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Laser-based turbulence detector could mean safer flights

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August 6, 2013

View from the aircraft testing the Ultraviolet 'Light Detection and Ranging' (LIDAR) instr...

View from the aircraft testing the Ultraviolet 'Light Detection and Ranging' (LIDAR) instrument (Photo: DLR (CC-BY 3.0))

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For most air travelers, turbulence provides nothing more serious than the odd moment of extreme panic, but it costs airlines hundreds of millions of dollars each year in injury compensation and aircraft damage. There are various different types of turbulence, but the most dangerous, because it is invisible and extremely difficult to detect, is clear-air turbulence (CAT). A new CAT detection technology that could help pilots choose a smoother route is now being tested as part of a European joint project called DELICAT (Demonstration of LIDAR based CAT detection).

As its name suggests, CAT can occur when no clouds are visible, providing no visual cues of its presence. Occurring most often at altitudes of around 7,000 to 12,000 m (23,000 to 39,000 ft), CAT is caused when bodies of air moving at different speeds collide with each other. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) say that recent atmospheric studies indicate that CAT will become an even bigger problem in the future as climate change is expected to increase the frequency of CAT.

To minimize the dangers of CAT, DLR and its DELICAT project partners are testing a laser-based measurement device on flights throughout Europe. The LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) instrument, which was developed by researchers at the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics, emits short-wave ultraviolet laser radiation in the direction of the flight. By measuring the reflected signal from oxygen and nitrogen molecules, the device can detect fluctuations in air density and provide a warning of CAT in advance.

The system has been installed on a modified Cessna Citation aircraft that will be used in a flight campaign throughout Europe until the end of August. At the end of the test flights, the measurement data will be analyzed. The data will not only be used to demonstrate the system’s efficacy, but will also provide the researchers with information on the conditions in which CAT is likely to form.

The research team hopes their work will lead to the development of a detection system that could be integrated into aircraft so that pilots would have advance warning of CAT, giving them the potential to fly around the turbulence or, failing that, time to ask passengers to buckle up.

Source: DLR

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
4 Comments

Will this tech some day help paragliders find thermals :)

Robert Kelly
6th August, 2013 @ 05:17 am PDT

Once again I get to reminisce about the work we did at Laser Systems in Ann Arbor back in the 60's. We developed a CAT detection system utilizing a ruby laser and I believe we tested it in a Ford TriMotor. We were able to detect CAT out to about 1 mile but at 450 mph or more that doesn't leave time for avoidance.

We had a pod mounted under each wing. One contained the laser and the other contained the detection system.

This report doesn't indicate what kind of detection range they get with the UV LIDAR but hopefully it is enough to provide adequate response time.

Mr E
6th August, 2013 @ 10:17 am PDT

for all Exec jets, airlines, air cargo, Gen Av planes alone that fly above 30K feet must have.

Stephen N Russell
6th August, 2013 @ 05:53 pm PDT

In late 80ies a genius german paragliding and hangglider enthusiast built a 3 D windshear warning system, which detected particle-movement in all directions up to 3.5 km ahead using LIDAR combined LDA. Built it for fun for paragliding, then sold it to Raytheon... then never heard someting of this technology.

Future3000
8th August, 2013 @ 03:24 am PDT
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