“I’m a pilot, not a meteorologist,” was the title of a talk at Oshkosh that caught my eye in a friend’s post. It struck a chord with me. How many times haven’t you planned an outing on a perfect looking day, and found it didn’t live up to what was showing on the charts?
“Let’s go to France on Monday,” I suggested to James. The weather looked great, the best day of the week. Almost no wind or gusts. A perfect day to tackle the channel crossing on our own. “It does look good,” agreed my weather guru friend.
That weekend James and I spent time ensuring we had all the paperwork needed for the plane and ourselves. I ran through the radio calls we would be making and wrote down all the frequencies. For once, I was ahead of James on this one, having done three trips to France, and had the chance to experience both of Le Touquet’s runway approaches. I got him to watch the YouTube video of travelling down the coast to Le Touquet, which I had found so valuable a year ago.
On the Sunday we went up to the airfield to get the plane ready. I looked up at the clouds. Today’s forecast was very similar to tomorrow’s. It had looked great on the weather app. Low wind and sunshine, perfect for a trip to a French beach. The reality looked very different. With growing alarm, I texted, “The weather looks grim today. Are we likely to get the same tomorrow? Big cumulus clouds and turbulence?” I started to wonder whether I did want to go at all.
“What’s it like up?” I asked Ed. “Sporty,” he replied. “You mean, horrible?” “Yes,” he said. My weather friend replied: “Had a look again. It’s certainly not perfect any more but doable if you want to be brave.” “France isn’t about being brave,” I replied. “I think it will be alright, but you won’t be able to get the height when crossing the channel, but I could be wrong.” He was looking at the cloud base that showed it could be 2500 to 5000 feet on the Met Office’s 214 chart.
“We’ll be fine,” said James. “You fly there, and I will do the return trip. It will be hot so there will be turbulence coming home, but nothing you can’t cope with.”
Er, no. This was one where I agreed with my friend John who has flown to France so often, I shall call him Jean. “It’s got to be perfect for the first trip.” Mais oui! “We could fly down to Dover and decide from there whether or not to cross,” suggested James. Ever the wuss, I opted out. Another day, perhaps. We’d keep the paperwork handy for when that happened.
My weather friend swears by the Met Office 214 and 215 charts, but I find them obscure, to say the least. Jean is even more blunt. “They are like a secret club, for those in the know, not trying to help the average pilot. If I’m planning a trip to France, I will usually go to the BBC and look there. I look at the days either side of the one I’m planning to go on, just in case. That way you see if there is a trend. I will always try and go on the best day in the middle of a run of good weather. I pick various points en route, as well as home and destination and I keep watching them, two or three times a day. I also look on the app Windy, looking for wind of around 10 to 15 knots, definitely less than 20. Then I start looking on Skydemon at the TAFs and METARs, and the Notams, before I submit my flight plan. I only make the final call that morning before I set off.”
Another pilot friend who thinks nothing of popping over to Eastern Europe says simply, “There are so many weather apps out there now, I just go on a good day and hope for best.”
The Monday dawned so bright and clear my daughter couldn’t believe it when I said we weren’t going because it was going to be too cloudy. “Really? It’s a gorgeous blue sky here!” I could see that myself. Had I made a mistake? Even the weatherman had said, “There should be no major problems, it’s cooled down a bit now,” and Jean sounded surprised we hadn’t gone. I kept looking up that day, and although the sky was clear, the texts I kept getting from flying friends agreed, it was rough as hell up there. I was sorry the weather hadn’t been great, but I wasn’t sorry we hadn’t gone up that day.
Where do you go looking for your long-range forecast when it involves something like crossing the channel, and how do you plan for a trip? Which Met Office info do you use, and which weather apps make your life easier?
I would love to know. Please comment below.
I look at XC Weather, Windy, the Met Office Low Level Forecast and Spot Winds (although it may as well in in Swahili most of the time!) and also AeroWeather Lite. Your article is spot on as usual Nushin, the area of meteorology is bewildering to say the least. I am beginning to think that the best thing to do is to build experience and ask my more experienced fellow pilots for their advice in order to speed up the process. Thanks once again for sharing this
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That is pretty much my bundle of tricks too Ian, but I use Weather Pro as well – I love its layered info, except they have now changed it and it doesn’t show on an Android device, more is the pity. I also feel the Met is talking Swahili. Doesn’t do it for me!
I agree with you, experience is what counts, and a situational awareness. Things can change in a flash and leave you in swirling cloud. We experienced that today, on what started out a stunning day. It keeps you on your toes!