Aviation Meteorology
• FAA estimates than 50% of aircraft
accident are weather related
• Substantial implications of weather
Extra fuel
Controls who can fly
Major Aviation Hazards
Obstructions to Visibility
Wind shear
Aircraft Icing
Two main failure modes:
1. Commercial plane taking off
2. General aviation plane in terrain
Air Florida Flight 90
13 January 1982
78 killed
Icing Causes Problems in Many Ways
Increased weight
Decreased lift by changing shape of airfoil
Increased drag
Engine system icing
Reduced control of aircraft surfaces
Sensor malfunction.
Rime Ice
Clear Ice
Physical Factors Affecting
Aircraft Icing
• Most icing occurs as aircraft fly through
supercooled clouds or freezing rain.
• Ice crystals (e.g., snow) are not problems—
just bounce off aircraft.
• Major factors include temperature, liquid
water content, and droplet size distribution
• T < -40C: no supercooled water and no
• T > 0C, no problem
• T between 0C and roughly -15C is the big
threat range.
• Few active freezing nuclei in this temperature range
• Thus, lots of supercooled water, which freeze on
contact with airframe.
Liquid Water Content (LWC)
• Probably the most important factor in
determining ice accumulation rate.
• In general, MUCH greater in cumuloform
than stratiform clouds.
• Generally highest at higher portion of
Droplet Size Distribution
• Small particles are collected less
• Why? They tend to follow the airstream
that is deviated by the aircraft. Large
droplets have so much momentum that have
a great tendency to hit the plane.
Non-Meteorological Factors
• Collection efficiency of aircraft
• Aerodynamics heating
Aircraft Wake Turbulence
Boeing Field
Low-Level Wind Shear
Downbursts can be Divided into
Two Main Types
• MACROBURST: A large downburst with its outburst winds
extending greater than 2.5 miles horizontal dimension. Damaging
winds, lasting 5 to 30 minutes, could be as high as 134 mph.
• MICROBURST: A small downburst with its outburst,
damaging winds extending 2.5 miles or less. In spite of its small
horizontal scale, an intense microburst could induce damaging winds
as high as 168 mph.
Dry Microburst
• Damaging winds less than
2.5 miles in diameter
• Accompanied by little or
no rainfall
Wet Microburst
• Damaging winds less than
2.5 miles in diameter
• Accompanied by very heavy
rainfall and perhaps hail
Downburst Video
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkavH9
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6ddot9j
Extremely Dangerous For
Aircraft Landing and Taking Off
Research by NCAR and collaborators in the 1980s uncovered the deadly
one-two punch of microbursts: aircraft level off when they encounter
headwinds, then find themselves pushed to the ground by intense
downdrafts and tailwinds.
The following are some fatal crashes that have been
attributed to windshear/ microbursts in the vicinity of
Eastern Airlines Flight 66
Pan Am Flight 759
Delta Airlines Flight 191
USAir Flight 1016
Eastern Air Lines 66
June 24, 1975
New York – Kennedy Airport
112 killed
12 injured
Crashed while landing
Boeing 727
Pan Am 759
July 9, 1982
New Orleans Airport
145 passenger/crew killed
8 on ground killed
Crashed after takeoff
Boeing 727
Delta 191
August 2, 1985
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport
Crashed on landing
8 of 11 crew members and 128 of the
152 passengers killed,
1 person on ground killed
Lockheed L-1011
USAir 1016
July 2, 1994
Charlotte/Douglas Airport
Crashed on landing
37 killed
25 injured
McDonnell Douglas DC-9
August 1, 1983 the strongest microburst recorded at an airport was
observed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington DC. The wind speeds
may have exceeded 150 mph in this microburst. The peak gust was
recorded at 211 PM – 7 minutes after Air Force One, with the President
on board, landed on the same runway.
During take-offs
the pilot experiences a headwind and increased aircraft performance
followed by a short period of decreased headwind
a downdraft
and finally a strong tailwind
During landings
the airplane begins the descent
flying into a strong headwind
a downdraft
and finally a strong tailwind
represents the extreme situation just prior to impact
Wisconsin on the 4th of July, 1977,
with winds that were estimated to
exceed 115 mph, and completely
flattening thousands of acres of forest
Joint Airport Weather Studies
• Major research effort between FAA and
NCAR during the 1980s to understand and
find ways of dealing with downbursts.
• Centered at Stapelton Airport in Denver
• Once the phenomenon was understood,
proposed solution to allow warnings:
terminal doppler radars and LLWAS.
The Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) is now deployed at 44
major airports. The TDWR mission is to provide wind shear
detection services to air traffic controllers and supervisors
Low Level Windshear Alert System
In 1983, the FAA asked NCAR to develop a version of LLWAS that
could detect microbursts.
Between 1983 and 1988, NCAR developed and tested a new LLWAS
system that detected microbursts, determined the strength in terms of
headwind/tailwind gains or and located the event (on the runway, at 1,
2, or 3 nm on departure or arrival).
This system was later improved and is now called the Phase-3 LLWAS.
A typical Phase-3 LLWAS will have enough sensors to be spaced 2-km
apart (~1 nm apart) and cover out to 2 nm from the end of each major
runway. The largest LLWAS is at Denver International Airport. It has 32
wind sensors. Most Phase-3 systems have between 12 and 16 wind
Microburst “Season & Time”
• The four best known downburst aviation disasters
in the U.S. happened in the summer.
(1 in June, 2 in July, 1 in August)
• All four happened in the late afternoon or early
evening (from 4:05 to 7:43 local time)
Still not there
• The threat of wind shear has been reduced
but not eliminated. It was mentioned in an
average of 25 National Transportation
Safety Board accidents and incident reports
a year from 1983 through 2001. But the vast
majority of cases were nonfatal and mostly
involved general aviation.
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