Go or No Go: coastal California flight

It’s not a long flight, and it’s the type of mission that makes your Cessna 182 such a valuable asset to your business: a dash down the coast of California from Santa Barbara (KSBA) to your home airport of Montgomery Field in San Diego (KMYF). A four hour drive turns into a one hour flight, but will the weather cooperate?

Your 182 is well equipped, with a G1000 glass cockpit, autopilot and XM Weather, and you have over 700 hours in the airplane. But your instrument currency is at least a year out of date, so this flight will have to be VFR. Take a look at the weather reports below, and let us know if you would go or cancel. Proposed departure time is 0030Z.

Overview

The surface analysis chart doesn’t show much in the way of major weather systems, except for a weak cold front off the coast:

GNG CA surf ana

This picture is misleading, though, as a look at the radar shows:

GNG CA radar

The satellite image supports the gloomy view out the window:

GNG CA satellite

METARs

Given that ugly radar picture, the text weather reports aren’t as bad as might be expected. Various METARs along your route show VFR conditions:

SBA metar

metar 3

metar 5

Your destination is reporting excellent VFR conditions:

metar 7

There is one METAR that deserves attention – NZY, which is on the water, is low IFR.

metar 8

Forecasts

How long will these mostly-VFR conditions hold up? A look at the prog charts show the cold front moving onshore:

image

 

image

Likewise, the TAFs show worsening conditions:

sba taf

MYF taf

Decision Time

The radar and the TAFs are not encouraging, with rain showers forecast to bring ceilings and visibility down later in the day. On the other hand, the current weather conditions are almost uniformly VFR. Can you get home before the weather goes down? Or is it time to rent a car? Add a comment below.

17 Comments

  • I never fly VFR, so this is on gut instinct and not deep analysis.

    I would go if I thought I could get around the red and yellow by heading north east first, getting in front and going south from there.. Then, if I couldn’t make it in I would park someplace west of home and drive on from there.

    Might be ultra conservative but there it is.

  • Defiantly a no go. When in doubt you are better to be cooling the jets wanting to be in the sky than in the sky wishing you were on the ground. If the pilot in question was IFR current then it might be ok to go with reservation. it looks like the worst is moving SE. I would cool it for an hour or two then recheck. If the bad weather is truly moving out then I would go once it had passed far enough I would not catch up to it. At any rate if I did go I would keep a close eye on the metars in route even down to calling flight service and checking the ASOSs in route for changes. I have been in a bad situation before with the weather where I landed seconds before the field went LIFR as a VFR only pilot when a fast moving storm hit the airport while I was in the pattern to land and was already committed to the landing. Not fun to get tail grabbed by the weather and the wait and hour and see trick will usually give you a good idea of what’s happening.

  • I won’t go because I fly out of KSNA so I’m quite familiar with the terrain, weather, and visibility in these parts. Given the weather forecast the marine layer is most likely to form which will drop cloud heights over the water pretty quickly. If you’re forced to set down, terrain getting to the airports along the proposed route will become an issue really quickly. KSNA is your last best chance of setting down; because, chances are airports south of there is already IFR given your departure time.

    As I said I live in these parts, and rain started around 0000 zulu along the coast and moved inland about 1 hour after that.

  • VFR – No Go. In my experience, the ceilings always drop immediately after takeoff in weather like this. Go rent a car and get your IPC done. You own a G1000 C-182, the plane is a waste of money without IFR currency!

  • I’m with Ed on this decision. No go VFR, and then get current ASAP.

    I can see why this flight would be so tempting, though illegal, for an IFR rated pilot who nevertheless isn’t current. You’ve already taken your airplane to Santa Barbara from Montgomery Field, which means not only are you faced with a four hour (or possibly much longer, if there’s any tie-ups on the freeways) drive home … but then you’ve got to go back to Santa Barbara later on to retrieve your airplane. You’ll pay for one, or possibly two car rentals and gas, and kill an entire work day (at least) in lost travel time, vs. the simply 1+ hour IFR flight. A long drive in the evening through heavy urban traffic, plus a return trip, isn’t exactly an optimum safe outcome either.

    I don’t understand why you made the trip up without first verifying that the trip back would be feasible, knowing the weather patterns in your home turf. You’re just tempting yourself into making a very bad decision. For now, just get a room in Santa Barbara, and if the weather is likely to clear, go home the following day. You’ll get more business productivity out of staying in your room this evening to make phone calls, get on your computer and the internet, etc. than you will wasting time stuck in LA and SD traffic.

    You’re a business traveler who owns a capable IFR travel machine, but for some reason you’ve allowed your investment in both plane and IFR rating to go to waste. Go get some recurrent training and then use your airplane for what it was meant to do.

  • With that level of proficiency, drive and be careful with the possibly slick roads. Why own a fully equipped C182 and not be current IFR current and proficient? Seems atrange to own a weather capable plane and not being able to use it to its fullest.

    • Yup Larry, seems strange … but like the old saying goes, “when you’ve got lemons, make lemonade”.

      Maybe view this circumstance should be viewed as an opportunity, and not a problem. You’re already at an FBO in Santa Barbara, so if there’s a CFII available on short notice, then just arrange for a couple hours of dual instruction to get some real IFR approaches in. Voila, you’re now current, and then fly home later in the evening!

  • Why not hire a CFII? That would get the flight done safely while making progress on getting IFR current. Probably save time and money as well once rental costs, aircraft parking, and lost work time are factored in for the trip home and the aircraft retrieve.

  • If the pilot can wait on arrival for the weather to clear, I would consider a go decision. If the pilot needs to be home, no go. Just not worth the risk.

  • As a VFR pilot, easy no-go. If IFR, would consider equipment on board aircraft, like if I was flying a high performance TBM or Cirrus I will file IFR and go, however keep a close eye on my weather.

    182? Nah, anything can happen, on paper it looks OK but it is only OK, and my rule of thumb is to never go below anything “excellent”. So no go on the 182, despite XM weather.

  • I would not go if IFR was not an option. Not saying I would necessarily file IFR, I might start off VFR if I though there was a reasonable chance to make it VFR; but I wouldn’t go at all if I didn’t have the option to at least switch to IFR in route.

  • The key issue not addressed here is the Los Angeles Class B Airspace. There are north and southbound VFR corridors at specific altitudes directly over the center of LAX. The Wx for LAX is not shown, which is where the precip seems to be heaviest, likely with lower ceilings which might make the corridor unusable. SoCal Approach will not want you there so there is a good chance you’d be vectored to hell and gone.

    Call the wife, book a room, have a nice dinner, Santa Barbara is a beautiful city. Fly early the next morning. Wx is usually great after these frontal passages. You could get to the office by 8:30 am easy.

  • I had this sort of situation a few years back. Was in DC for business and flying back to Dayton, OH in the morning. Weather forecasts did not look good for the morning. Got up early, looked out the window, and decided to go back to bed. Got up, had breakfast, did some work from the hotel room, and by 1300 on my way home. Not bad, delayed 3 hrs, but got some work done in the room and flew home safe and sound after the weather cleared out.

    I tend to fret about the weather a lot, but am working on just being able to chill. Weather is what you find, not what is forecast 4-5 days in advance! LOL

  • A mix of complex airspace, terrain and weather are not fun in marginal VMC. I’d advise against going in this case.

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