Just Say No

Do you have slogans that you like?  I love the Nike slogan “Just do it”, but that is not great advice when you are trying to make a decision about flying and weather! The following are my thoughts on VFR flying and weather decision making that I wrote when ferrying a new helicopter from the USA to Canada over a few days.

I am currently delivering a helicopter up to Canada and instead of flying, I am typing in a hotel room.  Why?  Because I said No.

I am sure that you have heard of the term “It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, rather than in the air wishing you were on the ground!”

I used that saying today.

I love to fly…when the weather is good.  Some of my best days have been in the air, enjoying the sky and feeling like a bird.  Some of my most stressful days have also been in the air!  Wishing I was on the ground.

I know that the one thing not to mess around with is Mother Nature.  She will close the door on you when you want to go flying.  Then she may tempt you…with just enough weather to make you think about it.

It is easy to make decisions when the weather is good.  It is easy to make decisions when the weather is CRAP.  For example last year I was weathered out because the visibility was a ¼ mile in freezing precipitation.  That was an EASY decision to not go flying.

An example of weather when I was in Helena trying to fly to Calgary. Leaving Helena was good but was running up some weather moving south along the route.
Weather Radar from Aeroweather

The toughest ones are the days when the weather is at your limits.  When it is good enough to make you think about it.

What are your limits?  

I would encourage you to find what your limits are and stand by them.  If you are asking your self too many times if you should go, you know the answer.

You will have to have limits on visibility, weather, cloud ceilings, wind, sunlight, fatigue…..

Then you will have combo limits.  For example, strong winds over the open prairies are quite different than the same winds through the mountains.  1000′ ceilings with +5 deg. C in rain maybe fine over the open prairies. But when flying in the mountains where you have upsloping ridges ahead, that same weather quickly turns into 10’ ceilings and freezing rain!

Have you heard of the 3 strikes your out rule?

Rarely do accidents happen because of one thing. It is usually 3 things that line up to make an accident.  If you can interrupt the sequence before it happens, you can prevent an accident.

Today in Provo I had a few strikes:

Strike 1: Low visibility due to precipitation

Strike 2: Low ceilings and rising terrain

Strike 3: Temperature hovering near freezing.

***I don’t fly in ice. This one by itself is a strict No to flying. 

Strike 4: Flying in the mountains. 

Toss in some Gusting strong winds and I am good with taking another night.

Easy to say, Hard to do!

The best part is that the weather is forecasted to clear up tonight.  Easy decision?  You would think, but I kept waiting for that window to open up and find a way to make it happen.  Thankfully my experience has taught me better and I booked the hotel for another night.

Next morning:  It feels good to make the right decision.  Up early before the sunrises and out at the helicopter ready to get in a full day of flying.  The wind is calm, the weather has moved on and it turned out to be a very enjoyable flight. 

The internet is flooded these days of people doing stupid stuff and getting attention.  I see it with pilots flying aircraft and doing things that make me scratch my head. Why?

With all these pilots and people videotaping themselves doing stupid shit, I wonder what effect it has on the viewer.  Will viewers see this stuff and want to try it?  Monkey see Monkey do. 

I, on the other hand, think that flying safely is COOL.  I plan on keeping it that way and hope others take the same approach where being prepared, properly trained, professional and safe is actually the COOLEST way to fly.