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Density altitude

  Density altitude is the altitude in the International Standard Atmosphere at which the air density would be equal to the actual air density at the place of observation. "Density Altitude" is the pressure altitude adjusted for non-standard temperature.

Both increase in temperature and increase in humidity cause a reduction in air density. Thus in hot and humid conditions the density altitude at a particular location may be significantly higher than the geometric altitude.


Aircraft safety

Air density is perhaps the single most important factor affecting airplane performance. It has a direct bearing on[1]:

  • The lift generated by the wings — reduction in air density reduces the wings lift, while the effect of humidity on lift is negligible.
  • The efficiency of the propeller — which for a propeller (effectively an airfoil) behaves similarly to lift on wings.
  • The power output of the engine — power output depends on oxygen intake, so the engine output is reduced as the equivalent "dry air" density decreases and produces even less power as moisture displaces oxygen in more humid conditions.

As a result of a density altitude that is higher than the actual physical altitude, the following effects are observed[1]:

  • The aircraft will accelerate more slowly down the runway as a result of reduced power production.
  • The aircraft will need to move faster to attain the same lift - this implies both a longer roll down the runway before liftoff and a higher speed which must be maintained when airborne to avoid stalling.
  • The aircraft will climb more slowly as the result of reduced power production.
  • The aircraft service ceiling (maximum altitude which can be attained) will be lower due to both lower power output and reduced lift, reducing the ability to fly above obstacles such as mountains


Density altitude can be calculated from atmospheric pressure and temperature (assuming dry air).

\mathrm{DA} = 145426 \left[1-\left(\frac{P_0/P_{SL}}{\mathrm{T}/T_{SL}}\right)^b\right]


DA = density altitude in feet
P0 = atmospheric (static) pressure
PSL = standard sea level atmospheric pressure (101.325 kPa)
T = true (static) air temperature in Kelvin (K) [add 273.15 to the Celsius (C)] figure
TSL = standard sea level air temperature (288.15 K)
b = 0.235

Easy formula to calculate Density altitude from Pressure Altitude

This is an easier formula to calculate (with great approximation) Density altitude from Pressure Altitude and International Standard Atmosphere temperature deviation

Density Altitude in feet = Pressure Altitude in feet + (120 x ISA deviation)

Of course you'll need:

Outside Air Temperature

ISA temperature = 15°C - (1.98°C/1000ft x Altitude in feet)

References and notes

  1. ^ a b AOPA Flight Training, Volume 19, Number 4; April 2007; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; ISSN 1047-6415
  • (1 December 1989) Air Navigation. Departments of the Air Force and Navy. AFM 51-40 / NAVAIR 00-80V-49. 
  • Air Density and Density Altitude. Retrieved on 09 January, 2006.
  • Advisory Circular AC 61-23C, Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Revised 1997

This article incorporates text from Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, a public domain work of the United States Government.

See also

  • Barometric formula
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Density_altitude". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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