3 min read

Richard Collins has famously said there’s really no such thing as a single go/no go decision. Rather, weather flying can be seen as a series of “continue flying or land short” decisions. Tonight is a perfect example.

After a long weekend with friends in Hilton Head, SC (HXD), you’re headed home to suburban Atlanta (RYY). Hopefully you’ll be in the office and your son will be in school Monday morning–if you can make it back. You had planned to make the trip first thing the next morning, but a large weather system moving in from the northwest changed that, so you departed Sunday just before 9pm for the two hour flight in your Cherokee Six.

You own half of the airplane, and you’re current in it, but you are strictly VFR since you’ve never finished off that instrument rating. The airplane’s panel is 1970s basic, but it does have a good autopilot and your trusty iPad with XM weather receiver tells you what you need to know. You’re watching that iPad closely tonight.

Pre-flight briefing

Your weather briefing before takeoff showed fairly good weather along your route of flight, but that big cold front is threatening the Atlanta area, with rain and probably wind behind it.

AF synopsis

The weather depiction showed that cold front bringing low ceilings as well. It also showed fog forming along the coast after your departure time.

AF depiction

The satellite image completed the picture.

AF satellite

En route

Now you’re halfway home, about an hour out from RYY. As you pull up the in-flight weather, here’s what you see.

The radar image in ForeFlight shows a solid line of rain that’s getting quite close to your destination airport. But if you look closely, it appears that the line is moving northeast, not directly towards Atlanta (notice the storm track lines).

AF ipad

The METARs are the other crucial piece of the puzzle. The ceiling is coming down and the wind is picking up at your destination, but it’s not IFR yet and the visibility is excellent.

KRYY 030247Z 19009G15KT 10SM BKN028 OVC090 19/12 A2995=
KRYY 030147Z 18007G18KT 10SM BKN033 OVC045 19/13 A2997=
TAF AMD KRYY 030305Z 0303/0324 19008KT P6SM BKN025 TEMPO 0303/0305
     6SM -RA BR BKN015
     FM030500 21006KT 4SM -SHRA BR OVC007
     FM031000 24004KT 2SM -SHRA BR OVC004
     FM031500 30007KT 4SM -SHRA OVC012
     FM031800 32009KT P6SM BKN035
     FM032100 33007KT P6SM SCT050 AMD NOT SKED 0304/0312=

Peachtree-Dekalb Airport (PDK) is just 15 miles short of your destination (and as a busy GA airport, a decent alternate), but it’s reporting a 2400 ft. broken ceiling. Cherokee County (to the north of RYY) is reporting an overcast ceiling at 2500 ft., while Cartersville (to the northwest of RYY) is reporting a scattered layer at 5500 ft. Visibility is 10 miles across the region.

One final twist: returning to Hilton Head is not an option. That forecast fog has indeed rolled in, and the reported visibility is 1/4 mile.

Your decision

It’s decision time. Right now, the weather at your destination isn’t terrible, but it’s not clear how long that will last. The en route diversion options aren’t great–there’s no returning to Hilton Head, PDK isn’t a lock, and at 9pm on a Sunday night many central Georgia airports are probably deserted. Will you have to take that chance?

Tell us your decision in the comments below.

John Zimmerman
40 replies
  1. Charley
    Charley says:

    AOPA presented a webinar last night about Lockheed Martin’s upgraded briefing website. There should be a link on AOPA for a recorded version of the presentation. Anyway, the new web-based briefing system integrates various sources and products to give a better view of the weather picture along the planned flight path, including how things might change enroute.

    • Joe Pilot
      Joe Pilot says:

      If you look at the METAR forecast models you can see how the weather around Atlanta briefly gets worse:

      FM030500 21006KT 4SM -SHRA BR OVC007 overcast at 700 (it’s heavy rain)
      FM031000 24004KT 2SM -SHRA BR OVC004 then down to 400 (it’s pouring)

      however here is what makes it a go:

      FM031800 32009KT P6SM BKN035 clouds lifting and breaking up.

      By the time you get there this storm will have rained itself out and moved from SW to NE. You’d have to be concerned more about the after storm gusts than needing an instrument rating.

      • Rob Lowe
        Rob Lowe says:

        I don’t know about that timing there. It’s 0300Z at decision time. How does the higher ceiling at 1800Z help when the weather is forecast to hit IFR levels by 0500Z?

  2. David Reinhart
    David Reinhart says:

    VFR only at night? No way. Time to land short and wait it out.

    I have used this advice from Richard for years. I even used it on my Instrument PT. When the DPE asked why I chose the alternate I did, I told him that it was about 30 minutes flying time *prior* to my destination and if the weather wasn’t OK at my destination when I hit that point it would be time for a re-route before I was more fatigued and had lots of gas in the tanks.

  3. Keith Bumsted
    Keith Bumsted says:

    Let’s see now, I’m a VFR only pilot in a single-engine VFR airplane on a VFR flight plan at night over inhospitable terrain headed into deteriorating weather that quite possibly will be IMC before reaching my destination. Oh, and my family is on board. What to do???

    This reminds me of that old joke that floats around Colorado flight schools about the student and instructor conducting a day-long mountain-flying orientation. After a long day of landing at various high-altitude airports, they’re headed back to their front range FBO in a tired old C-182. As darkness envelopes the airplane, the instructor says, “Here we are, over the high rockies, at night in a single engine airplane. What will you do if the engine quits? Well, obviously, turn on the landing light! And, if you don’t like what you see, turn the landing light off!”

    This scenario is not much different, but if it were me (and it’s not), I would divert to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport (MCN)in Macon which should be just a few minutes ahead and land. This 24-hour facility has everything needed in this situation — rental cars in case you want to drive home to Atlanta after landing; nearby hotels, at least one of which would probably send a courtesy car to pickup you and your family if you want to spend the night and resume your journey at a later time, and an FBO if you wanted to refuel and wait until the storm passes and then fly home later.

    I can’t think of any reason I would press ahead to the destination in hopes the weather would permit a VFR arrival and landing with winds that were within the aircraft limits and my marginal piloting skills.

    Safe flights are characterized by the absence of unmitigated risks. In this scenario, there are so many unmitigated risks that the only rational choice is to end the flight as soon as practicable, i.e., get the airplane on the ground in Macon, apologize to your family for being such a bonehead, and then learn all you can about the mistakes you just made. You’ve come perilously close to ending everyone’s life and destroying the airplane. Now, learn from the experience, and don’t ever do such stupid things again!

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Keith, thanks for the thoughtful analysis. But I might take issue with your comment: “VFR only pilot in a single-engine VFR airplane on a VFR flight plan at night over inhospitable terrain headed into deteriorating weather.”

      To me, single engine and single pilot are not critical factors. Maybe they’re risks, but those are risks on every single flight. Those are facts of life for most GA pilots. And I’d hardly call central Georgia “inhospitable” terrain–it’s pretty darn flat and reasonably open.

      The serious risks to consider are the nighttime conditions, deteriorating weather and gusty winds. Those may very well merit a diversion, as you suggest, but I don’t think this situation is wildly dangerous for a proficient VFR pilot.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        John Z. Very good scenario based training subject. We can learn a lot by getting involved and studying it.
        It can be done but the risk is very high for most VFR Pilots.
        If the pilot uses ORM (Operational Risk Management) form to evaluate the current risk involved and the risk factor is acceptable and well within his personal minimums.
        I will advise any Pilot to avoid becoming a statistic, at any monetary or time cost.

      • Duane
        Duane says:


        I would disagree with your view of the risks for a VFR only pilot under this scenario.

        The terrain may not be mountainous in central Georgia, but it’s not the wheatfields of Kansas, either. Rural Georgia, like all Southeastern states, has lots of forested terrain – which isn’t exactly hospitable for off-airport landings. Plus there’s likely a lot of power lines, creeks and rivers, and other unlit obstacles and landing hazards, and the rural roads and highways in Georgia are not generally long straightaways either. Should an off-airport landing be needed at night, this is indeed largely “inhospitable terrain”.

        According to the sat image (and as expected in advance of an advancing cold front), from central Georgia on to the planned destination on the north side of Atlanta (where indeed the terrain starts to become rather hilly), the flight is under a night time overcast. Meaning there’s no moon to light up the terrain or obstacles if a rural off-airport landing is needed. And of course that means that the horizon outside of well-lit urban areas will be mostly invisible at night – again, not good for safe VFR flight.

        With no moonlight, a pilot can also very easily fly into unseen cumulus clouds which have bottoms extending well below the reported or forecast VFR and marginal VFR ceilings.

        Under these circumstances, even a highly capable VFR pilot can get into big trouble on this flight.

  4. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Well, the Richard Collins method is good for most situations. This one, maybe not. Myself, I avoid night VFR cross country in anything but near perfect conditions over known territory. I would wait for the originally scheduled morning return, then apply the Collins method. Or, if it was too bad to launch, go to plan B (you do have a plan B, right?). Launching late at night to beat weather is a bad idea.

  5. William "Pete" Hodges
    William "Pete" Hodges says:

    I would not have left at 9pm in the first place. The latest VFR Departure for me in good stable weather is 30 min before sunset, in weather that might deteriorate I plan to be on the ground by dark. Part of the reason is I prefer to preflight in daylight for all my flights and I don’t like to unload the plane and load the car in the rain! If that makes me a whimpy pilot then I guess I am!

    Having said that, if I were in that position I’d aim for KCVC and watch KPDK and KRYY as I approached. I’d go for the one whose weather is still good 10 min out and turn back to my last alternate if I had to.

  6. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    When I first read through this go/no go scenario, I’m thinking — stay on the ground and go another day. But he already departed. This is a set of inflight decisions. No rethinking whether the pilot should have departed, fly VFR at night, etc. He already did. It’s time for decisions, not second guessing.

    The first decision for this pilot involves his personal skill set, currency, and the capabilities of a Cherokee Six. The winds at KRYY are currently 190 at 9 knots gusting to 16. The forecast winds are 190 at 8 knots, but chances are that it will still be gusty. The runway at KRYY is 9/27… we’re talking about landing in nearly a direct crosswind. How’s his night crosswind landing skills, experience and comfort level? If he’s not up to it, then another destination becomes the choice.

    Next up are the various alternate airports. The alternates mentioned to the north and northwest won’t have significant crosswind issues, but both are closer to the NexRad returns. I think the airports to the southeast might end up as better choices being further away from the weather.

    So, if I was in that plane in that situation with the times/skills of that pilot, I think here’s a possible way to proceed: Given that he’s already about half way, I’d change course slightly to the right and first head toward 3J7 (Greene County). I’d also be listening to their AWOS, not only to get the current weather, but to see if there is any deterioration. I’d also be getting the AWOS weather from D73 if I could (ADF required). Assuming that the weather is holding up at D73 when I got near 3J7, I’d head for D73, now checking the weather at PDK as well D73 and KLZU off to the right side of that leg. If the weather is still holding up at PDK, I’d continue, now checking the ATIS at KRYY and querying the tower about the winds. This hopscotch navigation from airport to airport would take between 10 and 20 minutes or so for each leg. With most of the weather heading northeast, landing or turning around anywhere along the line if the airport or enroute weather started to deteriorate would most likely work out OK.

  7. Duane
    Duane says:

    Continuing on to the planned destination at night, as a VFR only pilot with lowering marginal VFR ceilings, with the destination on the very edge of a cold front and TAF forecasts becoming IFR, this is just wrong – especially with the family aboard. Too much risk.

    Land at the nearest airport with favorable facilities (preferably with at least a nearby hotel that can send a courtesy van over to pick you up). At this point in the flight, an hour out from the destination in central Georgia, the pilot has lots of choices as long as he doesn’t dawdle too long doing so.

    Don’t even try to “take a look” at the intended landing at RYY – chances are very high that once committed to landing there, the pilot is apt to push his luck even more than he already has. Until the approach to land, he needs to keep it on the autopilot, because if he accidentally enters even just a single cloud at night (they’re near impossible to see under an overcast at night, away from city lights) while hand-flying, then it’s all over, for him and his family.

    We all can and do make errors of judgment, no matter how smart we all think we are. Gettheritis can take over anybody’s brain, especially under stressful circumstances like this.

    Remember, this isn’t just night – it’s now late at night: 10 pm, with a planned landing no earlier than 11 pm. The pilot is certainly tired at this point, and certainly he is under a great deal of stress already, given his bad decision to go wheels up in the first place. He’s already a victim of “getthereitis”.

    The best thing one can do is stop thinking about how you have to get “there”, and just let it sink in that the most important thing in the world is to keep yourself and (in this scenario) your family safe, no matter where you may be.

    btw – even if in this scenario the pilot were IFR rated and flying a highly capable IFR airplane, single pilot GA IFR at night is inherently a higher risk operation … the fatal accident rate for single-pilot night IFR operations in private aircraft is and always has been far higher than the fatal accident rate for daytime IFR, let alone compared to daytime VFR.

  8. Joe grimes
    Joe grimes says:

    I agree with the comment about not taking off late at night. If this was a business trip and coming back at night was the plan, so be it. I can’t imagine a family trip requiring such a late take off. Being a member of the old-guy community, I’m usually ready for bed by then. Flying is supposed to be fun. Don’t let it ever turn into work.


  9. John Zimmerman
    John Zimmerman says:

    Joe, I agree that the rushed takeoff was not a great idea. I’m just using that to make us all think a little differently about decision making. We all make mistakes, as this hypothetical pilot probably did, but how we recover from those mistakes is the key. That’s the goal with this scenario.

  10. Chris
    Chris says:

    That autopilot……
    One of the biggest traps a VFR pilot can encounter.
    You can goof up …but the faithful autopilot knows how to fix it, right ?
    Wrong, you should never depend on it….period. It might help you some on smooth air, but learn to see what happens in rough air, learn its limitations first. In turbulent air, such as the scenario with an advancing cold front autopilots can never be trusted. They might automatically disconnect ( see Air France disaster)or the pilot should take over. And then what…how long do they last before CFIT ? Barely 10 to 15 minutes before the whole Airplane becomes the final resting place (JFK accident). Is the Ego Trip worth it ???

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Autopilot dependency is a major problem, for sure. But I think a lot of VFR into IMC accidents could have been prevented by the PROPER use of the autopilot. It’s not a crutch, it’s a way to stay ahead of the airplane and maybe buy you some valuable time.

      It’s not a miracle cure but we shouldn’t demonize it either.

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Chris – Not on board with your criticisms of autopilots. “Reyling” on an autopilot to the exclusion of actually flying the airplane, of course, is a bad practice, but that’s not the fault of the A/P. Autopilots were not the underlying cause of either of the accidents you cited (AF 447 and JFK Jr.) In fact, JFK Jr. likely would have survived his flight if he had simply turned on his autopilot as he entered the equivalent of IMC in the murky dusk over the open sea.

      Autopilots aren’t “traps” – they’re great safety tools, both for the VFR pilot who accidentally enters IMC, or for IFR pilot flying IFR without benefit of a co-pilot. The A/P should not be “relied upon” for primary control of the aircraft, but used as a “virtual co-pilot” who always knows how to keep the sunny side up and the dirty side down.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        My philosophy on Autopilots.
        If you chose to pay for an Airplane and do not hand fly it almost 100% of the time, you made your choice.
        The lack of experience will be paid dearly sooner or later and you have no one else to blame.
        Having said that proficiency on hand flying and auto pilot mastery is paramount.The pilot that does both is a proficient one.Note that the pilot here is “current” in the AC and strictly VFR. Absence of key word ” PROFICIENT”. The autopilot is considered by some as an asset. I consider it a “trap”. Why ? When VERTIGO takes over, all hope for the “current” pilot is lost.
        Well may be not for some…..lucky ones.
        I do not advise my students to leave anything to CHANCE. Russian roulette is for the insane !!!

        • John Zimmerman
          John Zimmerman says:

          I do not understand this philosophy. It’s an all or nothing mindset that just isn’t backed up by the statistics. It’s like saying black and white TV is better because color TV makes our imagination weak. Smart autopilot use does not lead to skill erosion and “Russian roulette.”

          If a VFR only pilot got vertigo, I’d trust a good autopilot for 30 seconds (to sort things out) over a confused pilot.

          Stay proficient, be in the loop but use all available tools. Anything less is poor judgment.

          • Chris
            Chris says:

            I understand every tool in an airplane is great for the proficient pilot.
            Here you gave us someone ” current” on paper only.
            Air France 447 had current pilots on board, they knew how to use the autopilot. The problem was that their inexperience to deal with the actual event, when the tool disengaged.
            I always plan for the event that everything on board might fail,including powerplant.
            What are my options then ?

          • John Zimmerman
            John Zimmerman says:

            Chris, I’m all for preparing for the worst. But that’s not the same as pretending the autopilot doesn’t exist. By your logic, we should never fly single engine.

            I just don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Autopilots have probably saved more pilots than they’ve killed. I know Air France is a high profile accident, but lots of preventable GA accidents aren’t.

        • Louis Sell
          Louis Sell says:

          I appreciate your point of view and it seems to come from a instructors point.
          However, I think John Z. and Duane are correct. Getting on that Autopilot allows you time to regain control of your thoughts and make sure your “Scan” is working.
          Sure you can loose “Old George” in very rough air but if you have a good scan you will know.
          Many have died simply because they got in over their head but forgot to use the tools available to them, and an Autopilot sure can give you time to get your head on straight.
          By the way, my manual wants me to turn off the autopilot if the air is so rough. Leaving it on is a good way to tear off a wing !!
          I am not a “Hand flying always” believer, I would much rather be a flight manager. There are times when you must hand fly, as I stated above, and hand proficiency is a must.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        With all the respect for your good comment.
        How do you know that JFK was not using the autopilot, perhaps for the duration of flight ?
        I he was overwhelmed by vertigo, do you think he would trust the instruments or the autopilot ?
        A small input causing an unusual attitude requires a mastery by the pilot to recover. The proof of that is on the NTSB reports, undisputed.Scott Crossfield died due to weather. I respect weather and teach respect for weather.

        • Duane
          Duane says:

          Chris – I don’t view this exchange as an argument – we’re sharing opinions and ideas and it’s good to hear how others think, and thus to challenge one’s own thinking.

          Sure, I agree that it is possible that JFK Jr. experienced vertigo and then turned off his autopilot. Which would have been very unlikely and extremely stupid, but certainly possible. But if JFK Jr. had experienced vertigo while hand flying the aircraft, he’d have killed himself (and his two passengers) anyway, so that would be a moot point.

          In fact, even highly qualified, highly current experienced professional IFR rated ATP pilots can and do occasionally experience vertigo. We’re all susceptible to vertigo under the right circumstances, no matter how current or experienced.

          As for the AF447 accident, I don’t agree with the simlistic notion that the cause of the accident was the autopilot kicking off and then the pilot flying simply “lacked current stick and rudder skills”.

          There is no rational justification in any aircraft, at any time, in any flight regime, for pulling the stick all the way aft and holding it there until … well, until whatever (in the case of AF447, until it hit the ocean).

          The recovered black boxes showed that the flight deck crew penetrated a line of heavy t-storms over the Atlantic at night, and experienced severe to extreme turbulence … then the pitot system iced up in the clouds causing loss of airspeed indication, which kicked off the autopilot. At that point, the flight crew was no longer relying on the autopilot, and should have been able to maintain and/or recover straight and level flight.

          If the flight crew had simply monitored the numerous secondary sources of aircraft performance (attitude indicator and turn coordinator gyros, flight deck angle, throttle position, GPS groundspeed and altitude, and radar altimeter), and were thinking rationally about their situation at any point throughout their long descent from FL370, then they obviously would have simply lowered the nose and added power to achieve straight and level flight. It does not take highly refined stick and rudder skills to do just that.

          But the AF447 crew did not do that.

          Almost certainly, in the midst of their fearful encounter with the heavy t-storm cell, the severe turbulence, the alarms in the cockpit, and lack of airspeed indication, the pilot flying somehow froze and was unable mentally to properly manipulate the controls … not with “finesse”, but simply in accordance with all known principles of flight and aircraft performance.

          The multiple pilots on the fight deck also, probably as a result of their panic reaction, failed to comprehend their situation and pull the 1st Officer away from his sidestick and restore proper control of the aircraft. Panic and hysteria are the only logical explanations for the otherwise inexplicable performance. It is impossible to believe that “lack of currency” would explain such inexeplicable performance amongst a total of three experienced and qualified pilots who were on the flight deck at the time of their tragic plunge to the sea.

          Bottom line – I think way too much is being made of the simplistic notion of “over-reliance on auto controls” and too little is made over the human psychological factors that cause capable pilots to occasionally lose their concentration on the tasks at hand and make bad decisions.

  11. Louis Sell
    Louis Sell says:

    Sounds almost like an accident looking for a place to happen !!!
    VFR and at night ? And with weather closing in ? Peachtree (PDK) is not a good option–look at the ditch on the north end of the runway, reminds me of Meechem in Ft. Worth. Macon on the other hand is quite good. Flat country, good , long runway and fantastic FBO.
    I vote with the crowd, should have stayed put and flown the next day, in daylight.

  12. Chris
    Chris says:

    Dear fellow pilots,
    This is not about winning an argument, for me is about ADM ORM SRM Pilot Proficiency and being honest with oneself and the souls onboard.
    Several pilots raised very good points airing towards safety and reminding us the basic VFR rules.Think about it, we have a ” current” non proficient pilot and his family rushing to beat the weather,armed with a ” good autopilot” and an Ipad with XM. All the above are great tools, the point some of us are missing is the absence of ” proficiency”and as stated he never finished his IFR rating. I see red warning flags everywhere. He learned enough IFR stuff to just kill everyone, as the accident pilot on my link.If this pilot told the truth to his family about the hazards, what do you think the response would have been ? Does he even know how to identify the hazards ? I do not think so.

  13. Mike N.
    Mike N. says:

    As a VFR certification only the only proper choice is wait it out. If there is IMC in the area I ALWAYS assume that conditions will get worse NOT better.

  14. Jim R.
    Jim R. says:

    I love these Go or no go Decision discussions! They really make you think through difficult scenarios, which come up a lot when you fly cross country flights.

  15. Steve Devine
    Steve Devine says:

    I would not have taking off. However, since they did he could continue until weather started to get iffy or not. He’s got plenty of range and lots of alternate airports, just turn around.

  16. Camilla
    Camilla says:

    Hi all I’m a newly qualified UK pilot. For me, the decision is easy – it’s not 100% perfect therefore I shouldn’t be doing it. But Pilot X here isn’t me, he’s presumably got more experience (or hours under his belt, not necessarily the same thing!). And I’m wondering – how practical is some of the advice here? For example, above Louis Sell comments about a ditch at Peachtree. That sounds like ‘ground advice’ to me – is it something I should know/be able to find out about an alternate en route? I don’t know about the US but in the UK that would mean careful reading of the Pooleys airfield guide and some googling I think, unless I’d researched it well before. And if he’s set off on this flight with xwind runways for the alternates I’m guessing that didn’t happen. I haven’t had to divert yet but it’s bound to happen one day and not necessarily to somewhere I’m expecting or know, so I’d appreciate thoughts on in-flight recceing.

    • Louis Sell
      Louis Sell says:

      The comment on Peachtree was meant to advise that should you wish to land there, be aware of the obstacle. I am confident the U.K. prints with their airport descriptions various local terrain hazards.
      My point was that a VFR pilot, flying at night, in or close to weather and likely tired needs to consider the terrain environment around his/her alternate landing field. I have flown into Peachtree Airport which is North of Atlanta, Georgia many times, it is also near a mountain.
      Macon, Georgia on the other hand is about 75 miles South of Atlanta and is in good, flat land.
      Your comment about needing 100% perfect weather is distressing. Flying is all about weather. I would suggest you acquire some of Richard Collins’ tapes on weather flying, study them and then schedule some time with a instructor and fly some weather.
      Flying is challenging, and European controlled airspace flying can be daunting, but you have such a wonderful opportunity to view scenery we can only dream about.
      Once you start flying the system, your fears will subside and you will learn there are many people who will help you.

  17. Rob Lowe
    Rob Lowe says:

    It’s time to pick an airport on the way and make this decision on the ground. Yeah, the airports on the way might be deserted on a Sunday night. It doesn’t matter whether services are open at the pilot’s original destination if he/she don’t get there.

    Between the pilot’s position and RYY, there are plenty of green airports. The green circles indicate ceilings better than 3000 and visibility better than 5. The pilot should pick one of those circles with favorable winds and land at it. He/she can ForeFlight to make that determination. He/she can also use ForeFlight to make the rest of the continue/no-go decision on the ground, while not hurtling at 100+ knots toward questionable weather, night or no night.

    Those trails of precip at the bottom of the large rain cell line up well with RYY. The TAF says that the ceilings will get lower as the night progresses, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those trails at the bottom filled-in toward the rest of the cell, adding the risk of lower visibility at landing. The IFR forecast one hour after landing doesn’t do anything for me, either.

  18. herman greenstein
    herman greenstein says:

    As a former member of the Civil Air Patrol, I knew about searching for crashed airplanes. With a Foreflight image as it looks, what the heck did he want to do, buy the farm??

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      I agree with others that this pilot shouldn’t have rushed into this flight. But the whole point of the scenario is to deal with the in flight decision, so “I wouldn’t have taken off” doesn’t count.

      I would start hopping from airport to airport, so my “out” is always known. I would also set a floor, based on safe altitudes from the sectional, and not go below that. If the weather didn’t allow that altitude, it’s time to land. As I approached Atlanta the bright lights from the city would actually help keep the right side up, so that’s a positive. And the visibility is 10 miles all over. To me, that’s the most important factor during scud running (which this is, let’s be honest).

      With that said, the wind at RYY may be the final straw. I’m probably shooting for PDK, but Covington Airport is looking like a real possibility.

  19. Chris
    Chris says:

    One important lesson I learned over the last 40+ years in Aviation, is to steer clear of unknown risks.
    Identify the Hazards.
    ” You don’t know, what you don’t know”
    ” What you don’t know, might kill you”
    “A key element of risk decision-making is determining if the risk is justified.”
    “General aviation pilots enjoy a level of responsibility and
    freedom unique in aviation. Unlike the air carrier, corporate,
    and military communities, most GA pilots are free to fly
    when and where they choose. They are unencumbered by
    the strict regulatory structure that governs many other flight
    operations. However, the GA pilot is not supported by a
    staff of dispatchers and meteorologists, or governed by rigid
    operational guidelines designed to reduce risk. Pilots should
    not be lulled into a false sense of security simply because
    they are in compliance with the regulations. Judgment and
    aeronautical decision-making serve as the bridge between
    regulatory compliance and safety. Deciding if or when to
    undertake any flight lies solely with the pilot in command
    (PIC). GA pilots should remember that FAA regulations
    designed to prevent accidents and incidents come out AFTER
    the accident or incident.”
    My assessment here is that the author of this scenario was aiming to sell iPads with XM weather receiver,sending a dangerous signal to unsuspecting VFR pilots.
    I am not convinced that he understands the dangers of such a flight and if he does, it makes matters worse.
    Perform many times means,stay away from the Aircraft.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Chris, my aim is to stimulate some debate and make us all think about our decision-making; couldn’t care less about iPads and XM weather here. That’s just part of the setup.

      This is certainly a marginal scenario, but I fear some pilots cancel every time there’s the hint of bad weather. What we try to do in these scenarios is to make everyone think about their own Go/No Go decision, not to encourage recklessness, but to be thoughtful.

  20. Vicki B.
    Vicki B. says:

    This poor pilot has let himself become a cliche. You know the one about how it is better to wish you were in the air while on the ground, than in the air wishing you were on the ground. What’s more he has his family along as well.

    Plan a, landing ryy, is looking more and more risky as the factors begin to work against our pilot. The weather may not be good VFR for day, much less night. The winds are directly across the runway and are likely strengthening as the front passes. An arrival late at night which lets fatigue be added to the mix.

    Plan b is always hard to formulate on the fly, but he desperately needs one. The commenters who recommend stopping short at a full service FBO have a good point and that is what I would do, but familial pressures may cause him to pass by most of the good options just to fulfill the same obligations that led him to take off at night to beat the weather at Hilton Head.

    I suspect that once most pilots are in the air changing to plan b is very difficult to do. Perhaps the fly from alternate to alternate tactic is the easiest one to implement, but it does feel very much like the beginning of a scud run. To counteract this tendency, our pilot needs to have firm personal minimums for getting on the ground and renting a car or buying a ticket.

    What would I do? I would look for a regional or executive titled airport and land for some of that good southern hospitality. Then continue on the next day.

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