A new turbulence detection system alerts pilots to patches of rough air as they fly through clouds. The system, designed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and tested by United Airlines on commercial flights, is designed to better protect passengers from injuries caused by turbulence while reducing flight delays and lowering aviation costs.
The system uses a mathematical method called the NEXRAD Turbulence Detection Algorithm, or NTDA, to analyze data obtained from the National Weather Service’s network of Next-Generation (NEXRAD) Doppler radars. The resulting real-time snapshot of turbulence can be transmitted to pilots in the cockpit and made available to airline meteorologists and dispatchers via a Web-based display.
“Pinpointing turbulence in clouds and thunderstorms is a major scientific challenge,” said NCAR scientist John Williams. “Our goal is to use these radar measurements to create a three-dimensional mosaic showing turbulence across the country that can help pilots avoid hazardous areas, or at least give them enough warning to turn on the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign.”
Depending on the results of the tests, the next step could be expanding the system to additional United aircraft or other airlines. Williams anticipates that, by 2011, the NTDA will provide input to a system over the contiguous United States that will update turbulence “nowcasts” for pilots and air traffic managers every 15 minutes.