Hate airline turbulence? Many people do -- either because it makes them motion sick or simply scares the heck out of them. But now there's a solution, as a new turbulence avoidance system has just been approved for use in U.S. airports.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), provides information to pilots, who can then steer an aircraft away from areas where the ride can get rough -- sometimes dangerously so. A network of wind measuring instruments, coupled with a lot of computer power, interprets changing weather conditions. Five anemometers and three wind profilers around the airport transmit data several times per minute.
Flyers approaching the airport in Juneau, Alaska, have had this system in place since July. Most of the airports that will benefit most are in areas with rugged, steep topography -- Juneau is one, as are airports in the mountainous states of the American West. One reason is that as air hits mountains, it can form a "mountain wave," or "lee wave," which is when air behaves like ocean waves breaking on a shore.
And turbulence isn't just a matter of bumps: in 1966, a British Overseas Airways Corporation passenger jet crashed because of turbulence caused by winds over Mount Fuji near Tokyo, and in 1992, a cargo plane near Evergreen, Colo., actually suffered wing damage, though the pilot was able to safely land in Denver. In Juneau, plane crashes have occurred because of turbulence. The airport basically shuts down when it looks like the air will be rough.
Beyond just making flights more comfortable and safer, the NCAR system will reduce delays, since there won't be the same worries about weather and traffic control will know beforehand whether planes should be flying or not. It will also show corridors of smooth air, allowing flights to come and go while avoiding hazards. For a city like Juneau this is particularly important, as there isn't any way in or out of the city except by plane or boat.