How many people will in-cockpit Nexrad kill?

After bouncing off the edges of some small thunderstorm cells recently, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to have Nexrad radar images in the cockpit.

I’ve been daydreaming about blithely skirting fierce weather. After all, it’s easy isn’t it? Just fly in the green, stay out of the yellow and red.

There’s one plot complication, though. If you watch animated weather radar, you can see cells suddenly appear out of nowhere. What if one of those cells appears where you are?

How many more flight into bad weather accidents will occur because cockpit weather radar lulled a pilot into a false sense of safety?

Does this sound like the “Lose the 'chute, increase the safety” argument? It’s supposed to, but in a good way.

I still think it’s better to have the cockpit weather than not, but I think the price we will pay is the loss of a few people who are as naive as I was a few weeks ago. It will be harder to measure the number of lives it saves, but I think the tradeoff is worthwhile.

I’d like to hear what an expert has to say about this. Scott D, are you listening?



That’s a good question. I think the problem is that whenever we add capability to our planes, we SHOULD add the responsibilty to use the additional capability responsibly. (However, not everyone does so.)

I can think of a bunch of stuff that falls into this category, from stormscope/nexrad (the points you made) to GPS (too many people don’t adequately preflight or monitor their flight because they can just punch Direct-To and go) to ice protection (“if I have boots I can fly in anything!”). The same was probably said about gyro instruments, way back when. (i.e. Gyros are great because you can fly in the clouds. But if we never had gyros we’d probably have a lot fewer crashes due to spatial disorientation in the clouds!)

But I do think that all of these things are a net positive, even though it might require additional responsibility on the part of the pilot to safely use all of the above innovations.


P.S. Disclaimer: I now work for a company providing in-flight nexrad and other weather. I just want to make that clear in any post, like this one, where I say that I think inflight nexrad is a good thing! [:)]


I like to think that Stormscopes and NEXRAD radar are gross vectoring aids. Each has its drawbacks. As long as the radar picture is real time, then you can put both together and get a real good picture of where not to go. Radar doesn’t really tell you much about turbulence. Neither does a Stormscope. Yes, a fully lit Stormscope does imply strong and deadly turbulence, but the absence of strikes doesn’t guarantee you anything. A building towering Cu can do just as much damage as a t-storm. There may be no radar returns or strikes in a towering Cu.

I believe that information in a cockpit is much more useful than no information. Yes, chainsaws, snowblowers, and others have done their share of damage. I wonder how many of those accidents would have been prevented if there was better training and safer practices. I don’t think it is the technology that is dangerous; it is the untrained and inexperienced fool using the technology that makes it dangerous.

Mike, I understand your point and think the concern is valid. At the same time I agree with Steve that all new technology comes with a combination of risks and benefits. It a pilot thinks that the technology alone will keep him/her safe then he/she may be in for a very rude awakening.
At the same time a new tool, properly understood and used by a careful and competent pilot can make flight easier and safer.

I agree about the cost vs. benefit for cockpit weather.

An analogous situation would be the chainsaw. How many (human) limbs could have been saved had the chainsaw never been invented? Most people, however, would agree that the increased utility is worth the extra risk.

I made the post because it is easy to forget about the responsibilities that come with new capabilities. The situations I got into came about because I was relying on my StormScope to keep me safe from harm, which of course it cannot do. I had been thinking of cockpit Nexrad as the ultimate tool for sneaking by weather with impunity. Even if it always functioned perfectly, in-cockpit weather couldn’t guarantee your safety, since weather is so changeable, especially when conditions are ripe for convective activity.