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Home > Blog > Flying In Bad Weather

Flying in bad weather

Posted 05 May 2022


Flying in bad weather

This article lists the factors that affect how safe it is to fly during bad weather, as well as how a pilot can fly when visibility is impaired.



When it comes to flying an aircraft, the weather is of the utmost importance. The meteorological conditions are the first thing a pilot should take into account when planning a flight, ensuring that they are aware of any possible bad weather that may meet them along the way.

While it is entirely possible to take to the skies during weather that many would classify as bad, such as heavy rain or strong winds, there are several factors that affect the level of safety.Whether the meteorological conditions are classified as “bad” is also highly subjective, depending heavily on a pilot’s experience as well as the type of weather that is being encountered.

For newer pilots, it is always best to either stay grounded during weather that is difficult to fly in or take to the skies along with an experienced professional via dual instruction. If the weather seems too dangerous, it isn’t a good idea to take off.

For most pilots flying recreationally, the cons of flying in bad weather far outweigh the pros. While commercial pilots, such as air ambulance operators and airline pilots, may be bound by duty to fly during unideal weather conditions, it is best to not fly for fun during weather that you would categorise as unsafe for flight.

This article lists the factors that affect how safe it is to fly during bad weather, as well as how a pilot can fly when visibility is impaired.

 

FACTORS THAT AFFECT AIRCRAFT SAFETY IN BAD WEATHER

Whether or not it is possible for a pilot to navigate bad weather is highly dependent on a few factors. While some pilots will be able to fly through rain and strong winds with ease, others may have a harder time.

The level of safety when flying in weather that is considered bad is dependent on three major aspects of the flight.

The first is the type of aircraft that is being flown, the second is the experience level of the pilot flying the aircraft, and lastly, whether the information of there being bad weather en route was known by the pilot beforehand or not.

Size of aircraft

Smaller aircraft, especially those belonging to the light aircraft and microlight variety, may not be the best choice when flying in the middle of strong winds or heavy rain. The chances of the aeroplane experiencing extreme turbulence go up the smaller and lighter the aircraft gets.

Larger aircraft, such as commercial airliners, come equipped with multiple engines and are generally heavier and sturdier than the smaller varieties. These are able to withstand strong winds and heavy rains with relatively more ease.

Since beginner and private pilots usually fly smaller aircraft, it’s best to stay grounded since lighter aircraft are at a greater risk of sustaining damage when flying in bad weather.

Experience of pilot

As opposed to a beginner, there are many stressful situations that an experienced pilot can navigate with ease.

A pilot with a fair bit of training behind them, as well as the needed Instrument Rating (IR), which is discussed further on in this article, will generally be much more comfortable flying in unideal weather conditions as opposed to an amateur.

An experienced pilot will understand how to avoid situations that are too risky and, if a risky situation does arise, they will be better equipped to handle it in the best way possible.

More experience also makes a pilot relatively calm, enabling them to handle issues such as turbulence without losing their cool.

A beginner pilot may not have all the skills needed to get out of a dangerous situation induced by bad weather, and their lack of confidence in their skills may not help the situation either.

Forecasted weather

Bad weather can’t harm a pilot if they know when, where, and how to avoid it. For this reason, it is best to check weather predictions and the meteorological conditions of the airspace you plan on entering beforehand.

If a pilot knows what to expect, they are much better equipped to handle what may be thrown at them. When a pilot is aware that there is a patch of airspace where a storm is raging, they will take the necessary precautions and fly around it.

Similarly, if a pilot finds out mid-flight that there is a storm ahead, they can choose to simply go back to where they took off from.

Most weather-related accidents happen when a pilot flies into bad weather without anticipating it, which leaves them ill-prepared to handle issues of impaired visibility and heightened turbulence.

Due to this, it is necessary that you do your homework before taking off and are aware of the weather en route. In case of sudden developments, you should be in contact via radio with ground control so that you can be guided adequately.

FLYING IN DIFFERENT TYPES OF WEATHER

Not all “bad” weather is hazardous to a flight. Knowing when bad weather is too bad can make all the difference for a pilot. Light rain and strong winds don’t have to be reason enough to stay grounded, but knowing when the weather is developing into something more dangerous is necessary for a safe and smooth flight. Here are the different types of unideal weather conditions that a pilot may experience, and whether they warrant a complete grounding of flights or not.

Keep in mind that this is with regards to recreational pilots flying smaller aircraft. Larger aircraft are able to withstand relatively more extreme weather as opposed to light aircraft.

Low clouds

The clouds really aren’t the problem, it’s how they affect visibility. If a cloud is so low that you cannot avoid flying through it, then it is best to keep your feet planted on the ground.

While pilots with more experience and an Instrument Rating (IR) can fly through conditions with limited visibility with the help of avionics, amateur pilots who have a basic Private Pilot Licence (PPL) with no IR should steer clear of flying in such conditions.

Heavy rain

Rain in and of itself isn’t the issue. Most aircraft can fly through the rain with ease and without sustaining any damage. However, when the rain is heavy, visibility may be impaired, which ends up becoming a problem.

Again, you can fly through rain easily if you have an IR on top of your PPL, but it's best to keep out of the sky if you don’t. Also, rain with hail or freezing rain is a major aviation hazard and should be avoided.

Hail can damage the body of an aircraft and most aeroplanes are not designed to deal with icing that happens as a result of freezing rain.

Strong winds

The biggest pitfall of flying in strong winds is turbulence. Smaller aircraft may be tossed and the pilot and passengers may experience extreme turbulence. While it isn’t a major hazard, strong winds can make for a pretty frightening flight.


For those flying larger aircraft, strong winds are not much of an issue. However, pilots flying smaller aircraft, especially very light aircraft such as microlights, should avoid taking to the skies.

Snow and ice

As mentioned above, most small aeroplanes, such as light aircraft and microlights, do not have the equipment needed to de-ice in case of a build-up of snow on the wings or freezing. If you are mid-flight and notice any icing, it would be best to land as soon as possible. For this reason, flying in snow and ice is not a good idea for amateur pilots and those flying smaller aircraft.


The added stress of having to make an emergency landing may catch a new pilot off guard and cause them to fumble. Poor visibility is also an issue when it comes to flying in the snow.

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are probably the first weather phenomenon that comes to mind at the mention of bad weather, and that is understandably so. Thunderstorms combine strong winds and heavy rain to make for an extremely bumpy flight, so it’s best to steer clear of them. If the storm is accompanied by lightning, then the aircraft should stay grounded until the storm passes or there is an option available to fly around the patch of bad weather.

 

METEOROLOGICAL CONDITIONS

In aviation, there are two main overarching types of meteorological conditions. The first is Visual Meteorological conditions (VMC) and the second is Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).

Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)

Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) are ideal for flight. VMC means the weather is good and that a pilot can take to the skies without depending on instruments. Having the ability to see clearly what’s ahead helps put pilots at ease since most amateur pilots are dependent on their five senses when it comes to navigation.

VMC usually translates to relatively clear skies, which means it is safe to take off for amateur pilots who do not have Instrument Ratings (IR). Light rain or cloud cover may be present, but not to the extent of becoming a hindrance.

Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)

Sometimes, pilots need to rely on more than just their eyes in order to fly. Such conditions, where a pilot’s visibility is affected due to weather, are referred to as Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).

Flying in IMC means relying on in-flight instruments to navigate the aircraft since a pilot’s regular vision is impaired. Pilots who do not possess Instrument Ratings (IR) are not eligible to fly in IMC. In fact, flying without an IR on top of your pilot licence in IMC is actually illegal in the United Kingdom, so it is best to stay grounded during such conditions.

INSTRUMENT RATING (IR)


For those pilots who wish to get more out of their Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and acquire the ability to fly even when visibility is impaired due to rainy or cloudy weather, getting an Instrument Rating (IR) should be the next item on the list.

The IR permits a pilot to fly in IMC, certifying that the pilot knows how to make use of in-flight instruments in order to navigate. Here are all the reasons why you should get an Instrument Rating (IR):

Flying with greater precision

When training for an Instrument Rating (IR), pilots are taught precise flying techniques that can help them navigate through conditions of decreased visibility. Pilots learn how to make decisions while keeping in check the pitch, altitude, airspeed, power changes, as well as heading.

Confidence boost

During instrument training, pilots are taught how to think ahead and stay on top of their game at all times. They become forward-thinking, which means they are prepared for any sudden changes that may occur. This usually leads to a pilot being much more confident in their skills and ability to make the right decisions while flying.

 

Here at Sherburn Aero Club, the safety of our members is of the utmost importance. The club provides several facilities that help pilots learn how to navigate an aircraft in unideal weather conditions.

Sherburn also provides constant meteorological checks to help pilots stay aware of the conditions they are flying into and out of when using the club’s airfield.

Webcam and weather details

The Sherburn Aerodrome Station provides pilots with a constantly-updated report on the weather in the area. The Station’s webpage is updated with the latest information every 10 minutes, making sure pilots stay notified of any sudden weather changes.

The webcam also provides footage of the aerodrome, letting pilots see clearly the conditions they are flying into.

Simulator training

For those wishing to learn how to fly in unideal weather conditions, simulator training is highly beneficial. Pilots without an IR looking to train in IMC can do so through Sherburn’s dedicated simulator, which is free for members to use.

Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FROTL) course

In order to get an IR, a pilot must display proficiency in radio communication. Staying in touch with ground control is of the utmost importance when it comes to flying safely, especially in bad weather.

Sherburn offers a Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FROTL) course that helps pilots learn how to effectively use radio communication to stay in touch with ground control and establish communication with other aircraft.


WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB

 Sherburn Aero Club has been operational since 1964 and is the ideal place for all of your training and flying needs. We cater to brand new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.

We offer dedicated and comprehensive flight training along with the required experience for operating an aircraft at night as well as during impaired visibility. In addition to this, the club also offers simulators for various training needs to help new pilots gain confidence before the real deal.

Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month. The club also has a dedicated weather webcam that constantly monitors the meteorological conditions in the aerodrome to help pilots decide whether it's safe to take to the skies or not.

For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran. The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation for the long run.

Call us on 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on flying in bad weather, the aerodrome’s meteorological conditions, Instrument Ratings, as well as FROTL courses available at Sherburn.

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash 


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