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The view: VFR flying between fair weather cumulus cloud formations

The pilot: Jack Morris

The photographer: Glenda Rose using an Olympus TG-4 camera

The airplane: 1964 Piper Cherokee PA28-180

The mission: Return flight from Ocean City, MD (OXB) the Hartford CT (HFD)

The memory: Weather transitions from warm to cold fronts often produce fair weather scattered to broken cumulus clouds. These had a ceiling of about 5000 feet and ragged tops up to 9500 ft. Flying VFR through cloud alleys on a sunny day can be very enjoyable, but should only be done if you are also IFR rated just in case.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in our weekly series called simply the “Friday Photo.” Each week we’ll share a great photo taken from the cockpit – one that shares the joy, beauty or fun of flying. If you’d like to join in, send your photo and description (using the format above) to: [email protected]

Jack Morris
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6 replies
  1. Terry
    Terry says:


    I don’t like to be a stickler but it looks to me from your photo that it will be pretty hard to maintain a lateral clearance from the clouds of at least 2,000′ per FAR 91.155 while under VFR. Maybe you quickly filed IFR to stay legal.

    Terry Spath ATP
    Butte, Montana

  2. Jack
    Jack says:


    Its hard to tell from a photo what the actual distances are, as clouds are amorphous objects. Like any fractal, you can’t determine the size of a cloud from a fixed or stationary point. However, when you are moving through space, the human visual system can readily determine object size and distance from experience.

    Assuming you are flying at 110 knots or 120 mph, that’s two miles per minute or about 10,500 ft per minute. So 2000 ft equates to about 12 seconds of travel. Using this fact, it is pretty easy to determine your cloud distance because you can estimate just how long it would take to reach a cloud.

    Think of a passenger train. Those things close to the tracks travel by the window very fast. Things farther away travel by the window slower. But in reality all the things are traveling at the same speed. It’s just your distance from them that tells you their apparent distance from you.

  3. Brian Eisner
    Brian Eisner says:

    As a professional weather man and an RV-4 pilot I would not recommend flying in to Cumulus Clouds like the ones in the picture. Definitely turbulence in there and depending how big the Cumulus Clouds are also consider mixed icing.

  4. terry spath
    terry spath says:

    I believe that the lateral limits have been legislated to help VFR pilots not get into the turbulent CB’s where icing can be instantaneous due to supercooled water and the turbulence can quickly induce an upset.

    I fly a 200 King Air out of Montana and spend a lot of the summer months dodging CB’s and penetrating cold front boundaries. Sometimes even with radar you end up in a cumulus as the photo shows. It makes for an unpleasant ride for my passengers.

  5. Jack
    Jack says:

    Thanks for all the great input. Looks can be deceiving, but the intent of the photo was to generate awe, not fear. As far as the ride was concerned, there was little turbulence, probably because these scattered to broken cloud formations were only a couple of thousand feet thick, typical of fair weather clouds along the East Coast and I was in a climb to get above them.

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