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Summertime Flying

Summertime is the time of year when everybody wants to go flying. It’s a great time to learn a new skill and enjoy the wonders of flying. Summer doesn’t come without its own challenges though. The threat of thunderstorms is always hanging around the edges of every summertime flight.

Whether a little single-cell pop-up storm or a long line of embedded thunderstorms, stormy weather should demand our utmost respect. The hazards of these storms include turbulence, lightning, hail, icing, wind shifts, and heavy rain. A good rule of thumb is to steer clear of a cumulonimbus cloud (CB) by at least 20 miles if you are downwind of it. If you do end up in a thunderstorm, keep the speed below maneuvering speed and focus on keeping the wings generally level.

Also be sure to stay aware of density altitude. As the temperatures rise, the air becomes less dense. This has an adverse effect on the performance of any airplane. The engine will produce less power, the prop has less air to move, and there is less air flowing over the wings to generate lift. To compute the density altitude, take the current pressure altitude (the altitude you get when you set the altimeter to 29.92 in) and convert it for the warmer temperatures. This can be done on an E6-B. We can also find it already computed for us on the local AWOS broadcast. We should take the density altitude into account when we are figuring takeoff and landing distance, climb performance, cruise speeds. A hot day (over 90°F) can easily add 2,500 ft. to the field elevation. This may mean planning shorter legs, flying early in the day or in the evening, or finding ways to reduce the weight in the plane.

The last hazard that deserves to be mentioned is the traffic. If it is beautiful weather and everybody is up flying, it can get very busy. Most midair collisions occur on beautiful days with good visibility. It is easy to be lulled into the sense that nobody else is around. Especially in the traffic pattern, we should keep our head outside the cockpit, looking for traffic as much as possible.

Enjoy the summer and the chance for adventure that it brings, but be safe, keep a wary eye out for the weather, compute your performance numbers before you go, and watch out for other traffic.