The Flight of the Swans expedition team recently undertook an aviation weather forecasting course at the Met Office’s headquarters in Exeter. You might wonder why it’s important for the whole team, including ground crew, to know about the weather we’ll be facing on the expedition.
Here Ben Cherry, one of our media volunteers, shares his experience of training in extreme weather conditions in Toulouse and explains the importance of the course…
We were all set up for an evening of filming over some glorious villages around the Lot Valley in Southern France. Jess, our videographer for the trip, and myself were patiently waiting for Rob, our microlight pilot, to appear over the horizon.
Both of us were excited as we had chosen a brilliant spot, the dramatic late evening light was beaming onto the village with the sun directly behind us. Radio communications were patchy but Rob was on his way and our shot was set…
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge bank of black cloud crept up from behind us. Its shadow consumed the village right in front of our eyes, blocking out all of that beautiful light. It was like something out of Independence Day.
Element of surprise
Rob just had time to race through a letterbox of relative calm, arriving at his end destination just as the storm hit. Sacha and the other paramotorists were further off and couldn’t fly fast enough to get through before the storm. Sacha turned and had to land in a field further down the valley to get out of danger before the gust fronts arrived as clouds consumed the sky and the lightning started.
It was chaotic because of the speed at which the weather front came in. And whilst Jess and I were closer to the storm, we realised that we would not have recognised the first signs that it would develop into a serious storm. As weather will play such a prominent role in this expedition we all need to know what to look out for, when to start filming something that might look amazing, and when to drop the cameras and sound the alarm.
This course will help us to anticipate changing weather patterns on the expedition and make sure Sacha isn’t flying when dangerous conditions are on the horizon.
The seasoned Met Office trainers, John and Karl tailored their specialist course to our rather unique needs. It was important that they focused on weather conditions in more detail in a concentrated location because paramotors can’t travel as far as the private plane pilots they usually train! At the same time they showed us how to interpret weather forecasts and use them to plan days in advance.
From going over the fundamentals of wind and weather fronts to get our vastly different knowledge up to speed, to going through the incredible range of data that the Met Office has to offer, the course will definitely help us plan and cater for a wide variety of weather conditions, ultimately helping to ensure that this will be a successful expedition. Especially helpful are the Met Office specialist weather services that we will be using during parts of the expedition.
A big thank you to the Met Office for training and supplying us with access to their advanced weather forecasting services. No doubt this will be invaluable for us on the flyway.