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Home > Blog > Impact Of Weather On Light Aircraft Flying

The Impact of Weather on Light Aircraft Flying and How to Prepare

Posted 26 May 2023

Weather on Light Aircraft Flying

This is why pilots are always advised to check and recheck the weather before embarking on a flight, and this is especially true for light aircraft pilots.

On 27 February 1958, a Bristol 170 Freighter carrying 42 souls took off for what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Isle of Man to Manchester, England. The weather on that day was particularly bad but the aircraft was given the go-ahead, and the pilots were directed to fly low at an altitude of 1500 ft instead of the usual 3000 ft.

After nearly reaching their destination, the weather took a turn for the worse, and visibility was brought down to nearly zero. The pilots switched to Instrument Flying Rules (IFR) and proceeded with the flight while in contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC). During this time, the captain briefly left the cockpit, and the first officer was temporarily put in charge of the flight.

While tuning the compass to the nearest non-directional beacon, the first officer mistakenly tuned the radio compass to the frequency for Oldham Beacon instead of Wigan Beacon – this fatal error, along with nearly zero visibility due to the intense storm, caused the aircraft to crash into Winter Hill, just a few hundred yards away from the Winter Hill transmission station, killing 35 people on board.

The weather was so severe that none of the workers at the transmission station even noticed the plane crash until a survivor limped their way to them for help. To make matters worse, the crash area was surrounded by several feet of snow, which severely hampered rescue efforts.

This incident was one of the worse high-ground air crashes in the UK.

The Importance of Meteorology

It is clear that weather conditions play a huge role in aviation safety. Even though aircraft technology has progressed by leaps and bounds, the aviation industry is still at the mercy of the weather. Since the first flight in 1903, pilots have been closely monitoring the skies to detect weather changes and to predict how the weather will be at a certain point in time in the day.

This step is so important that there is even a dedicated module for it in all types of pilot training programmes known as meteorology.

Meteorology is solely focused on training pilots on how to assess weather conditions before even stepping into the cockpit. Meteorology covers subjects such as wind speed, air pressure, and how to read and interpret weather patterns.

The truth is, even with advanced instrumentation, predicting the weather is becoming increasingly difficult due to global weather changes. However, by studying patterns and by applying modern scientific techniques, engineers have been able to improve their detection rates which have helped pilots navigate the skies as safely as possible.

This is why pilots are always advised to check and recheck the weather before embarking on a flight, and this is especially true for light aircraft pilots.

Light Aircraft and Limitations

Light aircraft is any aircraft that has a take-off weight of around 5,670 kg or less. These aircraft are designed for low-altitude flying and due to their compact size, weight, and shape, they can be susceptible to changes in weather.

Light aircraft are popular among private pilots who opt to fly smaller planes as a hobby and although flying these lighter aircraft is a lot of fun due to their responsiveness and “feel”, these planes have strict regulations around when you can fly them.

For example, flex-wing light aircraft are designed with a fabric-based wing system which can make them particularly susceptible to changes in the air. Flex-wing aircraft have an ultra-simple design, and some don’t even have an enclosed cockpit, which means that you will not be able to fly these aircraft in the event of heavy rain or conditions opposed to the Visual Flight Rules.

Fixed-wing light aircraft, on the other hand, are typically more complex aircraft that have a traditional design. These aircraft are designed after larger aircraft and are best suited for touring, cross-country flying, and of course, training. Fixed-wing aircraft are designed to withstand various weather conditions and even have onboard instruments that pilots can use in the event of bad weather.

However, like flex-wing aircraft, fixed-wings also have limitations, and pilots with a basic private licence may not even be allowed to fly these aircraft if the conditions don’t meet the VFR requirements. The Visual Flight Rules dictate that the weather must be clear with no hindrance in visibility. These regulations especially apply to flex-wing, gliders, or other simple aircraft that don’t have onboard instruments to guide the pilot.

Another important aspect of piloting an aircraft is to understand the limitations of the aircraft. Every aircraft manufacturer clearly defines the limitations of the aircraft. These limitations are extremely important because they allow the pilot to safely fly the aircraft without taking risks in bad weather conditions.

All pilots must be well-versed with the limitations of the aircraft that they want to fly, regardless of the weather conditions. As mentioned above, weather can be quite fickle, which is why pilots must be always ready to use the appropriate strategies to navigate themselves out of bad weather.

Preparing for a Light Aircraft Flight

In order to fly a light aircraft (or any aircraft), pilots are expected to go through a checklist that can determine the feasibility of a flight.

Here are some of the things that every pilot must keep in mind in the context of weather and light aircraft:

Gathering Weather Information

Checking the weather isn’t just about glancing at your go-to weather app on your phone. As a light aircraft pilot, you are expected to be extremely thorough even before you step into the cockpit. The first step is to check multiple sources for weather conditions.

The basic idea here is to see if all the sources have the same prediction for a particular day. If there is a source that says that there is a small chance of fog or cloudy weather, then you may have to double-check by using aviation-specific weather applications for your area.

For example, METeorological Aerodrome Reports, or METARs can provide a snapshot of what you can expect from the weather during the day. These reports are very detailed and can contain information such as temperature, wind speed, visibility, cloud density, wind direction, and any other concerning or plausible weather phenomena.

In the same manner, a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast or a TAF can also be used to gauge the weather conditions over 24 hours. These reports and the ability to interpret them are extremely important for every type of pilot. These reports not only keep pilots safe, but they are also indispensable in helping airlines plan flights.

Please keep in mind that these reports contain various weather codes and symbols which is why pilots must acquaint themselves with the terminologies in the report to reduce the risk of human error.

Weather to Look Out For

Even though modern aircraft are designed to withstand multiple weather conditions, pilots should never fly in conditions that go against Visual Flight Rules. For example, thunderstorms are usually accompanied by intense wind, rain, and of course lightning. All of these features are extremely dangerous for aircraft for multiple reasons.

Take lightning as an example. While lightning rarely strikes aircraft, it can cause systemic damage to the electronics of the aircraft. Furthermore, the presence of lightning or bad weather can also interfere with radio signals and may even cause communication equipment to malfunction.

In the event of a snowstorm, aircraft can become susceptible to icing which usually occurs when the temperature surrounding the plane drops below freezing. This sudden reduction can significantly reduce the performance of the aircraft and may even interfere with the controls of the aircraft. Light aircraft, like flex-wings, may not have anti-icing or de-icing systems which can help in these conditions which is why it is best to avoid flying in snowstorms.

Turbulence is another key factor that can significantly increase the risk of a crash, especially when you are flying over uneven terrain like mountains. While it is typically easy to navigate out of turbulence in clear weather, pilots can run into serious trouble when attempting to combat bad weather with turbulence.

Check for Changes in Visibility

Any weather phenomena that can reduce visibility is dangerous for light aircraft. As mentioned above, some light aircraft like flex-wings have an open cockpit with minimal navigational instruments. In some models, you will only find a compass with no additional navigational equipment.

Without proper navigation equipment, the pilot will essentially be flying blind which is extremely dangerous. If you don’t have additional training for flying in bad weather conditions, then it is best that you remain in contact with the ground crew and figure out a strategy to land the aircraft as safely as possible.

Bad Weather and Runways

Even if the aircraft is out of the air, it will still be in danger until it reaches the ground and is at a complete halt. The reason for this is that bad weather can also severely impact the quality of the runway. On a bright sunny day, landing an aircraft is extremely easy and is like second nature for even a lot of novice pilots. However, the rain, standing water, icing, or snow can significantly impact control and braking while landing the plane. Skidding is a real danger when it comes to light aircraft which is why it is important that you carefully assess the quality of the runway before landing the aircraft.

Plan Ahead

The easiest way to reduce risk and increase safety is to plan for alternative routes. A pilot’s ability to plan and be two steps ahead can go a long way in their aviation career.

If you do run into bad weather conditions, you must keep alternative routes in mind so that you can navigate out of bad weather safely. The best way to do this is to make a detailed flight plan and cross-check the flight plan, along with the alternative routes with multiple aviation-centred weather reports. It is equally important to consider the terrain as well. Remember, mountainous areas or uneven terrain can make turbulence worse.

Even before taking off, you should always be aware of the weather and keep checking for changes in the weather by referring to any aviation-specific weather application. This can help you abort a flight or change your route even before you take off.

When in Doubt, Ask for Advice

If you are unsure about the weather conditions, then a great idea would be to consult with other experienced pilots and seek their advice on the weather for the day. Most experienced pilots develop a sort of “sixth sense” when it comes to weather which is why you should also consider their advice.

If multiple pilots say that the weather for a particular day is bound to change then you should take heed and make the necessary adjustments to your flight plan accordingly.

Keep up With Your Training

A pilot that keeps up with their training is bound to be more successful than someone who doesn’t emphasise on learning. Aviation is all about growth and if you want to be the best, then you will have to commit to learning more about every aspect of aviation, including meteorology.

We recommend that you check out workshops or seminars on weather interpretation. These seminars can help highlight important case studies that can help you gain insight into the protocols that successful pilots follow in the event of sudden weather changes.

Keeping up with your training will not only ensure your safety, but it may even help you progress in your aviation career should you choose to graduate from a Private Pilot Licence to a Commercial Pilot Licence.

Always Be Aware

Staying vigilant is one of the best ways to reduce risk and maintain the safety of your aircraft. Pilots that keep an eye out for weather changes are more likely to have successful flights than pilots that shut off their senses to their surroundings.

If there is anything that we can learn from the Bristol 170 Freighter incident is that pilots must always be extremely attentive while flying, regardless of the weather conditions. Losing situational awareness may not always result in disaster, but it will surely help you reduce unnecessary risk while flying!  


Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.

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 in various types of light aircraft.

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 in the long run.

If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.

With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, 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.

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.

In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.

Call us at 01977 682 674​​​, email us at flightdesk@sherburnaeroclub.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.



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