I’m now home after a flight home (JSO) from Wichita Falls, TX (SPS). Here’s the story behind the dust storm and my flight decisions that day. I used a No-Go list to help me decide what to do.
I recommend you make a list of no-go parameters which are tailor-made to your level of experience. For me, my No-Go list looks like this:
- Runway length: 2,500 ft, paved, and no tailwinds upon landing
- Ceiling and visibility: Approach minimums. I recommend junior instrument rated pilots or pilots with low recency of experience raise these minimums. I fly regularly in IMC, fly a familiar airplane, and have lots of IMC experience. If I flew an unfamiliar airplane, I’d raise these limits.
- Crosswind component: I use the demonstrated crosswind component, but I am very comfortable with crosswinds, instruct often in tailwheel airplanes, and know how to control the longitudinal axis of the airplane well. If I’m flying in an airplane that is known to be a crosswind challenge (Stearman, Wilga, etc.), I’ll severely limit myself.
- Thunderstorms: I don’t mess with these. I fly no closer that 15NM from anything red on my downlinkable radar, much further if there is a steep gradient. Plus, I won’t get close on the side of the storm to which the storms are moving…there is a delay in the downlinkable data.
- Icing: Moderate ice or greater at my flight level grounds me. I just simply won’t do it. If moderate icing is forecast at higher altitudes, I will only fly at a lower altitude if there is no ice forecast and if there is a warm (50F+) level of air at the surface. I will only travel through light icing to get to better conditions. Any freezing precipitation of any sort grounds me. Again, I simply won’t do it. One caveat…all of this assumes an airplane rated for icing. If the airplane has some icing equipment, but is not rated, don’t be lured into thinking it will be OK. No icing certification…no icing flight.
- Turbulence: Moderate turbulence is the highest I will knowingly fly into, and then only with an airplane with wing loading equal or higher than a Malibu.
Once you’ve established these limits, write them down and pinky-swear and spit-shake with yourself that you won’t violate the limits. You can lower the limits, but only with much forethought. For instance, if you made your personal ceiling/visibility limits 1000/3, then you could lower the limits to 700/2, but only because you had flown recently, felt comfortable, and had an appropriate level of experience.
Also, swear that you won’t lower the limits at a time which is considered to be “emotional”. For instance, you cannot make the decision to lower limits when you are making a flight decision. I recommend you establish your own set of limits by flying with a trusted flight instructor and then discussing the limits. The flight instructor might see something that you don’t, and that may raise the limits to an appropriate level. If you use a mentor flight instructor to help make the decision, then don’t lower the limits without his approval following a flight evaluation.
Recently I was with John Mariani in Florida doing my annual recurrent flight training. A pilot was there finishing up his JetProp conversion training with John and was making the decision of whether or not to fly home in his new acquisition. He had set his personal limits quite high because of his newness to the airplane and elected to fly home to Texas in the back of an airliner and come back in a few weeks to pick up his JetProp in Florida. I will always remember the ease at which the pilot made the decision, knowing I would have launched with no hesitation in my Malibu under the same weather conditions. Yet, the pilot made the right choice based upon his level of experience in the new airplane even though it had negative financial and scheduling ramifications.
Making a wise flight decision is not an easy thing to do, but setting limits will make it much easier. As for my decision on this windy day in Wichita Falls…I waited until the evening when the winds died down and make it home with no troubles. I even got a really nice 60kt tailwind which made me feel much better. Now that I am home, I’m super-happy with the decision to wait and follow my No-Go list.