The aviation industry has always had its fair share of accidents and incidents. From crashes to terrorist attacks, planes have experienced some pretty scary moments over the years.
However, these events are rare occurrences. Planes are designed to fly safely and reliably through turbulent air.
They are even equipped with special systems to prevent them from crashing due to high winds or other weather conditions.
We find out if a plane can crash when it experiences turbulence.
Turbulence is an extremely fast flow of wind that occurs in storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms.
It can be created by strong winds blowing across the surface of the Earth at different speeds.
This creates eddies (small vortices) within the air which then become more intense as they rise into the atmosphere.
The result is a series of waves that travel upwards through the sky. These waves move faster than the speed of sound, creating a shockwave effect.
The speed of the wave depends on the strength of the storm and the distance between the source of the wind and the aircraft.
As the wave passes over the aircraft, it causes a change in pressure around the wings and fuselage. This results in lift forces being applied to the wingtips, causing them to deflect downwards.
This downward deflection increases the angle of attack of the wing and generates additional lift.
This is called induced drag and reduces the amount of thrust required to keep the plane in the air.
Can Turbulence Cause A Plane To Crash?
No, turbulence doesn’t usually crash planes.
Turbulence isn’t always dangerous for aircrafts. It can even be quite beneficial to create an efficient wake behind the plane which improves its aerodynamics.
However, turbulence can be more challenging for pilots flying through turbulent air.
When you’re flying through turbulent air, there’s no way of knowing exactly where the next gust will come from.
This makes it difficult to predict the exact direction of the airflow around the plane.
When this happens, the pilot must constantly adjust their flight path to compensate for the changing wind.
They do this by adjusting the pitch of the nose of the plane. As the nose pitches up, the angle of the air flowing around the plane changes.
This alters the amount of lift generated and allows the pilot to maintain control of the plane.
However, when the nose pitches down too far, the angle of attack becomes too low. The plane loses lift and begins to fall.
This is why pilots have to make constant adjustments to avoid crashing.
Types Of Turbulence
Pilots place turbulence into three categories: severe, moderate, and mild. These are mainly dependent on wind speed.
There are also some other turbulence types.
Clear Air Turbulence
Clear air turbulence (CAT) is caused by significant changes in the airflow in the atmosphere.
It’s also known as “wind shear”. When a strong jet stream meets another stronger jet stream, they collide creating a shockwave.
The result is that the air surrounding the plane suddenly slows down. This creates a sudden drop in air density.
As a result, the plane experiences a loss of lift. Depending on the severity of the turbulence, pilots may struggle to keep a plane in the air.
However, extreme clear air turbulence is very rare.
Mountain Wave Turbulence
A mountain wave is formed when two opposing winds meet head-on. It resembles a giant wave moving across the ground.
These waves usually occur during the winter months. They are most common near mountains and valleys.
Fogs form when warm moist air rises above cold dry air. That’s why fog is often associated with rain or snowfall.
During foggy conditions, visibility drops dramatically which means pilots depend on their instruments (see also “How Is Visibility Measured?“).
In addition, the temperature decreases rapidly.
This means that the air becomes denser and heavier making it harder for the plane to climb.
Thermal turbulence occurs when hot air rises above colder air. This temperature imbalance causes air flows and vortexes.
This type of turbulence is very rare but it does happen occasionally.
Frontal turbulence is created when two strong air masses collide. This is usually caused by two cold air masses.
Can A Plane Crash Because Of Turbulence?
Although it is very rare, planes have crashed due to turbulence.
However, the majority of injuries caused by turbulence are not due to a crash but from flying objects in the cabin or passengers not wearing their seatbelts.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that the majority of turbulence accidents happen around 30,000 feet, and these accidents are because passengers and flight attendants were not secured in their seats.
Is There A Way To Avoid Turbulence?
Sometimes pilots can avoid turbulence by flying at an altitude where there aren’t any clouds. They can also fly over areas that don’t experience much turbulence.
If you’re flying long distances, you should consider flying in the morning hours when turbulence is less likely to happen.
How Do You Stay Safe During Turbulence?
There are quite a few things you can do to ensure you are safe during a turbulence.
First, you should always wear your seatbelt properly. The seatbelt will protect you from the loss of gravity in a sudden drop.
Also, make sure that your children and any other travelers with you wear their seatbelts.
Try to sit towards the middle of the plane. In the wing section, you may feel less turbulence than in the front or back.
If you’re traveling at night, look out for clouds. Clouds tend to create more turbulence than clear skies.
Finally, don’t panic! If you are flying through turbulence, calmly follow the instructions of the pilot and the flight attendants.
Turbulence is one of the many different weather phenomena that pilots face every day while flying.
It has become such a normal occurrence that pilots are well-trained in a range of scenarios to handle turbulence and land safely.