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Training Tip: An overheated discussionTraining Tip: An overheated discussion

When the temperature soared into the mid-90s Fahrenheit in the vicinity of a Maine airport during a record-breaking June hot spell, the density altitude at the 200-foot-elevation field worked out to almost 3,000 feet. What did those conditions mean to pilots flying from that airport?

Photo by Chris Rose.

One answer is that the power production of an air-breathing engine with no turbocharging was significantly reduced, making it critical to fly recommended airspeeds for maximum performance and allow plenty of vertical margin for outclimbing terrain and obstacles. They should expect the climb to cruise altitude to take longer—a demanding flight profile but not the whole story of hot-weather operations.

Although that brand of flying demands near-undivided attention, at the same time, another important flight parameter requires watching: engine temperature.

Overheating your engine can cause power loss, excess oil consumption, and damaging detonation. A wide range of causes can bring on the problem, from engine and fuel system mismanagement—suggesting that it’s time for a pilot’s operating handbook review—to fixation, or poor use of checklists.

Several scenarios that occur in routine flying are setups for engine overheating. Fortunately, they can be avoided with better preflight planning and keen in-flight situational awareness.

  • Inattention to airspeed. Climbing after takeoff on a hot day or to a high cruise altitude, failure to lower the nose now and then or switch from a high-performance climb airspeed to a cruise-climb speed for better cooling (when clear of hazards) can start the oil-temperature gauge’s move toward the red line.
  • Imprecise leaning of the fuel-air mixture for changing flight phases, such as when descending from a high altitude, can cause an excessively lean condition that can heat up the engine or induce detonation.
  • Failure to follow engine-management procedures—such as not opening cowl flaps when recommended—can bring on thermally themed adversity, especially when traversing a long taxi route, sitting in a departure line, or holding short of a movement area.
  • Overloading the aircraft can make the engine labor even harder in a climb during which air cooling of the engine is inefficient, with the potential for extensive damage. “Overloading has an adverse effect on all climb and cruise performance, which leads to overheating during climbs, added wear on engine parts, increased fuel consumption, slower cruising speeds, and reduced range,” cautions the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge on page 5-42.
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: Takeoffs and Landings, Technique, Training and Safety
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