This Go or No Go is a little different. The scenario I’ll present is an actual flight I had planned and the decision I had to make. I’ll show the weather conditions that were forecast and my plan, then I’ll let you decide if you would have flown the trip. Check back in a few days and I’ll share whether I decided go or no go.
First, the details of the trip. I was headed home to Cincinnati, OH (LUK) from Hilton Head, SC (HXD) after a family vacation. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was anxious to get back for the work week. Unfortunately, a slow-moving low pressure system had parked itself right in my path, with an occluded front to the south and a large area of rain to the east. It was not a pretty day to fly, with lots of rain, ice and low ceilings.
Fortunately, the Pilatus PC-12 I was flying is a capable airplane. This pressurized, single-engine turboprop can climb to 28,000 ft. if needed to top weather, and is equipped with XM datalink weather, on-board radar and a complete de-ice system. In addition, I was proficient and comfortable in the airplane, as I frequently fly it on long IFR trips. Finally, I always fly with a co-pilot, so I had another set of eyes to help out.
Let’s look at the weather forecast that greeted me Sunday morning and you can decide what you would have done.
I always like to start with the big picture view, so I checked the most recent weather depiction:
The forecast maps showed worsening conditions, if anything, as the low was forecast to slide northeastward:
The radar map showed solid rain, although not a lot of convective activity. It also confirmed that the area of weather was not moving very fast:
The satellite image didn’t offer much detail, other than some hints of higher tops to the north:
With the overall picture in mind, it was time to consider three big issues: thunderstorms, turbulence and icing. First up was a look at convective activity. The map of Convective SIGMETs showed nothing along my route of flight:
A check of the CCFP map gave some supporting detail:
So far, it looked like thunderstorms weren’t going to be a major factor. But that didn’t mean the ride was going to be good, so I checked some sources to see what turbulence I might encounter. The chart of AIRMETs was pretty clear, especially up high at a typical cruise altitude for the PC-12:
PIREPs for turbulence also showed little activity:
A check of the turbulence forecast from aviationweather.gov showed smooth sailing at 25,000 ft.:
Cross turbulence off the list as a major concern. Could it be that this large weather system with all this rain really didn’t have any unpleasant flying conditions? A check of icing conditions suggested perhaps no. First the AIRMETs for ice:
Pilot reports seem to back up the AIRMET, with reports of light and occasional moderate icing below 22,000:
Finally, the CIP/FIP forecasts show that if we could get up to FL260 or FL280, we might be above the ice. But this would most likely entail a climb through a fairly thick layer of icing clouds:
The forecasts for icing severity showed that the ice was most likely to be moderate, tapering to light above 25,000 ft:
So convection was not a major concern (although the heating of the day could change that). Turbulence didn’t look bad, either. Icing was a concern, although it looked like we could top it. Time for a review of the text weather.
Hilton Head was gusty, but showed good conditions:
KHXD 131650Z 17008G16KT 110V230 10SM SCT029 BKN080 25/18 A3020= KHXD 131550Z 18008G16KT 120V220 10SM SCT029 BKN120 25/18 A3021= KHXD 131450Z 19009KT 150V240 10SM SCT028 BKN038 24/19 A3021=
En route conditions were mostly marginal VFR to IFR, with light rain and mist:
KGSP 131653Z 13004KT 6SM -RA BR BKN007 BKN047 OVC060 18/17 A3020 RMK AO2 SLP219 P0001 T01780167=
KAVL 131654Z 15005KT 5SM -RA BR SCT010 BKN017 OVC039 16/14 A3022 RMK AO2 SLP221 P0001 T01560139=
KLEX 131654Z 10006KT 4SM -RA BR FEW007 SCT014 OVC090 17/16 A3013 RMK AO2 SLP198 P0009 T01670161=
Weather in Cincinnati was significantly worse, with mist, rain and low ceilings. But it was still well above minimums for the ILS 21L or possibly even the LOC BC 3R. The forecast was for conditions to stay the same, or possibly improve slightly:
KLUK 131653Z 00000KT 2SM RA BR BKN010 OVC015 16/14 A3017 RMK AO2 CIG 006V012 SLP214 P0009 T01560144 $= KLUK 131553Z 05006KT 3SM -RA BR BKN010 OVC031 16/14 A3018 RMK AO2 SLP216 P0000 T01560144 $= KLUK 131534Z 06007KT 3SM -RA BR BKN010 OVC033 16/14 A3018 RMK AO2 CIG 006V014 P0000 $= (SPECI) KLUK 131453Z 06007KT 3SM -RA BR BKN019 OVC038 16/14 A3018 RMK AO2 SLP218 P0006 60026 T01560139 58003 $= KLUK 131450Z 06009KT 3SM -RA BR FEW010 BKN019 OVC038 16/14 A3018 RMK AO2 P0006 $= (SPECI) KLUK 131411Z 04003KT 2 1/2SM RA BR FEW006 BKN014 OVC025 16/14 A3020 RMK AO2 P0002 $= (SPECI) KLUK 131353Z 06004KT 2 1/2SM RA BR SCT023 BKN028 OVC033 16/14 A3020 RMK AO2 SLP224 P0011 T01560144 $=
TAF AMD KLUK 131321Z 1313/1412 00000KT 2SM -SHRA SCT005 OVC025 FM131500 08005KT 5SM -SHRA BR SCT005 OVC012 FM140500 00000KT 2SM BR OVC012=
You make the decision
There’s the briefing I read as I considered my options. It wasn’t a great day, but I did have a capable airplane. One final piece of the puzzle: I had my family on board. My standards for safety don’t change, but should my standards for comfort change?
You make the call–what should I have done? Go or no go?
UPDATE 5/29/12: So what did I decide? I’m usually in the “go” camp when flying this airplane. But in the end, I chickened out and spent the night. I felt pretty confident that I could get home if I had to or if I was getting paid to do it. But I was a little nervous about some of the rain turning into thunderstorms as the heat of the day set in. Also, while it would probably be ice-free at FL270, I had no out if it wasn’t. Since the plane is not RVSM-approved, I essentially could fly at FL270 or 8,000 ft. That violates my rule about having a good out.
In any case, I want flying to be a fun part of a family vacation, not something to be endured. The next morning we had a beautiful flight home on the backside of the rain. A week later, nobody remembered getting home 12 hours late. But a bad flight that scared some passengers would be remembered forever.