3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… Getting Ready for a Summer Flight

Summer means warm temperatures, sunshine and beach days for many folks. Since moving to Florida, I’ve come to know a whole new level of heat, not necessarily temperatures that are much more extreme, but rather extended periods (days, weeks, months) of extreme heat. But regardless of the temperature, flying is flying and it’s the best recreational activity, by a mile or more!

That said, there are some things to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to go flying in a general aviation airplane during the summer months, and even on extremely warm days during the shoulder seasons, also known as spring and/or fall. These are simple, small things but they can make a world of difference when it comes to making your flight a more enjoyable experience for you and your passengers.

  1. It’s hot and there is no air conditioner*

I marked this one with an asterisk because the majority of light, general aviation aircraft are not equipped with an air conditioner system, which comes standard in ANY automobile these days. However, even the aircraft that are equipped with the necessary second alternator and a bonus air conditioner system do not produce good, cool air until the system has had some time to “warm up” (hehe…). As a result, the a/c misses the most critical time when the cockpit is the warmest, from when you and your passengers get into the airplane until takeoff. With minimal air flow through the vents, even with the windows/doors open, the cockpit heats up quickly with all of the body heat present before takeoff where air flow through the vents increases significantly.

This means that you and your passengers are going to sweat, and it’s going to be a little uncomfortable for a bit. This isn’t the end of the world as long as your passengers are prepared for it. I made my first “warm day” flight in Florida in early June and I could not believe how much sweat I had rolling down my forehead. The cabin temperature was very warm, even with the windows open during taxi, thanks to the body heat from the check instructor, myself and the outside air temperature.

july 15

The difference between the temperatures on the surface and at your cruising altitude can be significant, and on a really hot day, incredible!

Simply preparing your passengers for this with the assurance that as soon as you start the takeoff roll it will significantly improve makes a world of difference. Don’t forget to tell your passengers that for every 1,000 feet you climb the temperature drops roughly 4 degrees! Often making the cruise portion of the flight very enjoyable on those extremely warm days!

  1. Make sure the air vents are open before you secure your seat belt

Air vents in an airplane are in one of two places: 1. Where they can be easily reached, resulting in not doing a great job cooling you down, and 2. Where it takes a yoga, ninja master to reach them, resulting in less than desirable, yet somewhat effective, cooling.

The majority of my flight instruction time was in Cessna 172S models, which had two, fairly effectively placed vents, one at roughly yoke level and one up above you, both offset to the outside of the pilot and the instructor. I would often open both, pointing one on at my arms and the other (the higher one) towards my face. This did a pretty good job of keeping me cool, except my legs of course.

Many Piper aircraft on the other hand have air vents directly above the pilots and another on the sidewall of the cockpit below the seat on each side. These vents can be aimed to provide good air flow but not much direct air over the pilot and flight instructor… Just an example. The other part of this is that it can be tough to reach the air vents in flight. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t impossible, and many pilots who spend a few hours in an aircraft can get the hang of it, but don’t confuse being able to operate the vents with being able to easily operate the vents. When it comes to during the flight, remember you’re the pilot, you need to fly the plane and not be distracted trying to help others with vents, though you are responsible for their safety and enjoyment. The best thing to do is to get all of the vents set and ready before loading your passengers into the airplane. Hint: During the winter it’s also a good idea to make sure all of the vents are closed before loading too… Trying to close an open vent at 5,000 feet in well-below freezing temperatures isn’t a fun adventure, just saying…

  1. Heat only makes air sickness worse…

Air sickness is a state of sensory confusion and heat will only make it worse. The discomfort from being too warm just adds to the overall discomfort of a passenger. It is important to make sure there is air flow around passengers, especially around their faces, if they start to show the signs of air sickness: they are quiet, they start to appear pale, sweating, especially the upper lip, etc…

It is also vital to be prepared in case the air sickness gets the best of your passenger. Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than flying a plane on a hot day with “puke” in the cockpit… Make sure you have a sick sac or some other bag ready to go just in case. You never know when it’s going to happen, I went years and years of flight instructing without ever having a “puker” then, bam, 2 in a week! Both on hot days too… So be prepared and if all else fails, tell them to puke down their shirt, whatever they do, don’t project it and don’t try to open a window while the airplane is moving in an attempt to get it out the window! That never, ever works!

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


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