Last month, “Handling Windshear,” described how to recognize, avoid and, handle an encounter with windshear. The focus of that article was the practical side of piloting but we necessarily touched on the basics of the weather behind thunderstorms, microbursts and windshear. Now it’s time to dig deeper into that meteorology.
I loved “The MTA Song” as a kid. You know it: Charlie gets caught a nickel short and left to ride the rails of the Boston subway forever because the fare went up during his morning commute. I loved its joyful ridiculousness, and I loved that my dad would belt it out for us on his old Martin. (He was a beatnik—a hippy before it was cool.) Charlie’s wife handing him a sandwich always bugged me though. Why didn’t she just hand him a nickel so he could get off the train?
It’s taken for granted that when you fly a light aircraft, you take care of everything from preflight planning to all the in-flight tasks and securing the aircraft afterwards. All decisions are usually left to one person. This is such a common routine for many that the risks of what’s known as Single-Pilot Resource Management are often overlooked, especially due to the external pressures that are often present for any flight. In this accident report, the combination of a sole pilot’s pressure to get home and poor weather conditions had tragic results.
You’ve probably heard the morbid axiom: FAA regulations are written in blood. Many of the rules fattening the books governing pilots and air traffic controllers were brought about by unfortunate incidents. “Line up and wait” (LUAW) is a significant example. It’s an inherently risky maneuver: a controller places an airplane on a runway but doesn’t let them take off due to other traffic using the runway or on final to that same runway.
Regulations prevent collisions through right-of-way rules. These codified decencies apply to the road, sea and air. For aviation, 14 CFR §91.113 warns that “regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.” Sage advice, that, especially with our butts in the hot seat.
It really should be true. Visual contact with lights offers a bridge between the miasma of IMC and the welcoming squeak of pavement. If you reach DA and have only the approach lights in sight, just holding your attitude for a moment longer—and lower—should yield enough visual information to put the wheels safely on the runway.