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METARs – The Other Foreign Language

Two years ago when I started taking flying lessons I realized that there was a whole new language to learn for aviation.  It was the language of weather. It wasn’t like any other language I had attempted to learn.  It didn’t require me to roll my R’s like I had to for Spanish.  I didn’t have to worry about pronunciation like I did when I was learning German and French.  It definitely wasn’t like learning a computer programing language as in BASIC or DBASE.  This was just maybe the language I was meant to learn.  I could understand it.

This is a METAR (pronounced ME-TAR).  It is one source of  the weather conditions for the St. Cloud Regional Airport last evening.

KSTC 262353Z 25031G41KT 10SM -RA BKN023 BKN029 OVC037 04/02 A2875 RMK AO2 PK WND 26046/2339

At first when my CFI(Certified Flight Instructor) had me look up the weather on ADDS(Aviation Digital Data Service). It made no sense to me at all.  It was just a group of numbers and letters unlike any I had seen before.  My CFI explained that each section meant something.  The first part KSTC is the airport identifier.  KSTC is the airport identifier for the St. Cloud Regional Airport in Minnesota where I took my flying lessons.

The next section is the date and time section.  The 26 of 262353Z stands for the 26th of the month.  2353Z stands for ZULU time.  The time is based on a 24 hour clock like military time.  In St. Cloud at this time of year you need to subtract 5 hours from the 2353 which would be 1853 and subtract 12 hours to get the local time for the weather which is 6:53pm.

After the date and time comes the wind direction and velocity, 25031G41KT.  At 6:53pm on the 26th of October the winds were reported from 250 degrees(almost straight out of the west) at 31 knots gusting at times to 41 knots.  This is not a day that I would be flying a Cessna 152 or any other small plane.  In fact the commercial planes at Chicago O’Hare were grounded yesterday morning due to the strong winds.

The next section of the METAR is the runway visual range, 10SM.  In the case of yesterday’s METAR it was 10 statute miles or better.  After the visual range is the weather.  The weather was reported as -RA which is interpreted as light rain.

Cloud levels are next.  They report the type and height of the clouds.  In yesterday’s METAR the clouds were reported as BKN023 BKN029 OVC037.  Last night’s clouds at 6:53pm were BKN(Broken) which means that 5/8 to 7/8 of the sky was covered with clouds and the clouds were 2300 feet above ground level. You add two zeros at the end to get the height.  001 becomes 100 above ground level, 010 becomes 1000 AGL. There is also another layer of BKN clouds at 2900 above ground level. The third level is an overcast level at 3700 feet above ground level.  The lowest level of broken or overcast layer becomes the ceiling for VFR pilots.  In last night’s weather the cloud ceiling was 2300 feet above ground level.

The temperature and dew point section is next in the METAR.  In last night’s METAR the temperature is 04/02 which means the temperature is 4 degrees Celsius and the dew point is 2 degrees celsius.

The next section in the METAR is the altimeter.  It is represented by A2875 which is 28.75 inches of Hg.  The interesting fact about this altimeter setting is that it is the lowest recorded altimeter setting in St. Cloud for decades.  The St. Cloud area and most of Minnesota has been experiencing very strong sustained winds in the past 24 hours which is very unusual for our area.  The current altimeter setting is important.  Each time you depart or land at an airport it is important to have the current altimeter setting set in your airplane.

The last section of the METAR is the RMK or remark section where a briefer can add supplemental information.  They are represented by remark codes.  In last evening’s RMK section it was noted that the PK WND or peak wind in the past hour was from 260 degrees at 46 knots and it occurred at 2339Z or 6:39pm local time.

You can check out all kinds of weather information at the website ADDS

http://aviationweather.gov/adds/metars/

Try your hand at tonight’s METAR for KSTC.  I know you can do it!

KSTC 280353Z 31025G33KT 10SM FEW026 OVC034 04/M01 A2977 RMK AO2 PK WND 29037/0321 SLP097 T00391006

A few clues …

280353-5 (for local time) = 10:53pm pm the 27th of October.

FEW means clouds reporting more than 0 to 2/8 cloud cover

M in 04/M01 means it is a sub-zero value.







 
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Posted by on October 27, 2010 in education, Flight training

 

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Orion was dancing in the sky and the fish committed suicide

Last evening when I came home late from work I noticed a star filled sky.  One of the benefits to living in the country is the stars are  much more visible than in the city lights.  Every direction I looked I saw constellations shining brightly.  Near the moon was Jupiter just south and west.  As I took in the stars I noticed a jet passing between the moon and Jupiter in the sky leaving its contrails visible in the moonlit sky.

Early this morning as I walked the garbage out to the road before sunrise I saw Orion dancing in the early morning western sky.  Just as last evening, the skies were clear and star filled.  When I grew up in the Twin Cities the stars weren’t as visible unless you got away from the city and all of its lights.

I remember the year my parents gave my brother a telescope for Christmas and the hours we spent  looking for stars and spaceships.  We saw a whole new world through the telescope that year.  When we took the telescope out to my grandparents who lived in the country we saw even more.

While attending college I spent one semester in the planetarium learning astronomy.  I couldn’t wait to share what I learned with  my fourth grade class when I began teaching.  I started a unit on the planets and expanded to the constellations.  One activity we did in class was to take a piece of black construction paper and poke holes with our pencils to make the constellations. 

We hung the construction paper constellations on the inside of our classroom window.  People walking past our classroom in the media center could look in our window and the classroom lights would illuminate the constellations as they peered in.  The students loved the activity and made extras that they could take home and put on their bedroom windows.    We did the activity on a Friday afternoon, hung them up and left for the weekend.

Monday morning when I arrived in my classroom I went about my usual routine.  I made copies for the day,  looked over my lessons and watered the plants.  Next on my list was to feed the fish in the aquarium.  As I walked toward the aquarium I was shocked at the sight.  The water was completely black.  I could still see fish swimming in the tank but in forty gallons of jet black water.

What happened?  How did it turn black and why?  I looked up and noticed that a couple of our constellation projects had fallen into our aquarium and the dye had turned the water black.  About that time the students started arriving into the classroom and were equally shocked.  One student noticed one fish on the floor that had jumped out of  the tank and landed on the floor and died.  The students said he committed suicide because he couldn’t stand the black water.  It was our only fatality.

Next it was time to discuss unintended consequences for our actions and our responsibilities for cleanup.

When life gives you lessons, you teach.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2010 in education, Life Happens, Nature

 

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The Antonym of Mediocrity

Last evening I watched as my grandson attack my piano with gusto.  He sat and played with all he had, sometimes even his feet getting into the act.  He’s 14 months old.  I learned how to play piano when I was five and took lessons for five years.  I was never a great pianist but I play for my enjoyment.   The last time that I pursued anything with that intensity like my grandson with my piano, was learning how to fly and before that, teaching.

This past week I read an article that was published in the Washington Post and referenced in The Simple Things in “L”ife by Gregg Hake  blog titled Why aren’t our teachers the best and the brightest?   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/08/AR2010100802741.html   I found the article to be very interesting but it left me with the nagging question.  If I were seeking a teaching degree under the approach to teacher recruitment used in Singapore, Finland and South Korea would I measure up?  According to the article  “these countries make teacher training programs highly selective, accepting no more than one out of every seven or eight applicants.  Their governments also limit the number of training positions to match the expected demand for educators, so that those admitted are assured jobs.” 

At first I focused on the fact that they sought the top one-third students.  I would have fit into that category no problem.  Second, the article stated “academic achievement isn’t the whole story in these countries.  They screen would-be teachers for other important qualities, and they invest heavily in training teachers and in retaining them for their entire careers.”  They never mention the important qualities besides academic achievement that they screen for in the process.  It’s something I’d like to know. 

I was thinking about the education selection process in Finland, Singapore and South Korea and something sounded vaguely familiar about it.  It took me a few days to figure out what it was and then I realized it is very similar to the process that is used in the United States in the medical field for accepting students into medical school.  If these top students make it through medical school they are most likely assured a job in their field provided they are willing to accept one where they are needed. 

The number of students accepted to medical school is kept low enough so there is always a demand for their services when they finish.  In a time when there is a need for more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel it would seem the appropriate time to make openings for more students to attend medical school.  The downside of this is there might be students admitted to the program that might only be in the bottom of the top 30%. Do these students have a  good bedside manner or bad and does it matter?

After reading the article I walked away with the feeling that I was somehow inadequate as a teacher.  Perhaps I didn’t demonstrate the scholastic prowess that they would desire in their countries.  I don’t know if I would qualify based on their other important qualities.  I would hope so.  I do know that not all education students do not have 100% of their time available for study.  There are many college students that worked their way through college and had to divide their time and attention accordingly.  Does that make them any less of a teacher?  Perhaps in their work experience they will learn valuable skills to relate to their future students.

I love to teach and know that just knowing the material is not all there is to teaching.  It takes the ability to engage your students in what you are teaching.  In order to teach you first have to get and keep their attention.  Teaching takes compassion for the student beyond the subject matter.  If your student comes to school without eating breakfast or wondering if it’s Mom or Dad’s weekend to have them, little of what you are trying to teach them will be learned.  Excellent teachers are able to instill a lifelong love of learning in their students, always yearning for more.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2010 in education

 

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Flight Planning

One of my favorite parts of flying is the planning.  I love choosing where I plan to fly and the route I will take.  I take out my sectional and spread it wide open across my kitchen table so I can start plotting my trip.  I gather the necessary tools to complete the task:  my current sectional, plotter, E6B(flight computer), 152 manual, crosswind chart and my current AFD.

Before I could fly solo, I would take out my sectional and look at how many airports there were and where they were.  I would dream about flights I would take and who I would take with me.  Then the time came for me to plan my first cross country.  I didn’t sleep the night before.  I had so many unanswered questions about what I was to do.  My CFI said we would go over the plans before we would fly my plan.  I was so nervous.  I kept looking at all the boxes on the nav log and realized that I didn’t know as much about flying as I thought I did.

He looked at my nav log, checkpoints, weather information, and sectional.  We went over what I had filled in and made changes where we needed to.  We spent some more time using the E6B on the ground so when we were up flying I would be able to confidently compute my ground speed as I checked the time in between checkpoints.  While I was learning about the E6B the teacher in me was thinking about all the cool applications for it in a classroom.  I was already writing lesson plans in my head for math and science.  I thought a unit on flying just might be the thing to get my 5th & sixth grade students  interested in math and science again.  For now, I was the student.

Next week I have a flight planned to fly a place I’ve never been before.  It involves landing on an island just outside of Bayfield, WI.  It will take extra planning on my part for it to be a safe flight.  I will spend a lot of time learning as much about the airports I will be landing at as possible.  One of the things I like to do is go to Navmonster.com to look at the satellite photos and track the path into the airport with the bird’s eye view.  It helps me visualize more of the flight and landmarks than are shown on the sectional.  I do it several times and imagine I am in my plane flying overhead and seeing what is below me.  It really helps me for my airport approaches.  I look at all the runways, their lengths, and possible obstacles to avoid.  I will call the airport the day before and the day of the flight to make sure everything is as I expect it to be.  I don’t like surprises.

Another item on my list for flight planning is checking out alternate airports.  The area I will be flying to is on Lake Superior.  The weather can change quickly near bodies of water.  Just this morning as I try to look across the lake I live on I cannot see the other end of the lake because of fog.  As much as I want to fly to Madeline Island, a place my husband and I visited on our honeymoon,  we will not go if the weather is not suitable.  We will choose some other destinations for our trip if the weather doesn’t look good or cancel our trip altogether.

Fuel management is another area of great importance for flight planning.  The FAR/AIM give you the required amounts of fuel you are required to have on board for daytime and nighttime flying.  Those amounts are the minimums!  I like to carry as much fuel as possible, with out exceeding my weight and balance.  I don’t try to stretch fuel between two checkpoints,  so if I run into problems that delay me  from landing or need to divert,  I can safely accomplish landing with enough fuel.  Running out of fuel just shouldn’t happen.

Weather is something I will be watching from today until my flight day and what is forecast for after it.  It is important to watch what is happening with the movement of fronts across and around my planned flight areas.  There are so many good weather information tools available for pilots for planning.  The main thing is to use them.

The day of our flight we will get a standard briefing and file a flight plan for our route, we will do the pre-flight inspection on the plane and make sure it is fueled up and flight worthy.  Most important is the me, the pilot, is also ready for flight which means that I have slept, feel healthy,  have eaten and am not dehydrated before we start.

If the stars align, the weather is good, the plane is ready, and I am healthy we will take off for a  day of adventure and to see sights not seen from above before.

I can’t wait to be one of those set of wings overhead that everyone looks up and imagines “I wonder where they are going?”

 

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!… If only you will read!

As a teacher I have always thought that reading was important.  It wasn’t until I taught first grade for the first time that I was truly aware of importance of  a great beginning.  I was as excited as my students with their progress.  I loved watching them make the transition from forming letter sounds into words, reading sentences and finally picking up a book to read on their own.

In our school district we used a phonics based program for teaching reading.  The program required parent involvement each evening with their child.  The students read together with their classmates each day and some time reading with the teacher each day to check their progress.   The students made almost a seamless transition in spelling their words.  Some of the students struggled in learning to read.  I’ve learned that there are different types of learners and to teach just one type of way doesn’t meet all their needs. 

I had the opportunity to teach the same students several years later when they were in fifth grade.  I realized at that point in time that the students who struggled in the first grade were still struggling in reading and their comprehension of what they were reading. 

At the first grade level it didn’t seem as critical if a student wasn’t quite at the same level in their learning because in every classroom there is a wide variety in ability from the low to the high students.  At the fifth grade level, however, the ability to comprehend what they read is a very critical skill.  It affects every subject area that students study even their math skills.  By the fifth grade the students need to be able to read story problems in math.  If they cannot comprehend what they read to do their math work, they struggle not only in reading but math as well.

If I were teaching reading again back in the first grade and beyond I would change my teaching to a reading saturated curriculum.  Fluent readers would be my goal for all my students.  I wouldn’t focus on the other subjects but make reading the priority.  For the student who struggled reading, the focus would be to use every method available to help them become fluent readers.  The ability to comprehend what they read is critical to success in all subject areas and comes with fluency.

I was raised in a home where there was always an ample supply of books to read and someone was always reading.  The example of the importance of reading was set on a daily basis.  If you needed to know something you looked it up in a book.  Granted, I grew up in a time before the internet was the place to look just about everything up but we learned that there was a whole world out there to be found in a book.

We live in a new world with technology at its center.  It is hard to escape from its grip.  I still love to pick out a book at a bookstore, library, or online and hold it in my hands, and read to escape into another world.  I just finished reading the fourth book by James Herriot,  the veterinarian.  Due to the vivid descriptions by the author I was transported to the heather covered hills of England and into the old barns where he treated his patients.  I’ve met the different characters in his stories and have made comparisons to our local characters in our small town.

Books are a treasure to behold.  Whether it is a fiction or non-fiction, children’s book or textbook, they offer insight into another world if we will just read.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2010 in education, Reflections

 

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