|The following stories from the June 08, 2012, edition of AOPA ePilot were provided to AOPA members who expressed an interest in the particular subject areas. Any AOPA member can receive information tailored to their areas of interest by updating their preferences online|
Trial by turbulence
Not long ago you thought that your flight instructor possessed uncanny skill for predicting turbulence encounters on your training flights.
As you gained flight experience, it seemed less like magic. Now you are getting pretty good at it too. Looking at the forecast before a solo cross-country, you find yourself thinking, "It's going to be bumpy today."
How bumpy, and where?
Hard to say for certain. But experience teaches that basic rules can shape expectations.
Turbulence from surface heating can be unpleasant at lower levels, but may disappear at the altitude where the columns of heated air stop rising, according to a well-known formula for approximating the height of fair-weather cumulus cloud bases. Selecting a higher-than-usual cruise altitude, or changing altitudes, may provide relief.
Strong winds flowing after the passage of a cold front may or may not bear a bushel of bumps—but if surface winds blow strongly from varying directions, or are gusting, add the recommended gust factor value to takeoffs or landings.
Winds aloft can create turbulence around mountain peaks or ridges, so give your cross-country destination careful study for the best routing. Give yourself plenty of clearance overflying high terrain. Be watchful for lenticular or rotor clouds that indicate severely rough air.
Another turbulence tip: Get a head start on a long flight by departing early and enjoying a few hours of smooth air before solar heating goes to work on the air. (Make sure the FBO knows to have the aircraft ready.)
Securing your baggage and flight gear carefully is a wise precaution. Make sure your seatbelt and shoulder harness also are well secured.
Flying in turbulence demands patience when you want to hurry up, and a light touch when it seems difficult to loosen your grip. Resist temptation to chase altitudes or indications of the vertical speed indicator, which would only bring on fatigue.
Let other pilots know what you are encountering along the way with a pirep on the type and intensity of turbulence. If forecast turbulence was a no-show, make someone happy by sharing the good news.
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Question: While listening to air traffic control during my cross-country flights, I’ve heard the word “heavy” after some aircraft call signs. What does this mean?
Answer: The FAA classifies aircraft as heavy, large, and small for the purposes of wake turbulence separation minimums. An aircraft is designated heavy if its takeoff weight is greater than 300,000 pounds; large if its takeoff weight is greater than 41,000 pounds but less than 300,000 pounds; and small if its takeoff weight is 41,000 pounds or less. Additional information on wake turbulence and aircraft designations is discussed in the Aeronautical Information Manual and FAA Advisory Circular 90-23F on wake turbulence avoidance. Test your knowledge as well by taking the Air Safety Institute’s safety quiz on wake turbulence.
Got a question for our technical services staff? Email [email protected] or call the Pilot Information Center, 800/872-2672. Don’t forget the online archive of “Final Exam” questions and answers, searchable by keyword or topic.