We’re blessed with good, err, great weather in San Diego, our biggest typical adversity is a thin marine layer that hangs midfield down the 28’s at MYF. For a proficient instrument pilot that journey through the layer is barely a loggable event, heck, even if you’re after PENNY I have pangs of guilt about adding that ILS28R in the logbook. Sure, you’re on instruments after the FAF but really, does <90 seconds in the clouds really “count”?
But beyond the marine layer, once you start planning a longer flight a few hundred miles in length and layering components the decisions to launch or not shift from black and white, such as:
- familiarity in the plane
- analog gauges vs a dazzling sea of G5s and GI-275s
- are you the only pilot? Are you the only pilot legally rated for that flight?
- Is there an autopilot, does it work? Are you familiar?
..and the decisions from there to launch or not start to be more challenging with the different nuances of each flight. We’ve all got personal minimums, but real life is not so black and white. Hard to make an if/then flowchart for every possible combination of factors that might impact the safety of flight.
I faced similar choices like this recently on a trip up to Bishop.. ceilings and viz at MYF were within limits with bases over 2K and tops around 4,500 (based on PIREPS), and no real significant or adverse weather beyond the marine layer. The catch was winds at Bishop, Owens valley can be a roller coaster and 40+ knots on the ground at BIH are a solid no go. The TAF had it improving to virtually calm and variable by our arrival.. but what if it’s wrong? How reliable is that Owens valley TAF? Mountains are notorious for creating unpredictable weather. What kind of alternates do we have, how long do you wait for the ASOS to show improvement before it makes more sense timewise to drive? All factors to consider..
After looking at the macro picture of the route, comparing multiple TAFs and WX reports, and analyzing the charts it seemed the winds were relegated to Bishop area only and were due to improve (MMH already showing 6-14 with a calm TAF). We ultimately launched with Inyokern filed and serving as a bail point. With full tanks we had a lot of options, even worst case scenario making it to BIH and back. With the full picture assessed and good inflight weather thanks to ADSB and XM WX I was within personal minimums and ready to launch on a safe flight with several contingencies planned.
It is rare in the San Diego area to have a very active “go / no-go” exercise but this was a good learning experience, weighing the factors and making a sound judgment call. After cresting the layer at 4,300 (matching the CONUS radar tops report exactly, and better than the recent PIREPS) the flight was uneventful with smooth air and just a few jolts up Owens leading to a rewarding landing at Bishop. Winds were still higher, but not very gusty and straight down the runway. By the time we finished unloading winds had continued to calm.. Pretty sure I added rubber back to the tires that day and filled up that experience bucket just a touch more.