NASA's Langley Research Center has developed an aircraft-based turbulence and vortex detection system. Turbulence and vortices in the front-flight path are very dangerous for airplanes. Especially when an airplane is approaching the airfield to land, the altitude near the airfield is very low, and the vortices and air turbulence near the ground can cause the airplane to become unstable. Because the vortices and turbulence are just an irregular motion of transparent air, visual detection is very difficult. The NASA Langley invention is designed to detect the irregular motion of transparent air in the front-flight path from a few hundred meters to kilometers.
This invention is an aircraft-mounted system in which a single source of coherent radiation is attached to the aircraft and split into two beams that are oriented at a narrow angle to one another to form a cross pattern. The beams cross at a distance well forward and slightly below the aircraft to detect clear air turbulence and vortices that can pose a flight hazard. The use of an optical telescopic interferometric system and associated electronics detects and enhances the interference pattern of the intersecting light beams, as well as removes any images of the moving ground seen by the telescope.