Tag Archives: flight planning

Just a Little Weather Lesson

This morning I have a plane reserved to get a little flying time in.  I’m excited.  It’s been a while since I’ve been up flying.  If I want to take passengers up flying with me I have to keep current.  The FAA rules state that if I want to carry passengers when I fly these are the rules:

  • That person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days.
  • The person acted as the sole manipulator of the flight controls.
  • And the required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required).

The last time I was up flying was September 30.  It hasn’t been 90 days since I was flying but almost.  I could carry a passenger this morning legally but I won’t do it because frankly I am probably a little rusty in the landing department. 

I scheduled some time in the 152 for practice.  I will probably stay at the airport in the traffic pattern practicing take offs and landings.  After practicing take offs and landing I will fly to a local practice area to practice manuevers like steep turns, slow flight, stalls and ground reference manuevers. 

Before I can do any of this I have to check the weather.  Here is what it looks like:

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)Output produced by METARs form (1227 UTC 10 December 2010)
found at
METAR text: KSTC 101153Z AUTO 30006KT 8SM CLR M11/M13 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP132 T11061128 11028 21106 51015
Conditions at: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US) observed 1153 UTC 10 December 2010
Temperature: -10.6°C (13°F)
Dewpoint: -12.8°C (9°F) [RH = 84%]
Pressure (altimeter): 29.84 inches Hg (1010.6 mb)
[Sea-level pressure: 1013.2 mb]
Winds: from the WNW (300 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 8 miles (13 km)
Ceiling: at least 12,000 feet AGL
Clouds: sky clear below 12,000 feet AGL
Weather: automated observation with no human augmentation;
there may or may not be significant weather present at this time

Forecast for: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US)
Text: KSTC 101138Z 1012/1112 29006KT P6SM FEW020
Forecast period: 1200 to 1800 UTC 10 December 2010
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the WNW (290 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2000 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period


I plan on flying from 9:00-11:00 this morning which translates to 1400-1600 UTC.  I like the part of the forecast that forecasts the winds @290 degrees @ 6 knots.  What that means to me is that there will not be much of a cross wind for take offs and landings.  I will be using Runway 31.  The heading for the runway is 310 degrees so when I take off and land the winds will almost be straight down the runway which is a good thing when you are flying. 

One thing I will have to watch this morning are the clouds.  We have snow moving in later today and the clouds will be increasing as the day goes on which is why I chose to fly this morning and not this afternoon.  Flying under Visual Flight Rules or VFR I need to see the ground  and maintain a certain distance from the clouds.  If I can’t do that, I can’t fly.  This would not be a day I would choose for a cross-country flight because the weather will be unpredictable.  It is a good day for flying at the airport or near it.  

If the weather cooperates next week I hope to go up with my CFI for my final checkout on the Cessna 172.  Once checked out on the 172 I will be able to take both my parents up for a ride.  I’ve put off taking them for a ride because I wanted to take both of them at the same time.  The 152 is a two seat airplane.  The 172 is a four seat plane.  My Christmas present for them is a plane ride to Alexandria for lunch.  If I don’t get everything done before Christmas with the 172 I may have to come up with something else to wrap up under the tree. 

Did I mention I hate shopping?



Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Flight training, Flying Adventures


Tags: , ,

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

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.

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , ,

Single Engine Safety…Do The Work!

This past week I planned for and took a flight with my husband up north to view the fall colors.  For the week preceding our trip I talked a lot about our plans for our trip and booked the plane that we would be renting.  I spent some time investigating the island that we planned on visiting on our trip.  Our trip would be from St. Cloud, MN (KSTC) to Duluth, MN (KDLH) and east to Madeline Island (4R5) and then return to St. Cloud.  I called the Madeline Airport to make sure that it would be open and if there was transportation available to town which was two miles away.  During the week I kept an eye on the weather and continued to make plans for our trip.

The evening before our trip I pulled out my sectional, plotter, E6B, AFD, and POH for the 152 that I would be flying.  I began the process for planning our trip.  I put my sectional out on the table.  For this trip I would actually need two sectionals because I would be flying outside the Twin Cities sectional and onto the Green Bay sectional.  I would need both for navigation.  Prior to pulling out the sectionals I had gone onto a couple of navigational aid sites NavMonster, AOPA, and Skyvector.  I knew that the distance from St. Cloud to Duluth was 110 nm , 59nm from Duluth to Madeline Island, and 156 nm from Madeline Island to St. Cloud.  All of the distances of each leg were within the 152’s fuel range with the required reserve.  I had planned on a fuel stop in Duluth and a chance to stretch our legs before we continued on to Madeline Island.

When I began plotting our trip on the navigation log it was going fine for the first leg.  I had already flown this leg a year ago so its planning for checkpoints wasn’t a big deal.  I drew my course line on my sectional from Duluth to Madeline Island on my sectional and started to plot my checkpoints and that’s when the uneasy feeling started to creep in.  I plotted my first checkpoint east of Duluth and that put me out over water.  Lake Superior to be exact.  Just how in the world to do verify your checkpoint over water?  Do you look for your abeam point on land?  The shore would be approximately 15 miles south of my course. 

Next realizing that the course that I chose put me over water I put my plotter down, measured and found that I planned on flying over approximately 28 nm over open water.  Now I’m not flying a float plane and the only place I can land is on land so …If  I lose an engine in a single engine I essentially become a glider which my plane will do for a time but not long.  I have to admit for a very short minute I considered continuing with my plans.  Afterall it was only 28 nm and that would only take about 20 minutes .  What could happen in that short amount of time?  It was time to reconsider my plans.

I started taking a fresh look at my sectional.  If I changed my course from St. Cloud to Superior, WI which is just a few miles east of Duluth I could still fly to Madeline Island as planned only over land instead of  28 nm of open water.  I originally choose Duluth because of familiarity.  I had already flown into and out of the Duluth airport.  I researched the Superior Airport KSUW and found that I actually liked the runway orientation better for the winds than Duluth’s runway.  There would be less crosswind for landing and taking off at Superior.  I began working on my navigation log once again and started plotting my checkpoints to Superior.  Then I plotted my checkpoints from Superior to Madeline Island and back to St. Cloud.  The next thing to consider was fuel.  Madeline Island reported none.  I would have to fuel in Superior before heading on to Madeline Island. 

I felt more comfortable with the changes from Duluth to Superior.  The only amount of open water we would be over was  3 nm.  At any point in time I would only be 1 1/2 miles from land if there was a problem.  The other consideration with Madeline Island was the fact that they didn’t have any services there for the airplane.  No mechanics, repair parts, or fuel.  I was renting the plane and the thought crossed my mind  Just how much does it cost to get a plane off an island that isn’t working and how do you do it? As it turned out because of the change in the weather we didn’t pursue our trip out to the island.  But the thought of having trouble stuck in the back of my mind as we continued home instead of going to Madeline Island.

The experts in aviation say that every accident is a chain of events.  Rarely is there just one item that contributed to the cause of the accident.  I thought of my plans for last week and possible accident scenarios.  The point I want to make is that with so many options for technology that I think people get complacent.  Before I got out my sectional I didn’t see anything wrong with my plans because I was just looking at one aspect of the planning.  I was seeing the miles as related to fuel but not really seeing the course I was planning.  I don’t have GPS or any kind of navigational system other than VOR tracking.  I need to rely on what I see outside the plane as I fly, my instruments for direction and my sectional with checkpoints marked for reference along my course. 

If I had hopped in my plane without doing the work of plotting my course on the sectional and marking my checkpoints.  At some point I would find myself in a dangerous position, over open water.  You can fly a plane like driving a car and say that I want to go east about 59 nm and it should take me about 37 minutes at about 95 kts.  Which is what I knew to be true for the trip to Madeline Island.  Believe me it is so much less work to plan a trip that way than to sit down and mark out the checkpoints, figure out the wind correction and ground speed, and figure out how many minutes to each checkpoint but the necessity of doing the planning is to keep me and others safe.

Another issue of safety that I noticed as we were flying was the terrain.  When I plan for a trip I look for things on the terrain that are important because of the height, mainly towers along the route.  I marked the towers along my route there and back.  When we were on our trip my husband made the comment  “There aren’t as many places to land the plane the farther north we go.”  He was correct.  Where we live is primarily an agricultural area with a lot of farm fields for emergency landings.  As we travel north the terrain changes mostly to heavily wooded areas with very few roads and fields. 

When I was learning to fly there were three things that they said we should always know at all times:  Number one was where I would land the plane in an emergency, number two was how much fuel I had on board at any given point in time, and the third was where was the wind from.  It became apparent to me as we were flying that there were fewer places to choose for an emergency landing.  This is important when you are choosing a course to fly in order to fly safely.

There were many lessons learned this past week.  The most important lesson I learned was to do the work of planning for the trip.  If you do the work, correctly and thoroughly you will be better prepared to fly safely.  I didn’t say that you will fly without any problems but you didn’t create any problems for yourself because of lack of planning.   Again I say, “Do the Work!”


Tags: , , ,

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 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?”


Tags: ,