Pilot Performance - The Flight Environment
by Henry K.

The flight environment is a rapidly changing three dimensional world that we can only begin to appreciate at ground level. Weather conditions take on new meaning in aviation as you are actually inside of the environment that you could take shelter from on the ground. An understanding of meteorology and weather, and the effects on flying is a prerequisite for pilot licensing and critical to the planning and execution of safe and efficient aviation. 

An aircraft in flight is supported within the atmosphere enveloping the earth. The earth’s surface agitates the lower portion of the atmosphere and adds moisture, causing shifting winds, powerful up and down drafts, clouds, and storms within a layer approximately seven miles deep. Like water in the oceans, the air is in continual motion creating wind and turbulence. Moisture in the atmosphere varies, existing as water vapour or becoming visible as water droplets, ice crystals, clouds, and precipitation. Air density also varies affecting an aircraft’s performance and flight characteristics. Temperature and pressure also play an important role in the interaction of factors that produce weather phenomena. Temperature variations cause pressure variations, which lead to air movement, which in turn creates further variations in temperature and pressure. The surface of the earth contributes by supplying heat and moisture to the atmosphere, and through the variations in topography. 

Turbulent, chaotic, rapidly changing, uncontrollable

The flight environment is characterized by major weather patterns affected by the movement of air masses, continental factors and topographical features and also by the very localized features and geographical characteristics. Weather changes very rapidly, often within minutes and conditions may vary significantly between short distances. Some weather hazards such as downdrafts, windshifts, windshear and low air density are invisible, with no discernible warning of their occurrence. Icing is a significant hazard often occurring at temperatures when it is least expected. Weather changes in flight at different altitudes can be insidious and difficult to discern, presenting an ongoing challenge to the successful and safe operation of an aircraft.

Great advances have been made in the understanding of the characteristics, composition, and dynamics of the atmosphere. Weather phenomena and conditions can to a large degree be forecasted with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and there is an extensive weather monitoring and information network available. The flight environment is understandable to a high degree, predictable to a degree, but in the final analysis it is totally uncontrollable.

How do you execute with skill and precision in an uncontrollable environment?

Effective performance requires the ability and skill to adapt quickly and decisively to the changes in the world in which we operate, developing a new and unique response to every new and unique set of circumstances. In this respect the challenge is not one of control or bringing order to chaos, but rather accepting chaos, change, and turbulence, embracing it, and operating with skill and proficiency within it to achieve your objectives.

Pilot Performance TM - Superior Performance and Adventure.

In life you’re either a passenger or a pilot ... It’s your choice.

Sounds just like business. (ed.)


Henry K. is a private pilot, author, artist, actor, whale watcher, fly fisherman, tour guide, seasonal server and surfer residing in Tofino, B.C. Canada, as well as a contributing editor to The CEO Refresher.

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