The 180 Degree Decision

Improving aviation safety for Mooney pilots

Jerry Proctor

(Previously published in MAPA Log)

I spent 40 years in the Army and more than a few times I heard the less than famous battle cry, ‘OK boys this isn’t looking so good, let’s do a ‘360’ and get the heck out of here’.  I have heard this stated in jest, both on the ground and in the air.  Well, clearly in real life, such would do little to solve the present issue; so let’s talk a bit about the more pragmatic option…the ‘180’ degree about face!

Who among the readers has had to really perform this official about face?  I am not talking about a VFR flight and you are looking 20 miles ahead and saying, that looks ugly, let’s go back to the barn.  What I am referring to is the full-fledged, you are on an IFR fight, in and out of clouds.  You are starting to think that this plan isn’t such a good idea, and finally you make that decision, call ATC and request and or tell them you are turning around.  If you have never experienced this, it is hard to overstate that it isn’t as easy of a decision as it sounds.  I will relay details of just such a flight that a friend had returning from the Reno Air Races to Tucson.

A Mooney flight from Carson City/Reno to Tucson takes all of 3.5 hours more or less depending on winds.  It is also best done at 13,000 to 15,000 feet, or higher.  There are some high MEAs along the route.  It’s not a real long flight but definitely a good cross-country.

It was a Sunday afternoon and ATC was in a good mood, so the pilot was enjoying several good direct routings.  The flight was totally uneventful up to Las Vegas, but then he started checking METARs and TAFs at Phoenix and Tucson.  It seems more of an afternoon monsoon build-up was occurring than forecast.  Not to worry, Prescott was coming right up and Phoenix didn’t look too bad.  After Prescott, the 65 NM to greater Phoenix started to cloud up more and more.  However, the pilot’s ADS-B weather didn’t paint anything other than green so on he pressed.  He did consider a fuel stop at Chandler, home of very good MSC, but then Tucson was only 100 more miles and WX at KTUS was okay.  As he passed southern Phoenix he looked down a sucker hole that revealed the Chandler airport.  He told me that, this is when he really started thinking that this is Plan B.  The weather forecast before he left Carson didn’t mandate an alternate.   Then came his minute-by-minute weather checking and checking.  What should I do?  Can I get home; is there a window, maybe, but maybe not?

The ADS-B WX screen kept getting worse and when he was about 40 miles south of Phoenix, it became really obvious.   There was a line of significant thunderstorms standing guard 15 miles northwest of Tucson, right in his path and no obvious way around them.  He knew then, that proceeding on was not at all a good idea .

He said his radio call to ABQ Center was a little disjointed, how often does one make such a call?  ABQ quickly understood he wanted to “do a 180” and get vectors back to KCHD for the RNAV approach to 4L.  He executed the about face and did his approach with plenty of ceiling and visibility landing at Chandler.  After a late afternoon meal, some gas and seeing the line of storms move off to the east, he flew home in fine shape.

When the weather along your route turns bad on you, and proceeding is questionable, it just may be time for, not the 360 degree but the 180 degree option.  It is a valuable tool to always have in your kit bag.

Time for a Flight Review or IPC, the Pilot Proficiency Program of MAPA SF can get you there.  We hope to see you there soon!