Don’t try this in Cessna 152.
As most of you know I spent nearly 35 years flying for a major airline. Crisscrossing North America we often found ourselves picking our way through building thunderstorms over the Rocky Mountains in the afternoon during the summer months. The heat of the afternoon sun can cause rapid development of thunderstorms in the western US. Flying from MSP to the west coast in the morning we often had clear skies and on our return in the afternoon we would be very busy trying to find a smooth ride for the passengers.
There are three ways to pick your way through and around thunderstorms. The easy way with Radar. The visual way where you pick up a blue paint sample card from the hardware store and always keep the airplane headed for that color. Or you can use these really groovy thunderstorm turbulence detection glasses that a young passenger left me during a cockpit tour. The latter method is not really recommended as these glasses are not FAA approved.
This short video demonstrates a great visual aid that we used to avoid nasty turbulence associated with thunderstorms. As you can see in the beginning of the video the horizon is visible over the top of the storm cloud. Many times we can see storms building a couple hundred miles ahead of us. Radar is a great tool but being able to see the storms in the day light is really helpful. Thunderstorms that have dumped all of their moisture have little or no radar return but still can give you a nasty ride. Any time you can avoid any cloud your ride will most likely be better. In this video you can see us approaching the storm and the horizon is always in view. If we started to see the cloud building so the horizon was obscured that would tell us that the storm had already reached our altitude and we would need to deviate around it.
Sometimes the storms are just too high to go over and sometimes they form lines that are hundreds of miles long. If this is the case you have little choice other than to fly way around them.
So there you have it. Next time you are strapped to the front end of jet and you aren’t sure if you should turn or stay on course, now you know what to do.