Thread: Flying in Bad Weather

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  1. Flying in Bad Weather 

    Join Date
    NY, USA
    I own and fly a light aircraft under the VFR (visual Flight Reference) rule. I cannot fly in "bad weather" because a) I am not certified as a IFR (instrument Flight Reference) pilot and my aircraft is not certified as an IFR one.

    The latter requires several things among which: double set of instruments and, gyroscopic position indicators such as turn coordinators, artificial horizon, etc.

    The reason is this one: As an aircraft comes into bad visibility (e.g. in a cloud) and looses visual contact with the ground, he has no reference to the horizon. Because a pilot always try to fly coordinated, i.e. with the center of gravity in the middle, as the aircraft turns, the only feeling will be that gravitation increases. For example, an aircraft banking at 60 degrees endures 2 Gs (twice the weight). But there is no way to tell in which direction the aircraft turns and, therefore, no way to know how to correct it. The result is a spin where the aircraft falls like a leaf, often all the way to the ground.

    The only way to avoid that is to have a gyroscopic instrument that tells, from the variation of heading, in which direction the aircraft turns. I have such an instrument, just in case I should come by accident in what we call IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions). While I have trained on a flight simulator to fly only with that simple instrument in no visibility, I know that, in real life, I have only a few minutes, if not seconds, to come out of that situation because concentration gets very bad under stress.

    But your question, perphaps, addresses the risks of flying big airplanes in turbulent weather. Well, it is uncomfortable for the passengers and, because of that, airliners try to avoid, as much as possible, bad weather, by flying over or under it. But there is no real danger if the pilot reduces speed to what is known as Va or, manoeuvre speed.

    It works like this: In a strong turbulence, the plane gets a load on the wings that are built to resist to a certain point; say, 5 Gs (5 times the actual weight). But the point at which an aircraft stalls (fall off) is proportional to the load because proportional to the angle of attack of the wing. If you fly under that speed, a very strong turbulence will make the plane to stall before the load comes over the breaking load. A stalling aircraft actually falls off the sky but while scary, it is not dangerous if there is enough space under. It eventually comes out of it. I practice stalls nearly every time I fly. It is not dangerous and it is good to know when it happens to be able to prevent it.

    You certainly remember the Air France aircraft that crashed in the mid Atlantic a couple of years ago. We suspect that the cause was one of those very powerful thunderstorms found around the equator. But why didn't the pilot reduced speed to Va then? Well, if you remember correctly, the aircraft had problems with its speed indicator and while we will never know for sure (the black box was never found) this is certainly the cause of an excess of speed and the resulting destruction of the wings in extreme turbulence.

    One of the risks of flying in freezing precipitation is ice forming on the wings. The ice not only adds weight it disrupts the airflow over the wing causing a loss of lift.

    The combination of added weight and reduced lift can make the aircraft not be able to maintain level flight. Sometimes it slowly sinks in a controllable manner (resulting in a rather high speed "landing"). Sometimes you lose ability to maintain any control of the aircraft.

    That's the kind of weather we always have on photo shoot days

    It's risky to fly in bad weather but if you are confident enough that you can land safely, that would be amazing.

    I have flown in some rather obnoxious weather...

    Long ago, flying Control line, with skis on the plane to fly off snow, I took off with light snow falling. A short time later snow was falling fast and wind picked up such that I could only see the plane for about 1/4 of each lap.
    Not exactly recommended.

    We had light freezing drizzle at an annual toy drive fly-in. Maybe 10 or 15 pilots showed up. A couple of us flew and landed with minor icing on the wings after about a minute. That was as much as we were willing to stand out in the weather.

    Generally if you are willing to stand in the weather there is a plane that will fly in it... until you load up with ice.

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