The single most controlling influence on our flying is the UK weather. It is notoriously unpredictable, frequently doing exactly the opposite to what was forecast, and as pilots, we have to be prepared to abandon any thoughts of flying if conditions are not right.
All microlights fly in what is known as Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) following Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This means we have to remain clear of cloud, in sight of the surface and can only fly when the forward visibility is greater than 5km. Most microlight aircraft are not equipped with the necessary instrumentation to allow flying to take place in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) and so the necessary licence rating needed to fly using Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) is not available.
It is clear then that to operate the aircraft safely, the pilot must have a thorough understanding of how weather works. As part of the pilot’s licence training, you will learn how to decipher Synoptic charts with their warm, cold and occluded fronts, airport generated Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs), Meterological Aerodrome Reports (METARs), and Met Office flight specific weather reports such as form 214 and 215. As pilots we use all of these services, plus web sites such as www.XCweather.co.uk and other sites that report actual conditions at various strategic places in the UK. The pilot must also be aware of imminent changes in the weather that may affect the planned flight. It is no good leaving your home base in light winds and beautiful sunshine if it is likely to be pouring with rain and blowing a gale before you are due to return, so accurate planning is essential.
There are many poignant sayings that we all get to hear, and the most apt one here is:
Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground
Microlights are certainly not limited to balmy summer days though. They are capable of flying in quite extreme weather, with winds up to 25mph and will cope with crosswinds up to 15mph, providing the pilot is suitably experienced.
Since most of us are flying for fun though, it makes sense to choose the nicer days to fly in, and do the garden instead when it looks a bit lively. 15mph crosswinds and strong gusty conditions are only a pleasure for those of us with masochistic tendencies.
Another of those sayings comes to mind here
THERE ARE OLD PILOTS AND BOLD PILOTS BUT THERE ARE NO OLD, BOLD PILOTS
Flying with snow on the ground is an opportunity not to be missed when it arises too, although navigation can be a challenge when everything is white, and of course it is B****y cold up there!
We are also allowed to fly above cloud, providing we can still see the ground through the gaps. Flying at these heights is often preferred, as the air tends to be smoother ’on top’ than it is below, and that makes for much more enjoyable flying conditions. The view from above the clouds is absolutely stunning too which makes it all the more appealing to a microlight pilot.
These are a few of the websites that we use to analyse the current weather conditions for our Hampshire based airfields, but at the end of the day, it depends what the conditions are like at the airport prior to departure which will determine whether we go, or stay put.
XCWeather, Originally intended to help glider pilots plan their next Cross Country (XC) flight, it is also an excellent and pretty accurate resource for microlight flying. www.xcweather.co.uk
Also Sotonmet, Bramblemet. and Chimet These give current weather conditions at strategic locations on the south coast, displaying current wind direction, strength and gust strength, and the trend over the last few hours. www.cambermet.co.uk
Met Office GA
Met office General Aviation. Free to use but you do need to create a log on and password to access it. Once in you can find a wealth of aviation related weather reports for the region you intend to fly in. www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation/ga