Thundering back from Sun ‘n Fun

April 14, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

When you talk the talk about weather, eventually you’ll have to walk the walk.

I spent the week of April 8th flying around the Southeast making multiple stops in AOPA’s A36 Bonanza on my way down to Sun ‘n Fun (SNF). Although it had been cloudy and occasionally rainy, requiring two ILS approaches, the weather was benign IFR.

The major education topic for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation at SNF this year was thunderstorm avoidance. This continues the push started in the April Issue of AOPA Pilot where much of the content is TRW education. There are over 100,000 thunderstorms a year, according to informed sources, and many seem to occupy my flight path. So, after giving to two full seminars and a “Tent Talk” at the AOPA tent about staying out of the CBs, we were faced with a strong cold front that lay across the homeward bound path. The planned route of flight included a fuel stop at Florence, SC and then Northeast over Danville, VA around the west side of the ADIZ and in to Frederick.

The line of precipitation was moving quickly with some cells exceeding 50 knots. It was already across our projected flight path about 200 miles up the road. It was looking good to the East, however, and as a contingency, I loaded another flight plan into the GPS that would take us well East and then cut back through a hole that was currently showing over DC.

Click images for larger view

In the picture on the top, you can see that in the time it took for a fuel stop, the eastbound option had evaporated. I was following Tom Haines , AOPA Pilot’s editor-in-chief, in his A36 who was 10 minutes ahead on the same route. He asked ATC for a reroute over Greensboro, NC to penetrate through a hole that was showing in northern NC. Sounded reasonable to me so I asked for the same treatment.

As we flew up close to the front and into instrument conditions, you can see on the datalink image on the bottom that there were some cells to the south. I was adding quality flight time by maneuvering to the east from the magenta and white course line. The Greensboro ( GSO) approach controller was very helpful in keeping us updated on what she was showing. Another aircraft cut the corner a little tight and had a brief ride in moderate rain and turbulence. We encountered some clouds and that was it. I kept ATC advised on what my next move would be and the approximate headings we’d be taking. It was a left turn back to 330 and out the back side of the front into blue skies.

There’s more to tell and we’ll talk about that next time. In the meantime, if you haven’t taken the ASF course on Thunderstorms and ATC, now would be an excellent time to do so. It’s free and can be found in the interactive course section on

You can read about Tom Haines’ ride on the same trip on AOPA Pilot’s Reporting Points blog.

Your thoughts and comments?

A. Crazy to fly through a front – we always talk about not using datalink tactically to pick your way through. Land, have some coffee, and wait till it passes.

B. No problem – The hole was big enough and there was ATC assistance.

C. I fly VFR and this would have been a moot point since it was Instrument Conditions

D. If you’re writing this, it obviously worked, what’s all the fuss about?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • joe grimes

    The upper screen shows 1623Z. The lower screen 1603Z. So it appears between 1603 and 1623 you made the turn through the less-intense area to th back-side of the front.

    Obviously you made it through alright. Unfortunately, that could lead you and your readers to think you could make it through the next time.

    Personally, I think the “hole” as seen on NexRad was too small and better judgement would have suggested landing and enjoying fellowship at a local FBO.