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Training Tip: Beating the bumpsTraining Tip: Beating the bumps

You carefully planned the altitude for your cross-country flight. But now as you bump along in thermally induced fair-weather turbulence, you are berating yourself about the choice, and about not launching earlier when the air was calm.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Don’t just sit there and suffer, especially out of reluctance to deviate from your plan. Change altitudes!

Surprisingly, this scenario can produce hesitation in a new pilot, whose reassuringly neat planning and scrupulous calculations of fuel burn, ground speed, and estimated time en route must now be cast to the winds (aloft).

The situation, however, is a fair representation of the real world of flying. Listen in on an air route traffic control center (ARTCC or ‘center”) frequency now and then, and you will note that airline and corporate pilots place a high value on ride reports that suggest altitudes at which they might make their passengers more comfortable.

Use the weather information you have gathered to gauge the impact an altitude change will have on your flight. Then weigh your conclusions against the alternative: taking a continued thumping at your present altitude.

Other factors also come into play: If the plan is to climb, stay well clear of any cloud cover, and at all costs avoid going above a cloud deck that could close in beneath you, concealing the surface—not just a hazardous predicament to inflict upon yourself, but prohibited for a student pilot.

If a descent seems in order (not likely when thermal currents are disturbing the air mass), think about terrain features, obstructions, and airspace before heading lower.

If you have been receiving radar flight following, do let air traffic control know your intentions and the reason, as the pilot report may prove useful to others.

If you add up the pros and cons and decide that toughing it out at your present altitude is the way to go—and building up some tolerance for turbulence is wise in the long run—remember to slow from cruise to maneuvering speed, the speed at or below which full or abrupt control inputs will not overstress the aircraft.

Perhaps someone flying in the same area has already provided a pirep that will help you find a comfort zone for the rest of your day’s flying, or avoid a bad spot.

If so, be sure to return the favor whenever you fly.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Student, Aeronautical Decision Making, Cross Country
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