Author: Brandon J Kearns – Director of Flight Operations
Weather or meteorological phenomenon can present flight crews with some of the greatest challenges of their day. From departing in dense fog where you only wish that you could see at least a quarter of a mile down the runway, to arriving in heavy snow with winds gusting to 30 miles per hour. For some these weather conditions might sound as though they are pretty intense; but for the highly trained and skilled flight crew it’s just another day at the office.
When an aircraft departs from an airport, the pilot taxi’s the airplane on to the runway, does his final checks, and then pushes the power levers forward. The airplane goes from zero miles per hour to a high rate of speed becoming airborne in only a matter of seconds.
Have you ever had to drive your car incredibly slow and conservative because you couldn’t see 100 feet in front of you? The fog was so dense you might have referred to it as “soup” when telling your colleagues about your commute to work.
For Pilots taking off in these conditions is called a “Low Visibility” Takeoff and is a procedure that is quite common. Now rest assured flight crews have equipment and instruments which afford them a little more information than you have in your sedan. Not to mention the fact that flight crews are not worried about the guy in front of him slamming on his brakes. But they convene with their colleagues just as you did and talk about their “soupy” takeoff that morning.
There are a great number of factors which must be taken into account a flight crew of a Jet must take into consideration for each flight. Rain, turbulence (or Chop), headwind, thunderstorms, and even ice are just some of the phenomenon which present challenges to flight crews for finding the ideal route. Pilots have a sense of pride when they find that route or that magic altitude which avoided all of “bumps” the other guys were complaining about on the radio.
Think about staring down a line of rain showers at an altitude of 37,000ft and finding that gap in the weather where you were able to thread the needle and your passengers never even knew there was a drop of rain to be found.
The task of landing an airplane does not need any help from Mother Nature to make it the most demanding phase of flight. Unfortunately we will see her rear her ugly head and thus complicate the already demanding task of “Greasing” the airplane on the runway so us prideful pilots can tell our buddies about “Just rolling it on”.
When arriving at airports where the visibility is low and the clouds are hanging low over the airport like a blanket, pilots must make sure that they are able to land. I know that sounds simple but think of this; the pilot knows he/she can get there, they even know that they can shoot an approach. What the flight crew must ensure before departing is that they are actually going to be able to land and get the passengers where they paid to go. Sounds simple, I know, but gas is a precious commodity when you are zooming around at 400 mph and the BP station just isn’t equipped with a runway and Jet Fuel.
Flight Crews always have the end result in mind. Making sure that upon your arrival you had a fantastic flight, avoided the weather, and got you to your destination safely. Hey maybe you were lucky and the pilot earned another “Greased” landing story on your behalf.
Part III of this Blog series will be taking a closer look at the modern age of avionics and Air Traffic Control.