You’re driving to the airport for your flight lesson and looking up at the sky. What you notice could tell you a great deal about the conditions of your upcoming flight lesson.
Let’s face it, if there was no wind, clear air and a smooth ride all the time, flying wouldn’t be as much fun. The challenge is a part of the experience, a pivotal piece. Though the ocassional days where everything lines up and its smooth, calm & clear are pretty incredible!
Today you look ahead up the road and notice a bright blue sky with a bunch of puffy white clouds spread across the sky. From your written examination studies you know those are cumulus clouds and you can see the cotton ball looking tops every so gently expanding.
The clouds are still fairly round in shape so they aren’t towering yet which would indicate a thunderstorm is brewing, instead they are what I call,”cumulo-bumpy”. On a much warmer day they’d like develop into thunderstorms, but for today they simply indicate that you can expect good visibility thanks to unstable air and likely some turbulence, or bumps, if you will. The rising air that is creating the clouds will affect your flight the same way.
This brings us to the two types of air masses. You can have stable air or unstable air. Which is better, well that is up to you…
The quickest way to remember air mass characteristics is with the 5-S’s of Stable air:
- Stable air
- Smooth ride
- Stinky visibility
- Steady precipitation
- Stratiform clouds
Thus, unstable air would be the alternative: bumpy ride, good visibility, showery precipitation and cumuliform clouds.
When it comes written exam time, just remember the 4-S method for determining the air mass type based on characteristics. Next time you’re driving around looking up at the sky, see if you can figure out what type of air mass is dominating the area…
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9