Should We Stay The night?

Sunrise
Sunrise over Tampa, Florida

That’s a great question.  It is one that will trouble many pilots long after this blog has been posted and read.   Usually the question is in regards to being able to make a safe flight in seemingly changing weather conditions. Unfortunately, many pilots have made the wrong decision and aren’t here to tell us about it.   I want to tell you about the night of Monday June 15, 2015 which will be the closest I have been to a no go flight.  I don’t want to make it seem more dramatic than it was but I was definitely second guessing if we should leave or not.

Kayla and I departed Tampa, Florida at 630am and headed out to St.Augustine, Florida.  This is typically an hour and 45 minute flight barring any Air Traffic Control delays or having to fly around weather.  We arrived around 830am after flying toward a gorgeous sunrise and very little to no turbulence.  We spent the day in St.Augustine doing the “tourist” things – like riding scooters, visiting landmarks etc. After a long day of being outdoors we planned on leaving after dinner.  I looked up to the sky in St.Augustine and it was a beautiful blue color with scattered clouds that made it look like something off of a postcard.  We returned our scooters and took a taxi back to the airport.

When I got to the pilot lounge I started to look at our flight plan back home.  I  definitely didn’t like what I saw.  There was a huge storm right over Tampa and right over our airport.  As I sat back to evaluate our flight plan, I diverted my attention to Facebook where I noticed posts and videos from friends in Tampa.  Their posts made it seem like there was a hurricane whipping through dropping torrential rain, booming thunder, and flashes of lighting.   As I sat back looking at the computer screen I remembered hearing about all these “outside” pressures that seem to force pilots to take flights that they aren’t comfortable with.  I knew that Kayla had to be at work at 7am and that we were at least a 3 to 3.5 hour drive home so staying overnight wasn’t the ideal situation. I had a decision to make.

After some phone calls and texts to my instructors back home I made the decision to wait until after sunset to leave.  Now this posed a whole other scenario.  I would be flying at night which I haven’t done since my initial private pilot training almost a year ago.  In planning for the trip I did go out to the airport the night before and practiced my takeoffs and landing so that I could remain within my currency regulations.   So at the very least I was current!  As I checked the weather again, I noticed that it was fast-moving northwest and was expected to be off the west coast of Florida at our estimated time of arrival.  My backup plan was to land in Orlando, Florida, rent a car and drive us an hour home.  I knew this would make for a long night but I had no problems doing it if the weather did something other than what was predicted.

We departed right after the sun began to set and headed down the east coast of Florida.  I do have to say that the views from the sky were stunning.  Watching the east coast fade from light to darkness is amazing.  I am still in awe of the fact that I get to do this and see things that some will never experience. As we made it down the coast we turned southwest right after Daytona Beach. I continuously checked the updates on my Ipad and also with Air Traffic Control and Flight Watch.  I was reassured that our final leg home was clear of any inclement weather. Kayla and I enjoyed Runway Lightsbeautiful views of the night sky and a smooth ride all the way to the airport.  There’s nothing better after a long day of flying than to be looking for the airport and seeing the runway lights flare up out of the darkness.
It’s like they are letting you know that its time to come home.

Juan Concheiro
Private Pilot

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