Fall Follies

From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner: 

Oct 2002

Fall Follies
Winter is just downrange, with its challenges and traps. The balmy, beautiful, if sometimes voggy days of summer are giving way to the cooler, crisper fall air, to be followed by the series of storm systems and fronts that will sweep across the state well into next Spring.  True, we don’t face the snow, ice and freezing rain that bedevil much of the mainland (though the freezing level may drop below 10,000’ and the tops of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and even Haleakala may be cloaked in white on occasion).  Our winter challenges are thus more benign, and because of that, more insidious.

Last winter we got a lot more rain than in recent years.  By January, Moloka'i was completely green, for the first time in a long time, as was much of leeward O’ahu.  Great for plants, but not so great for flying.  As the jet stream drops southward, it brings with it the storm lows that pummel the U.S. Northwest.   Many of these lows trail an intense frontal boundary, often joining with other lows to form a widespread trough of low pressure.  This far south, we get mostly rain and occasional but infrequent thunderstorms.  That rain, however, can be intense and last for hours, especially when the system moves partially down the island chain and then stalls or even backs up before the next one comes through.

All that makes for interesting flying.  VFR becomes a challenge, and IFR may not provide the haven you might expect.  When a system pushes through, the winds often switch to a mostly westerly component, turning the runways around at HNL and elsewhere.  Of course, when that happens, there’s only a non-precision LDA approach into HNL to one runway, with a possible circle to the others if the ceilings are high enough.  VFR approaches from the east are over the freeway, and are often beset by low ceilings as well.  Slower traffic just doesn’t meld well into the flow of big jets just off shore on the LDA, and options become slim indeed. Other locations around the state offer similar challenges.   When Moloka'i is IFR, the relatively high minimums on the approach often prevent getting in at all.

Often, the weather where you are seems fine and the clag is lurking just a few miles away.  Honolulu International lies in a bowl that often has higher ceilings than you may find just east of Koko Head.  Just looking outside for your weather likely won’t be sufficient.  The problem is that the official forecast may not be much help either.  If it looks like it might get crummy, you’ll get a fairly general “VFR not recommended” admonishment that may or may not be reflected by actual conditions where you intend to fly.

The National Weather Service is fairly good at tracking the movement of major systems especially as they approach the islands.  When a large amount of high cloud cover blocks satellite imagery, weather prediction suffers due to a lack of data in the Pacific.  Moreover, each island has its own local effects on weather that will vary significantly with minor changes in wind direction.  Forecasts are mostly on the macro level and we fly in the micro environment.

The NEXRAD radar system is a huge help, but it has its limitations.  It will show the intensity of precipitation and its movement, but it will not give you a good idea of ceilings. Clearly, if you see a lot of yellow and red returns, there’s some heavy precip out there and VMC will be scarce.  Light radar returns indicate little or no precipitation, but sometimes the clouds will be hugging the surface and the conditions will be marginal for flying in spite of the apparent lack of precipitation returns on the radar.

On days when the ceilings are fairly low and you’re out there running the scud, remember that so is everyone else.  While there will likely be less traffic than on a nice day, what traffic there is will also be down there under the clag.  Below 1,500’ Center won’t be of much help with traffic advisories, since they can’t see you.   And, if the visibility is down to just a few miles, seeing the other guy is going to be harder.  Good position reporting on the appropriate frequency can make a huge difference.

We may not have ice and other frozen stuff to worry about, but we do have our own weather challenges. Still, it is lucky you live (and fly) Hawai'i.

Wings Weekend
The program was excellent.  Bill Benhoff’s Aviation Jeopardy game was both informative and entertaining, as was his presentation on Aviation Firsts.  The Coast Guard discussed search and rescue and flight plans.  Flight Service imparted good advice as well, and the FSDO discussed the Island Traffic Advisory Frequency program.  Pity so very few of you attended.  Expect a more robust Aviation Safety Program next year, with some good, useful programs.

There are a number of reasons why you should attend the monthly meetings.  First, of course, you may just learn something or at least bring something useful out of the recesses of your mind.  Secondly, you get to interact with some cool folks—other pilots and maintenance technicians.  Thirdly, becoming known within the aviation community as safety-conscious is probably a plus, and it may even help with your insurance.   Call Jim Hein (837-8335) for info on how you can help. Check the Airscoop for a meeting near you.

In my last article, I had some harsh words regarding the possible closure of island airports.  Roy Sakata, the Acting Airports Division Administrator, reminded me that he has GA interests very much in mind as he works this and other issues.  I’ve worked with Roy over the years on a number of issues and projects and have always found him to be straight forward and competent and certainly did not mean to offend.

Many of you may have seen the press coverage of the fuel crisis at Kona.  The sole distributor of aviation gasoline ran out, leaving GA operators in the lurch.  That follows a period of about three weeks in September when no avgas was available there, reportedly due to work on the tank.  The trend is disturbing, to say the least. That such an event occurred is outrageous and should not be allowed to happen again.  This state is hugely dependent on its supply of fuels, and this especially so in aviation, where only one refinery produces all our avgas.  It amazes me that a retailer would allow its customers to go without fuel for an extended period of time, without making some alternate arrangement to insure an uninterrupted flow. One way to help insure service is optimized, of course, is to have competing retailers. Competition tends to weed out the poor performers and the public is the ultimate beneficiary.

This November we go to the polls to select people, who will have a huge impact on our lives, including our aviation activities.  Be wary of anyone who would infringe on your rights in the name of expediency or even security.  Once things are given up, they seldom if ever come back, especially things that governments take.  Choose wisely.

Port Allen Fly-In
Last issue, we notified you all that the Poor Man’s Fly-In to Port Allen was cancelled for lack of interest.  Since then, interest was expressed, so it’s back on.  Come to Port Allen October 19th, 10am – 2pm.  Bob Justman will supply the soft drinks.

Be careful out there.

Hank’s ratings:

David Youngblood  CFI Spins

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