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Benefits of Training At Higher Altitudes

Category : Education

Altitude is one of the most important aspects of any flight. The “height above” a given fixed point is one of many things pilots are required to know. Most of the Continental United States is between seal level, or 0 feet and 3,000 feet above sea level. Few single engine piston pilots will ever have a need to go above 5,000 feet above sea level.

However, there is an entire section of the country that sits at 5,000 feet or higher. What happens if you need to fly in the “mountain time zone” of the country? How does that area effect the performance of your plane? What about you as the pilot, are you affected?

Learning to fly, or training at higher altitudes has some very specific benefits to every pilot.

Greater Mastery of Your Aircraft

Flying your plane at sea level gives you full advantage of all the performance specs the manufacture designed. Flying your plane at altitude comes with a performance hit. Learning to operate your aircraft at the limits of its performance envelope helps to fine tune your abilities.

Understanding Aircraft Performance

Density altitude is not just a question you see on the private pilot exam. It’s a real factor that effects every aircraft flying. In the higher altitude states density altitude effects your climb performance, take off distance, and weight and balance considerations to name a few things. Try flying a Cessna 172 at a field elevation of 5,600 feet and a density altitude of 7,400 feet. What do you think your take off distance to clear a 50-foot obstacle would be?

Learning with a qualified instructor will help you to really understand your aircraft’s performance and how to read those performance charts in your manual.

Step One for Mountainous Flying

While mountainous flying is different from higher altitude flying, the first step is learning to fly at altitude. Leaning your mixture for best performance is a must before you even start taxiing your plane. Many airstrips in the mountains are shorter due to space concerns. You must understand your performance data before you take off for that flight.

Understanding Pilot Performance

Much like your aircraft, you as the pilot are affected by the higher altitude. There is less oxygen to begin with at 5,000 feet so your body will feel those effects. High Altitude sickness can occur in individuals who are not acclimatized to the altitude. The symptoms of high altitude sickness are headaches, nausea, dizziness, slower reaction time and nose bleeds to name a few. Add to that your need to take more breaths because there is less oxygen at 5,000 feet should paint a picture on what performance hits you can take as a pilot.

The Dangers of Hypoxia

Many different articles have been written about hypoxia and the different variations. Here is one from AOPA. With the very real threat of hypoxia at higher altitudes, learning to fly in this environment with a qualified instructor can significantly reduce your risk of becoming another statistic.

Bragging Rights

Almost every pilot we know likes to talk about flying. Where they have flown, what planes they have logged in their log books and special areas they have flown. Add a story or two to your hangar talk and impress your friends with your higher altitude flying experience.

Have you flown at higher altitudes? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments.

Learning to fly in New Mexico is a fun challenge that will make you a better, safer pilot. For more information or to schedule a flight call us at 505-337-3398. Our friendly experienced flight staff are ready to show you the joy of flying at higher altitudes.


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