Hail , Hail, the Gang’s all here

This is not a club you want to join—the “Busted Windshield, Dented Airframe Society.” Last week an airliner bound for Philly had its lights punched out by hail. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s really expensive.

A picture being worth a few thousand blog words helps with the motivation to keep a healthy distance from the good ‘ole big ones!

hail windshield

          Figure 1

From the Skybrary website, Figure 1 and Figure 2 are pictures from an Airbus 321 flown by a foreign carrier over Korea that encountered severe hail: The windshield wiped out and radome was ruined (gone actually). Damage was also noted on the leading edges of the wings and empennage.

Side effects included the inability to look out the front of the aircraft—landing was a bit challenging. A huge amount of noise in the cockpit made communication very difficult.

hail radome

          Figure 2

Suspect the discussion with the chief pilot wasn’t exactly career enhancing. Failure to keep up with the weather, no warning from ATC, and cutting it too close were cited. The tough part about this is that most of the time there isn’t any hail. However, the answer that “It always worked before” won’t always buy you a sympathetic audience with the boss or your insurance agent.


hail shaft

          Figure 3

Figure 3 is a low altitude shot of a possible hail shaft. (Although it could be rain, we didn’t get close enough to test!) This was taken on the trip from STL to FDK referenced in last week’s blog. We were a good 15 miles away (as best we could estimate) from the storm at 5,000. VFR pilots take note—this isn’t just a problem for the IFR dudes and dudettes!


As we get into thunderstorm season proper, remember that whatever it’s doing now, in ten minutes it will be different (often worse). A reminder that the Air Safety Institute’s Storm Week begins on June 8, and the live “Datalink: Cockpit Weather Do’s and Don’ts” webinar will be held June 11 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. 


  1. Bombardier Driver

    May 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    ATC radar was never designed to detect hazardous weather. New enhancements have improved this capability, however, strategic and tactical weather avoidance has always been the final responsibility of the PIC. Too often ATC and the PIC conspire to “push tin” which sometimes result in these damaging encounters. From personal experience, TRACON tried to vector me into hazardous weather a number of times. Once I had to declare an emergency and squawk 7700 to hold ATC “harmless” as I clipped inactive restricted airspace. Another time I took 15 minutes of needless vectors as “punishment” for not accepting a turn into a storm. I was vindicated that night when a major US carrier’s B757 did take the turn, and suffered an expensive and grounding lightning strike trying to accommodate the “pushing tin” philosophy. It’s your aircraft, not ATC’s. ATC can fall off their chair, you can fall a lot further. Fly safe.

  2. Lester M. Zinser

    May 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    .Hail strike: In my book: “Pilot Log Book Lies and More” Chapter 79, pages 404/407 is a detailed account of my King Air and a DHC 125 with the same hail storm, plus the King Air ice encounter in the block altitude of 14,000/19,000 feet.

  3. Bruce Landsberg

    May 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    B Driver…. The TRACON radars are pretty good in the hands of a seasoned controller BUT everything we have is based on derivative info. None of this sees turbulence or hail.

    And you’re exactly right as to who gets to pay the bills and gets to the accident scenes first. Thx for thoughts…..Bruce

  4. Bruce – NEXRAD can easily detect hail – actually, because hail is a better reflector of radar energy than rain, the operators actually put in a correction factor for hail to attenuate the displayed signal. I understand that TRACON radar isn’t NEXRAD but if ATC can see rain on their screens, then they can also see hail.

    In any event, the cockpit Wx displays (satellite or ground based) will also provide pilots an indication of hail.

  5. Bruce Landsberg

    June 3, 2014 at 5:36 am


    Let me do a little research on that – will advise. I am always learning

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