After spending a nice Easter weekend at home, tonight you’ll be flying from Wichita Falls, TX (CWC) to Wichita, KS (ICT) for a presentation at a big conference. Trips like these are exactly why you bought an airplane: more family time, less airline hassle and more efficient scheduling.
The only question is (as usual), will the weather cooperate?
You pull out your iPad at 8:45pm CDT for one final check before your scheduled departure at 9pm. In your 1983 Bonanza, the trip will take just one hour and 15 minutes. The airplane is well-equipped, with a Garmin GNS 530W, 430W, autopilot and XM Weather receiver. You also have your trusty iPad on your lap. As a pilot, you are up to 700 hours of total time now, with over 250 of those in the Bonanza. You are instrument rated and current, and you almost always file IFR when you travel.
Read the weather report below, then decide if you’re going or not.
Your flight will take you from north Texas, past Oklahoma City and into Kansas. A quick glance shows storms on either side of your route:
The latest surface analysis shows a low to the northwest of your route, with a trough running south from the low. This is probably stirring up some of those storms to the west:
The 12-hour forecast map shows the area of rain slowly moving east, as that trough develops into a dry line:
The 24-hour forecast shows the cold front finally pushing through and clearing out most of the rain:
The radar will get the most attention tonight, with rain all around:
The radar map in ForeFlight shows different intensities, and it also shows the direction of movement:
The infrared satellite picture shows fairly widespread clouds, but there is a small gap that is close to your route:
With the colorful radar, you’re not surprised to find some convective SIGMETs:
Icing and Turbulence
These are two issues that probably won’t be a concern tonight. The freezing level is at 12,000 ft., so you should be well below any icing at your planned 7000 ft. cruising altitude. There are no PIREPs for icing in the area.
While there may be a few bumps in the clouds, there is no widespread turbulence forecast, and the only PIREP in the area is for moderate turbulence between 10,000 and 18,000 ft.
While you’ll be IFR tonight, it may be best to stay out of the clouds as long as possible. With that in mind, you review the METARs and TAFs for your departure and destination airports, plus an en route airport:
KCWC 210135Z AUTO 13012G16KT 10SM CLR 17/15 A3002 RMK A02 LTG DSNT E AND SE
202345Z 2100/2124 15011KT P6SM FEW035 SCT250
FM210400 16010KT P6SM BKN007
FM211500 19009KT P6SM BKN015
FM211800 36008KT P6SM SCT035
KOKC 210059Z 20010KT 10SM BKN024 OVC180 17/13 A3003
KICT 210053Z 18011KT 10SM FEW040 SCT130 BKN200 21/13 A2996
202321Z 2100/2124 17012KT P6SM BKN100
FM210500 19010KT P6SM BKN015
FM210800 20010KT P6SM OVC008
FM211600 35012KT P6SM VCSH SCT025 BKN060
As is so often the case, the weather tonight offers options to make the flight and also reasons to be concerned. There appears to be a large gap between the lines of rain, and the METARs suggest you might be in good VMC conditions for much of the flight. But a dry line in Texas is nothing to mess with, and it is night.
It’s time to make the call – go or no go?
Update: Want to see what the radar looked like at your proposed arrival time? Click here to see the image – do you feel good about your decision?
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No go. The thunderstorm at KLTS will be within 30 NM of course by the scheduled departure time. That means deviating to the east and increasing time en route. For this type of mission, get some sleep and push the departure time at least 6 hours.
No go. Too close to call. SIGMETs everywhere. One huge cell on your west, one on your east — threading a needle. ForeFlight shows a significant cell just to the west of your flight path near KCWC, not long after take off, so you won’t have much altitude yet. No way. Who cares about your conference. It’s not worth your life.
All late night departures are a no go for me, period, no exceptions.
Night flight, whether in perfect VFR weather or IFR, greatly increases the risk of flight for a single pilot in a light aircraft … due simply to pilot fatigue at the end of a long day, lack of visibility, risk of encountering embedded thunderstorms in the clouds, etc. Night visual acuity at altitude (even at just 7,000 ft as planned) is also an issue due to hypoxia.
All things considered, night time single pilot IFR triples the risk of a fatal accident as compared to daytime IFR.
Also, the thunderstorms shown in a NEXRAD screen cannot be depended upon to leave open a decent gap, even in daytime. Night time flying in the clouds is no time to be “threading your way between cells” and depending upon NEXRAD data that may be 20 minutes old.
Since this is supposed to be travel for a presentation at a conference, you’re probably screwed at this late hour … shoulda left much earlier in the day, either flying your own bird, or on a commercial flight, or driving. Never let “gettheritis” drive a launch decision.
Sorry – light aircraft flight simply isn’t suitable for “must arrive just in time” business travel, wishful thinking notwithstanding.
Go. All those tools at my disposal, fair amount of time in the ol’ logbook, and I’m instrument current. Big gap between cells and many options for an out.
Ed – the problem with relying on a “big gap between cells” is that NEXRAD data are only a snapshot of what’s out there taken in the somewhat recent past. The gap that is shown on the Foreflight screen is based on NEXRAD data which could be as much as 20 minutes old (in this scenario as written, from as long ago as 7:25 pm). Assuming that the pilot still needs to complete his preflight, taxi to the runway, pick up his clearance, then finally launch, the start of his flight will be at around 8:05-8:15 pm – nearly an hour after the NEXRAD data time. With an hour and 15 minute flight time to destination, the NEXRAD data on which the go decision was based will be a full two hours old, which is about the average full-cycle lifetime of a thunderstorm cell.
In other words, what looks like a big gap on the Foreflight display could well be a mass of thunderstorm cells an hour or two from now.
I know about this phenomenon from extensive personal cross-country flying experience in TX and NM, and having XM Wx in my plane. On a number of my cross-country flights, I started out with what appeared on NEXRAD to be clear flying to my planned destination completely change – in less than hour’s time – into an impenetrable mass of T-cells, forcing me to either go the long way around or make an unplanned visit to an alternate airport.
NEXRAD radar data is useful in strategically planning flight, as long as one realizes it is but a snapshot in time. But NEXRAD is not to be relied upon for tactical navigation between cells in real time. Two hours is a lifetime, literally, for thunderstorms. And at night, the most reliable thunderstorm detector – the pilot’s eyeballs looking outside the cockpit – are effectively nullified, especially if already flying in the clouds and on the gages.
Yes, I understand how NEXRAD works, and have had the unfortunate luck of flying through a thunderstorm while being too quiet as a young co-pilot on a Merlin. However, the return here is not very nasty. If you were trying to pick your way through the to areas of red at the bottom- no way. But the way the course is depicted I’d launch. Also, ATC is an invaluable tool to use in this situation. I’ve had them help me numerous nights while XC across TX.
Of course, as the saying goes, it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than vice versa. As a CFI, when someone said “no-go” I’d respect that decision, even in wx I would’ve launched solo in.
This flight is doable Sunday evening as laid out, but I would stay home until next morning, set the alarm for 5:00 a.m., and plan for a departure around 7:00 a.m., arriving Wichita around 8:15 a.m. Or so. Call ahead to the FBO of choice at ICT and have a cab or other ground transportation standing by and you can be about anywhere in Wichita by 9:00 a.m.
In the scenario, there is no indication about the time of the presentation, so unless it’s a breakfast meeting, go the next morning and things will be better WRT the weather.
Why make it hard when you can easily simplify it? Mitigate the risk of a nighttime flight in dicey weather by going at a better time! Never get in a hurry with an airplane!
Based on weather alone, go. You have several tools at your disposal in the aircfraft itself as well as those outside of it. I would be more inclined to file IRW-PER-ICT to give myself a chance to to talk with center/flight watch/flight service en route to get updates and then potentially go direct. However, after a good risk management assessment for personal factors (rest, currency, nutrition, personal comfort level etc.) if you aren’t 100% on board, wait the extra 8 hours and go in the morning.
A wise and old pilot told me once
If I have to really question going or not going I probably shouldn’t go
Go, but as always, make sure you have an out. A current, proficient, instrument pilot should have no problem making this trip with this well equipped airplane. As a professional pilot, I frequently make this type of flight both day and night in aircraft from big singles to turbine twins. However, every pilot should know and respect their own limitations.
Jet-go. Bonanza-no go. 6 am fine.
No go. Thunder storms at night are not a thing to play with. definitely a no go for me.
No go. Too risky and there’s no true way of knowing the severity of the turbulence and wind shear that may exist at leading edge of the front. Night IFR with unstable weather is a poor choice for light aircraft. Probably wouldn’t chance it in day VFR.
No go. Marginal night flying is asking for trouble.
One thing I would love to hear is what would Richard do? When he was current, and had the same plane… I’m betting he would be a go.
For me, I’d go in the morning.
So, with me it’s more questions about the pilot. 700 hours isn’t a lot of time, but it’s not nothing either. How much night time? How much night time in IFR conditions? When I had 700 hours, I would have gone, especially with a magic box called NEXRAD (which didn’t exist back then). I had plenty of night and IFR at night hours as well.
I’d like head a bit to the northeast to stay try and stay out of the clouds and precip even though it’s a pretty wide gap.
However, if our pilot is not fully proficient with night operations, heading out early the next morning makes good sense.
Go… Go to the bus station and buy a ticket and get on it. Refine your presentation while on the bus and knock it out of the park! Never miss a client meeting. Traveling by air is optional.
Glad to see I’m not the only conservative pilot. In the first place, I never plan a launch after a long day. Marginal weather absolutely rules it out.
I flew virtually the same route (KICT- KDTO) weekly down one week and return the following week for 4 years in a 182 with dual Garmin WAAS, NEXTRAD and StormScope. The weather pattern shown in this situation is similar to what I saw numerous times. You have a wide path between the weather with a lot of outs to airports under you.
My one question is how long has the pilot been up and how late is the departure time. Part 91 does not have any duty time limits from the time we start our days activities until in the chocks. That does not mean that we are not susceptible to he same fatigue limitations that are in the airline regs. Me, I have a 12 hour duty time limitation, 2 hours shorter that 121 and 135. Why, because part 91 single pilots have to do every thing themselves
Fly Safe Everybody
I am glad I am not a pilot from the 30’s, flying the mail in an old bi-plane with nothing but a whiskey compass. They had to go, I don’t…and wouldn’t.
In case you missed it, I added a link to the radar graphic from the ETA (at the end of the article). No second guessing, but it’s always good to see what really happened.