Weather Getting Worse?

Just occasionally, the forecast, or the pilot’s interpretation of it, proves optimistic. We may then be presented with a dilemma when in-flight weather deterioration approaches safe limits. Of course, turning along a clearer route is the preferred option, and we should have turned back into the better weather behind us as soon as we noticed the deterioration starting.

However, distractions and terrain may mean we notice the deterioration late, and the weather may be closing in behind us as well. Rather than continue into worsening weather, we need to make a positive decision to make a landing in a field before that becomes impossible. Aeroplane pilots need to make that decision early enough to select and check a suitable field then fly a circuit and land; helicopter pilots are in the fortunate situation of being able to land almost anywhere with the minimum of preparation, although we do still need to be able to control the aircraft visually. Unfortunately, human beings are not perfect. Despite all good advice, we might have been pushing our luck by flying over terrain which does not provide a safe landing area. Even over terrain which is suitable for landing, a little hesitation may take the safe areas out of our reach.

Having flown ourselves into an extremely hazardous situation, and with no safe options remaining, we have little time to make a risk assessment and judge which of the available unsafe options is the least dangerous. Rather than hit the ground, a climb under control through a gap may be the relatively safer option if it can bring us into clear air above cloud. It is not unknown for pilots to climb above some low cloud in the belief that was just a patch and in the expectation that a clear area is in front of them. Once, hopefully, above cloud we are faced with the problem of returning to the surface again safely. While PPL holders are expected to be able to use radio-navigation aids, the stress of recent events is almost certainly going to affect our flying. Rather than run out of fuel searching in vain for a hole through which to descend, if you have not already done so, call for help on 121.5 MHz as soon as you have the spare capacity.

Source: GASIL 2012/03