Thursday, March 26, 2009

Radar Contact - Better Stay Alert

I was flying VFR at 9500 feet in an A-36 in the Harrisburgs approach sector "radar contact". The weather typical of August, murky with scatered CB's and visibility lower than you like. Destination was Bloomsburg not over 5o miles away. All of a sudden out of the corner of my left eye I saw an airliner heading north slightly higher than we were and about 1/4 of a mile away. Hey what gives I queried the controller. He replied US Air such and such IFR at 10,000 feet, no factor. Maybe not for US Air with his TCAS system and all their bells and whistles. Well it may be legal, but 500 feet vertically really doesn't provide much separation. To add to the adrenaline rush not soon after I happened to look down and right under us, perhaps 500 feet below was a twin turboprop commuter. Once again I ask approach what gives? "Oh, our error the trainee working the site forgot to call out the traffic to you". Great I think to myself, what next? Well things happen in threes. The Stormscope had been showing a line of lightning strikes (cells) at our 9 0'clock approximately 1 mile away. Suddenly there was a big boom and a flash, the plane bucked and dropped a few hundred feet and the autopilot uncoupled. My wife screamed. In the center of the Stormscope now there was an x, indicating a new lightning strike.

Now someone might say we should have been IFR to get better separation from traffic and get weather advisories, but I say yes but in the murk with CB's all around I don't trust ground radar to keep us out of the big stuff. Also remember that you only may have a 500 foot altitude separation. So, you pays your money and takes your chances. In the best of worlds you would have your own radar to keep you clear of storm cells. I have flown with it and thought it very helpful.

So in summary, we were lucky with two near misses and avoiding a catastrophe with the near lightning strike. Don't let your guard down when "Radar Contact". Remember that the responsibility for flying the plane rests squarely in the left seat.


  1. Is it really all that much fun???I'm glad my sister's two feet are on the ground...

  2. You weren't actually hit by a lighting strike? I'm curious why the autopilot disengaged (and why you guys lost so much altitude). I'm not familiar with the A-36, but the AP ought to have stayed on.