Today’s pilots often place algorithims ahead of the raw data
More and more pilots today are relying almost blindly on an array of information fed to them by a computer. What is presented to them, after being massaged by an algorithm, they accept; information from raw nature is not analyzed as it used to be years ago. The FAA warned us about that shortcoming 25 years ago inAC 60-22. Look it up.
The short of it is, you cannot dispatch a long-haul flight with only TAFs, NOTAMs, Weather Depiction and wind aloft charts, and some satellite pictures. Didn’t you ask for the area forecasts, SIGMETs, turbulence, icing, high ice water content, and lightning charts? What do you know about the geography of the area over which you’ll be flying? Some time ago, I asked a colleague from a well-known international airline about his weather radar. Basically, I wanted to know his make and model, and he couldn’t answer that simple question, nor could his other crewmembers. “As long as I see some colors on the screen, I’ll avoid them”, he said. No mention of using airborne weather radar as a crosscheck on navigation or its value in maintaining situational awareness and separating terrain features from thunderstorms.
You may say I’m an old fashioned pilot that never got used to “new technologies”. You would be wrong. I like new gadgetry, but I always check it against other sources. Let me explain; this example comes from my last flight, non-stop from Miami to BuenosAires.
Of course, during the preflight briefing I used all the information I had at hand, including the charts
South To Buenos Aires
The flight was quiet until south of Jamaica. Then, far in the distance some lightning was seen; first, some with a red tone, then tur ning whitish. We were at FL330 over OTAMO, the exit point from Jamaica. Note in this photo the scatter of little echoes off to the left. That’s sea clutter and it indicates to me the surface wind is from the south. Since I’m above FL300 over the Caribbean, why do I care? It’s just for the 6-million-to-1 chance that I might have to ditch. It has happened you know. It’s not something I worry about, but just something called playing the “What If?” game. Should that once in 6-million-to-1 chance occur, by knowing what the surface wind is doing I am prepared to react calmly, rather than in a panic of not knowing what to do.
Between KOVAB and MORGI, right of course, there is a string of echoes. There are no islands in that area so it must be a string of storm cells. Abeam of BAQ, to the left, there is another green something at around 200 nm. This one is particularly hard to say whether it’s storm or terrain…except that in flying over the area many times before I know that land is a bit farther away. It must be weather.
Note that in this photo I have TILT at -2º (upper right corner). I have three reasons: (a) as altitude increases, storms over the sea lose reflectivity faster than over land, so if you want to see them in their true reflectivity, TILT has to be set a bit lower, and (b) since my antenna has a 3.5º beam, I know from long experience that everything coming into the 30 NM ring should be avoided to prevent an encounter with a CAT Bubble, and, lastly, (c) with that TILT selection in flight above FL290 the ground is painted from about 80 nm and, therefore, because of the looking-down angle, any echo inside 80 nm must be a tall thunderstorm or a very tall mountain.
We flew a bit farther south, 40 nm, until we started our deviation between KOVAB and MORGI after the storms on the west side of Santa Marta Bay started to fade away. Nevertheless, we decided to steer well clear of them; we didn’t want to get trapped by a terrible “CAT Bubble”.
Abeam BAQ I circled in white (in photo 6) a small green echo. Any idea of what it is? That’s the Route 90 causeway that ties Barranquilla with Cienaga and points farther east.
After flying 37 nm closer, another green appeared at the far end of the screen, right on our track at 240 nm, and the ones in the BAQ area seemed to be stronger and extending to the right (both marked in red). To the left, abeam BAQ, there are other greens (white arrow). Those are a mixture of ground and clouds. That’s the Sierra de Santa Marta area.
Farther south, the picture became clearer. Shall we go left or right of course? Can we safely fly the gap between BAQ and echoes to its left? Although a left deviation through that gap may have been shorter, swinging right around CTG offered a clearer path so we went right. But, for ATC reasons, we had to wait until passing MORGI to begin the deviation.
As we progressed south, we saw that nice shadow, marked with a white “A”, cast by the storms to the left at about 120 nm. But the question now is, why we do not have ground clutter in the area marked with a “B”? To answer that you have to know some geography. There is only water there. What we see is somewhat hilly terrain ahead, then shoreline and finally water to the right.
With TILT still at -2º, it is perfectly clear that we had to avoid the green area to the left of our course. Just remember, green means the chance I may encounter light turbulence is 100%, moderate between 5 and 20%, and severe almost NIL. But those chances are dependent on the highest color in the echo. Meaning, if there is any red, stay away from the ENTIRE echo, yellows and greens as well as the red! (So said thunderstorm scientist Jean T. Lee; do you remember him from the “Rough Rider” project?).
Note the green echo beginning at 25 nm over on the left and by the wind arrow down in the lower left corner. Careful scientific research has shown that lightning is most likely lurking in that green stratus cloud downwind of the storm. Stay away from it if at all possible.
After passing CTG (Cartagena) we decided it was time to get back on course and a direct to LET (Leticia) was requested. This is an interesting picture in which I marked two shadows; “C” and “D”. Can you tell which one is produced by a storm and which one not? Once again, geography knowledge gave me a helping hand. “D” is pretty simple; the shadow extends straight out from my radar as a radial. That’s a radar shadow behind a weak little echo. But the shadow at “C” shape is different. It’s slanted across the display at odds to the expected radial, therefore it’s not a radar shadow, it’s a terrain feature. In this case, it’s the Magdalena River Valley. Again, I recognize it from my knowledge
By the way, note that the beam is scanning the ground from 80 nm outward. That’s the “Parked” position for TILT. It’s where TILT should always be if you aren’t doing something else with it. Why? As mentioned earlier, with the ground being scanned from 80 nm outward, any echo that intrudes inside that 80 nm range has to be very tall, because of the downward-looking angle. Therefore, it’s a tall thunderstorm.
So, how about the reds you see on the left? Can you identify any of those features that will allow you to catalog it as a dangerous line of storms?
It is very important to note that we were flying over an area covered by oceans, swamps and lakes. There is plenty of water to feed many, many storms. From then on, our flight to BuenosAires was just a piece of cake; clear sky, no fogs.
I’m telling you how I dealt with these storms because I have seen too many pilots flying without paying proper attention to those details – details that will make a big difference when it comes to dribbling around Cbs. It’s called “Airmanship” or more exactly “SuperiorAirmanship”. I wasn’t born with it; I accumulated it by paying attention to what I see out the windshield and comparing that to my radar. That doesn’t take as long as you might suppose. It’s just practicing good airmanship.
Here is a nice definition, taken from Skybrary
(http://www.skybrary.aero/ index.php/Airmanship): “Airmanship is the consistent use of good judgment and well-developed skills to accomplish flight objectives. This consistency is founded on a cornerstone of uncompromising flight discipline and is developed through systematic skill acquisition and proficiency. A high state of situational awareness completes the airmanship picture and is obtained through knowledge of one’s self, aircraft, environment, team and risk.”
Maybe you have one of those new fancy radars, fully automatic, and you think you don’t have to worry about anything except how to switch it on and avoid the red. Let me tell you, that’s a mistake, and woe to you and your passengers.