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Is Flying High a Good Thing?

By Ian Brown, Editor, EAA 657159

November 2020 – No, I don't mean under the influence. I recently had a discussion about fuel economy at altitude. I'd suggested that it would be fascinating to see a tabulated estimate of fuel consumption with altitude. This was after an assertion that you can get there faster and use less fuel if you fly higher.

The quick response was that it was all there in ForeFlight and so it is. If you go into a flight plan and select Edit then hit your planned altitude button you will see a calculated table of fuel consumption, and flight times for your aircraft versus the forecast winds at various altitudes for the planned flight.

Interestingly it looks like headwinds/tailwinds might be more of a factor. I checked out a three hour flight today and found that I'd use the least fuel and get there soonest if I flew the whole route at 2,000 feet because of slightly better tailwinds. The difference was only half a gallon and ten minutes earlier arrival. The effect on fuel consumption vs. altitude was minimal between 2,000 feet and 9,500 feet and was actually better at the lower altitude. The next day I did the same thing and found a different result, with headwinds instead of tailwinds. I guess the really high fliers are into a different scenario, with commercial aircraft being designed for engine and fuel efficiency in the flight levels. Of course, with significant variations in wind at different altitudes there would be a stronger driver for altitude selection.


Wind strength and direction with Windy.

This brings me to a handy tool, which if you haven't discovered it yet, I'd highly recommend. The app is called Windy and is basically a weather tool, but gives a very quick and easy access to the winds with a fairly rapid scroller to see how the wind directions are going to change over the next few days. You can set it up for precipitation and all sorts of other stuff but by far the most handy is just a quick visualization of the wind strength and direction. For trip planning Windy is excellent, with the ability to scroll up to ten days ahead. Did I mention, it's free? Windy is available online as a web application, as well as a standalone app in the Apple App and Google Play stores.

A hearty thanks to all of our authors this month. For those of you considering writing an article, a recent review of which articles are read the most indicated that many of you do not read articles about chapters, possibly because there isn't one near you. How about getting together with some of your flying friends and starting an EAA chapter if you see the need? You can find out how here. There are a host of chapter resources like the handbook, HQ resources, training, and organization within your chapter. The most important result is the benefits of networking with other aviators in your area and making new friends.

The most read article so far this year was one by Mike Davenport titled "A Fuelish Mistake." It was about an aircraft running out of fuel and the fortunate survival of the occupants. The next most read was about avionics connectors. If either of those stimulate an idea for an article, why not put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and send us an article? You can get in touch with us at or via the "Contact Us" button at the top of the email.

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