Left, Right or Straight Ahead

Left, Right or Straight Ahead

During thunderstorm season in the U.S., added considerations are required almost every flight. Such was the case in June as I departed with four passengers to Tampa, Florida.

The flight down from ADS (Addison, Texas) was fairly routine as we deviated around several buildups along the Alabama and Florida coastlines. Arriving at KTPA (Tampa) however, I found no one at the FBO to marshal us to the ramp. They had all disappeared. Strange, I thought. It was 11 a.m. Surely someone worked here. I then glanced to the right of the covered ramp and noticed a line person holding a handmade sign against the line shack window. It read, “Lightning.”

All the line folks were in the building hiding from the weather. “We’ll be out in two minutes,” one yelled. “Our sensor says there is lightning in the area and we can’t come out yet.”

This came as a surprise since I hadn’t noticed any electrical activity on the arrival or landing. I guess their sensors were better than mine. Shortly thereafter, an army of seven people streamed out from relative safety to help us unload.

Round one went to the lightning gods. The return to Dallas two days later was equally interesting. 

I had chosen the coastline route back home with a fuel stop in Hammond, Louisiana. The 6 a.m. brief showed a large area of convective activity north of my route but moving south. By our 9 a.m. departure, the weather was right across our path. A SIGMET was issued for tops to FL450 with little movement. We were in the clear for the climb to FL380 and I was impressed with how well the Mustang was performing in ISA+10 temperatures despite a gross weight takeoff. 

“Ah, Jax center, is anyone deviating around the area of weather at my 12 o’clock,” I queried.

“Some have deviated north, but you may be able to top most of it and have room to make your descent into Hammond on the other side,” came the controller’s response. “I just had an F-16 depart from a base off your left and climb to FL450. He didn’t say much, but most of those single-pilot fighters don’t say much anyway.”

“How about ‘wrong way’ FL 410,” I asked. 

“November four one six Delta Mike, cleared to flight level four one oh.” 

At that altitude, we were on top and able to see the cells off to our left. Now, it was decision time. As my real-time picture showed, to the left were indications of lightning strikes and one individual cell showing on the G1000 NEXRAD. To the right and straight ahead, only green and yellow returns. Turbulence was no more than light. Checking the weather radar confirmed the NEXRAD picture.

Straight ahead it would be. “Folks, make sure your seat belts are fastened,” I reminded. 

“November four one six Delta Mike, descend and maintain flight level three six zero,” came the clearance. Wait a minute. I thought he said I could stay high and descend past the weather? Then I realized that’s what the previous controller said. 

“Six Delta Mike would like to stay as high as possible for weather,” I pleaded. 

“Okay, descend now to flight level three eight zero,” he compromised. 

Engine heat on, we descended into the abyss. Within a few minutes we broke out of a high overcast for a satisfying landing. A great flight.

Fly safe.

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