Short Final: A Rock And A Hard Place


Recently we have been flying into Statesboro, Georgia, several times a year on family business. We have noted how often we take off or land in bad weather at that particular airport. If it’s clear for our arrival, it’ll be solid IMC for departure, or the other way around.

The last time we were there, it was in the middle of the hurricane season and there were bands of very heavy rain passing through the area.

We were on radar vectors to the IAF at Statesboro, flying through sheets of rain when the following occurred:

Savannah Approach: “Cessna 123, I can vector you through brief and extreme precip or through continuous moderate precip. Your choice.”

Cessna 123: “Sounds like you’re offering us a choice between a rock and a hard place. We’re not fond of either option. Standby.”

We gave it some thought and chose the brief, extreme precipitation. Sure enough it got very loud inside the cabin with all the rain we had opted to fly through.

As we finally landed and taxied off the runway, sheets of water cascaded off the wings.

Then came the fun of canceling IFR with a cell phone with minimal coverage, and unloading in the rain.

Sal Cruz

Watsonville, CA

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  1. Southern Air DC-9 made the same selection in 1977–also in Georgia. Flew through extreme precip–smashed the cockpit windows and flamed out both engines. It didn’t work out well for them.

    Famed test pilot Scott Crossfield was advised of extreme precipitation ahead, (also in the Southeast), but only started a turn 30 seconds before the aircraft broke up.

    We’ve all done that–“I THINK we will be OK”–only to have the issue in doubt–and swear we will never do THAT again. It only took me 40 years of instrument flying to make that resolution stick.

    • I currently hold an ATP-ASMEL CE500, DA-10, DC-3, COMM: AS&MES, Rotorcraft Helicopter, Glider, Sport Pilot Gyroplane. CFI ASMEI, CGI AE, Flight Dispatcher, CTO, Remote Pilot. and I have flown 95 different kinds of aircraft. When I was young and eager I would go trying to find a cloud to fly through, the older I got the more I avoided clouds, rain, and other forms if idiocy that has ended up killing a lot of uninformed pilots as to the fact Mother Nature lets us fly through some pretty nasty stuff most of the time but sooner or later will swat anyone down for pushing the limits of both man and machine.
      I remember back in 1964 as a student pilot in a Cessna 150 at DPA, runway33 doing touch and go’s trying to put in l my 1 hours of flight time. It was snowing and it got heavier and heavier. Soon I could only see straight down so I flew out to this farm house, them turned 90 degrees and flew to this road, then turned 90 degrees and flew to a lake, then turned 90 degrees and flew to the airport. round and round I went until the control tower came on the radio and asked “N3539J Dupage Tower, are you still in the pattern”. My answer was “Affirmative N3539J” to which they said, on your next landing make it a full stop and taxi back in. Let us know when your on the ground. Only God keeps uninformed fools and nincompoops like me alive. I landed and taxied in thinking it was great fun flying in snow where I could hardly see anything but almost straight down. Since then I have ventured into bad weather only to regret it later and question my sanity. I guess I must be doing something right after venturing the air for 56 years and only one student has had an incident.

    • The Southern Air DC-9 accident was due to misinterpreting the in-cockpit X-band radar display. Due to attenuation the heaviest area of weather looked like the quickest way thru. At the time of the accident, controllers didn’t have as good of radar picture as they do now and rarely disagreed with a pilot’s decision if they even offered an opinion at all. Also, in-cockpit ADS-B and XM weather radar displays now can give pilots a strategic advantage of seeing the whole picture and avoiding those up close and personal encounters.

  2. What Jim says is exactly what happened on those two examples.
    Scott Crossfield when warned about that lousy weather ahead of him, prior to take off said “What, that thing to bother me? Common man, I was an X-15 Test Pilot. This is peanuts for me”.
    When they found the wreck, it was determined it hit the ground at 300MPH.
    Thanks Jim.

  3. The OP starts off setting the scene by saying “it was hurricane season”. Wonder what the TAF or even public forecast (BBC is great btw) said about weather nearby. I know you’ve invested a lot to have the aircraft you’re using, but why not go commercial and rent a car for a few trips a year, and be alive to enjoy your other trips.
    From J3 to P-3 to A330.

  4. Continuous Moderate precip sounds much better than Brief Extreme precip. There are people that are good at telling when the weather accompanying the Heavy or Extreme precip will or won’t kill you. I don’t feel confident that I have that wisdom yet, so I’ll choose the moderate any day if those are my only two choices.