Hot and grounded


Because these days we pay more attention to news about Arizona,* when I saw a headline last week about flights in Phoenix being cancelled due to intense heat, I was curious to know more.

My early research yielded a few facts about the number of planes affected (between 40 and 50), and the fact that hot air is less dense than cold air, but I didn’t feel like I was getting a good helping of relevant science.

My next stop was a WIRED article that was much clearer, so I recommend it if you, too, are interested in understanding at a deeper level. It’s not off-puttingly deep, though–it contains friendly sentences like “Since forces always come in pairs, the force that the wing exerts on the balls [of air] is the same magnitude as the force the balls exert on the wing. ” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I appreciate experts on a topic that can explain without being patronizing.



My takeaway was that because hot air is less dense than cold air (meaning fewer air molecules in a given area), in order to generate sufficient lift to take off, the plane will have to travel through more air to generate that lift. More air means more distance, and runways may not be long enough to allow for a longer ride on the ground. If I’ve got that wrong, comment below, and set me straight.


McDowell Mountains† in Arizona, by Harald Nagel


*Many of you know that Loquita is currently on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in the Tucson Arizona Mission. Right now she’s in a small town in New Mexico in a region that is sort of a side car to the Tucson mission. She’s happy to be there, as it’s cooler than Tucson.

†These mountains are near Scottsdale, which isn’t exactly Phoenix (maybe an hour’s drive), but the beauty of the picture tipped my hand.

[Images: Shane Sutton, Mean as Custard, Harald Nagel]



One thought on “Hot and grounded

  1. Pingback: Lori Notes turns 300 | Lori Notes

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