Greek Mythology has Icarus as the first casualty to the hazardous attitudes of antiauthority and invulnerability. As the legend goes, Icarus ignored his Father and flew too close to the sun, crashing into the sea. Flying in the summer today bears striking similarities to this tale.
The science behind the issue of flying when the temperature rises is simple: As air warms up, it expands, becoming less dense and less supportive of an airplane moving through it. However, heat also poses a very real issue for pilots themselves. Physiological stress in high temperature conditions is a significant risk to safety, as a pilot’s body has to work tirelessly to keep cool while flying. In fact, instances of heat stress is common with flight crews. Every summer, flight crews are reminded to hydrate and stay nourished. And every summer someone nearly goes unconscious in the cockpit or on the ramp because they only drank 12 ounces of water in a 3 hour period, or they drank 36 ounces of coffee before flying for 5 hours.
Ironically, most heat-related incidents on record could have been preventable with the proper intake of water and nutrients such as salty snacks, electrolyte replenishing liquids, and by avoiding caffeine and soft drinks. The fact is, many of the individuals involved in these situations knew they were going to be operating in high temperatures, and that they would need to be hydrated and nourished. However, none of them followed that simple rule.
So as the mercury rises, it’s important for pilots to take certain precautions to stay cool and alert before, during, and after flight. Avoid overheating by following these simple tips: stay out of direct sunlight, wear loose-fitting clothing and keep hydrated by drinking lots of water and be sure to avoid drinks that have caffeine.
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