Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Though there are various kinds of pressure, pilots are mainly concerned with atmospheric pressure. It is one of the basic factors in weather changes, helps to lift the airplane, and actuates some of the important flight instruments in the airplane. These instruments are the altimeter, the airspeed indicator, the rate-of-climb indicator, and the manifold pressure gauge.

Though air is very light, it has mass and is affected by the attraction of gravity. Therefore, like any other substance, it has weight, and because of its weight, it has force. Since it is a fluid substance, this force is exerted equally in all directions, and its effect on bodies within the air is called pressure. Under standard conditions at sea level, the average pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere is approximately 14.7 lb./in. The density of air has significant effects on the airplane's performance. As air becomes less dense, it reduces:
  • power because the engine takes in less air,
  • thrust because the propeller is less efficient in thin air, and
  • lift because the thin air exerts less force on the airfoils

The pressure of the atmosphere varies with time and location. Due to the changing atmospheric pressure, a standard reference was developed. The standard atmosphere at sea level is a surface temperature of 59�F or 15�C and a surface pressure of 29.92 in. Hg or 1013.2 millibars.

A standard temperature lapse rate is one in which the temperature decreases at the rate of approximately 3.5�F or 2�C per thousand feet up to 36,000 feet. Above this point, the temperature is considered constant up to 80,000 feet. A standard pressure lapse rate is one in which pressure decreases at a rate of approximately 1 in. Hg per 1,000 feet of altitude gain to 10,000 feet.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has established this as a worldwide standard, and it is often referred to as International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) or ICAO Standard Atmosphere. Any temperature or pressure that differs from the standard lapse rates is considered nonstandard temperature and pressure. Adjustments for nonstandard temperatures and pressures are provided on the manufacturer's performance charts.

Since all airplane performance is compared and evaluated with respect to the standard atmosphere, all aircraft instruments are calibrated for the standard atmosphere. Thus, certain corrections must apply to the instrumentation, as well as the airplane performance, if the actual operating conditions do not fit the standard atmosphere. In order to account properly for the nonstandard atmosphere, certain related terms must be defined.

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