During a student’s first lesson at CHI, the instructor goes over a critical aspect of flying- the preflight practices. This process can be broken down into three parts: a weather briefing, an examination of the risks associated with flying that day, and a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. A document called the Pre-Flight Worksheet, which outlines many of these areas, is provided to students before every flight after that initial lesson. Students use the worksheet as an outline for practicing their skills in searching various weather reports and advisories before ultimately moving on to the pre-flight inspection of the plane. This worksheet conditions students to conduct their weather briefing in a uniform way- looking at the same reports every time- to ultimately form a habit that promotes safe and informed go, no-go decisions.
In this blog post we outline the knowledge and resources needed to complete the Pre-Flight worksheet with confidence and ease. For this, the first thing you’ll want to do is print or download the Pre-Flight Worksheet so you can follow along and practice on your own. This resource can be located on our website by clicking Flight Training > Pilot Resources > Tests and Stage Checks > Stage 1 Material (from this point on, you will need a password to continue) > scrolling down to the Worksheets, Quizzes, and Tests section and selecting the Pre-flight worksheet option.
A Meteorological Aerodrome Report (METAR) is a basic weather report of the current conditions at any given airport. It includes information on the current winds, temperature, visibility, cloud ceilings and more. We teach our students to gather METAR information from the Aviation Weather Center website. Once on the site, click OBSERVATIONS > METARs and select the airport of interest to find the relevant METAR information. Ensure that METAR Home is selected in the top right corner, as this will provide a geographical view of the reporting airport. For information on how to decode what simply looks like a string of digits and letters, check out CHI’s previous blog post titled How to Read a METAR.
TAF is an abbreviation for Terminal Aerodrome Forecast and just like the name suggests, it is a report of the forecasted weather. TAF information, like METAR information, can also be found on the Aviation Weather Center website by clicking FORECASTS > TAFs. Once again, ensure that TAF Home is selected in the page’s top right corner to view a map where a student can easily click on the airport/s of interest.
The first written element of the TAF is the airport identifier, the second is the time which the report was released, and the third is the time range being reported on. This third portion is set up like this: the day of the month followed by the time that the forecast starts on that day which is then followed by a slash and another string of numbers. This string of numbers is the date and time the forecast ends. For example “0318/0418” means that the forecast is reporting on the third of the month at 18:00 Zulu to the fourth of the month at 18:00 Zulu. Zulu, or Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), is a time keeping system utilized by pilot so that they may communicate about the time without regard to differing time zones. During daylight savings time, Eastern Time can be determined from the reported Zulu time by subtracting 4 hours (e.g., 1158Z corresponds to 7:58 ET); when it is not daylight savings time, Eastern time can be determined by subtracting 5 hours (e.g., 1056Z corresponds to 6:56 ET). FM is an abbreviation for from. FM031500Z is intended to be read as “the following information is relevant from the third of the month at 15:00 Zulu onward”.
This section of the Pre-Flight Worksheet is included in efforts to get the student thinking about the big picture perspective of the weather. At this stage in the worksheet, the student has an idea of what the weather looks like now at the airport of interest and what the weather at that same airport is forecasted to look like. This is a great overview, but the weather here at KPSM may not be the same as the weather 45 minutes north in Portland. The Pre-Flight Worksheet prompts students to look at the winds and temps in Boston (KBOS) and Portland (KPWM) at both 3,000’ and 6000’ in order to gain a more general, wide ranging understanding of the weather conditions.
Winds aloft information is also found on Aviation Weather Center’s website. It can be found by clicking FORECASTS > Winds/Temps. Doing so will bring a student to this webpage. Like the METAR and the TAF, the W/T Home button in the top right corner will provide a map view of the data. The sliding bar on the left side allows the viewer to change the altitude at which the conditions are being shown.
If W/T Data is selected in the top right corner, a different visual of the information will be given. To view the winds aloft information for airports in the Northeast region, click on the drop-down menu below Winds/Temps Data and select Northeast (Boston). The page should now look similar to this:
Here is how you decode the data: add a zero to the end of the first two digits of the string to get wind direction information; the second two numbers represent the wind speed; the presence of a plus or minus informs the reader if the following two digits, the temperature, are positive or negative values.
In this format, Boston’s (BOS) information can be read as thus:
BOS 1307 2713-08
The winds in Boston at 3000’ are coming from a direction of 130 degrees at a speed of 7 knots. At 6000’, the winds are coming from a direction of 270 degrees at a speed of 13 knots. The temperature at 6000’ is -08 degrees Celsius.
AIRman’s METeorological Information (AIRMETs) and SIGnificant METeorological Information (SIGMETs) are weather advisories and are amendments to the current weather report. AIRMETs focus on the weather that could negatively affect the safety of a flight while still being flyable. SIGMETs, on the other hand, focus on weather conditions that are more severe. AIRMET and SIGMET information can also be found on the AWC website. Click ADVISORIES > SIGMET and ADVISORIES > G-AIRMET. Just like on the other pages, the home view that can be selected in the top right corner provides an easy-to-read geographical view of the information.
When no AIRMETS/SIGMETS are reported in AWC, a student may write “none”, “N/A”, or cross out the section. The dispatchers and instructors will want to see that you have at least checked the page.
This section of the pre-flight worksheet is a bit misleading. PIREPS, standing for PIlot REPorts, are labeled as Aircraft Reports in AWC. These can be found on the AWC website by clicking OBSERVATIONS > Aircraft Reps. You should arrive at this page. To be repetitive, ensure that AIREP Home is selected in the top right corner for an easy-to-read view of the information.
A lack of reported PIREPs, or Aircraft Reports, should be noted on the Pre-Flight Worksheet the same way as an absence of SIGMETS/AIRMETS are reported; writing “N/A”, crossing the section off, or writing “none”.
RUNWAYS AND LENGTHS
This section, like the METAR and TAF, should be filled out for every airport you (and your instructor for dual lessons) intend on flying to during that lesson. This information prepares you for the landings and takeoffs at each stop of the flight.
Unlike the previous areas of the Pre-Flight Worksheet, this information can be found through airnav.com. Once there, click Airports and type in the airport/s you are planning to visit using their airport identifiers. As a reminder, Portsmouth International Airport is KPSM. The page the website brings you to will provide location, airport operation, airport communication, nearby radio navigation aid, runway, airport ownership and management, and operational statistics information.
Runways and lengths information is found in the Runway Information section. Look out for the acronyms: TORA, TODA, ASDA, and LDA. These stand for Takeoff Run Available, Takeoff Distance Available, Accelerate-Stop Distance Available, and Localizer Type Directional Aid and are all important factors to consider about prospective touch-down spots.
NOTAMs, or Notices To AirMen, can be found here. Once again, you will have to search using the airports’ identifiers (e.g., KPSM (Portsmouth), KDAW (Skyhaven), KSFM (Sanford)). Once you have reached the list of NOTAMs for the airport of interest, scan for those that are relevant to your aircraft, the taxiways you could travel on, the runway, or your flight path.
Like the Runways and Lengths section of the Pre-Flight Worksheet, NOTAMs should be searched and recorded for each area you and your instructor plan to visit.
TFRs stands for Temporary Flight Restrictions, and are reports of areas where flying at the altitude noted is prohibited. These can be found on the FAA’s TFR page (https://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html). Search for TFRs that are listed in any of the states you plan to fly to as well as the surrounding states. Make note of these, or the absence of these, on your Pre-Flight Worksheet.
What are YOUR minimums?
This information will be important once you have made the major achievement of taking your first solo flight. After this milestone, this section must be completed with information that has been provided to you by your instructor. Your instructor will set limitations on solo flying based on the ability to fly in certain conditions. They will specify the maximum crosswind component, the maximum runway length, the minimum ceiling, the minimum visibility, and minimum fuel reserves they feel comfortable with you flying in/with.
The PAVE checklist is a check of yourself, conditions, and your motivations for flying on that given day. It is a very important last review to make before deciding to go fly. Do not take this checklist lightly; when in doubt, speak with your instructor.
We hope this information has been useful and has made your first time filling out a preflight worksheet much easier and enjoyable! It will be second nature in no time. If you have any questions about any portion of this post, please reach out to a member of the CHI staff. We want this resource to be as helpful to our students as possible and if you have any questions or comments, we would very much like to hear them!