flyingclub_panoramaEvery time a pilot climbs into the cockpit before a flight, he or she is faced with a critical go / no-go decision. In making such a decision, the prevailing and expected weather, the state of the aircraft, and the condition of the pilot must all be considered. How does the dynamic of a personal go / no-go decision change when multiple pilots assemble for a planned cross-country and the weather doesn’t cooperate? I recently found out first-hand.

In mid-November, a group of friends / fellow members of Leading Edge Flying Club and I planned a cross-country trip to Central County Airport (68C) in Iola, Wisconsin to experience the annual holiday party held at the airfield. The event at 68C is not just any holiday party; it is grassroots flying at its finest – a congregation of pilots with an overabundance of food (nearly ten turkeys and ten hams) and aviation cheer. For all participants, the motivation to make the trip was high, as it offered a chance to fulfill many aviation objectives: landing at a grass strip; logging extended cross-country time; and, most importantly, bonding with fellow members of the flying club.

On the day of our adventure, we each arrived at KPWK early in the morning desperate for the scud of clouds and mist to dissipate by the time of our intended departure. Given the distance to our destination, coupled with the noon serving time of the turkeys and ham, we needed to be airborne by a certain time. As Todd McClamroch described in his post, Lunch With the Pilots, the six pilots (and one prospective pilot) present maximized the collaboration potential offered by a flying club and engaged in a technology-fueled discussion utilizing ForeFlight to determine our options. While designated pilots-in-command had been established for the first leg of the trip, everyone maintained an ownership interest in the critical go / no-go decision. Each of us weighed in on the current and anticipated weather conditions along our planned route with the most recently-issued terminal aerodome forecasts at hand. This process evolved into a discussion about the different airspace classes and the legal flying limitations of each. It was a great way to intertwine flight planning and refreshing our brains with some of the concepts that often fade after getting a private pilot license.

After weighing all of the available information, we collectively made the right call not to launch. By making our decision in a flying club environment, we engaged in a much more comprehensive process than we would likely otherwise have had had we been faced with the same challenge individually. Rather than simply cancelling the flight or launching with a case of get-there- itis, we determined that we had a weather problem and held an open forum to discuss the potential solutions. Where could we divert along different points of the route? Would the instrument-rated pilots feel comfortable taking the lead? Could we fly west first, where the ceilings were reported to be higher, and then turn north? What would we do if we arrived at our destination and field conditions were not ideal? These are all questions we should ask ourselves when planning a flight on our own, but as I found out this past weekend, planning a flight with a group of other pilots / flying club members helps ensure no stone goes unturned. In the end, everyone felt comfortable with the decision that was made and all of us walked away better, safer pilots.

To get more out of aviation, pilots should not just cancel a flight after a quick read of the existing or forecasted weather conditions. Weather conditions change, and the forecast is not always accurate. Being in a flying club and flying with fellow members enhances the go / no-go decision process by making it collaborative and fostering an environment in which pilots challenge each other. If the weather is bad, you should get to the same decision, but the journey along the way becomes much more meaningful.