DISCUSSION: As is known across all of commercial and private aviation, one of the most common issues to general aircraft and passenger safety is the presence of turbulence. However, something which many people do not know is that there are several different types of turbulence which are unique unto themselves. This includes varieties such as atmospheric turbulence, wake turbulence, and clear air turbulence (CAT). Having said that, these different types of turbulence are respectfully different and pose different threats at different points of a given flight. Per the article from "Insider," attached below are some more neat insights which were collected from many different pilot-based experiences from around the world as well as long-term data collected and archived within the long-term records of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Atmospheric and wake turbulence are often lumped together, but one is caused by nature and other is driven by mechanics. To explain atmospheric turbulence, many pilots liken the experience to traveling through a river in which air is the water. Like water in a river, air is constantly moving and can be influenced by several things, including obstacles (think mountains), moisture, uneven heating of the earth’s surface, weather, and temperature changes. Flights over mountain ranges, for example, often fall prey to mountain wave turbulence, which feels like a roller coaster speeding down its first big hill. "If you're in a small boat and the water isn't smooth, the faster you go, the rougher the ride will be," says Mike Arman, a flight school instructor and author of books about piloting Cessnas and operating cockpit computers. "Airplanes are exactly the same -- the faster you go, the rougher the ride can get." Commercial jets can go as fast as 600 mph, which can impact the plane’s reaction to the air current changes.
There are also mechanical factors that cause turbulence during takeoff and landing, including the wind streams that are created from a combination of the plane's propulsion and wings. In fact, wake turbulence is one big reason why takeoffs are timed several minutes apart.
On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 took off from JFK Airport and crashed moments later into Belle Harbor, Queens. Investigators theorized that the pilot may have taken off 15 seconds too fast and run into wake turbulence from the Japanese Airlines jumbo jet that had left before it. The incident killed 260 people on board and five people on the ground. That being said, such reactions to wake turbulence are rare, particularly because the beginning of flights are so closely monitored by air traffic controllers.
Clear Air Turbulence
While passengers may expect the plane to thump and wriggle while taking off or steadying for a landing, clear air turbulence can be even more disconcerting. Here's how it happens: You’re watching the latest James Bond flick, sipping on a martini, and suddenly it feels like someone hit the ejector seat button, hurtling your stomach into space. Pilots discover clear air turbulence when everyone else does -- about the time the peanuts leap off the tray table. Clear air turbulence (CAT) doesn't show up on a radar -- a ground technology system that's currently being tested is able to listen to the infrasonic sound it emits. "In the next few years, I'd expect this technology to be in use to detect CAT for airline traffic," says Arman.
Hence, there is much we already understand about the impacts of turbulence on commercial aviation, but there is still much we do not understand as well.
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©2017 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz