Here comes the Weatherman!

28/11/2016 – The next exam I was due to take was Meteorology. This seemed to me to be one of the toughest subjects, and in fact I had two days of tuition in a row, though on the second day I’d also fit in the Human Performance and Limitations exam.

Meteorology is, of course a fancy name for weather. Areas covered include Atmosphere, Charts, Clouds, Winds, Icing and much more.

There aren’t many more important things for a pilot to understand than the weather. You need to know it’s suitable to take off, suitable for the length of your journey, and of course suitable at your destination. What is suitable depends on your qualifications, your experience, and just how comfortable you are as a pilot with less than perfect weather.

If you have an Instrument Rating you can fly in lower visibility, and in and above cloud, but for the standard PPL you have to fly in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) condition. The most basic part to remember about this is you must be in sight of the ground. However even if you meet the technical parameters of flying VFR on a particular day, you might just not want to fly. After all if you’re taking friends or family up for a joy ride you’re going to want it to be nice, with great visibility. If you’re a pilot for the airlines planning a route across the Atlantic, you’re going to accept much worse, but still safe weather.

Part of the tuition is learning to read the Met F214 and F215 briefings. In fact when you are training to be a pilot you’ll probably end up reading these every day. The F214 is the Spot Wind Forecast, often called the Winds Aloft. This shows you for various points around the UK a table of Altitude (in thousands of feet), Wind Speed and Direction, and temperature. So for example looking at the briefing below, at 52 degrees 30 minutes North, 02 degrees 30 minutes West, at 2000 feet the wind speed is 30 knots coming from 210 degrees (it always show you where the direction from, not to). The temperature at 2000 feet is reasonably warm +8 degrees C.

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You’ll need this information during navigation so you can work out how much your track is going to be effected by wind so you can set a heading to offset the effect. It’s also good to see what the weather is coming from.

The F215 is the UK low-level forecast chart. This splits the UK up into areas A, B, C etc. with some of the areas possibility split into sub-areas, So B1, D1 on the example below. The map shows where each areas covers around the UK, and the table shows the Surface Visibility and Weather, the Cloud, and at what altitude the air temperature will be 0 degrees C.

Reading the information on this chart is one of the skills you’ll need to have to pass Meteorology. It’s written in an easily understandable code, but only easy after some practice.

In the example below you can see in area C the visibility is 30km with no significant weather (NIL). There are Isolated areas of 7km vis with Showers of Rain in the Far South (ISOL 7 KM SHRA FAR S) and Isolated areas of Hill Fog (ISOL HILL FG)

There are areas of Scattered or Broken Cumulus and Stratocumulus with moderate icing and moderate turbulence with a base at 1500-3000 feet altitude extending up to 5000-8000 feet, and extending up above 10000 feet in the far South. The air drops to 0 degrees C at around 6000 feet altitude.

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Phew! Even now months later reading and translating that in my head was an effort. And I do it every day. One basic rule of thumb is the longer the text in an area, the worse the weather is likely to be. Not always true but worth remembering!

If you think you can read and understand all this, then you’re well on your way to understanding Met. I could go on for hours about Meteorology but I won’t. Just be prepared to put quite a bit of effort in, both when you’re a student, and afterwards when you are qualified.

Here’s a typical question for you “What is the ISA (International Standard Atmosphere) temperature at 5000ft?” Let me know if you can work out the answer.

I’d put a lot of effort into Met, and I had over a day of solid tuition from Graham on the subject, so even though the exam was very technical, and the hardest I’d had so far, I managed to get 100% I knew that wasn’t the end though, more than any other topic Meteorology is something you need to keep up to date with.

After passing the exam we moved onto HPL. This covers The Body, Health, The Mind, Crew Management etc. This is a much simpler subject, and many of the questions are based on common sense (not always the case in aviation). For example a typical question might be “in a cockpit, how should a set of controls that operate different systems ideally be designed?” And if you can’t work out the answer are you sure you want to be a pilot?

Of course I’d relaxed when doing my HPL exam, and I rushed the test a little. I got what I deserved as I got one question wrong, and one so obvious I could have kicked myself afterwards!

Well at least I had six down, and just three to go, and a two week break before my next exam.

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Author: oldmannewpilot

An old man, becoming a new pilot