Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes on Flying in Louisiana

Squall Lines and Isolated Tstorms both move at rough 30-40 mph across the ground, and have a gust front up to 10 miles out in front, as well as hail up to 10 mi from the anvil on top. (The hail will probably be no larger than pea sized).

If you see / are warned of an approaching squall line (edge of cold front), get on the ground, preferably in hangar, tie plane down well (use hurricane hitch; winds not only gust fiercely, they change direction as the storm passes over.) Better weather will be behind the front.

Isolated thunderstorms have a life cycle of 35-90 minutes, so if you can see them, you can avoid them. If they are approaching your intended airport, do not race the thunderstorm to the airport. Circle well clear and wait for it to pass. If multiple isolated thunderstorms are blocking your route, land and wait them out. These storms tend to spawn in the afternoon through late evening, flying in the morning is better. Warning:in bad haze, the isolated thunderstorms are hard to spot until way too close for comfort. Keep your head up and eyes out.

Louisiana never has 130-mile visibility days. Ever. They have "real clear" 30-mile-visibility days. Their haze increases to estimated >3mi flight vis, before smoke, in the summer. They also have a near-permanent inversion layer, which with the moisture source of the Gulf explains the permanent haze. When they start "burning the cane fields" en masse (as opposed to isolated field burnings visible today), visibility decreases to IFR below the inversion layer. When the haze is at >10mi visibility, keep a sharp lookout for smoke trails from burning fields (embedded IFR).

Due to the subtropical environment, while the inversion layer is at 3000 feet in the morning, it can rise to 10,000ft by late afternoon. Do not plan on being able to climb above inversion layer.

Fog in Louisiana can occur in a thin layer at treetop level, or from 200-300 feet. This fog condenses in thin ribbons, not large sheets, and drifts with the slightest breeze. Due to its height, thinness, and drifting characteristics, ASOS will not catch it, and your only indication from higher altitudes is a faint halo around lights below. Often forms in early morning and late evening, usually summer, but will occur in fall-winter-spring after a warm front follows a cold front. Like ice fog, it will suddenly blind you on short final. Watch your temp/dewpoint spreads.

In winter, a thin icing layer can form at the cloud base, usually around 3000 feet. As winds aloft don't report temperatures until over 3000 feet, usually cannot be detected by weather forecast, and rarely pirep'ed. "the airlines power right through it, and the single-engines don't hang out at the cloud base, so don't expect any warning."

In spring, and sometimes in winter, Louisiana gets "high winds" of 15G25 to 25 knots steady. And during hurricane season, they get hurricanes, sometimes...

Expect no-radio ultralights and light sport planes in rural areas - farmers checking crops. Expect not-using-radio ag planes all over the fields below 700 AGL (mainly between 15 and 50 AGL) spraying crops, and at same [lack of] altitude coming into refuel / fill tanks at "nontowered" fields.

The alert area around the Gulf is there for a reason; very heavy helicopter traffic out to the oil platforms & back!

Ft Polk's controllers are very friendly and responsive for information on MOA status / flight following through MOA, and whether restricted areas are hot or cold.

Essler (ESF) used to have a staffed control tower until Alexandria (AEX) opened and became the main airport. Now, the field has an empty control tower and a CTAF. When the National Guard there is doing exercises, they may have military controller(s) up in the tower, and your call on CTAF will be answered with traffic advisories.

Pineville has a very amusing identifier - 2L0. Find out why it's ID'ed as "Too Low" someday. They also have MoGas available on field, not sure if it's accessible from the water runway. Runway 18 will always have an interesting rotor on short final (unless calm), due to shape of treeline - do not get low before you clear the railroad tracks! Flightline Air Service is a great FBO, very friendly, good maintenance, offer a sport pilot for rent/instruction as well as the usual assortment.


  1. Wow - lots of good info for a new pilot! Thanks for the post at my place and I'll come back to visit here.

  2. I don't remember how I found your blog, and I check it ocassionally, but I'm surprised I missed your post about flying in Louisiana.

    I'm not a pilot, but I've had some opportunities for flying in small planes, and helicopters during my years. I'm guessing this part of the world is unique, due to the atmosphere and the industry.

    The reason I'm commenting is that I had the opportunity, years ago, of flying with my brother to the Holiday Inn in Lafayette for the Friday night buffet. We taxied right up to the restaurant, enjoyed the meal, and flew back to Port Arthur, Texas. I don't know if it's still the same, or if the food is still good, which it was then, but it might be an interesting experience while you're in this part of the world.