When we’re doing cross countries, we call Winnipeg Flight Information Centre, both to file our flight plan, and (if we’re smart) get a weather briefing. One day (the day of my flight test, actually) the guy I talked to told me I should come in and visit them. I didn’t realize it, but they also do onsite weather briefings in person – you don’t even need an appointment, it’s just a walk in thing.
So I went to visit them a few weeks ago, and they lamented how all the pilots check the online weather now, and they never come to see them anymore, and they even prefer if you come see them, because it’s easier to point out things on a screen than describe it over the phone. That and they lamented that pilots were all briefing themselves with the online resources and frequently missing things that they would have been able to make sure they knew about. They said certain times of the year, three quarters of their calls are from Harv’s Air students, and they seemed I sat and chatted with them for a while, and they told me funny stories about idiot pilots:
An American pilot who flew with roam maps instead of aeronautical charts, and his radio frequency info was five years out of date, so when he got to Canada, and some of the frequencies had changed, who charged into FIC complaining that no one had answered him on the radio.
A whole flock of cadets going on solo cross countries called in to file flight plans who, when asked if they wanted a weather briefing, all assured the briefer that they had briefed themselves online, and subsequently called in, one by one to amend their flight plans when they had to turn back upon encountering fog the briefer would have told them about.
And another story about a couple of Cadets who lost their licences after crashing their plane. They had told Transport Canada that they’d had engine trouble, and tried to land in a field of cows, but when the Transport Canada investigator found a camera on the ground at the crash site, the pictures revealed that they’d been buzzing the cows from only a few feet off the ground.
The weather thing is big. There’s so much that can happen in the weather. People joke about how inaccurate weather forecasters are, but if you look at what they have – they’re actually far more accurate than we realize. When I take off, and the clouds are consistently right about the height they told me they’d be at – damn, I’m not gonna tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about. The thing is, if you’re standing in one place, like, for example, in a town or city, it could be raining on one side of Winnipeg, and not on the other, so half of Winnipeg is going well, I guess they were right, it did rain, and the other half is going, ha, ha, they were wrong. But that’s not how weather works – it moves around in masses and when the masses touch they interact in relatively predictable ways. What happens in the five to six feet from the ground to the tops of our heads is such a tiny part of what weather is, and there’s so much that happens in the winds aloft, at different altitudes, the amount of detail they can give us pilots to prepare for what we’re taking off into is really impressive.
The final thing I want to mention is one interesting element in the conversation between a weather briefer and pilot. A weather briefer isn’t responsible for a pilot’s decision on whether or not to take off. They’re there to help the pilot make the decision, but they have no idea what the abilities of the pilot calling in are. They might say something like, “It looks like great flying weather today” or “It’s going to be some rough windy weather out there” or “The visibility is very poor, just barely VFR minimums”, but they’ll never say “The weather is bad, you should stay on the ground.” So it’s interesting, on those iffy days, listening to the briefer’s tone after I tell him that I’m relatively inexperienced, to try and gauge whether or not he thinks I should go.
Anyway, they’re awesome, and so very integral to aviation. We couldn’t fly without them.