Archive for August, 2009

Weather Mindset

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Weather Wise_Thunderstorms and ATC

The August AOPA Pilot landmark accident described a twin Comanche pilot who was working with ATC to get around a major cluster of thunderstorms. He had XM weather datalink but no onboard radar. Both he and the TRACON controller thought he was clear of the weather when he turned back on course. The aircraft subsequently broke up in flight.

I received a nice note from reader Paul who wanted to know why the pilot put himself into such a situation.

“Why was it that a seasoned pilot with 4,000 hours elected to fly into the jaws of a monster?…Are there studies by cognitive psychologists and medical specialists that shed light onto the mystery of what it was that might have influenced this particular pilot in command? And most important, what tools are out there to assist us in recognizing when we too might be falling into whatever traps were out there on that fateful day in April, 2007?”

My response: Sadly, in the very soft science of Psychology there is not much definitive to go on. Certainly nothing new that I’m aware of. ASF is coming up with some procedural guidelines that will be coming out this fall which will help but ultimately it comes down to judgment. When it comes to convective weather – the only sure thing is to add lots of quality flying miles away from the storms or land.

Weather is an uncertainty for many people and the desire to get to a golf outing (in this accident), business meeting or family reunion is strong. I’d like to say pilots are better at decision making than drivers, political figures or celebrities but we sure seem to get a lot of really poor examples.

NTSB is cautious not to speculate on the items you noted unless there are some very clear markers, which they didn’t mention in this case.

I know that wasn’t the crisp definitive answer you were looking for and if this were easy, the industry would have come up with a course or some other solution besides ” just say no.”

Thoughts from the group? If anyone knows of a reputable study on this please send me the link.