A student pilot was climbing to cruise altitude after takeoff on a solo cross-country when a glance at the instrument panel brought an uneasy surprise.
The engine was running smoothly with a strong and steady sound. The climb was proceeding within expected parameters, and the oil pressure was reassuringly normal.
Welcome to warm-weather flying. Say what you will about winter being over—and I’m just as glad as you are that the cold weather is past—but you can’t just nonchalant your way into springtime without adjusting your flying technique.
A scenario in which that fact may make itself known is a long climb to a moderately high cruise altitude. Not only will that climb take a bit longer in the higher density altitudes of warm spring and summer days, but an air-cooled engine’s oil temperature should be carefully monitored to avoid overheating.
Don’t be surprised if the engine temperature creeps higher even at recommended airspeeds such as Vy (best rate of climb). Manufacturers recognize that this can happen. For example, in a paragraph on the normal procedure for an en route climb, the pilot’s operating handbook for a 1980 Cessna 152 notes that an en route climb should be performed with “full throttle and at speeds 5 to 10 knots higher than best rate-of-climb speeds for the best combination of performance, visibility and engine cooling.” The handbook also notes that climbs at speeds lower than Vy “should be of short duration to improve engine cooling.”
On certain occasions in warm weather the need to manage your engine’s thermal condition could affect your in-flight planning and decision making. Long ago, after being cleared to transit Boston’s Class B airspace in a low-powered single on a hot, humid afternoon with another pilot aboard, it was all we could do to climb to our assigned altitude at the brisk rate required by air traffic control and still keep the engine temp within limits. The controller was becoming uneasy with our vertical progress, making it necessary for me to explain the situation.
That broke the tension—and highlighted another important lesson: If you can’t comply with ATC instructions or need more time to do so, don’t keep the dilemma a secret. Let them know, because safety is a team effort.