“Air To Ground”

Weather Brief Training for Student Pilots

“I am a new sport pilot instructor in Las Cruces. I would like to have my students call for a weather briefing before their lesson, so they can be comfortable with talking with flight service. Do you think this is ok with the work load that is on the briefer?” --LRU Pilot (Name withheld)

I love having student pilots call me when they are first in training, and most of the people I work with are very patient with them when they identify themselves as a student up front. The instructor pilot is key to bringing students and ATC together, and there are ways that will help both start out on the right foot. First of all, before the student ever is actually ready to get into an airplane and fly, most flight instructors do have them call the AFSS for a standard weather briefing in order to gain the experience. We can usually tell a student from the first words uttered. Not to mention the echo you hear since they usually call on a speakerphone.

Please make it a true “training” session. Get a printout of what current weather you can beforehand and separate it into the various groupings - Synopsis, advisories, current weather, forecast weather, winds and NOTAMs in that order. If you pick the weather up at five minutes past the hour, then unless there is a “special” at your destination airport, it should be good until the top of the next hour, so you have 45 minutes to go over it with him or her yourself. You ask, “Why should we go to all that trouble if you are going to brief him?” The reason is that you want the student to try and follow what we are saying visually. Also, if something prints out that looks funny, you can circle it and ask for clarification after the brief is over. As your student calls the AFSS, instruct him or her to tell us that he or she is a student, this keys the AFSS person to slow down a bit and be ready for questions.

Remember to have the student be ready with the data we need to input into the computer about the flight prior to the briefing. It impresses us when we do not have to guide the student through converting local time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Zulu. Many times the student is on the phone and as we ask for each item we hear the student call back over his shoulder, “What’s the type aircraft?….What altitude?” That really reflects poorly on the instructor.

There are many things that you do automatically as a seasoned pilot that the student flounders through. Common student errors include such things as saying, “Hi, I am 123-R-K” instead of November 1-2-3-Romeo-Kilo, or calling a Skyhawk a C-1-7-2 instead of a Cessna 172. I usually explain that aircraft types that begin with C are military cargo craft. Ensure that the student knows the identifiers for the airports and fixes enroute, and how to spell them phonetically if needed.

As the briefer begins going through a standard briefing format, have the student follow where he is in the printed material. This allows the student to hear how the various weather contractions are stated aloud. When I know I am addressing a student, I tend to emphasize which items are written in MSL versus AGL, but if your briefer does not, then once the brief is over, be sure to query the student to make sure she understands the difference and why it is important.

Allow the briefer to complete the briefing, then the student can ask them to back up and explain things. When we are interrupted a lot during the brief, we could lose track of where we are and miss something. But do not hesitate to ask the briefer to slow down if he or she is going too fast! In general, if a student wants to have any lengthy explanations of weather systems and how they will affect a flight, unless it is for a flight that is impending, we encourage the student to call after 7:00 p.m., when our phone traffic slows down for the day. This courtesy ensures that pilots needing to get a briefing for an imminent flight are not delayed.

The Lockheed Martin pilot website can also help the flight instructor. Go to www.afss.com. On the left side under Flight Services is some good information. This site is constantly being improved as the new FS-21 computer begins to come online. This is the computer system that the AFSSs will be transitioning to over the next year. It will greatly enhance the ability of the pilots to interface with the Briefers. Other good weather websites include www.pilotsandweather.com and www.aviationweather.gov. The first one contains written text for weather in a standard brief format and the second one has a lot of good radar and satellite pictures as well as prog charts and wind flow maps.

Most of the AFSS’s welcome the pilot community to visit. It helps us to have the pilots familiar with how things work on our end. Again, we encourage visits in the evenings and on weekends in the afternoons – preferably during periods of good weather. Weather plays a major factor in how busy we are. Be sure to call the AFSS before flying in and talk to a supervisor to see if staffing is high enough to allow a tour. You can always walk in for a briefing as well.

To find a phone number for your local AFSS’s administration, call the 1-800-WXBRIEF number and ask whoever answers to transfer you to the supervisor on duty. If the AFSS you reach is not the one you want to visit, ask whoever answers for the toll-free number for your desired facility.

By Rose Marie Kern. Rose works at Lockheed Martin’s ABQ AFSS. If you’d like to ask Rose a question concerning ATC and the Lockheed Martin AFSS’s, send her an email at author@rosemariekern.com.

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