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Climbing for Smooth Air

Source:, Featuring Wally Moran

Subscriber Question:

"I am a VFR pilot and recently went out for a flight on a warm, summer afternoon. Puffy cumulus clouds dotted the sky at 4500 feet msl. The ride below was bumpy and I thought about trying to fly over the scattered clouds. There was plenty of room between them to make a climb, but I feared what would happen if I ended up trapped above them further along in the flight. What is the best way for pilots like me to deal with a bumpy ride? Slow down, try to climb, or just deal with it?" - Keith B.


"Those puffy cumulus clouds are caused by thermals which are the result of the sun heating things on the ground and the subsequent warm air rising. If you can maintain your VFR required cloud clearances and climb above them you will almost always have a smooth and cooler ride.

cumulus clouds

Typically when these conditions occur, the cloud cover remains scattered to broken. But, there are times when that is not true. So, the terminal forecast is a good place to start to determine if overcast is predicted along your route. Also the area forecast is another good place to check. Here is where you can find the predicted cloud tops.

If you are flying on a cross country, you can check weather ahead by tuning up the AWOS or ATIS of the airports just ahead on your route. If they start reporting overcast, it is time to find a hole and descend. You can also check in with flight watch to confirm that stations ahead are still forecasting scattered or broken.

There is no reason you cannot fly VFR over top safely as long as you do proper planning and maintain aggressive inflight awareness."

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