Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Season Of Turbulence

The summer heat is around the corner, and so is the cobblestone sky

It should go without saying that higher airspeeds only make matters worse. Descents in summer chop should be flown with significantly reduced throttle and airspeed at cruise indication or below. One formula that often works to help maintain the same speed during descent is to reduce power by an inch of manifold pressure for each 100 fpm of descent. That means a 500 fpm descent will demand a five-inch power reduction, and that may be counter to considerations of shock cooling. If you're flying a retractable with a high gear limit speed, you might consider extending the wheels for the descent. Bonanzas and Centurions have very high gear-limit speeds. Similarly, models with high flap speeds for the first 10 or 20 degrees of extension may also provide a hedge to help keep speed in check.
One method of flying smoother is to fly higher than you normally might.
The ride will probably become rougher as you lose altitude and descend into more turbulent air. If you have the option, extending the gear can help minimize the pain and stress on the airplane. Even if the air is smooth enough, high descent rates generally aren't a good idea, as they can cause sinus discomfort in some passengers. Whatever the descent rate, advise your passengers of the Valsalva maneuver (take a breath, close your mouth, hold your nose and blow to relieve pressure on your sinuses). Alternately, a wide yawn may accomplish the same purpose.

There's little question that turbulence is one of the less fun aspects of flying. Some pilots simply refuse to fly when the sky is choppy and unstable. Others drive straight through bone-rattling turbulence the Air Force wouldn't consider challenging with a hurricane hunter.

You'll have to make your own decision as to what comprises an acceptable level of chop. It's certainly possible to be too conservative and leave the airplane parked any time the summer temperature is above 80 degrees and there are clouds or wind about. The upside is there's absolutely no chance of a problem if you don't go.

Aborting up front may sometimes be a better alternative than "taking a look." If you expect to have a queasy passenger aboard or someone totally new to flying, the wise choice may be to stand down. That way, you won't terrify someone new to flying, and you can excuse yourself for leaving your $50,000-$1 million airplane parked in its hangar while you take the airline. 


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