is far more dangerous then taking off 50 or 100 pounds over gross or only having 20 minutes of fuel reserve upon reaching your VFR destination. I`d like to hear other professional aviators thoughts on this matter... One last question, If they don't have a license to fly what makes you think their aircraft is airworthy or in annual?

Shawn J. Burwell

NTSB Finds Lessons On Near Disaster At SFO

For all those armchair pilots who immediately dumped all blame on the Air Canada pilots in this episode, think twice. The report findings once again show how a sequence of events outside the cockpit can materially contribute to an accident (or near accident). Here the pilots on a visual approach at night drew a logical conclusion that the two lit "runways" were the parallel runways and properly chose the right hand one. Yes, they did not update their airport information to learn of the closed unlit runway, and are at fault because of that. But as the NTSB points out, there was no visual or ATC backup to let them know of the closed runway and that they were not lined up with the runway. Recognizing this, night visual approaches are now banned when one runway is closed. Also, they were operating with or on the edge of fatigue, which dulls critical thinking (It was 3 AM Toronto time when they landed). Fortunately for all a disaster was narrowly avoided.

Christopher Moon

Chris you are right. As much as we think we would never do such a thing, I have been humbled many times by mistakes I never thought I would make. Humans are fallible things no matter how smart we think we are. I not going to cast judgement on these fellows; I'm just thankful some other astute people saw it coming and alerted them in time. As they say it's a license to learn, even at the ATP level.

A. Richie

Hand-Propping Problems

Old Fart advice to any "son" who's willing to listen: If you elect to approach a junkyard dog, be certain that his chain is at maximum extention. And IF you decide to do battle with a man-sized Cuisinart, remember the advice about the dog - at least restrain the airplane.

YARS (Tom Yarsley)

Everyone is zeroing in on the relative sanity -- or insanity -- of hand propping an airplane with a dead battery and what happens when it doesn't go right. No one has addressed the wisdom of taking off with a battery in a near discharged state just because they managed to start the engine. The starting battery has two main purposes. First, starting the engine. Second, it provides backup power in case there is an inflight failure of the charging system. Just because you managed to get the engine going doesn't mean that the battery has charged sufficiently to run radios, nav boxes or other necessary devices should the charging system fail subsequently. In a local VFR flight ... it's not likely an issue. But if you're going cross country and -- especially -- in IFR conditions ... DON'T DO IT !! Let an A&P with more than electrical tape experience check it and advise you. We all know aviation accidents usually involve the dreaded 'three's.' A dead battery is usually indicative of deeper problems. Either a charging system not working right or a battery not in good shape to retain a charge. It COULD involve a master switch left on but it still doesn't charge the battery enough to meet necessary or reasonable specs once the engine starts. THE BATTERY WAS NEAR FULLY DISCHARGED ! Batteries are supposed to be inspected at annual time but ... that's rarely done. Usually, they get changed out when they'll no longer hold a charge or start the engine. Anyone who doesn't pay close attention to their battery's age or state of charge is asking for trouble ... like that described. I consider myself a battery expert. Long story. I've changed hundreds of them over my many years. I recently had a "new" one happen to me with a PA28. I had the lead acid battery out of the airplane on my battery bench. I charged and checked it as being OK but knew it was old and was having issues. I needed to start the engine to taxi the airplane only. It did that and the ammeter appeared normal. But when I went to R&R the battery with a newer airworthy item, I discovered that the battery had SEVERELY puked acid into the battery box ... apparently one cell didn't like carrying the starting current and must have "exploded" fluid out of the cap ?? You get the point. If you hand prop an airplane, you don't see what's going on inside the battery box. Finally ... I no longer spec or use flooded lead acid batteries. Spend the extra dough on the AGM types now available from both major manufacturers. Bear in mind, these need special chargers and require special handling.

I guess I should have added that newer airplanes with a ton of glass panels and electronics are TOO valuable and expensive to trust using an old or marginal battery or one that has been severely discharged requiring a hand prop. If you fly one of these ... make sure the battery(s) are in top shape and checked and replaced regularly. I always recommend that folks that have airplanes that sleep a lot, install a proper trickle charging system. This helps to ensure 100% starting power AND longevity of the battery. I have a truck battery that's now 12.5 years old and running fine because it lives on a properly selected trickle charger !! In the case of the PA28 battery that puked acid, I knew one cell was having an issue but all I wanted to do was start the engine for taxi to / from the wash rack. In those two evolutions where the engine started nearly immediately, that one cell apparently didn't like being discharged and recharged or carrying the current. If I'd have taken it flying ... it would have puked acid on the belly of a world class paint job. Subsequently, it was oozing acid on the bench with NOTHING connected to it. BEWARE !!! THIS blog du jour talks about crashing an airplane into a hangar because it didn't go well. Imagine if the battery ate all the electronics in the thing. It'd be worse but you might not know it immediately.

Larry Stencel

"Never be in a hurry around airplanes." That statement can never be said enough. It should be permanently posted on every aviation social media site, "Never be in a hurry around airplanes." It's kind of like, "Just fly the airplane." Sear it into your head.

Tom Cooke

First, two things a battery hates are heat and vibration. The more it is exposed to either, the shorter its lifespan. Depending on where you live and where your battery is located in your airplane, the "typical" lifespan will vary. So don't feel bad if your firewall mounted battery in Phoenix does not live as long as a tail mounted one in Portland Oregon. Second, NO aircraft battery likes a fast charge. If your charger runs greater than 2 amps, you will probably damage the battery. DO NOT use a car charger on your airplane, even if it has a low charge setting. And, a "trickle" charger will probably kill you battery too, just not as fast. You need a battery maintainer that is specifically designed for the type of battery you have (wet cell or AGM). Aviation Consumer magazine has information on which types work best. Yes, they are expensive, but so is a new battery. Finally, AGM batteries are great; no messing with acid vapors or topping off the cells with water. But, they are kind of temperamental and easily damaged. High charge rates will vaporize the electrolyte in the cells, and once gone, it cannot be replaced. Make sure your charging system and voltage regulator are properly set. You can kill a battery in the air too. Also, do not pass up the annual capacity test. AGM's can die very quickly, so follow the manufacturer's test instructions and don't rely on your mechanic's "we've always done it this way" approach. Take care of your battery and hopefully you won't wind up on the next YouTube video.

John McNamee

Read Radar And Satellite Images
 
Rose Marie Kern
 
 

On my way home from Oshkosh Air Venture last August, I observed the billowing anvils of thunderstorms south of my flight path. Both the radar and satellite pictures showed buildups advancing northward, which would cut directly through my route. So, I took the safe option and landed at Dalhart, Texas for the night. The ability to read effectively these images is critical to flying IFR—especially in today’s high-tech world of in-flight weather.

There is a difference between summer and winter in the ability to read and interpret radar and satellite imagery— the latter are not as easy to decipher. All the images shown with this article were captured at the same time. Viewing all these perspectives gives a broader understanding of what we could be facing. Let’s see what they say about a planned IFR flight from Salt Lake City to Minneapolis on January 10th. Assume the performance ceiling of your aircraft is 13,500 feet MSL maximum, and you are estimating seven hours of flight time.

An AIRMET exists over the central half of the flight for Icing from the freezing level (near the surface) to 11,000 feet. When you get briefings from Flight Service they are required by the National Weather Service to inform you of any AIRMETs within 3,000 feet altitude of your flight level, because their estimates are just that— estimates.

Winter Radar Returns

During winter, the biggest problem with individual radar sites, like the one shown based at Cheyenne Wyoming, is that levels of precipitation are deceptive in two ways. This picture (right) shows a large area of green with a small spot of yellow— that in the summer months is associated with light to moderate lower level precipitation, something most IFR pilots find easy to fly through. The problem with individual sites is that returns diminish with distance and mask the extent of the activity. In this picture it looks as though you could potentially circumnavigate to the north.

The Mosaic Summer radar picture combines all the data from various sites—giving you a greater understanding of the true coverage of weather systems. It is important to know where the holes in coverage are, because the individual sites are far enough apart that anything low-level can hide behind higher returns. One of these holes exists northeast of Cheyenne, so it looks like there could be an opening in far Northwestern Nebraska, which an aircraft might slip through.

Snow And Ice

Radar has a more difficult time picking up snow and ice than it does rain. During the winter time the thin pale blues and greys present a subtly sinister reading. Even a pale area of grey could mean there is light precipitation in the area—and flying through it could cause ice accumulation. A smudge of light to deep blue can mean more significant icing is possible or that a small intense snowstorm is blowing through an area. Just because it is small doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

If you are using WSI or other private vendor radar products, the colors may be altered by their computers—in most cases they will show winter radars that have green for rain, pink for a rain/ice mix, and blue for snow. The worst flight condition is a rain/ice mix—that’s where you can accumulate the heaviest icing on an aircraft. Become familiar with the variations of each vendor’s radar interpretations.

The Winter radar mosaic above shows the areas of precipitation as being more widespread than the summer weather radar mode, but they both indicate there may be a passage between the systems. The colors of the NWS winter radar give indications of cloud temperatures. Let’s go to the satellites and see if they can broaden our understanding.

Satellite Images

Remember, radar gives you a picture of the sky from the ground upwards on a slant angle, while satellites look down from above. If there are layers between what is seen on the top and bottom, they could be hidden from view.

The visible satellite picture in winter lacks the brilliant white bubble tops of summer cumuliform clouds or the smooth thick creamy swaths of early morning fog banks with sharply defined edges. The challenge lies in determining whether the shadowy shades of gray are streaming at high or low levels and whether they hold moisture warm enough to constitute a problem for your aircraft.

If they are cold enough, the tiny ice crystals will bounce off the aircraft rather than adhering. The Visible Satellite shows the cloud activity is widespread and dense in the northern plains—including the area we were hoping to see a passage through. However, we get no sense of cloud heights or whether they contain dangerous icing.

The infrared picture on the right presents more dramatic tonal contrasts. The temperature grid across the top tells you how cold the clouds are based on their shade of white or gray. Now we can at least see lower layers in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, but the higher, colder clouds are obscuring what is going on in Colorado, Wyoming and the northern plains states.

Looping both these images showed the mass of clouds at upper levels generally stretching northwards while the entire area swiftly tracks from west to east with a slight counterclockwise rotation in the northern Texas panhandle.

Looping also gives a glimpse below the highest layer of clouds, which in this case shows a grey lower layer— the one you are really concerned with. It appears to be consistently the same shade of grey indicating one lower level below the more visible upper layer. Between these two layers could be altitudes free of cloud activity. Zoom in as close as possible to see if there are shades of gray distinctly different from the lowest and highest cloud shelves.

The Satellite picture contradicts the idea of a hole along the line of precipitation as it shows the clouds stretching in an unbroken line. You see no holes through the widespread cloud activity at the lower levels. METARs also indicate marginal VFR to IFR conditions at the surface.

Looping the images is integral for determining whether to go direct, take a routing to the south, or spend the night and go in the morning. In this case the sequence shows the system to be rapidly moving east. The next morning showed the area of freezing temperatures and precipitation had moved well into Minnesota.

By leaving Salt Lake City in the late morning and assuming a six-hour flight, the arrival at Minneapolis in the early evening was free of icing as we snuck in behind the frontal activity. Getting used to the seasonal differences in radar and satellite imagery takes a bit of practice.

Keep in mind that where summer images are stark and dramatically colored, winter’s colors are more subtle, but essential to safely planning long distance flights.


Rose Marie Kern was a certified aviation weather forecaster when she worked as a Flight Watch specialist. Her book, Air to Ground, gives pilots a good overview of aviation weather products as well as information about Air Traffic Control. www. rosemariekern.com.


This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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