Do planes fly above rain? A flying plane skillfully negotiating the clouds above, seemingly unfazed by the soggy ground below is a sight to behold.
That is when many people wonder and ask, ” Do planes fly above rain clouds”?
Come with us as we investigate the exciting intersection of technology, meteorology, and the unstoppable will fly.
And all this to answer, ” Do planes fly above the rain?”
Yes, planes can fly above the rain and they do it quite often because the rain clouds usually do not go beyond 6,500ft and planes fly above that range.
Do Planes Fly Above Rain?
Yes. Planes regularly fly above the rain.
Rain-producing clouds develop very low down in the atmosphere and rarely extend beyond 6,500ft. In fact, some even touch ground as fog impeding visibility.
Such rain clouds are dense and heavy with moisture and do not rise high enough to have any impact on commercial flights.
Flight altitudes and Rain
Commercial flights fly at about 35,000ft. An altitude some 10,000 ft above most rain producing clouds.
Thunderclouds are a different matter. These can reach 60,000ft, far too high for any plane to fly over.
Around them a phenomenon called windshear suddenly changes the direction of fast-moving air currents.
These buffering winds make thunderstorms much too hazardous to simply fly through even at a jet airliner’s cruising speed.
An Important Consideration
In rare conditions in the cold high altitudes, moisture drawn from the cloud freezes as ice on the wings.
There is an equally rare chance of the plane stalling, or heavy rain causing a ‘flame out’ extinguishing the engine.
Cruising Altitude based on Rain
In the vast majority of instances, once in flight, modern aircraft are not unduly impacted by rain.
A small aircraft will feel more of an impact than a large jet-propelled aircraft traveling very fast at around 575 mph.
In minutes, they shoot through relatively small, localized weather as they climb towards the higher atmosphere.
High up with the jet streams, they are unlikely to meet ordinary rain.
Instead, they encounter massive global weather systems capable of hurricane strength winds and unpleasant turbulence.
It happens when the plane encounters:
- Sudden up and down drafts
- Pockets of air with low pressure
- Below zero temperatures
Preferred Altitudes for Commercial Aircraft When Raining
In high wind and heavy rain conditions, all planes are grounded.
Weather systems that are hundreds of miles across and stretch into the atmosphere for ten miles are more than capable of producing severe weather nasties.
This is when you might encounter subzero ice rain and golf ball sized hailstones.
In normal flying conditions, commercial aircraft fly at altitudes where the air offers less resistance to save fuel.
They fly direct routes to hubs in flight routes at altitudes between 32,000ft and almost 40,000ft, often reaching their set cruising altitude just minutes after take-off.
And that is obviously way above than rain clouds.
How Can Planes Fly Above Rain and Rain Clouds?
Aircraft are designed and built to fly in all sorts of weather conditions.
Normal rain has no impact on the structure of the plane or on its performance.
It is mainly because the pilots are highly trained on how to fly in all types of weather and have a bank of technology to help them make informed decisions.
Managing Visibility While Raining
Pilots and airlines prefer to err on the side of caution and not fly in the poor visibility of heavy rain conditions.
This is especially true if low temperatures mean there is a risk of the raindrops freezing onto the windshield or icing the wings.
Heavy rain in itself is not a problem even for a plane in the air. The instruments are designed to take over flying in low visibility.
The Role of Tech in Helping Planes Fly
There are all sorts of technology on board modern aircraft, including autopilot, but the pilots undertake the take-off, landing and taxiing.
They need at least 18,000ft of visibility to land and travel from the runway to the terminal building safely.
In poor weather, visibility is the main concern, not how well the plane handles.
Fact: Normal heavy rain has no impact on large commercial planes although it does sometimes ground smaller aircraft and in certain conditions render them not legal to fly.
Effect of Rain on Aircraft Performance
Planes can fly above rain because there is little to no effect of rain on aircraft performance.
The rain has little effect usually but when the rain is part of a thunderstorm pilots use radar and weather reports to find a way around them.
Although even heavy rain is unlikely to structurally damage a plane, excess water can cause problems on take-off and landing.
Even if the visibility is reasonable, the rain leaves runways slick and more challenging.
In any rain the tower, ground crew and pilots are constantly assessing the risks and even at the last moment might abort a landing and re-route the plane to a safer place.
An Important Consideration
However well-made the plane is or how accomplished the pilot, flying in precipitation of any kind is not risk-free.
Rain is considered a serious threat to flight safety.
Fact: There have been accidents attributed to rain with concerns that rain could affect the plane’s aerodynamics by sticking to the wings not just impeding the view from the windshield.
The Use of Repellent Systems to Fly above Rain
The main reason flights are grounded or diverted is not heavy rain but poor visibility due partly to the rain on the windshield.
Keeping that in mind, aircraft cockpit windows are treated with a hydrophobic seal coating. The rain beads up and rolls off.
There are also chemical rain repellents that draw raindrops together, much like mercury.
As well as better visibility, such treatments could eliminate the need for wipers completely.
It would improve visibility even further although airplane wipers are pretty high tech too.
They can be electric or hydraulic, with separate systems for the pilots and co-pilot but suitable for operating at speed.
How Do Planes Deal with Rain and Rain Clouds?
Pilots have reported dips in performance that seem to increase with the rain intensity.
It happens as the air mixed with rainwater covers the plane’s lifting surfaces.
Its lower density produces reduced lift which manifests as a drag, slowing the airspeed.
At any one time there are multiple aircraft following a flight route.
The drag each plane experiences slowing it down creates a knock-on effect resulting in:
- Missed Connections
Since regional hubs have several flight routes, a significant storm has the potential to throw the air transportation network into chaos.
To deal with these issues, planes often navigate around bad weather.
Navigation around Severe Weather When Needed
Along with safety and passenger comfort, the drag wasting both fuel and time adds to the list of reasons why airlines want to avoid flying during severe weather.
This is true even though planes are super high tech and equipped with aircraft weather radar.
It is a collection of instruments that detect and display weather activity, including lightning. They also detect how dense any precipitation is.
Pilots also use at least two weather reports:
- A worldwide PIREP system to instantly report actual adverse weather conditions
- A general weather conditions report
Along with information provided by airport radar, pilots can navigate around most severe conditions to at least land somewhere safely.
When is It Essential to Divert or Delay Flights?
By far, the majority of delays and diversions are weather related, close to 75.5% between June 2017 and May 2022.
Not all delays were related to the weather at these particular airports but the result of them quickly reaching capacity as they accept planes diverting in from elsewhere.
Airlines follow the weather very closely, taking advantage of real time satellite imagery and only begin to delay or cancel flights when they have to.
Circumstances Leading to Delays
- Low visibility, including fog, smog, snow and very heavy rain.
- Ice on the plane despite chemical de-icing procedures.
- When crosswinds speeds, a reliable signal of approaching severe storms and fronts reaching between 30 and 37 mph.
- Slick runways resulting in a plane sliding off the runway on a ‘runway excursion’.
- Bad weather, a major hub effecting every flight that routes through it.
Fact: Newark and La Guardia together had a total of 66,000 significant delays in 2019 alone.
Do planes fly above rain?
Absolutely, planes can certainly fly above rain clouds, and they always do that without a problem.
These days, planes are so advanced that they can tackle most weather conditions, including heavy rain.
In fact, even small planes are now in a position to comfortably fly in difficult weather conditions.
So, there is no need to worry when it is raining and you want to fly.