2008 - No Red Ahead

No Red Ahead

Bob Elliott



As a result of a life event, I’ve added a new requirement to my personal standards – No Red Ahead. I’m sure everyone who has been flying for a while has had an aviation life event or two that changes everything. Enough said. Now you’re probably wondering what I mean by No Red Ahead but if you have a Garmin 296, 396 or 496 GPS and think about its terrain alert feature, you might have and idea what I mean.


I have lived and flown, mostly Cessna 180s, in Alaska for over 30 years. I love it here and enjoy the sometimes demanding flying, whether it’s remote off airport work or the challenges that the Alaska winter can throw at you. During the winter, we sometimes have to deal with everything we see out the windscreen being varying shades of white. In certain conditions it all looks the same and we call this a whiteout. If you haven’t experienced this, imagine a featureless snow covered mountain against a white sky and indefinite ceiling.


With thousands of hours of winter flying experience, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how to keep myself out of whiteout conditions. But this life event taught me that you can be seduced into thinking you can see better than you really can. On a day this winter, I was flying VFR in western Alaska, estimating the flight visibility at 5 miles. I could see rugged ridges, brush and rocks way out there. But there was this ridge. It was smooth and featureless. And of course it was covered with white snow that was the same color as the white sky and the indefinite ceiling. It was there but couldn’t be seen.


Needless to say, I’m very fortunate to still be here but I can promise you that I have a very different respect for whiteout conditions than I did before. For many reasons, IFR flight in light planes (and the places they go in Alaska) is often not practical. And if you’re going to travel in the winter (and often light planes are the only way to get where you want to go), you have to deal with shades of white.


Shortly after this life event, I was flying in shades of white and thinking what would be a good way to reduce the risk and it dawned on me that these wonderful handheld GPSs we all have are a big help if you (I) just would use them properly. Since we Alaskans do some much low level flying, most of us are in the habit of disabling the terrain alert warning on our GPSs. On many flights, the terrain alter is on most of the flight and it blocks a good portion of the map screen. I’ve asked several of my pilot friends and find that they all disable their terrain alerts too.


Not me anymore. And from now on, I will fly with No Red Ahead within the next mile. I can get used to the alert taking up some of the screen and I can touch Quit if I want to see what’s under it. The alert will reappear a few seconds after a Quit. So if you fly VFR at night or in winter white conditions, I recommend you add No Red Ahead to your personal standards too.