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Mon, Dec 18, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (12.18.06): Graphical Categorical Outlook

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 12.18.06

It's on the first page on the FAA's Aviation Weather Center (AWC) website. And it provides a wealth of information for your strategic flight planning.

Note: For the benefit of those who have not served or studied military doctrine, strategic planning involves a big-picture overview to identify overall goals, as opposed to tactical planning which is the process of making decisions on-the-fly that determine how you achieve those goals. In personal aviation, strategic planning is the process of determining whether to fly, and if so at what route and altitude. Tactical planning would be en route changes as necessary to deviate around weather or deal with other status as it comes up.

The AWC's opening page gives us three things: locations of icing and turbulence Pilot reports (PIREPs), and more obvious, the Categorical Outlook for reporting stations around the "lower 48" states. On the depiction:

  • No colored dot indicates the reporting station is VFR.
  • A blue dot indicates the station is reporting Marginal VFR weather.
  • A red disc indicates IFR weather.
  • A pink (or magenta) dot shows the station in question is reporting Low IFR conditions.

In a past Aero-Tips I reviewed my concept of Categorical Outlook Flying™, to make go/no-go/divert decisions before takeoff and continually in flight. We referenced my Categorical Outlook Flying™ decision making matrix, which is posted on my website.

There's a whole lot of strategic information very easily reviewed simply by looking at this one chart. It's probably not be a good day to fly into Boston or Shreveport, for instance, during the valid time of this chart even if you're instrument rated. Flying west out of Denver might be pretty dicey because of turbulence, and a flight from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, would probably be treacherous because of ice. The AWC's opening page doesn't tell us everything, but it does tell us when to look deeper for a flight strategy-and it can quickly tell us when it's a no-go when conditions are very bad.

Aero-tip of the day: Use the opening page of the Aviation Weather Center's website to make a first strategic decision about whether to fly.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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