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7 Tips for Flying in Hot Weather: Staying Safe while Achieving Optimal Flight Performance

Summer is right around the corner and temperatures are rising, which means that many pilots are retrieving their aircraft from winter storage, hopping back into the cockpit and heading for the skies. Most consider this to be their favorite time of year to fly. However, before you go anywhere, make sure you are up-to-date on the following tips for flying in hot weather. Here we go!

1) Density Altitude and Its Effect on Flight Performance

During your pilot training, you learned about density altitude and its effect on aircraft performance in hot, humid weather. Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature. As temperature and altitude increase, air density decreases.

A temperature of 90 degrees F makes the air much less dense, causing the aircraft to “feel” as if it is thousands of feet higher. So even if you’re not flying in the mountains, air density could affect your aircraft performance—particularly in the summer months.

On a hot humid day, an aircraft will not be able to accelerate as quickly down the runway and climbs more slowly in the air. With less dense air you’ll experience reduced thrust, less lift, and longer distance needed for takeoff and landing, As such, it’s always important to calculate the density altitude using the formula: Density altitude in feet = pressure altitude in feet + (120 x (OAT – ISA temperature)) to understand how your aircraft will perform on a hot day.

2) Hot Starts

If you have a fuel-injected engine rather than a carbureted engine, you’ll find that it’s tougher to start when the weather is hot. While there’s no one-size-fits-all hot start procedure for every plane, specific instructions for starting your engine on a hot day can be found in your plane’s manual. Remember that conducting the wrong startup procedure may actually damage your aircraft engine, so always consult your manual for the proper instructions. To prevent having to do a hot start, try park in the shade when possible and face the plane directly into the wind. In addition, leave the cowl flaps open to ventilate the engine compartment.

3) Fuel Venting

Jet fuel expands as the weather heats up, so you may see fuel dripping from a wing vent on a hot day. Avoid this wastage by not filling tanks completely to the brim if your aircraft is out in the heat. Remember, the fuel currently in the tank may already be hot and expanded—meaning there’s less fuel for flying than may appear. You can wait to fuel up until right before takeoff to in summer, however, if you have to taxi to the fuel pump, you may be required to do a hot start after fueling.

4) Probability of Thunderstorms and Lightning

While frontal thunderstorms are generally easy to anticipate with a simple preflight weather briefing, air-mass thunderstorms are much harder to predict when and where they’ll pop up. Air-mass thunderstorms are those thunderstorms that develop due to the uneven heating of the earth’s surface. In general, air-mass thunderstorms last no longer than an hour and carry threats of lightning, as well as showery moderate or heavy rainfall. Additionally, you may experience some of the following qualities to know when it’s time to head for clearer skies:

  • 50% or higher humidity and/or a temperature and dew-point spread within 5ºF.
  • Winds aloft blowing from the direction of a body of water, adding moisture to the air.
  • A high-pressure system with colder-than-standard air aloft.
  • Indication of a strong jetstream above your route of flight.
  • Winds blowing upslope, especially in mountains.
  • Widespread pilot reports of turbulence and/or building cumulus clouds.
  • PIREPs or METARs indicating hail of any size.
  • Local media reports of expected severe weather.

5) Always Bring a Bag

Because the weather can be so tumultuous in the summer and you may have to divert your route, you should consider bringing a backup bag with some overnight items like extra clothes, toiletries, back-up cell phone chargers, books, etc. You never know when a thunderstorm may pop up and stall your journey to your intended destination.

6) Watch Your Headset and iPad

If you leave your expensive technology or mobile devices sitting in sunlight, they could potentially overheat. You don’t want to experience a broken iPad mid-flight, even if it’s just for a few minutes. So, remember to always stow them in a shady area like the back seat or other easily-accessible location within the cockpit.

7) Avoid Thermal Turbulence

On warm days, as the ground heats up throughout the afternoon, rising columns of air form and can cause turbulence. This makes it difficult to hold altitude and cause you or your passengers to experience sickness. And that’s no fun for anyone. Just as with air-mass thunderstorms, turbulence tends to build with the heat of the afternoon. So, avoid thermal turbulence by flying in the morning or after it’s cooled down in the evening, so everyone can enjoy a safe and happy flight. Additionally, cruise at 5,000 feet or higher above terrain on hot days and plan descent to spend as little time as possible at low altitudes.

Are you ready to get started with flying lessons this summer?

Get in touch with Inflight Pilot Training today! We are a leading flight instruction company in Minnesota. With a reputable training program and an extensive roster of highly skilled, certified flight instructors, we can help you gain the skills needed to become a private pilot.For additional information on Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.