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PIREPS: The Fabric of Our Society

One of the most critical aspects of flying cross-country is dealing with the weather, but almost all the weather information available for our preflight briefings comes only from areas near major airports -- and close to the ground.One of the most critical aspects of flying cross-country is dealing with the weather, but almost all the weather information available for our preflight briefings comes only from areas near major airports -- and close to the ground. What you really need is accurate weather data between airports, at the altitudes you intend to fly. What you want are pilot reports -- PIREPs.

I consider a PIREP to be the 'cost of admission' to Flight Service or Flight Watch. In other words, if I want inflight weather information, I’ll 'pay' for it by contributing a PIREP. In fact, whether or not I want something from Flight Watch, I like to file a PIREP covering conditions from my takeoff and climb, after an hour has passed, or as conditions change while en route.

Winning Mentality: You’ve got to give in order to receive. The only way pilot reports will be available for your preflight planning is if we *all* get in the habit of filing pilot reports every time we fly. Here’s how...

  • Tune in Flight Watch (122.0 below Flight Level 180, discrete frequencies above) or a Flight Service frequency (found on navigational charts).
  • Call 'Flight Watch' if using 122.0, or 'Radio' to the Flight Service Station identified on your chart.
  • State your identification, location (relative to a NAVAID) and altitude, and the frequency on which you’re listening.
Initial Contact: 'Anniston Radio, November 17850 25 northeast of Rocket VOR, eight thousand, listening 122.2.'

When you get a reply, tell them you have a pilot report when they are ready to copy. There’s no 'magic format' for pilot reports, just tell Flight Service the sort of information you’d like to know, if you were just starting your preflight planning.

Filing: 'Anniston Radio, November 17850 is a Be-58 Baron, 25 northeast of Rocket, eight thousand feet. Climbing out of Chattanooga, visibility was five to seven miles in haze, tops of the haze at 5000 feet, mountains east of Chattanooga partially obscured. At eight thousand sky is clear, visibility excellent, the ride is smooth, outside air temperature plus seven degrees.'

BOTTOM LINE: This is about *community*. There’s no need to be intimidated, just make the call and give the facts -- whatever you think might be helpful. Because of you, the next pilot will know what to expect. If everyone gets into the habit of filing PIREPs, we’ll all have more information -- and better information -- when making a go/no-go decision.

Editor’s note: If you’re uncomfortable calling a Flight Service Station or aren’t quite sure about the protocol, have a look at this article.

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About This Author:
Tom Turner is a widely published author and regular forum speaker at EAA's Oshkosh/Airventure and American Bonanza Society. Tom holds an M.S. in Aviation Safety with an emphasis on pilot training methods and human factors. He has worked as lead instructor at FlightSafety International, developed and conducted flight test profiles for modified aircraft and authored three books including: Cockpit Resource Management: The Private Pilot's Guide and Instrument Flying Handbook (both from McGraw-Hill). His flight experience currently spans 3000 hours with approximately 1800 logged as an instructor. Tom's certificate currently shows ATP MEL with Commercial/Instrument privileges in SEL airplanes.
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