Wednesday, January 9, 2008


The small amount of water vapor suspended in the atmosphere may be almost negligible under certain conditions, but in other conditions humidity may become an important factor in the performance of an airplane. Water vapor is lighter than air; consequently, moist air is lighter than dry air. Therefore, as the water content of the air increases, the air becomes less dense, increasing density altitude and decreasing performance.

It is lightest or least dense when, in a given set of conditions, it contains the maximum amount of water vapor.

Humidity, also called "relative humidity," refers to the amount of water vapor contained in the atmosphere, and is expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount of water vapor the air can hold. This amount varies with the temperature; warm air can hold more water vapor, while colder air can hold less. Perfectly dry air that contains no water vapor has a relative humidity of 0 percent, while saturated air, that cannot hold any more water vapor, has a relative humidity of 100 percent. Humidity alone is usually not considered an important factor in calculating density altitude and airplane performance; however, it does contribute.

The higher the temperature, the greater amounts of water vapor that the air can hold. When comparing two separate air masses, the first warm and moist (both qualities tending to lighten the air) and the second cold and dry (both qualities making it heavier), the first necessarily must be less dense than the second. Pressure, temperature, and humidity have a great influence on airplane performance because of their effect upon density. There are no rules-of-thumb or charts used to compute the effects of humidity on density altitude so take this into consideration by expecting a decrease in overall performance in high humidity conditions.

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