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Three things I do not like about summer

So I guess it’s been a while…  I must say this summer has been rather terribly busy.

But, you say, ’tis not a reason to abandon people like that! True, true… In any case, this summer has held quite a few good surprises for me. Sadly it also came with a few things I could have easily done without.

Yesterday, while drinking my daily 45th cup of coffee, I found myself thinking back at this summer. Probably one of the busiest of my life i must say, aside from the summer of 2006 where I found myself in… Iqualuit! Nevertheless, as busy as it was, I still found myself having the time to reminisce on the three things that if I could, I would do without next summer.

1. thun·der·storm (th n d r-stôrm ) n.
A transient, sometimes violent storm of thunder and lightning, often accompanied by rain and sometimes hail.

This one is pretty self explanatory. I mean, if you spend half of your life actually flying, you would quickly realize how nasty these can get. This summer hasn’t been nearly as bad as others (2007, record rain fall in the GTA area!!).  Yet, my heart will always have this little pang when I take a look at the radar image depicting the weather along our planned route of flight and see fast moving, fast changing cells of yellow, red, and purple.

Accurate knowledge of thunderstorms and how to avoid them has always been a hot subject in aviation. And so it should. As harmless as rain can sound, it will someday be strong enough to snuff out the turbine engine of an unwary pilot. It’s precipitation rate can also be very revealing of the conditions associated (the heavier the rainfall, the more violent the associated turbulence will be. Violent updrafts, in turn, can be associated with hail and/or severe icing).

And so the responsibility falls once again on the two-men team sitting in the front seats to safely plan the route of flight as to avoid the danger zones. The use of weather radar, I must admit, remains half technique, half black magic, as it is naught but an art to find the precise angle at which minimum ground return and maximum echo return will blend, all this according to the actual height of the airplane over the ground.

A general rule of thumb for basic use of weather radar: Using your radar screen, tilt down until you start painting echoes at a distance equivalent to your altitude (i.e.: if you are flying at FL200, you should start painting at 20NM, with nothing before). Once you get to that angle, add 10 degrees UP tilt. This will bring the bottom of your radar sweep parallel to the earth’s surface, thus reducing greatly ground clutter, except for higher mountain ranges and the like.  Again, this is only a basic technique, that will allow you to have a starting point from which to carry on for more precise weather radar use.

A general rule for avoiding active thunderstorms: for every 10,000 feet of CB, add 10 miles for off-track avoidance. E.G. 10,00 feet divert 10 miles off track, 20,000 feet 20 miles off track, 30,000 feet, 30 miles off track etc.

After all this being said, I must admit that I am one of the lucky few in Canada who have access to NEXRAD technology, allowing me an up-to-date weather awareness at all time (well… most of the time!) A continuous link with the satellites feeds our cockpit screens with data relating to precip rates, satellite images of cloud coverage, lightning detection and other goodies like that. I don’t think that I will ever want to go back to a regular weather radar after that!

Next on the list…

2. Mosquito \Mos*qui’to\, n
Any one of various species of gnats of the genus Culex and allied genera. The females have a proboscis containing, within the sheathlike labium, six fine, sharp, needlelike organs with which they puncture the skin of man and animals to suck the blood. These bites, when numerous, cause, in many persons, considerable irritation and swelling, with some pain.  [dictionary.net]
My arch nemesis!!!  IF ever there was something I could wish out of existence it would be those pesky, buzzy little blood suckers. The tiny, whiny buzz they make as they fly close to your ears is one of the most quiet, yet most disturbing sounds on this planet.

A week ago I was dispatched to Moosonee with the rest of the crew for a call. We have been lucky so far in terms of mosquitoes in Timmins. Don’t know what the difference is, but it has been very tolerable.  Moosonee, on the other side, nearly drove the 4 of us completely insane. Getting out of the airplane after landing, we only had to fend a few of them on the way to the terminal building. When the helicopter finally showed up with our patient a few hours later though (around 10h pm), it was a fight for our life just making it back to the airplane. The air was so dense with them that it was hard not to swallow them!

After loading the airplane in a record time, we finally got all the doors closed, only to find that we had created our own little mosquito haven, with 6 warm bodies full of warm blood to suck. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!

It took the better of the 1h45 flight to get rid of all of them. To. The. Last. Survivor.  People who know me know that I LOVE summer. Really, it cannot be beaten. But mosquitoes, sometimes they make me wish for snow!

3. Checkrides
A practical test, or checkride is the most common name for part of a Transportation Authorities examination which one must undergo to receive an aircraft pilot’s certification, or an endorsement for additional flight privileges. …

Oh yes… checkrides. Somehow summer has been a synonym for checkrides the last two years. And sadly, for as long as I stay with this present company, I will see my schedule reflect this same, sad reality every year. Although it generally goes well, as we are well prepared and trained by our beloved training captains, no pilot in his or her right mind will enjoy the prospect of a check ride.

I know a lot could be said about those, how to best prepare, how to best perform… sadly I don’t consider myself an exceptional pilot and although I would love to elaborate on this front, I would much rather have my good friends the ACP (ahem, Alan? 🙂  share tips on those with you.


Despite all this being said, I have to say again that summer remains my favorite season. For every day life it’s just so….. convenient!! no need to pre-heat the car, no need for tons of clothing layers, etc. etc..

However, flying during summer can be challenging, and I urge everyone of my fellow friends and pilots to take a careful look at the radar picture everytime you start an extended trip through even if you do not necessarly suspect build ups at the departure or arrival, they can sneak up in between anywhere on the route.

I personally prefer this website for canadian radars: http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/canada_e.html . It offers a better resolution than the NAVCANADA website radar imagery and many pilots have found it useful 🙂

So long! farewell!


About jdmarcellin

Professional pilot for a major Canadian operator. Interested in helping make a better world for all my fellow pilots out there. Passionate of aviation and all things that fly. Caution: I speak my mind loud and clear! All views are my own.


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