Smoothing Out Bumpy Rides

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Most airline passengers dread hearing an announcement like this:

Voice of unnamed pilot: Well folks, we do apologize for the ride, we’ve reached our altitude several times trying to find smooth air; there’s no smooth air to be found. Pretty choppy at all altitudes today.

Turbulence can be unnerving and even downright dangerous. It’s especially common at airports near mountains. Surprisingly, there haven’t been sophisticated systems to help pilots avoid it. So people who use Colorado airports may be especially interested in what I’m about to say: Researchers in Boulder have built such a system. And it’s getting its start in Juneau, Alaska, where turbulence is off the charts:

Dave Williams: You’ll get winds probably as high as 200 miles per hour up there.

Dave Williams is an Alaskan pilot who flies in and out of the Juneau airport.

Dave Williams: One time I was in a little plane, and I really just - I was along for the ride. I was trying to control it as hard as I could but it almost flipped me over.

Williams successfully flew his plane through the turbulence, but the incident scared him. He says the new system helps him avoid this type of situation, because it provides much more weather data.

Dave Williams: Instead of having sea level information, you now have information at 6000 feet, 3000 feet of what the wind is doing, above the airport.

As we said, the folks who built this system are in Boulder, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Cory Morse is a software engineer there; she speaks with host Ryan Warner.

[Photo: flickr/asmythie]