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March 2024 EZNews

Updated: Mar 19

Hello and thanks for reading the 35th edition of EZNews!



We really appreciate those that have recently joined, renewed their annual membership or signed up for auto-renewal. A special shout out goes out to James R. who all renewed their membership for $75 and David D. who renewed for $72 this past month. We truly appreciate your generosity which helps support our continued innovation and growth moving forward.


For members new to EZWxBrief, you won't find EZWxBrief in the App Store or Google Play Store. For the best user experience, EZWxBrief is optimized to run as a progressive web app (PWA) and must be installed on your device which takes less than 10 seconds per device. Follow the link to the blog post above or see the 140+ page Pilots Guide for more information on how to install EZWxBrief as a PWA on all of your devices. Also check out our playlist on YouTube for some helpful videos on how to use the various features found in EZWxBrief.


Last call - Skew-T Weather Essentials live class starts in April


With the Weather Essentials for Pilots 12-week class underway, the Skew-T Weather Essentials live class taught by Dr. Scott Dennstaedt is now open for registration! This one-of-a-kind live 12-week class will begin on Monday, April 15th at 8 pm EDT. Each 60-minute class will be recorded and a private link to the recording will be provided the following day. Therefore, it is not mandatory that you attend each live class to get the most from the course. The tuition for the twelve-week class is $395. This class has just a few seats remaining, so register today to reserve your seat! If you have already registered for the class, sit back and relax, we will be reaching out to you shortly to summarize the details for the upcoming class.


    

This class is less about learning how to use the Skew-T log (p) diagram and more about learning the fundamental principles and building blocks of aviation weather. The tool makes for a great canvas or backdrop to teach you about what causes the formation of clouds, fog, airframe icing, turbulence, and thunderstorms, just to name a few. In other words, you need to understand these basic principles of weather first, before mastering how to interpret the Skew-T log (p) diagram for your preflight weather planning and analysis.


The class will finish on Monday, July 1st with one additional class reserved on July 8th in the event of illness, travel and/or spillover. For this class it is recommended that you purchase a softcover or digital copy of The Skew-T log (p) and Me: A Primer for Pilots. It will be the text used exclusively in class for reading assignments and homework.


"Who's who in Aviation & Weather" YouTube series continues...


We had a great time chatting with Julie Boatman editor-in-chief of FLYING magazine in our latest "Who's Who in Aviation & Weather" series. However, Julie was let go as editor-in-chief on February 12th, so it was in the best interest to take down the video given the circumstances. We wish Julie all the best in her future endeavors.


This YouTube program will bring you the latest news and insights from the top minds in the aviation and weather industries. With a focus on weather, each month we'll feature interviews with leading experts on topics such as air traffic control, flight safety, forecasting, flight instruction and more. We'll also explore the latest trends and developments in these fields, and provide you with the information you need to stay ahead of the learning curve. So join us every four to six weeks as we explore the latest news and trends in these two fascinating industries.


Stay tuned for our next live program on March 12th at 2 pm EDT. We are very excited to be talking with the one-and-only, Rod Machado, an experienced flight instructor and aviation author. Rod needs no introduction and uses humor as he teaches valuable lessons in learning to fly. On the schedule for this spring, we'll be talking with Mark Robidoux of Pilotworkshops.com on Wednesday, April 17th at 2 pm EDT. We'll also be talking with other industry experts this year to include Matt Johnson, a helicopter pilot and DPE and David St. George of SAFE.


> How to watch <


The program will be hosted live on EZWxBrief's YouTube channel. If you cannot attend live, the episodes are recorded and will become available on the same channel shortly after the live broadcast ends. You can also find them in the Who's Who in Aviation & Weather playlist. The exact date and time for future episodes will be announced through this blog and will appear on the EZWxBrief YouTube community page.



We are really excited about being chosen this year to participate as an exhibitor in the inaugural Innovation Showcase. This will be held at the 50th annual SUN 'n FUN event in Lakeland, Florida. This means that EZWxBrief will be highlighted as a product that has contributed to safety within the aviation community for its unique and innovative approach to preflight planning.


We will also be holding multiple presentations at the Future ‘n Flight Forums tent that is reserved exclusively for Innovation Showcase exhibitors. We will be in booth # 21 in the Innovation Showcase tent located in the Future ‘n Flight Plaza which is also known as the Northeast Exhibits area.


If you are headed to SUN 'n FUN this year, please stop by and say hello and get a demo of EZWxBrief v2.0 or attend one of several presentations by Dr. Scott Dennstaedt. Here are the presentations, times and location for his eight presentations throughout the event. CFAA-01 is the big room (cafeteria) in the school. Once posted in the next couple of weeks, you will be able to find the full forum schedule here. Just type in Dennstaedt to see all of his schedule presentations.


1. What's new with EZWxBrief?; Tue @11AM in CFAA-15

2. Getting Started with the Skew-T; Wed @9AM in the Future 'n Flight Forum

3. Advanced Skew-T Concepts; Wed @1PM in CFAA-01

4. Avoiding VFR into IMC: Using Personal Minimums; Thu @11AM in CFAA-15

5. Sweat the Showers not the T-Storms; Fri @11AM in CFAA-15

6. Five Things You Must Know About Datalink Weather; Fri @1PM in CFAA-01

7. Deciphering Flight Level Weather; Sat @1PM in CFAA-01

8. How You Can Influence the Forecast; Sun @11AM in the Future 'n Flight Forum


Lowest freezing level forecast has been restored


We have restored a new version of the lowest freezing level forecast static weather imagery after it was discontinued by the Aviation Weather Center (AWC) on October 16, 2023. This new version is the lowest freezing level from the GFS model and is updated four times a day. Although from a different forecast model from the legacy AWC imagery, it is still provided in hourly time steps and will provide a forecast with a lead time of 39 hours (previously this was 18 hours). As time permits, we will be attempting to restore much of the other static imagery that was removed after the AWC update in October. Look for both visible and infrared satellite imagery next.


Filing a pilot weather report online


As it stands today, as a general aviation pilot, one of the most cumbersome things to do while in flight is to file a pilot weather report more commonly known as a PIREP. This has created the unfortunate situation on any given day 98-percent of the PIREPs in the system are typically describing weather conditions at or above 18,000 feet. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Enroute Flight Advisory Service (EFAS) was available primarily for pilots to get weather updates while they were flying to their destination. More importantly, EFAS was the main outlet to file a pirep such that it was guaranteed to get into the system and become available for other pilots to see. This service was also called Flight Watch.

Given that EFAS was organized by Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs), you simply dialed 122.0 MHz into your radio, keyed the mic and referenced them by the particular center’s airspace you were located within. For example, if you were in the Jacksonville Center’s airspace, your initial call might have been, “Jacksonville Flight Watch, Skyhawk One Two Three Whiskey X-ray, 30 miles southwest of the Brunswick V-O-R at five thousand five hundred, over.” Then as long as you were more than 5,000 feet above the ground, someone from Flight Watch came on the frequency and you engaged in a two-way conversation to file your PIREP.


However, EFAS was terminated on October 1, 2015. This now leaves the arduous task of finding the right Flight Service Station (FSS) frequency hoping someone on the other end responds to your call. The frequency you use to transmit and receive is dependent on your location. So, you pull out your paper VFR sectional (or electronic version), find the nearest VOR to your location, and look for the frequency located on the top of the VOR information box. Of course, the correct frequency to use may be available through your avionics or through one of the many heavyweight electronic flight bag apps.


This is the frequency you will use to transmit and receive. Below the box is the name of the particular FSS to use in your initial call. For example, if you are near the Brunswick VORTAC, your initial call may be, “Macon Radio, Skyhawk One Two Three Whiskey X-ray, transmitting and receiving on 122.2, over.” This is the easy case. If there’s an “R” shown at the end of the frequency (e.g., 122.1R), then that means FSS will receive on this frequency (you will transmit on this frequency) and you’ll need to be sure you listen for their response over the VOR frequency (make sure your volume is turned up and not muted on your VOR radio).



Of course, this can get even trickier. If you see two frequencies listed above the VOR box where one has an “R” shown at the end of the frequency and the other frequency listed does not, this means that if you are below 5,000 feet, you may not have the ability to have two-way comms on the frequency that’s listed without the “R.” Below 5,000 feet you will need to revert to the split-radio procedures mentioned above where you will transmit on the frequency listed with the “R” and listen over the VOR frequency.  


As you can see, filing a PIREP nowadays has a fair amount of complexity. Yes, time permitting you can pass your report along to an air traffic controller, but there’s no guarantee it’ll get in the system so that other pilots and stakeholders in aviation will see it. The controller’s primary job is to separate aircraft, not take your pilot weather report and pass it along to FSS.  

 

If you are flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) or flying in busy terminal airspace, this can make it even tougher to file a report. If you are talking to a controller you need to ask permission to leave the frequency and hope that you can file a report in a timely manner. If there’s some significant weather in the area, you might get a response from FSS something like, “Skyhawk One Two Whiskey X-ray, standby, you are number four.”  


What if you could file your report online in the comfort (or discomfort) of your cockpit? Well, the good news is that you actually have a couple of options. The bad news is that you will need a WiFi or cellular service available in the cockpit that is still fairly expensive. If you have the money for the equipment and the exorbitant monthly or annual fees for such a service, then you are golden. Otherwise, you are just crossing your fingers that you can pick up cell service from the air. 


Once you have a connection, there is one such portal on the Aviation Weather Center website at aviationweather.gov. Just be aware that for validation purposes you have to create an account and then contact them directly to provide your name, airman’s certificate number and specific affiliation (e.g., airline, flight school, government, military, etc.). Once this validation is complete, you can sign in and file a report using their portal when you have viable connectivity.


As you might imagine, there’s also an app for that! It is called Virga. Before you depart, download the Virga app (search for “Fly Virga” in the App Store or Google Play Store). This is a great option since it is fully integrated with the aviationweawther.gov PIREP portal, but you don’t need to go through the validation mentioned above. You simply need a Virga account. The good folks at Virga are strong believers that the more PIREPs that are shared, the safer aviation is for everyone. And you can also take a picture and file this with your report! How cool is that? Of course the picture only shows up for other Virga users.



Given that most of us are not willing to shell out money for the equipment and the monthly service fees, when designing Virga, they implemented some unique features to help alleviate the issue of intermittent connectivity in-flight. First and foremost, it is critical to have the right time on the report. Therefore, when a PIREP is submitted, it explicitly tags the "observed time”, not the "transmitted time.” As Internet connectivity is established with the app and the PIREP is transmitted, the observed time is what drives the report.


Second, in order to be compliant with FAA and FCC regulations the pilot-in-command (PIC) must initiate the submission of the PIREP via the app. If there is no service when this initiation takes place, the app will prompt the user to resubmit when connectivity is re-established. Again, the observed time is used and not the transmitted time.


Third, the submission algorithm will also prioritize text over pictures in low bandwidth environments, so that the critical aspects of the PIREP can get submitted first with optimized photographic information following as a second priority. Every now and then you’ll see a PIREP on Virga where the picture will be blank and read “submitted with minimal bandwidth.” That is an example of where the app prioritized text over photos.



At its core, Virga was designed and built to help solve the issue that most of the pireps are in the flight levels. While those pireps are definitely valuable to the safety of the flying public, they do very little to help the average general aviation pilot and their passengers stay safe. Their focus from the start was to build a tool that helps enhance the safety of general aviation. The best part is that there’s no charge to use the Virga app since it was their mission to do what they can to enhance the safety of flight for general aviation pilots.

Lastly, every PIREP in the system that has been submitted through traditional methods are pulled into Virga and displayed accordingly within the app. This is the reason you may see PIREPs in the Virga app that don’t have pictures associated with them. Visit https://www.flyvirga.com for more information.


Check out FLYING magazine online


FLYING magazine posted an article written by Dr. Scott Dennstaedt that appeared in the October 2023 issue entitled, "From the ground up: The low down on vertical visibility." Check out all of Scott's contributions to FLYING magazine here.


EZWxBrief v2.0 update


Unfortunately, we had a setback with getting version two released early this spring. Our primarily developer had a death in their family and has decided to take a break. This means we did not get to develop some of the final, but critical, changes needed to launch EZWxBrief v2.0. The developer's return date is uncertain and we have hired a new developer to work with us to get EZWxBrief v2.0 across the finish line. We appreciate your patience and look forward to showing the world EZWxBrief v2.0 very soon.

Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise™


Dr. Scott Dennstaedt

Weather Systems Engineer

Founder, EZWxBrief™

CFI & former NWS meteorologist






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