Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Cumulus Granitus

Having worked in PNG in the same airline that has just crashed, and in fact on those exact aircraft, I can say that yeah flying up there is scary seat of the pants stuff... What most of the "pilot commenters" on various TV programs aren't explaining properly is the relationship that mountains, clouds, and airplanes share up there.

Aircraft are generally VFR (Visual Flight Regs) and limited to remaining in sight of the ground. In most places, that means you stay beneath the clouds because the ground stays underneath the clouds..

In PNG though, the base of the cloud and the terrain intersect a lot, so you can often be above the clouds and still in sight of the ground, thus technically flying VFR. The problem arises when you're flying along following the ground, and suddenly find yourself above a blanket of rapidly-moving cloud.

Well, actually, the problem arises when you look for a hole in the cloud to get back in sight of the ground, drill down into it, and you suddenly find that the cloud has terrain in it. The pilots that flew our aircraft in the 70's had a word they coined, "cumulus granitus" which you can loosely translate for yourself...

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