Hello Doug,I fly with Air Canada quite often and by now I understand that weatherpatterns have a lot to do with turbulence. My questions is, can turbulence bring the plane down??? Or brake it apart in the air. Silly question but Ialways wanted to know. Thanks. Iwona
Iwona. Thanks for the email.
There are six different types of turbulence and one man made (wing tip vortices from other aircraft).
My first enRoute article some 12 years ago addressed turbulence called, "Why the Bumps?" (see below)
An aircraft is built such that it can handle whatever mother nature throws at it. So, I have yet to hear about an airliner
breaking up in flight due to turbulence.
As far as bringing an airplane down, turbulence near the ground could effectively cause an accident. One type, LLWS (Low Level Wind Shear)
can be dangerous to low flying aircraft. Having said that, most airliners are equipped to tell the pilot windshear is present.
We pilots know what conditions are conducive to turbulence and we consult weather charts, weather reports and receive pilot reports from other aircraft on
a continual basis. We try to give the smoothest flight possible because after all, if it's bumpy, we don't get served either.
All the best, and again, thanks for taking the time to submit your question.
Why the Bumps?
The different types of turbulence
Those bumps sometimes experienced when flying are not caused by air pockets, as is commonly believed. Actually, air pockets do not exist. Sudden movements are caused by disturbed conditions of the atmosphere due to irregular wind currents, or turbulence. There are six different types of turbulence and they can occur during each phase of flight. Fortunately, your flight crew is prepared to avoid all six, thus ensuring your comfort.
Mechanical turbulence occurs when aircraft encounters strong winds blowing over irregular terrain such as hills, trees or buildings. This type occurs near to the ground at less than 1300 metres (4,000 feet). To avoid mechanical turbulence after take off, the pilot will steepen the angle of the aircraft’s climb. When landing, he or she will decrease the aircraft’s speed.
The second kind is known as convective turbulence. During the day, the sun heats up the earth, which then heats the overlying air. The hotter the air, the bumpier the turbulence. Convection, the way that heated air travels upwards in the atmosphere, is at its maximum during the heat of a summer afternoon. Cloud formations are good indicators of the degree of convection at work, and of a pilot sees white, puffy, convective or cumulus clouds,, it is often a sign of turbulence. He or she can then easily avoid it.
When these billowy clouds become taller than they are wide, they are called towering cumulus, and signal the buildup of thunderstorms. Once these clouds are moderately or fully developed, they will show up on the aircraft’s radar-not the clouds themselves, but the rain showers inside. The larger and more intense the rain shower, the more obvious they appear on the radar. Pilots can then avoid them by navigating around the showers.
A third type of turbulence is low level wind shear (LLWS). This occurs as a result of updrafts under a thunderstorm or when winds funnel down a valley. Pilots are familiar with this hazard and avoid flying under a thunderstorm, particularly during take off or landing. Many aircraft now have wind-shear detecting equipment on board, and a number of airports are equipped to detect LLWS. Orographic turbulence occurs when a strong wind blows perpendicular to a mountain range, causing a phenomenon known as a “mountain wave” (orography is the field of knowledge concerned with mountains). By watching for the three types of clouds that may indicate its presence, a pilot can then avoid the bumpier air of a mountain range’s downwind side or climb above it.
A fifth type, called frontal turbulence, is brought on by a sudden change in wind direction due to a weather front. A quick look at the latest weather chart will tell a pilot where these fronts are, as well as the speed at which they are moving.
The last, and perhaps least understood kind of turbulence, is clear air turbulence (CAT). This forms when little to no weather systems are present, and is caused by jet streams- long, thin bands of fast-moving air sandwiched between the first two layers of the atmosphere, usually located at ten thousand metres (33,000 feet). Jet streams corkscrew around the globe like coiling, meandering snakes and occur when two air masses collide. The resulting winds can cause significant turbulence, but can be avoided without difficulty.
The members of your flight crew are always up-to-date on the latest weather reports and forecasts, and are expertly trained to avoid or minimize any discomfort. So sit back and relax; the next bump you experience will be your landing!
There are six different types of turbulence and they can occur during each phase of flight. Fortunately, your flight crew is prepared to avoid all six.
Such unbridled optimism gives way to humble reality, doesn't it. But that's a good thing. Someone reading just the original article may think their pilots fail their training when they allow the airplane to penetrate turbulence.
Fche. You make a valid point. The words, "Fortunately, your flight crew is prepared to avoid all six" was the enRoute editor at the time adding "flower power."
That's one thing I quickly learned in freelance writing, what one writes and what is actually published is not always the same. But as they say, "that's show biz."
Thanks for the post!
Dear Flight Deck, I've been reading whatever I can find on the web that is published as truth and fact, rather than these fear of flying sites which are no where near factual enough for me. I was an AirCadet as a kid and never had a fear of flying. However, at 36,000ft approx. 1.5hrs into the flight coming back from Mumbai to London on the 5th April 09, I had the worst experience of my life that has left me deeply concerned for my safety and Im not sure I will ever fly again as a result. I can only assume our flight went through clear air turbulence because the sky was clear and bright blue. I have been through turbulence many times before but nothing like this. I know that wings can safely flex up to a metre, but I saw the wings easily reaching this and the fuselage at front twisting to the left and the back (tale) twisting the right, like huge hands were chinese burning the aircraft body, people were thrown everywhere, afterwards all 3 pilots left the cockpit (one after another) to inspect something towards to the rear of the craft. Nothing was ever said to us from the pilots for the duration of the flight. I have completely lost faith in pilots. You see; I transfer my life into their trust and I expect that to be respected permanently. Was this just bad luck, bad crew? Or even scared crew themselves? I thought air clear turbulence could be avoided now? Please help, I need facts and explaination for what happened. Regards Lucy
Recently I flew from Toronto to Costa Rica. About 6 minutes after take off from Toronto the plane literally dropped. There was no turbulence prior to this drop, just a drop and people screamed. This drop sensation occurred 2 more times during the course of our flight. Can you tell me what that was? I have flown a lot and never experienced anything like that before. I am now terrified to get on a plane. I managed to get home smoothly from Costa Rica but am now rethinking the entire vacation/flying idea.
Kathy. Were you flying Air Canada? If you were, then your were probably on an Airbus 319. Sometimes out of Toronto ATC (Air Traffic Control) can not allow us to climb because of other airplanes
so we must level off. The climb is quite steep so when we level off the engines go to near idle and it gives a sensation of dropping. Even though this is normal, the sound and sensation is disheartening to passengers. While heading south we must go through Cleveland airspace. They have hundreds of airplanes crisscrossing the skies and again a "level off" may have given you a "sinking feeling.
I hope this helps. If I had more info I would be able to pin point things a bit more.
Don't let this deter your vacations down South.
The more you fly, the easier it gets! :)
Great article Doug, but your statement "Fortunately, your flight crew is prepared to avoid all six." sometimes can't be honored.
Back in June 2007, I was on an AC A321(C-GITU), Seat 4F climbing out of Calgary off Rwy 16, heading to Ottawa, and we encountered so much turbulence in the first 1.5 hours of flight that almost everyone on-board was sick and scared. After takeoff, my GPS said we leveled out at FL240. We were still in the thick dark grey clouds and being tossed around like salad in a bowl. Looking back at the wings, I could see them flexing to their extremes. Overhead bins were constantly opening and stuff falling out of them. The seat belt light stayed lit the entire time. One pilot announced that there were bands of convective clouds and T-storms over the prairies and that a higher altitude offered the same ride . As we were zig zagging around these storms from altitudes ranging from FL180 to FL310, we could not avoid the turbulence. At FL310, we were still in the thick white clouds and still bouncing and dropping like jumping beans with the occasional flash of lightning seen out the window. After 1.5 hours of roller coastering and just past Winnipeg, we were finally cleared to climb to FL370. Looking to the south, I could see the anvil tops of the massive CB & TCU clouds we had just exited. Once there, we found a smooth ride and flight attendants starting cleaning up the vomit, urine and feces that littered the cabin. The cabin crew were so professional in dealing with this uncomfortable situation. From that point forward, all food and alcoholic beverages were free to anybody who could stomach it and everyone was offered $100 voucher in compensation for the inconvenience. That flight is forever remembered in my logbook as one of the worst and most turbulent in my almost 9000 hours of flying as a passenger.
Dean. My apology for such a tardy reply!
It sounds like you had quite a ride!!!! Again we try our best to find smooth air but somedays you can't win. Mother Nature can be very moody and you can't change her thinking.
You were on the A321? For the small buses, it tends to be the "dog" at higher altitudes and rolls in the bumps. The wingspan is the exact same as the A319. I wish "Jacques from Airbus" added a few more feet... either that they pump up the jet engines. Both for higher altitude and stability.
It is a quiet bird in the flight deck and smooth while taxiing and gives that "heavy" feeling for take off and landing. However...
But it's not the bird I prefer to take on weather your flight did.
I sure hope it didn't make people think twice about flying again, but something tells me it did.
Thanks for the in-depth recount. Obviously you have tons of hours under your belt from the details you gave.
Thanks for your comments!
Post a Comment