NTSB Alert—In-Cockpit NEXRAD Weather Age Misleading and Killing Pilots
Posted: 20 Jun 2012 10:22 PM PDT
Today the NTSB issued an alert warning “pilots using in-cockpit FIS-B and Satellite Weather display systems that the NEXRAD "age indicator" can be misleading. The actual NEXRAD data can be as much as 20 minutes older than the age indication on the display in the cockpit. If misinterpreted, this difference in time can present potentially serious safety hazards to aircraft operating in the vicinity of fast-moving and quickly developing weather systems.” To put it more bluntly, pilots are dying because they’re unaware that NEXRAD data is much older than the 1 or 2 minute “age” they see on the screen.
This is old news, but somehow pilots seem to believe anything they read on a GPS or computer screen. I discussed the issue in detail in my Max Trescott’s Garmin G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook, now in its 4th edition. Chapter 8 is devoted entirely to Onboard Data Link Weather, such as the services provided by SiriusXM, previously known as XM Weather, that pilot view on their portable GPSs and glass cockit displays.
NEXRAD Radar data, one of the most used yet most misunderstood in-cockpit weather services, is described in detail. My section on the age of NEXRAD radar data says in part: “In the best case, some of the data you view in a NEXRAD image is at least eight minutes old. In precipitation mode, it takes five minutes to complete a scan of the atmosphere at the radar site. The data is sent to a central NWS computer where it’s processed for a couple of minutes and then sent to SiriusXM®, which distributes the data your G1000 or Perspective system receives. Updates are broadcast to your system every five minutes.
“While eight minutes may not seem like a long time, consider that cumulus clouds can grow at up to 3,000 feet per minute. Thus, in eight minutes, cloud heights could have increased by 24,000 feet and evolved into a serious thunderstorm sending hail and turbulence a long distance from the clouds.”
I vividly recall giving a presentation on the Garmin G1000 at a local flight school and explaining that the age of NEXRAD data is significantly longer than the age displayed on the screen. An otherwise bright young flight instructor countered “yes, but the screen says the data is only one or two minutes old.” I repeated my explanation of why the data is older than what’s displayed on the screen and he repeated, “yes, but the screen says….”
I fear we live in an age where many pilots—even some technically literate ones—believe everything they read on a computer screen. Sadly, failing to understand the limitations of data on a GPS or moving map can kill pilots. Just two weeks ago, I made a note to write a blog story on this topic when I ran across the following two accidents. In both cases, pilots were killed trying to pick their way through a line of thunderstorms, most likely with NEXRAD radar data they didn’t know was at least 8 minutes old.
Bruce Landsberg of the AOPA Air Safety Institute described one of the accidents. The accident aircraft, a 1992 Turbo Bonanza, was equipped “with dual Garmin 430W units and a satellite weather service subscription. It’s reasonable to assume that the pilot probably was viewing datalinked Nexrad radar, although that is not confirmed.”
Landsberg continues “The controller provided a pilot report from a Cirrus that had passed through the area about 20 minutes earlier. The Cirrus pilot reported light turbulence and heavy rain for about a minute. It had flown through a gap in the line “that was yellow to green on our onboard radar, versus red on either side of it. It was fairly good.”
Even the Cirrus pilot apparently didn’t understand his equipment, as I’ve never seen a Cirrus with onboard radar. Undoubted, he too was using data link weather. Sadly, the Bonanza broke up in flight and the 790-hour pilot was killed.
The second accident, which occurred just last month on May 31, 2012, also involved a Beech Bonanza. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, “center controller advised the pilot of extreme precipitation at the airplane's 12 o'clock position… The pilot acknowledged the information and added that he was looking at it, and evaluating if there was any way to get through it…. At 1633, the controller asked the pilot if he had weather radar onboard, and the pilot replied that he had ‘Nexrad Composite’." Aircraft wreckage was spread over 1.25 miles, possibly as the result of an in-flight breakup.
In my G1000 book, I talk about the differences between NEXRAD and airborne radar. “You should use NEXRAD radar to develop strategies for avoiding wide areas of weather, not for determining where to penetrate a storm. It’s highly complementary to airborne radar… In contrast, airborne radar data is real-time, so it can be used tactically to help determine where to penetrate an area of storms, though it does have limitations.”
To sum it up, NEXRAD data tells you were the storms WERE, not where they ARE. Pilots need to STOP USING NEXRAD TO PICK A PATH THROUGH THUNDERSTORMS—under penalty of death.
FAA Safety Team | Safer Skies Through Education New Pilot and Instructor Resources
Notice Number: NOTC3863
Updated Advisory Circular for Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check
New Appendix to the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
We want to bring to your attention the availability of two new resources for pilots and instructors. With the issuance of new Practical Test Standards (PTS), these two resources will be important as you prepare for a practical test or flight review.
A New Chapter has been added to the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) entitled, Runway Incursion Avoidance. This chapter, contained in Appendix 1, provides the information pilots will be tested and checked on in the Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot PTS, effective June 1, 2012, and also in the soon to be released CFI and ATP PTS's, which include a required Runway Incursion Avoidance TASK. The new Appendix, which will be available online soon, can be reviewed by clicking on this link (or cutting and pasting the link into your browser): https://www.faasafety.gov/files/notices/2012/Jun/PHAK_-_Appendix_1.pdf
In light of the fact that General Aviation accounts for 80% of runway incursions, and in respect to pilots accomplishing a 14 CFR section 61.56 Flight Review, it is imperative that the required items listed within the PTS, appropriate to the level of pilot certificate held by the pilot completing a Flight Review, be presented to the pilot. Flight instructors play a key role in this regard!
Further, prior to the use of the appropriate PTS, it is strongly urged that CFIs thoroughly know the content of the new chapter of the PHAK, and also utilize recently revised AC 61.98B, Currency Requirements and Guidance for the Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check, (which can be reviewed by clicking on this link or cutting and pasting the link into your browser: https://www.faasafety.gov/files/notices/2012/Jun/AC_61-98B.pdf) to ensure that the pilot completing a Flight Review is knowledgeable and proficient in what is required today to ensure the safety of flight.
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The new Private and Commercial Airplane PTS requires pilot examiners to use scenarios during the checkride. Please note, that the same requirement is in the Instrument PTS for both Airplanes and Helicopters. I've been using scenarios for many years. The main advantange to using them is I can test several areas and task from the PTS in one scenario. This greatly cuts down on the amount of time you spend with me during the checkride. For example, one situation might be you're planning to fly through Class C airspace. I might present a METAR and a TAF that shows the current weather to be below VFR minimums. The applicant must determine the weather is below that for VFR flight and figure out when it would be safet to continue with the flight? Not only does the applicant demonstrate Airspace knoweldge but also demonstrates weather knoweldge as well.
Some scenarios may continue on in to the flight part of the checkride. For example a situation that goes from VFR to flight into IMC conditions is one of the deadiest situations that could happen to a VFR pilot. An instructor and/or an examiner can get quite creative with each scenario, but I caution everyone about loading up a student. It's easily done and can quickly over-come a student. If an examiner wanted to, he/she could load up the student to the point of failure. I make it a point to use only one scenario at a time. Anouther issue is the solution needs to be realistic to the students experiance level. I dont' expect a new private pilot canadate to respond to a scenario the same way an ATP canadate would. For example, take the VFR into IMC situation. An ATP could easily get an IFR clearance and continue on but a VFR Private pilot doesn't have that option and needs to have anouther plane.
Just as the more common “get-home-itis” can lead to poor decision making, so can the desire to get to a destination other than home. In this case, family commitments pressured a Private Pilot to act against better judgment.
■ OK, I did it; the dumbest thing I have ever done in my entire life. I busted the MDA on [a GPS approach]. I can’t believe I did this. I am now a statistic. At least I’m a live statistic. It was a classic case of “get-there-itis” to the extreme. My wife and I had booked a bed and breakfast and I was blinded by my desire to please her…. I knew the ceilings, as reported by ATIS, were half of what the minimums were on the plates. ATC cleared me for the approach and I went ahead and shot the approach anyway. The ironic thing is that it was probably the best approach I ever shot in my life. That doesn’t dismiss the fact that it was also the dumbest decision I probably ever made and I am not short on doing dumb things.
I am, by nature, a safe and conservative pilot. On this day my brain went dead. I’m pretty sure I know what led me to the bad decision making process. The advance booking pretty much set a deadline that I subconsciously determined I was going to make. The rest is history. I feel like an alcoholic who has just recognized he has a problem. I can only hope this experience shakes the dumbness out of my head for the rest of my life.