As a private pilot I have a stronger than normal obsession with weather. While I’ve always had a great interest in Mother Nature’s more intense moments, when I’m up there in an airplane I don’t want to be sharing those experiences with her.
When we lived in Upstate New York it was a 10 minute drive to the airport. Because of the relative ease I had in scheduling an airplane, I could simply decide to fly, make sure the airplane is available, and drive to airport. I could see what the weather was doing and fly accordingly. If Mother Nature was thinking about spinning up a tornado, I’d stay on the ground.
When it came to planning long flights I’d start looking at the forecast a couple of days ahead of my planned flight time and make the appropriate go/no-go decisions. It’s what private pilots do.
Living in the busier Chicago area, with my airplane rental opportunities an hour or more away, I have to be more structured with flight plans. In order to get on the schedule I often have to block out my flight time a week or more in advance. Because of this I’m finding that I’m watching the weather patterns every day between the day I schedule the flight and the date of the actual flight.
I’m noticing I am now overthinking my weather decisions. Watching the forecast obsessively, and noticing how much it changes during that time, is probably making me a little more conservative than I need to be.
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to start flying a four-seat airplane aimed at a thunderstorm, but I need to allow myself the flexibility to change my flight plans as necessary. For example, yesterday I was planning on going up in the Cessna 182 with an instructor to continue my checkout and work on the endorsement for high performance and complex aircraft. The plans involved going to a small strip to the west of the airport and the forecast was calling for thunderstorms and heavy rain. At first I decided I wouldn’t fly but after talking with the instructor for a bit, we decided to simply cancel that flight plan and just stay local to our home airport, working on landings in the pattern. If the weather turned south, we’d be close enough to home to get safely on the ground before any storm moved in.
Contrary to my daily work as a software developer, where things are often if…then, flying isn’t as black and white. It’s the if…then…else that I need to remember to consider.
Yesterday’s flight turned out to be a good one; I’m making progress, the repetition of take-off/landing/take-off/landing/etc is honing in the extra details of flying with a retractable gear airplane, and I’m starting to feel more solid with what I’m doing with the increased horsepower of the bigger engine.
I’ve been reflecting on this while working on my post-flight analysis and I think yesterday was a good lesson for me, both in the air and on the ground. I’m still not going to be one to try to thread an airplane between thunderstorms, but I can dance in the sky for a bit before Mother Nature decides to bring her creativity to home.