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Fri, Sep 08, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (09.08.06): Cumulus Clouds

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 09.08.06

Bright blue skies beckon you aloft. A moderate breeze pushes warm air over the first turning leaves of autumn. The sky's deep blue is patches with puffy, white clouds, a layer of cumulus. What a lovely day to introduce a friend to personal flight.

But these idyllic conditions, which appear so enticing, might not be the best skies for an introductory flight. Here's why:

Cumulus bumps

Cumulus clouds form when pockets of moist air reach an altitude where the temperature and dew point meet. Vaporous water then condenses into visible clouds.

Cumulus clouds by definition share a puffy appearance with a flat bottom. The flat bottom equates to the altitude where temperature and dew point are equal; beneath the flat bottom moisture is still present but the air is warm enough that water does not condense. The puffy or "cotton ball" appearance comes from rising currents of air pushing the moisture aloft. Think of cumulus clouds as being whitecaps on waves of rising and descending air. Fly through those waves (at or below the height of cumulus clouds) and you may be in for a rough ride. Above the cumulus tops you can usually expect a smooth, cool ride.

If you're flying an airplane that can rapidly climb above the cloud tops into smooth air, and terrain or airspace won't require you to remain low in the bumps after takeoff or as you maneuver to land, you have the makings of a fabulous first flight. But if your goal is to sightsee the ground, your airplane's capabilities prevent a rapid climb and descent, or Air Traffic Control will keep you below the clouds for a significant time, you might want to put off that first flight for the calm before sunset, or a nice, stratus-cloudy day.

Aero-tip of the day: Wait for the right conditions to introduce friends to personal aviation. First impressions count-you want a cool, smooth first flight.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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