The Air Corps AT-6 manual, for example, says that, while flying through thunderstorms should be avoided, “a pilot, using modern equipment and possessing a combination of proper experience, common sense and instrument flying proficiency can safely fly thunderstorms.” Set power and pitch attitude for the proper penetration speed before punching into the storm, turn on the pitot heat and adjust the carburetor air, tighten the safety belt and lock the shoulder harness, turn off any radios transmitting static, adjust the cockpit lights to full bright, lower the seat and avoid staring outside the airplane. Then it’s simply a matter of maintaining attitude, holding a heading, not making power changes ... and hanging on for dear life! (That last is mine.)
In the late ’40s, a couple of entrepreneurial guys in Cincinnati came up with a great scheme involving a surplus C-47 and loads of Maine lobsters. They contracted with several upscale restaurants in the area to supply them with these live New England delicacies on a weekly basis. On the maiden voyage, they loaded the old girl to the gills with crates of crustaceans and headed west over the mountains to Ohio. Now, the weather was less than ideal, but they’d invested everything they had in the airplane and its cargo; it was crucial that they deliver this first load of lobsters on time. IMC and without any radar, somewhere over mid-central Pennsylvania, they blundered into a real hummer — hail, severe turbulence and lightning ... lots of lightning. The airplane took a couple of strikes, but the good news was they came through unscathed and landed at Lunken in time to deliver the load. The bad news was that all the lobsters were dead, as in electrocuted.
And thus ended the grand venture.
Like many of you, I’ve been throwing myself into the air since pre-Flight Service Stations days when those teletype machines and “WAG” radio/TV forecasts were all you had for weather briefings. Today we enjoy vastly improved and more accurate forecasts, the magic of computers, panel-mount and portable GPS instruments with real-time satellite weather, ATIS/AWOS/ASOS broadcasts and valuable help from Flight Watch, centers and approach controls. So, with all that and a Garmin GNS 430, plus a panel-mounted Garmin 696 with satellite weather, there’s really no excuse for flying a 1956 Cessna 180 into nasty weather when aviating around the countryside. But ...
A couple of weeks ago I flew to Knoxville to give and take check rides in Remote Area Medical’s DC-3 — N982Z. Gene Christian and I keep each other current as Part 125 check airmen for this relief organization and then we conduct the required rides with RAM’s founder and pilot extraordinare Stan Brock, and copilot Jim Massengill.