As the days get longer and the weather warms up, this is when we start thinking about doing some real flying and even some cross-country trips. However, we also need to remember some of the issues with summer flying here in the Southeast- this semitropical climate means at least a 30% chance of rain every day, and the skies can be so hazy as to make VFR flying nearly impossible.
This is where a Personal Minimums Checklist can be invaluable- sit down and make some personal flying limitations based on your experience, skills, and comfort levels. Then, don’t deviate from those, either during your flight planning or in flight. There are several publications and templates available out there- AOPA is one of those that actually teats it like a contract with yourself. Personal minimums can be expanded as you gain experience- one good way to push your envelope is to go up with your CFI and get some confidence with your new standards first.
For summer flying, I have a few rules I always follow:
1. Fly in the morning. Our summer mornings here generally have better weather- it’s cooler with clearer skies and the air is relatively calm. As the day heats up, the haze starts to thicken and the clouds and thunderstorms start to build. I always plan my first stop of the day to be in the late morning or early afternoon, and it’s always at a location that I wouldn’t mind spending the night. I have always told my students that the best emergency equipment they can have in an airplane is a credit card.
2. Get ATC involved. Whether it’s Flight Following or an IFR flight plan, the controllers usually have weather radar that is good enough to enable them to make some life-saving suggestions. All that money you pay in taxes? Now’s a good time to get your money’s worth.
3. Assume you will be delayed. I always add extra time to my trips, extra days sometimes. Get-there-itis is a big killer of pilots. I was stranded one time for three days because of icing, but I know it was a good decision because here I am.
4. Always have options. Whether it’s a precautionary landing, making a u-turn, or just not taking off, don’t put yourself in a bad situation- no flight is that important. A rental car might be unromantic, but you’ll survive to fly another day- it’s all just another part of the adventure.
I love flying to different locations- taking a trip, even just for lunch, is my favorite part of flying. I’m careful because I want to do as much of it as I can.