What’s it like to fly into a warm front?

Overhead Cerne Abbas

Ah, summer is coming to a close and we’re all reflecting on some of the great adventures of summer 2018 as well as looking forward to some of the great adventures we’re planning for next year. Hopefully, it will be a mild autumn and winter and we can continue to enjoy our hobby without too many meteorological interruptions!

As well as reflecting on the adventures, it’s becoming a good time to reflect on miss-haps and learnings from those adventures.

One such miss-hap is not checking the weather properly. An absolutely key ingredient to any safe and happy flight, something more than one person has done during their flying career no matter how many hours they may have.

Not checking the weather

We have for you one such story from a club member. They had planned a flight from Popham to Cerne Abbas. Like many of these stories, it starts with “things got off to a rushed start”. Which, inevitably, causes things to be forgotten. In this case, a proper check of the weather, caused a less than comfortable flight although concluded with a safe and happy ending. The lesson to learn here is – always, always check the weather before getting your feet off the ground.

Flight planning

The flight was planned as normal from Popham, heading south-west to view the great Cerne Abbas giant in all his glory.

Route to Cerne Abbas Giant

The routing was typical, as seen above in the SkyDemon screenshot provided.

What was the weather like that day?

The weather over Popham was very fine and dry. The mistake the pilot made was not checking F215 or looking at existing analysis charts to gauge the movement of the air throughout the flight.

Thanks to the Met Office for acquiring the F215 from their archive for the day – the below is what the pilot would have seen:

F215 Cerne Abbas Flight

The pilot would likely have seen the large warm front moving from west to east at 25 knots and the estimated rain and drizzle. At the time of the flight, this warm front would have advanced further east with the high likeliness of being over his destination. Having seen this, a flight to the west, but not quite so far, may have been wiser.

What did it look like?

The pilot had on-board cameras filming the flight and provided screenshots.

Take off from Popham

The weather was very fine and dry, although the cloud build-up can clearly be seen off to the west out the front of the aircraft (taking off from R26) and on the right of the image taken from the wing with the A303 running parallel below.

Take off popham

01 - take off looking south

Heading further south-west on-route, the cloud thickens.

02 - Flying further west

Making progress to the south-west

As the flight progresses, the cloud continues to thicken its stratus layer and the cloud base begins to descend.

03 - more cloud and lower

The sky gradually becomes completely covered and the cloud base continues to decrease.

04 - low cloud

Alongside the thicker cloud and lower cloud base. visibility begins to show signs of closing in.

05 - lower vis

Over the destination

Over Cerne Abbas it’s become much darker, with lower cloud and tighter visibility. The pilot reported drizzle appearing on the windshield as he circled around the giant feature (just below the rear right wheel in the image below).

06 - low vis and drizzle

As he turns east for home, you can clearly see the building pea soup not far away to the west, on the left-hand side of the image.

07 - worse closing from west on left

The view from the cockpit over Cerne Abbas.

Overhead Cerne Abbas

Some may see the above as perfectly flyable, others may not. However, if you’re not expecting it, things can be quite different, especially for those with low hours.

What’s the message?

Always check the weather, thoroughly. Even if you’re flying locally or beating the circuit. Although the above flight was completed safely and in accordance with air law, know your limits. If you’re in doubt, change the plan or stay on the ground!

Happy flying and safe landings!