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Know Your Radar: Is that a thunderstorm ahead?

Flying towards Houston on a clear night, I sat reclined in my seat, watching the brilliant and sparkling cities slipping slowly under the aircraft. As I gazed through the front window, the area ahead appeared to me as a large black hole devoid of the familiar small dots, signifying civilization ahead . It was at this moment I remembered I should turn on the Radar to see what might be in the dark abyss ahead.

I was confident there would be no significant weather on our route of flight except for some light rain showers. Waiting for the radar to begin displaying, I turned to the mechanic in the jump seat. Enjoying the great weather along our route, we both agreed we disliked flying near or through thunderstorms.

I noticed a look of worry in his face as he lifted his hand and motioned towards the instrument panel. He seemed to turn slightly pale when he announced, "this doesn't look good". As the radar came to life a large round red blob displayed 100 miles ahead and over our destination. I could feel my heart rate increase. Did I not read the weather forecast properly?

Fortunately, I noticed the last person to use the radar had pointed it towards the ground, causing the cities and lakes to appear as large storms. I changed the tilt to properly view the weather ahead, the radar cleared and the color came back to the face of the mechanic in the jump seat.

This incident caused me to reflect on the pilots I have flown with and their different techniques used while operating the weather radar. I find many, especially new pilots, are not well versed in the use of the radar installed in the aircraft.

Recently, I attended a webinar (web or Internet based seminar) presented by Air Transport World and sponsored by Honeywell. I discovered many pilots throughout the industry do not properly use their radar. This is due to either lack of experience or training.

The majority of the errors are interpretive and occur while selecting the tilt and attenuation of the radar. Furthermore, most of these errors occur during descents and climbs. It is of no surprise that 64% of weather accidents and incidents show the pilots improper use of radar as a contributing factor.

To prevent damage to the aircraft, passengers, and crew, I challenge you to take two simple actions next time you fly. First, if you are flying with someone who has more experience, ask questions concerning the use of the radar. Second, in the next thirty days try to learn one technical aspect or technique in using your radar.

Some day we will not worry about the errors caused by pilots improperly using the radar since the recent advances in radar technology. Honeywell's RDR-4000 radar used in an automatic mode is as simple as turning on your television. The new radar system by Honeywell incorporates computers, GPS, and the flight management system to display weather pertinent along your flight path.

Most of us will not have this highly automated radar system in our aircraft. We will be doing things the old fashioned way by adjusting tilt and gain.

For More Information:

Air Transport World


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