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Summer Flying Safety Review

Summer Flying Safety Review, June 2017Ah, summer. The longer days and warmer temps can offer some of the most enjoyable flying for pilots. But don’t let the warm weather fool you — performance can take a nosedive on those hot and humid summer days. Here are some safety tips and reminders to keep in mind.

Note, these are general reminders — please refer to your plane’s information manual and speak to your aircraft mechanic for more details about your specific plane.

Keep sunrise and sunset in mind. The days are longer and the nights are shorter during the summer months. That means fewer flying hours at night, and the potential for flying much longer during the day.

Get some nighttime takeoff and landing practice in, and know your sunrise and sunset times before leaving on a trip. Be careful not to fly too long or when you’re tired, as fatigue, dehydration and other physiological issues are well-known causes of aviation accidents.

Heat and humidity affect performance. As you’re probably aware, performance is primarily affected by three variables: weight, altitude, and temperature. Obviously, hot, humid weather will have an impact on an aircraft’s performance.

Humidity is a factor many pilots forget to consider when calculating performance — a flight that is considered safe in the winter may not be so during the summer. Hot and humid weather increases density altitude, battery performance (hot weather stresses batteries), impacts avionics and gyros (they can overheat in hot weather), and lowers visibility, among other things.

When planning a flight, keep the weather in mind, and consult a performance chart to know the expected performance of the aircraft. Also consider calculating performance by taking the worst value from the performance chart, and increasing it by 10 to 20 percent. This added margin of safety will help increase the safety of your flight, and provide for a margin of error.

Consult your aircraft mechanic and review your aircraft’s pilot information manual to get more specific details on how heat and humidity may impact your particular aircraft.

Prepare to survive. Even if you prepare diligently, accidents can happen. Scary as it may be, it’s smart to prepare for the worst, but expect the best. Before flying, research and think through the weather, time of day or night, terrain to be crossed, and your destination. Know that information, and dress and pack appropriately. You may also want to consider purchasing and registering a personal locator beacon, which generally costs around $600. Such a unit can ensure the arrival of a helicopter within 30 meters of your location in about two hours almost anywhere in the U.S.

Beware of summer icing. Airframe icing can happen, even in summer. Go ahead and anticipate early morning frost on the wings and take care of it during your pre-flight check. Also use pitot heat on every flight — you don’t want any surprises.

If you encounter visible moisture of any kind, including rain, clouds, even snow, know how to handle it in your specific aircraft.

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