Since both temperature and pressure decrease with altitude, it might appear that the density of the atmosphere would remain fairly constant with increased altitude. This is not true, however, because pressure drops more rapidly with increased altitude than does the temperature. The result is that density decreases with increased altitude.

By use of the general gas law, studied earlier, it can be shown that for a particular gas, pressure and temperature determine the density. Since standard pressure and temperatures have been associated with each altitude, the density of the air at these standard temperatures and pressures must also be considered standard. Thus, a particular atmospheric density is associated with each altitude. This gives rise to the expression “density altitude,” symbolized “Hd.” A density altitude of 15,000 ft is the altitude at which the density is the same as that considered standard for 15,000 ft. Remember, however, that density altitude is not necessarily true altitude. For example, on a day when the atmospheric pressure is higher than standard and the temperature is lower than standard, the density which is standard at 10,000 ft might occur at 12,000 ft. In this case, at an actual altitude of 12,000 ft, we have air that has the same density as standard air at 10,000 ft. Density altitude is a calculated altitude obtained by correcting pressure altitude for temperature.