I haven’t used the textual Area Forecast for flight planning since the early 2000s, aside from showing it to students for training. The same goes for actually phoning a weather briefer. I use the wide array of digital weather resources available to us from both official and unofficial sources for determining conditions for each flight, and I believe that all pilots should be comfortable and capable of determining this from these textual and graphical resources without assistance. Guess what? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is finally getting rid of the limited-utility Area Forecasts (FA).
Understanding the fundamentals of altitudes and altitude reporting systems (altimeters) is important for flight planning, performance calculations, regulatory compliance, and in-flight problem solving. This subject is covered early in training for the Private Pilot Certificate, but I found it often needs review even up to the Certified Flight Instructor Certificate training level, thanks primarily to disuse.
For many decades, students, pilots, and flight instructors have been debating a very important flight training industry question: Should I use an electronic or mechanical flight computer? Well, it isn’t THAT important, but this question was debated even back in the 1990s when I first started flying, and still is with today’s generation of pilots. What’s all the debate about? I’ll give you my opinion in less than 600 words (a two-minute read).
The Notices To Airmen (NOTAM) Publication—updated every 28 days—contains NOTAMs that are not given during pilot briefings unless specifically requested by the pilot.1 As such, it is our responsibility to review these already published NOTAMs for applicable information for every flight, in addition to new NOTAMs. Some of these are easily forgotten or poorly reviewed in helicopter flight training, yet we are held responsible to comply with these notices: they are regulatory.
You are about to go on a helicopter training flight at a local airport. There’s an Airmen’s Meteorological Information (AIRMET) Zulu posted for icing inclusive of your area of flight. Your helicopter has the following limitation written in the Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM): “Flight into known icing conditions prohibited.” Can you fly?
When planning a flight in marginal visual flight conditions, one thing we helicopter pilots realize is that the only weather reports we get in a briefing are Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs) and Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs) from airports, or Area Forecasts (FA) and Weather Synopses covering larger areas. We then have to visualize the ceilings and visibilities between those ground reporting stations. If we are going to or launching from an off-airport site, that complicates our decision-making. While Weather Depiction graphics can help, another great tool in our flight planning toolbox is the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) Tool from the National Weather Service.