Weather Wisdom Thursday!

Imagine my surprise on a  recent private pilot flight test when the applicant’s version of “use of available aviation weather resources” was calling a series of AWOS robots along his flight route on his cell phone. (This is wrong on so many levels but my real “surprise” was later  talking with his instructor). We have so many amazing aviation weather tools available to us that the usual problem is selecting a reliable personal system; this poor student was never taught anything; never shown 1800wxBrief or visited the associated website. SAFE clearly has more work to do with FAA certificated educators (the CFI and I also spent time exploring “what a scenario is” and how to use them in aviation training…)

SAFE ran a whole series of on-line webinars with Gold Seal Ground School on maneuvering and loss of control last fall and winter and now we are focusing in on obtaining weather and developing a dynamic weather picture (and teaching these methods). Join us this Thursday, Sept 6th at 8 PM EDT for an FAA WINGS program online.  (This is the FAA registration, the portal show day is HERE)

Who better than Scott Dennstaedt, the amazing CFII and meteorologist (who helped construct the ForeFlight weather brief section), to help us develop and understand this topic? Scott has run national weather seminars for pilots for years and recently launched the WeatherSport App to help pilots obtain better weather information. Scott will be our subject matter expert for Thursday’s show. SAFE members will be very happy to know there is a sizable discount for joining Scott’s system now available on the member savings page!


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Author: David St. George

Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE)

2 thoughts on “Weather Wisdom Thursday!”

  1. David,
    I am looking forward to Thursday’s webinar. Your recount of the recent check ride reminds me of when the iPad first arrived on the scene as an aviation tool. I recall an applicant who had fully embraced the superior resource of a best selling flight planning and charting app. He explained his flight to the Gulf coast, how much time and fuel he had planned for etc. But he made no mention of having investigated any weather information. So I asked; “So, how’s the weather today in Rockport?” He responded by plunking his finger down on the iPad chart, up popped the current METAR for KRKP, which he read to me, indicating acceptable VFR conditions. I was expecting some follow up, but that was it. So I asked if the weather was also good between San Antonio and Rockport. This time the finger landed on an intermediate airport where he again read the METAR. He looked at me and smiled, well satisfied with his weather investigation. We later had a fairly long discussion about weather and weather services.

    I admit that I was shocked by this poor understanding and execution of pre-flight preparation. But this was just the first of many such experiences, and eventually I began to understand what was happening. When I learned to fly, the only way to get weather information was by calling 1800WXBRIEF, logging on to DUATS via a dial-up connection, or in person at a flight service station. I realize now that out of necessity we learned how to take a verbal briefing, or coded DUATS information, and create a mental picture of the weather along our route of flight.

    This took quite a bit of practice, and our instructors coached us continually to develop our capacity to hold this mental image of the weather systems affecting our flight. As internet weather sources proliferated, these added better and more varied resources to this process.

    Then came the iPad, truly disruptive technology. We now had a tool that was far superior to any previous resource for weather assessment. It was no longer required for us to build a mental picture of the weather along our proposed route of flight. We had the picture right on our iPad! In this way superior technology allows us to execute the same task with less knowledge and skill than was previously required. This evolution of aviation technology and pilots has been going on since the beginnings of flight, and will continue until pilots themselves have become as obsolete as the now quaint skills of mental processing needed to visualize a holding pattern entry, the movement of a cold front, or the effects of wind on our flight path.

    This continual stream of better and better technology requires us flight instructors to dance between teaching the benefits of using the latest tech, and of acquiring legacy skills of pilotage and dead reckoning, weather information gathering and visualization, situational awareness, and yes the most important skill of all – the ability to precisely control the aircraft by attitude reference. This is called progress. How many of us can drive a 62 Willys with a three speed on the column, no synchromesh? Not many and we don’t loose much sleep over it. So why should we care about the loss of legacy skills in aviation? Two reasons.

    First, even the best technology fails. When it does we have to revert to manual execution of the task the technology previously accomplished. Autopilot fails during an instrument approach to minimums – we need the skill to hand fly the approach as well as “George” could. iPad fails at our fuel stop – we need the skill to copy a weather briefing from flight service, understand it, and correlate this information to the remainder of our flight. GPS fails – we need to be able to use pilotage and dead reckoning to ensure we make it to our destination. This seems obvious but is often countered by the feeling that these systems seldom fail.

    The second reason is more important. Unlike driving a 62 Willys, flying an airplane requires simultaneous application of competency in more than a few different disciplines. And these diverse competencies work in synergy to bring a pilot to a higher level of mental function. We have all seen this progression in our students – can’t do it today but next week, boom! Competency. This process of mental development was more noticeable, perhaps, when more difficult procedures, partial panel off field NDB approach comes to mind, were required. It has always amazed me that more resources have not been allocated to the study of the developement of the brain of a pilot in training. Any experienced instructor can see the correlation between good outside reference attitude flying, good situational awareness, cross country savvy, and good maneuvering skills. And most of us have seen the results when technology has been substituted for some of these fundamentals.

    To summarize – we need to be careful that we cultivate legacy skills and attributes in our students, even if they have the technology to bypass their acquisition.

  2. The FAA primarily uses “experts” and academicians of the sciences for learning.
    Maybe they should have a few educators at least edit their handbooks. None seem to be directed to a young Student.

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