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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Winter Blues

I suppose I can't really complain.  I don't live (now) in Boston, where they have record snowfall.  I don't live in the midwest, where it's so cold that engines have to be pre-heated, and some people with north facing hangars can't get their airplanes out because the doors are frozen shut.  I've never had to learn how to land on snow covered runway.

The "normal" North Texas winter weather is clear skies and temperatures in the 50s and 60s, followed by a "Blue Norther", an arctic cold front that sweeps down, and drops the temperatures to around freezing for a day or two.  The front may drop some rain, or it might be freezing rain or snow.  But after a day or two or three, it will all be gone, and we will have very clear, deep blue skies with a decreasing north wind.  Then the wind will shift back to the normal southerly flow, and it will warm up for about 7 to 10 days.  Then the cycle starts again.

So our winters often have the best flying weather of the year.  No severe storms (apart from ice storms), few strong thermals, and great visibility.  We even get the novelty of occasionally taking off facing North!

But not this year.

Several of my existing students have dropped off the face of the Earth.  I don't know if D is flying much - he's signed off to solo and close to being ready to take his test, has his own Cessna 172, and I don't expect to hear from him until his 90 day sign-off expires in April.  A is flying his Bonanza from Addison, I think mostly with buddies acting as safety pilot - or more likely with this weather not flying much at all.  R is elsewhere.

I started a new student in February "P".  P has picked up flying very rapidly, his dad flew in the air force and he grew up on USAF bases, he's always dreamed of learning to fly, and now in his 30's he's decided to do it (about the same age I was).  With less than 10 hours of instruction, he's already flying complete patterns without my intervention, and making OK (not yet good) landings.  We've done all the airwork (stalls, turns, instrument flight) and most of the ground reference stuff (square patterns around a field, circles around a point) except S-turns.  He's not good yet, but he's well ahead of where most students are with his hours.

The problem is the weather.  We're hitting about 50% of scheduled lessons, with the constant low clouds and intermittent rain.  We even flew a few times in MVFR weather - legal, but only just.  I generally prefer more margin, because I generally have it.  I'm not saying at all that we were unsafe, just that the normal winter weather here is so good that weather margins are usually a no-brainer.  I don't have to check ceilings and calculate cloud clearances in the pattern to see if they fit the definitions for VFR - when it's CAVU, there's no issue to be concerned about.

I can't wait for spring!