One of the most frustrating and even dangerous situations that passengers sometimes encounter during an air flight is turbulence. The plane in such a situation begins to shake violently or it abruptly loses altitude. As a rule, the flight crew warns of the aircraft entering the turbulence zone in advance, but sometimes this happens suddenly. As a result, drinks in the cabin begin to spill, passengers themselves often get bruises, bumps, abrasions, or even more serious injuries. Many people in this situation are horrified and start to panic, which is not surprising. However, understanding what turbulence is and why it occurs can help calm your nerves.
Causes of turbulence
Surely, many have watched the waves in the sea crash into rocks or any other obstacle, as a result of which water is thrown up, and splashes fly in all directions. Strictly speaking, this is turbulence, only in water. In the air, it usually occurs for the same reasons.
When air flows crash into obstacles, that is, mountains, they begin to mix in a chaotic manner, resulting in the so-called non-linear fractal waves, that is, vortex descending and ascending flows. However, the aircraft can encounter turbulence not only over the mountains, but also in any other area, for example, due to a thunderstorm.
Rapidly emerging thunderclouds can become as obstructive to air currents as mountains, thereby causing turbulence over hundreds to thousands of kilometers. But the most dangerous is “clear air turbulence”, or CAT, caused by wind shear from high-altitude jet streams.
High-altitude jet streams, in fact, is a strong wind that occurs due to the temperature difference between air masses. As a rule, these streams move from west to east. At the edges of streams, wind shears can occur both horizontally (left-right) and vertically (down-up). That is, there are powerful gusts of wind that carry the plane with them.
Vertical shifts are also called an air pocket, as the plane falls down, as if it had fallen into a hole. Altitude loss in a few seconds can be several hundred meters. Unfastened passengers in this case are literally thrown to the ceiling of the aircraft.
Can a plane break apart mid-air?
The main fear of passengers during the flight through the turbulence zone is related to the fact that the aircraft will not withstand the overload and will fail or even fall apart. Actually, there is no need to worry about this. Aircraft undergo physical tests in laboratories, where they are subjected to much more stress than they have to face in the air.
In addition, various scenarios are simulated digitally. Also, thanks to modern technology, aircraft maintenance has improved. On-board sensors monitor many components that are prone to fatigue, allowing them to be replaced in a timely manner.
Of course, pilots also take some measures to reduce the effects of turbulence. The first thing they do is slow down the aircraft. Why is this being done? To answer this question, it is enough to imagine a boat on the waves. The lower its speed, the less it will be subject to shaking. That is, reducing the speed of the aircraft can significantly reduce the load on the structure.
Is turbulence dangerous?
Turbulence is the main cause of non-fatal air accidents every year. Between 2009 and 2021, 146 passengers and crew were affected by turbulence, with serious injuries, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. However, most of the injuries are related to the fact that the passengers ignored the request of the crew members to fasten their seat belts, but not only because of this.
As we said above, clear sky turbulence is the most dangerous. The reason is that it can occur suddenly, as a result of which the pilots of the aircraft may not have time to warn passengers of the danger. For example, in 2017, Aeroflot’s Boeing 777 suddenly fell into the CAT zone, as a result of which 27 people sought medical help. Sometimes this kind of turbulence even causes death.
Unfortunately, there have been cases when planes crashed due to turbulence. For example, a Boeing 707 crashed in Japan due to turbulence over Mount Fuji in Japan, but that happened in 1966. The turbulence near the mountain turned out to be so strong that the overloads exceeded the strength of the aircraft. Also, due to TYAN, several other aircraft crashed in the 60s.
In 2001, an Airbus A300 crashed, but the cause was turbulence caused by a vortex generated by another aircraft flying in the same direction. In other cases, the incidents were not fatal. But, theoretically, even now, despite all the modern technologies and the strength of aircraft, any airliner can crash due to TAN.
This can happen if the aircraft hits an air pocket not high above the ground, that is, at the time of landing or takeoff, but this situation is extremely unlikely. For example, if you look at the biggest Boeing 737 crashes, you will see that none of them involve turbulence.
Турбулентность влияет на летно-технические характеристики самолета и потребление энергии. По оценкам авиакомпаний США, изменение траектории полета и высоты для предотвращения турбулентности обходится им в 100 миллионов долларов в год.
As for other types of turbulence, pilots usually fly around them, as they know where they are due to weather forecasts and information from other pilots. If turbulence cannot be avoided, pilots will learn about it in advance with the help of on-board equipment, such as laser rangefinders. This allows you to warn passengers in advance.
How to stay safe while flying
Experienced pilots and flight attendants recommend making flights early in the morning, as in this case the risk of getting into turbulence is less. In addition, you should land as close to the front of the aircraft as possible, as turbulence is felt much more strongly from behind. As Heather Poole, a 21-year-old flight attendant and author of The Cruise Attitude, writes, there have been times when passengers in the back of the plane held on for dear life, like in a rodeo, and she had to report this to pilots who did not experience severe Gs. .
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In addition, during the entire flight, you should remain fastened. This will avoid injury if the aircraft suddenly enters an air pocket. For this reason, pilots always remain seated. And most importantly – you need not to “wind up” yourself, but to think positively. If you are wearing your seatbelt and the plane has entered the turbulence zone, then the most dangerous thing is already behind you, since you did not get injured due to a sudden AT. You should not be afraid of a plane crash, since the probability, as we said above, is extremely small. Usually they happen for completely different reasons, which can be found at this link.