Editor's Log

August 2003 Issue




You Want What?

Incredulous briefer questions flight plan, but who’s the PIC here, anyway?

Recently I was in the flight planning room at an FBO in Knoxville, on the phone with Flight Service to file an IFR flight plan to Orlando. The weather in the southeast was just lousy with thunderstorms.

The weather radar showed a clear corridor down the center of Georgia if we left now. I had briefed the weather on the computer but had called FSS to file the flight plan.

When I told the briefer I wanted to file, he was nothing short of indignant. Hadn’t I looked at the weather? Did I know about the hazardous weather? His tone made his real question crystal clear: Do you know how stupid you are for planning to fly a light aircraft through there on a day like this?

Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not stupid and I know I don’t have a death wish. But the flight certainly looked doable to me. My comrade and I fired up the Mooney 231 and went high, looking to maximize true airspeed, minimize headwinds and still have a chance of navigating around the big stuff.

As we cruised south, every frequency was stuffed with airplanes seeking diversions, but the ones crying the loudest were those west of our position and flying west. Our run down the center was working.

As we passed east of Atlanta, a cell took over Hartsfield. “Everybody on my frequency, I’m sorry but you’re screwed,” the controller said. “Everybody can expect to hold.”

Ahead I could see buildups both left and right of course, but nothing in front of us. The Stormscope verified the visual picture. As airliners stacked on top of each other at Atlanta’s approach gates, we motored happily along and were soon given a frequency change.

“Make that almost everybody can expect to hold,” I thought to myself. So far, so good.

As we neared Orlando, however, a level 5 thunderstorm stood between us and home. I asked for vectors around the cell. We got into some light turbulence and were in and out of IMC. My companion took the opportunity to snap off the autopilot and hand me the Foggles. I groaned.

“The more you sweat in training,” he reminded me, “the less you bleed in war.”

OK. It was the end of a 13-hour workday. I was on the tail end of seven hours of flying in two legs. I was skirting a very large storm. At night. Sweat indeed.

The flight ended without incident, and I was glad to have had the workout on instruments. But I still think back at the briefer’s tone. Was I crazy? I don’t think so.

Risk management is part of the game. Although the preflight picture wasn’t ideal, neither was it suicide. Fortunately that was my call, and not the briefer’s.


-Ken Ibold