Taking on Turbulence
Few pilots wake up in the morning and say, “It’s going to be a very bumpy day. I should get out there
and fly!” One exception may be your flight instructor, who at a certain point in your training may be
thinking along those exact lines. The traditional introduction of a new pilot to the lumps and bumps of an
atmosphere on the move is gradual, or at least unpredictable—not a lesson plan in itself. But turbulence is a
fact of life of aviation weather, so the sooner a pilot gets used to the idea that turbulence and its ergonomic
discomforts may arise at any time, the better.
Getting ready to fly when the bumps are already known to be out there is part preflight planning, part mental prep.
How should you adjust your piloting technique? How does your aircraft behave in bumpy air?
Begin your research with a glance out your kitchen window. Stratiform clouds often tell a story of stable, smooth air.
Cumulus clouds suggest convective currents and thermal turbulence, especially during warm weather. Altocumulus
standing lenticular clouds developing downwind of mountains warn of severe turbulence.
Next check precautionary statements in the area forecast (FA). They are discussed in Chapter 12 of the Pilot’s Handbook
of Aeronautical Knowledge.
Look over pilot reports from your briefing, noting the time, location, altitude, and type of aircraft involved.
When preflighting, secure your baggage, for safety and to preserve a correct center of gravity. Be sure the
baggage load does not exceed the published limit. “The limit is based primarily on the strength of the aircraft
structure. It doesn't mean the floor will buckle if you put 201 pounds in a baggage hold limited to 200 pounds.
It does mean that you increase the risk of overstressing the structure in extreme turbulence or under maximum
certificated acceleration (G) loads,” wrote Mark Twombly in the November 2001 Flight Training column
“What it looks like: When baggage is properly secured.” Try the Air Safety Institute’s online Aerodynamics
course, which features an interactive weight-and-balance exercise.
Windy day departures need specialized technique; review with your instructor. Read this AOPA Aviation Forum
post of how one pilot’s experience made him question his method.
Planning a long day’s ride? Prolonged flight in turbulence can bring on fatigue. Know the warning signs and
Training tames turbulence, producing a confident, more skillful pilot.
FlyBoys Flight Centers