A plane taking off in a thunderstorm is a very rare occurrence. But did you know that planes can fly through storms without problems?
Planes are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions. They can even land safely during lightning strikes. But the question remains, can they take off in a storm?
Pilots are trained to determine the best cause of action when it comes to taking off during a thunderstorm. There may be times when it is perfectly safe to do so, and others when it is not.
Likewise, there are aviation laws around the conditions of when a plane can take off, fly, and land.
This article will be discussing the conditions of a thunderstorm and how they may affect a journey.
What Comes With A Thunderstorm?
Thunderstorms contain many aspects within them, and to understand how planes can fly through them, we must first acknowledge these different aspects, and how a plane handles them.
Although it may sound worrying, commercial planes often do get struck by lightning every so often.
Fortunately, planes nowadays are designed so the tails and wingtips are fortified, meaning they will distribute the charge from any strikes of lightning evenly.
This means passengers do not need to worry if the flight they are on gets struck by lightning.
Depending on the severity of the strike, pilots may decide to ground the flight, so they can check for any damage, but this will be done once the flight has landed at its desired destination anyway.
Hailstones are common in thunderstorms, and large ones can damage the aircraft and its engine. In severe cases, some could cause damage to the windshield of the aircraft.
If pilots are notified of hailstorms, they are likely to ground the plane or divert the flight entirely.
Flying In Heavy Rain
Rainy days don’t usually pose issues for pilots, unless the conditions are extreme, which can cause visibility to be low.
Planes are well-equipped to handle the weather, but pilots should pay attention to the conditions at lower speeds. If the rain is heavy enough, visibility might become extremely poor.
In such situations, pilots should slow down as much as possible until they reach an area with better visibility.
Flying In Fog
Fog is frequently location-specific. Most commercial aircraft are equipped with autopilots that can land the plane if visibility drops below an acceptable range.
But on the ground and during takeoff phases, when processes are manual, it’s common for air traffic to be delayed.
The airport will enforce low visibility procedures when the visibility is unacceptably low. Similarly, air traffic will reduce the number of planes taxiing and taking off, to reduce the risk of any accidents occurring.
Modern airplanes can land in dense fog without any problems. Their automatic landing systems help them do this. However, it may be impossible for them to taxi because this is a manual process!
Airports and pilots are usually warned when there is fog nearby, so they can make the appropriate decisions on how to proceed in these conditions.
Most commercial planes can fly through light to moderate ice, but not severe icing. Severe icing occurs when the outside temperature drops below -5 °C (-20 °F).
If ice forms on the aircraft, it increases the weight, which will increase the stalling speed.
Icing can also reduce the lift that is produced by the wings, which is what keeps it airborne. Due to these risks, pilots will actively avoid flying through areas with severe icing.
Wind shear is another aspect of thunderstorms that can pose a threat to an aircraft. It occurs when there is a change in wind speed over a short period of time.
This can occur because of a sudden gust of wind, or due to turbulence caused by thunderstorms.
The problem with wind shear is that it causes instability in the airflow around the aircraft. When this happens, it creates a risk of stall.
A microburst is a small tornado-like vortex that develops in thunderstorms. These vortices can reach speeds up to 200 km/h (124mph), and can last anywhere between 20 seconds and 2 minutes.
When a plane flies through a microburst, it will notice a dramatic increase in speed, followed by a large reduction. This reduction is very dangerous for aircraft.
These powerful winds can damage the fuselage of the aircraft, causing structural damage.
The force of the wind can also cause a downwards ‘push’, and in extreme cases can push the plane down towards the ground.
What About Take-Off?
Pilots have undergone extensive training on flying in severe weather conditions, and the same goes for taking off and landing.
There are laws and regulations around flying in severe conditions, and if the conditions are too severe, then takeoff will be paused.
Depending on where the storm forms, flights may be delayed altogether, or re-routed to fly around the storm.
Pilots Have Your Back
While the above weather conditions sound worrisome, research and technology have allowed the aviation world to be able to identify, avoid, and handle events that pose a threat to the aircraft, pilots, and passengers.
Many airports are aware of the conditions that normally occur in their region, so they have several alerting systems that will alert pilots of any storms and conditions that come with them, such as wind shear and microbursts.
In addition, many airlines have invested heavily into developing new technologies to help pilots detect and avoid situations that pose a threat to their safety.
For example, Boeing’s Flight Management System (FMS) uses data from multiple sensors to provide information about the environment surrounding the aircraft.
This allows the pilot to make informed decisions about how to react to different situations.
As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider when flying through a thunderstorm. Although flying through them is possible, it is best avoided whenever possible.
Pilots are equipped with the appropriate training on flying in these conditions, and they are also able to determine when the conditions are not safe.
Modern aircraft are also well-equipped to withstand extreme conditions.
Aside from this, there are aviation laws and regulations, and all pilots adhere to these, putting the safety of their passengers at the forefront of their minds.