Flight Watch is no longer—it was terminated earlier this month.
Officially called En route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS), it was hailed as a great step forward—the ability to get weather anywhere in the country above 5,000 feet agl. It was a big improvement over the standard flight service system when it began in the 1970’s. No longer would one have to listen to some Yahoo (not the browser!) laboriously file a flight plan while an urgent weather update was needed.
Flight Watch specialists had access to real-time radar. By today’s standards—with weather in the cockpit and nearly current radar advisories from ATC—this seems a bit primitive but such is progress. The nationwide frequency of 122.0 worked well. The exception occurred when the high and mighty in Lears and Gulfstreams would foul ten thousand square miles of frequency access to ask how the weather was down in Boca Raton—usually sunny, light winds, and temperatures in the low 80’s. Meanwhile, the bottom dwellers were in a snit to see if the destination was still above minimums, if there was icing ahead, or what nearby boomers were doing.
A few decades back I had a flight to Wichita, Kansas, where a powerful cold front was marching across the country’s midsection. With an IFR flight plan on file, I departed Mt. Vernon, Illinois, in a Cessna T-210 into a darkening midday sky. A hundred miles west lay a wall of convection. It was time to call the “Watch.”
After waiting a few loooong minutes for some non-pertinent conversations to be concluded, St. Louis Flight Watch made it quite clear that this line was nothing to mess with. But there was a hole about 100 miles south of my position that looked flyable. Back on the ATC frequency, I asked for a southerly deviation, which the controller approved.
During active weather it was smart to monitor 122.0. That afternoon ATC and Flight Watch frequencies were an absolute babble; but several minutes later, through it all, the Flight Watch Specialist asked if I was still on the line. Yes…”Well sir, that hole down south has closed up, suggest you reverse course, and it looks better going about 60 miles to the north over St. Louis.” Ok—plenty of fuel and no desire to get bent. ATC again obliged, and it was off to see the Arch. No rain, one moderate jolt, and the front was behind me.
Today we have better options: many more reporting stations thanks to ASOS and AWOS, ATC radars that show where the precipitation is, and the ability to see it all displayed with only a few minutes of delay in the cockpit. 122.0 has become a ghost frequency as the better alternatives have come along. Thanks Flight Watch and to all who spent years helping us along the way!
Perhaps you have a Flight Watch story?