Why do People Fly Through Thunderstorms?


Home Based Again!
May 7, 2002
Total Time
A tragic incident occurred tonight. Just after 8PM EDT a Piper Malibu fell from a reported 26000 feet just a couple miles north of where I was driving in a torrential downpour.

We just had one heluva thunderstorm...had to be at least level 5...in the Longwood/Lake Mary/Sanford part of Central Florida just North of Orlando. The storms were drifting NE towards Daytona and I could see the MCO arrivals making big deviations to final.

Evidently a Malibu was on its way south from out of state and penetrated this monster. An eyewitness in Osteen, just north of Sanford, saw the a/c spiral to the ground apparently missing 2/3 of one of its wings. Reportedly, there was one male and two female occupants. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

In the FL's, will ATC vector you through this stuff? Can they see what's going on? It was still daylight and the ++TSRWs were plainly visible! I mean, who in their right mind would fly into that crap? I would imagine that that model a/c would have a stormscope of some type! And arrival/center traffic would certainly be chatty with deviation requests.

Do you guys up high deviate around a severe storm by 20 miles as recommended in the AIM? I just don't fly, or I set down and wait the 30 minutes or so here in FL for the stuff to pass or dissipate. I'm just trying to get a feel because I'll hopefully be flying a CRJ in the next few months....just got hired by Comair!

My heart goes out to the decedents' families.

John, Longwood, FL


Well-known member
Dec 14, 2001
Total Time
I deviate, but I know a lot of folks don't, too. I was listening to two crews talking a few days ago as I passed through an area with tops to 60,000 over Kansas. The crews were enquiring about the weather, and the first reported that he just went through that "hole" with no problems. I knew where he was talking about, I was in the area, but elected to deviate south. He made it through alright, but squeezing between storms isn't a good idea.

Not everyone has radar on board; you didn't indicate if the Malibu was reported to have it. A good bet is that pilots in many light airplanes that are equipped with radar, probably don't know much about or understand the proper use or full potential of their radar. Without it, flying into imbedded convective activity is a real possibility when flying IMC.

ATC may have been busy or unable to give them the information they needed, or they may have elected to not heed the info. It may have been disorientation that caused the accident, rather than a direct action of the storm. Who knows?

To knowingly fly into a storm is a foolish thing unless you happen to be performing weather mod or research. People still do it. It's also very possible to unknowingly fly into a storm. All of us at one time or another have encountered unforecast and unseen weather. It may be icing, turbulence, hail, rain, etc. You're in it before you know it.

Once inside something like a level five, all bets are off...anything could happen.


Feb 24, 2002
Total Time

Lets assume that this aircraft was equipped with onboard weather radar. It is possible that the pilot was fooled by either a radar shadow or another form of attenuation that made the absolute worst part of the storm look like the path of least resistance.

You ask an intereting question about this. Why would someone knowingly fly into a thunderstorm? I would hope the answer is they wouldn't. But then again, I have flown in China and they do, but that is another story. In the states almost every pilot has figured out that flying into a thunderstorm is bad. Unfortunately not every pilot has learned how to interpret a weather radar correctly, that includes airline pilots. This can result in a pilot flying into a thunderstorm. This problem is more severe with G.A. aircraft as the antennas are smaller and subject to more attenuation error.

Try and get a hold of Archie Trammels course on interpreting weather radar. It is long and boring, but it is the best information you will ever get on how to properly operate a weather radar. There are videos of the "incredible talking head's" course out there. Ask around, maybe Comair's training department has one. If they don't, they should.


Well-known member
Jan 24, 2002
Total Time

1.) Nice Avatar - looks like N2110F with one feathered. Been there, done that.

2.) Affirmative, (I'm not w/CMR, but) our airline holds to the 20 mile rule. Life is a lot easier at FL310. Basically, any WX up there you can see and work to avoid. An occassional line of storms will cause a problem, but its not like being in a J-32 at FL210 trying to dodge and weave embedded stuff when you are in a total gray out.

3.) We can't just land and wait with a load of paying passengers and a restricted list of airports that we can use. However, the good news is that dispatch and ATC are pretty hesitant to send you into a bad situation (that they know about). You get a line of definite t-storms killing the NE corridor and the gate holds begin. Basically, Airmass T-storms you'll launch and use equipment to pick yor way through - lines of T-storms everybody needs to see a big hole in the line before they start letting people through.

As to the Malibu - who knows why. Get-there-itis is the usual suspect. Pushing your luck, pushing your experience. Even in the CRJ, you always have the option of a 180. The good news is that you are learning from the experience of others.


Well-known member
Nov 25, 2001
Total Time
In all my flying I can honestly say that I have never punched through a center of a thunderstorm. They are like jumping in bed with someone you don't know, you never know how it is going to turn out, for sure not good. So the best thing to do is to avoid them all together. At high altitude wind means everything. The higher the wind the greater the distance you need to get between you and the thunderstorm. This is just to clear the CAT that is around a TRW. I use 5 nm for every 10 kts of wind if I am avoiding the TRW to the downwind side. I saw a TRW just the other day that had standing lenticulars over it just from the updraft over the top. These were 5 miles downwind of the TRW so they weren't what we commonly call capping-interesting stuff. The big thing is to be aware of which stage a TRW is in, during the mature stage it is nasty, when it is disipating it is no big deal, a lot of soft lightning and St. Elmo's fire is associated with this part of the TRW. Usually a pretty good ride through, on the radar the echo's start to become very undifined and mesh in with the level one part of the echo's. A big airplane radar and little airplane radar are like night and day. Little airplane radars are useless above 310 as most of the TRW is made up of ice crystals. The best way to get around weather is ISB(I see blue). Weather is something you deal with but it takes years of experience to call it right. Weather charts, stability charts, upper level winds, etc. etc. must all be considered when looking at weather. At night lighting is your friend, soft lightning is no big deal, hard lightning means a significant cell and believe me when they are there they really put it out. The worse stuff is in the midwest no doupt, usually I just fly along the line for a while, a hole(at least 20 miles wide) will always open up and you can get through it. With Lears I used to top everything fly over it then decend and backtrack to the airport. That worked pretty well but if you are going to top it you need to do it by at least 2000 feet. At the higher altitudes there is not much convection(410 and above) so even if you mess up and get in a buildup it is no big deal. With small aircraft landing and waiting is the way to go as the money and time spent deviating isn't worth it.
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Well-known member
Nov 29, 2001
Total Time
when the malibu first came out they were grounded because of spar/overspeed weakness, etc.

a ce 402 cargo guy in puerto rico was in a storm and bounced his head of the ceiling. leaving a dent that's still there 3 years later. if he would've been knocked out, he'd of been toast.


Semper Fi
Jun 15, 2002
Total Time
It honestly can not say that I have never found myself in a thunderstorm, as a matter of fact last week I was putting along on my normal daily run and before I knew it BAM!! I am usually very cautious about the type of weather I fly in but the problem is, at lower altitudes when you suddenly find yourself in a layer of clouds during the summer when those air mass T-storms can build and dissipate faster than you can bat an eye, all bets are off. The best practice is to be conservative and avoid those areas alltogether, however, some of us are not that fortunate. When time is an issue and customers want their cargo by a certain time you learn real quick how to read the signposts in the sky and avoid the areas that are dangerous. Knowledge is the key to avoiding t-storms, listening to what other people are saying and doing over the radio to avoid storms can be a very big help. ATC is a good help too, the problem is not all ATC facilities have the equipment to give us good inflight advisories on the intensities of the storms and never assume that they will always tell you about the weather because believe me, in some places they don't!! Remember, advisories are normally on a workload permitting basis. Radar, Stormscopes, and Strikefinders are all great assets to have for avoidance but you have to know how the equipment works or it can work against you. Last, for those that find themselves in a storm against their will, always remember 1.) get the power out, probably idle. All of the books say below Va but in real life the airspeed indicator will fluctuate from Vne to stall in a matter of seconds so just get the power out! 2.) Get a block altitude from ATC and let them know what is going on. Never try to maintain altitude you might overstress the airframe. 3.) Keep a constant attitude, in other words, keeps the miniature airplane level as best as possible, you may be climbing like a bat out of hell but keep the airplane level. Any change in attitude (pitch-up, pitch-down) could cause a breakup. 4.) Turn up the lights and fasten your seatbelt and harness tight, it is not unheard of to smack your grape on the ceiling when you hit a good bump. 5.) Stay calm and don't always assume that a 180 is the best thing because it may not be. Turns increase loadfactor and in a good thunderbumper that could be disasterous. Most storms flow from West to East so if you are going with the flow you might fair better just continuing on, you will probably be out in a few minutes although it may seem like hours. If you are going against the flow then a 180 might be appropriate, make the decision early though.
The key is avoidance, always remember: Recognize, Respect, Refrain.


Shem Malmquist
Nov 26, 2001
Total Time
I would recommend Capt Dave Gwinn's radar course a 100 times before Trammel's. You can find Dave Gwinn's stuff through the Honeywell website (with a search). The difference is that Dave Gwinn knows his stuff about the technical aspects AND has a lot of real airline experience (retired TWA) support it. Trammel just doesn't have the real world experience and consequently it shows in the type of information presented and how it is presented. I've been through both, if you have a choice, go to Dave's course.