Thunderstorm at Denver Airport.

I received an email from a reader recently that asked a question about the weather services that I use when flying my Swift – both during my preflight planning and enroute.

There are books written on aviation weather services. I have one on my desk by Gleim that incorporates both FAA AC 00-6A and AC 00-45G. I bought it to get ready to take an FAA test for the Ground Instructor ratings. I’m still working on that project.

I don’t fly the Swift any great distances any more – at least I haven’t lately. The other Swift I had made trips back and forth across the country several times during the 35 years I owned it. Most of those trips were made back before handheld electronic devices were everywhere you looked.  I remember reading the weather off of teletype machines in the Flight Service Stations at airport along the way. For several years I didn’t have a navigation radio of any kind in the plane. I used those old paper things called Sectionals and looked out the window. What a concept.

Most of my early preflight weather research is done using  TV weather for a broad outlook of where the weather systems are and where the meteorologists are guessing that they’ll go. The day before and the day of the trip I use AOPA’s Flight Planner to plot the route, print out a flight log and to get the weather, NOTAMS and weather charts through their integrated DUATS system.

My enroute weather sources are usually listening to ATIS/AWOS broadcasts of airports I am flying over and occasional calls to Flight Watch for conditions farther away. For more detailed weather in my area I look out the window.

I still don’t have a navigation radio in my ‘new’ Swift. I’m back to navigating by looking out the window again and using a sectional chart. Most of my flying has been around and to the west of Reno. I’m very familiar with the area so the chart is a backup to my local area knowledge and for details on the airports enroute. I also carry the newest version of Flight Guide.

I used to have an older handheld GPS with a small moving map but that seems to spend most of it’s time on a kayak on Lake Tahoe now. I have been looking into a new GPS solution for flying. I received an email recently that had a nice sale price on the Garmin 696 so I looked into that possibility. I like it’s capabilities and can afford the initial large cash outlay, but the yearly costs have turned me off to the unit. Between the database updates and the XM weather subscription I would be looking at another $100/month in flight costs. I just don’t fly enough to justify the fixed costs. Now I’m leaning toward an iPad solution with a ForeFlight subscription.  Smaller initial outlay, much lower annual costs and it’s a multi-use item rather than a dedicated GPS unit. (So when is the new iPad coming out?)

I have an instrument rating and lots of actual weather time, but I have no need to fly in less than VFR conditions any more. I land if I don’t like what I see by looking out the window. Whoever may be waiting for my arrival can wait a bit longer and there is no event I need to get to so badly that I need to fly in weather to get there. I have it on good authority that the earth will continue to rotate if I have to cancel or delay my plans.

So, the bottom line on the weather services I use is –

Preflight:

TV Weather (local & weather channel) and

AOPA Flight Planner access to DUATS.

Occasionally, National Weather Service (www.nws.noaa.gov) and

Aviation Weather Center – part of NOAA (www.aviationweather.gov)

Enroute:

Airport ATIS and AWOS broadcasts

Flight Watch (122.0)

The window.

If money was no object I’d have a nice flat panel cockpit and XM weather displaying on a big moving map.  That’s not going to happen.