“And I’m supposed to believe that in 20 years — 150 to 200 long-distance flights — you’ve been able to stay VFR?”
“Well, usually I get on top and then I just fly around until I find, you know, a hole or something. Never needed help getting down before — oh, wait, there was that time at Houston Hobby. ... ”
Well, he was sincere and he loved to fly. The obvious “fix,” of course, was an instrument rating, but there was no way he’d ever get through the written. He was computer illiterate, and when I printed some metars and TAFs he wasn’t able to read them ... said he always called Flight Service for weather.
“OK, show me. Pretend you’re flying down there early tomorrow morning and call Flight Service for a briefing.”
I pushed the phone toward him and was able to hear both sides of the conversation. The briefer rattled off a bunch of metars, TAFs, notams and winds-aloft forecasts, and my “trainee” scribbled some numbers but never asked him to repeat, slow down or clarify. These scribbles were mostly unreadable, wildly incomplete and missed all the times on the TAFs when changes could be expected. When he hung up we compared his hieroglyphics with the weather I’d printed and it wasn’t pretty. He knew he had a problem, but more importantly, he was willing and eager to fix it.
There was a good instructor, a retired professional pilot, who lived near his home airport and was willing to take him on. They visited an approach control facility and then spent about 10 hours learning how to collect, interpret and evaluate weather reports and forecasts before he “graduated.”
The computer has radically changed the way most of us get weather briefings, and, by the way, those sites are perfectly legal so long as the weather ultimately comes from “primary aviation weather products” (NWS). I rarely call FSS except for another check on TFRs (and in this election year that’s really important) or to file a last-minute IFR flight plan. If you prefer a telephone Flight Service brief, that’s fine too, but it’s not easy to absorb all the verbal information, especially when the TAFs have multiple changes during the forecast period. I used to be reluctant to ask a briefer to slow down, repeat or translate the times into local, 12-hour clock time (yeah, 28 years in government and I still count on my fingers to convert from the 24-hour clock). But I finally decided to grow up, make damn sure I got both the details and the big picture and quit worrying about making the specialist slow down and repeat for this ditzy, airhead lady pilot!
Ring any bells?
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