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I thought of this while coming in on a bumpy flight into Memphis, TN. The pilot of the airliner brought in the aircraft nicely, despite having to fight it quite a bit during the slowest portion of the approach. Now, Memphis is fairly flat, and the airport isn't near any large buildings so this isn't too much of a problem, but how do pilots practice bad weather approaches and takeoffs? It's kind of dicey to drop a newbie pilot into swirling bad weather, and I know as the aircraft gets smaller handling rough weather becomes harder. Is it done purely through simulators or do they use training flights where they intentionally fly during really rough weather? How does this training differ between general aviation and airline pilots?

I'd imagine flight simulators are good up to a point, but may not simulate all of the bad emergencies that could happen in bad weather (choppy crosswinds, hail, rain, lightning, etc.) so to train properly one would have to go up on training flights. However, I know that is very dangerous, and probably expensive, so it wouldn't be preferable. What platforms do current pilots use to get proficient at bad weather flying?

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    $\begingroup$ Modern simulators are very extensive and do simulate all kinds of bad weather conditions. I had the opportunity to fly a 777 simulator once and skidded way off the runway when the operator made it snow (not just gentle snow, full on blizzard) with a strong crosswind. $\endgroup$ – Greg Hewgill Sep 10 '15 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, simulating real weather related accidents is a great training aid. That final culmination of the real thing is an excellent reference point for understanding the chain of decisions and actions caused a world of hurt, or could have made for a different outcome. $\endgroup$ – radarbob Sep 10 '15 at 2:48
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Your question has two components: 1) how do pilots train for adverse conditions and 2) how do pilots stay fresh on adverse conditions?

As you said, smaller airplanes (really, slower airplanes) are hardest, because the wind speed is a larger percentage of the airplane's flying speed. There are no real simulators for small airplanes: we learn by going out and doing. When you first learn to fly, your instructor makes sure you can handle crosswinds and gusts. With the Instrument Rating comes more adverse weather.

Once you have learned the techniques (and stay proficient by practicing regularly), faster airplanes and higher winds are not really a problem -- the same techniques apply, and in any case you will have a more experienced pilot or instructor helping you along.

I must call out your use of "newbie pilot" -- I hope you're not implying that airline pilots are newbies in any sense of the word. Before you can even hope to get an airline job you've already experienced bad weather in marginal airplanes.

Now, staying proficient: this is where transport airplanes (airlines) are very different from the small airplanes. The airlines' pilots practice regularly on simulators that really can duplicate just about any kind of weather you'd fly in. Pilots of small airplanes though... the simulators can't do that, and we practice in the real world.

All that said, a passenger's idea of what makes a good landing is very different from a pilot's! A passenger thinks a smooth touchdown is what makes a good landing. For a pilot, a good landing means a stable and controlled approach followed by an appropriate touchdown that maximizes safety -- in gusty crosswinds a firm touchdown is much safer than a greaser.

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    $\begingroup$ A firm touchdown is strongly preferred on a contaminated runway to mitigate against hydroplaning, and required on a max-performance landing to maximize runway available for braking. $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Sep 10 '15 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ + 1 for correcting the notion that ATP's might be newbies. $\endgroup$ – PJNoes Mar 24 '16 at 17:00
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Besides simulator, pilots usually pair up with one another in airline operations. There is the Captain and the First Officer, the Captain (most of the time) being more experienced. The First Officer can observe the decision making process of the Captain, e.g. why do we use a certain flaps setting, why is it ok to pass through that storm or should we abort the landing, etc.

Storms, or snows, while not uncommon, are not something you see everyday. That's how experienced is passed onto new pilots: by flying with a more experienced pilot who has seen these weather many times.

As far as skills is concerned, there aren't many new flying skills in an airliner compared to a small aircraft, except for maybe a few tips or tricks dependent on that specific model. Simulators can provide some quite extreme weather for training; but unless you've been super lucky, you are likely to have encountered unfavorable weather on your way to becoming an airline pilot.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are emergency situations practiced using the buddy system? (like stalls, sudden downdrafts, etc) $\endgroup$ – user11377 Sep 10 '15 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like fodder for a whole new question, @user11377. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 10 '15 at 12:39

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