For many nervous fliers, their anxiety is largely associated with turbulence.
And partly because they can’t see what the pilots are doing as the plane rocks. Are they nervous or calm? Do they have a plan to stop the rocking? Do they know when it will stop? All the nervous pilot can do is grab the armrest and watch the cabin crew to see if she look concerned.
Veteran Air Canada Dreamliner captain Doug Morris lifts the veil.
In his fascinating book This is your captain speaking (ECW press), he offers a look inside the cockpit during rough air, and explains how the crew reacts to different stages of turbulence, the techniques they use to smooth the ride, and the “anti-wind” tricks the 787 has in store. However, he begins by revealing how pilots know where turbulence lurks…
PLAN AHEAD FOR A SMOOTH RIDE
Veteran Air Canada Dreamliner captain Doug Morris (above) offers a look inside the cockpit during turbulence in his fascinating book This Is Your Captain Speaking
Captain Morris writes in This Is Your Captain Speaking: “Technology has certainly helped to cope with the unpredictable nature of bumpy rides. A pilot’s iPad can now overlay a specific route over weather maps that show areas of bumps. We may also request other aircraft reports from this site. These “heartbeats” show the aircraft’s whereabouts, altitude, and whether any bumps occurred during the flight.
“Our flight plan also assigns a numerical value to potential bumps along each waypoint, while controllers send us flight reports via a data link. Everyone strives for the smoothest possible ride.
“My flight plan numbers each navigation point along the route from zero to nine. A zero or one means everything should run smoothly, but if the numbers three, four and five appear, there’s a good chance that the seatbelt symbol will light up.’
He adds: ‘Most aircraft also have wind shear systems to detect wind gusts near the ground. These do not detect high level wind shear. No device detects turbulence due to jet streams, but weather maps show and predict all types of turbulence. Flight coordinators plan flights to avoid these areas or fly at different altitudes. Sometimes this is all it takes to ensure a smooth ride.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FLIGHT DECK WHEN TURBULENCE STRIKES?
Captain Morris writes: ‘In moderate shocks and/or turbulence conversations with passengers stop. They now look to the flight attendants for answers’
THE SEVEN TYPES OF TURBULENCE
Convective turbulence – due to heating of the sun during the day.
Mechanical turbulence – strong gusts surface winds.
Orographic turbulence – formed by wind flowing over a mountain or hill.
Low wind shear – a sudden change in wind speed that can occur during a thunderstorm.
Clear air turbulence – a rough high altitude ride. Clear sky turbulence is a bit of a misnomer as significant cloud cover may be present. Clear air turbulence causes the most injuries.
Frontal turbulence – is due to surface fronts and associated wind shifts.
Torrent swirls – or wake turbulence. The larger the plane, the more likely rough rides will spread to other planes.
Source: This is your captain speaking by Doug Morris
Captain Morris writes, ‘As the bumps increase from shock to shock, we enter the realm of turbulence. That’s when a pilot comes out of his happy stupor, especially when they hear other pilots on the radios describing the bumps as turbulence instead of chop. The seat belt sign is on and no hot drinks are served.
Flight attendants are still in the aisles but are warning passengers to think twice before heading to the washroom.
Don’t think that pilots casually say “well” in the cockpit. We don’t like rough air either
“Pilots are asking for trip reports and thinking about a flight level change or possibly slowing down a bit to lessen the impact of bumpy air.
“In case of moderate chop and/or turbulence, conversations with passengers stop. They now look to the flight attendants for answers. Their faces begin to change expressions. Some begin to clasp their hands together.
Flight attendants are now returning their carts and securing the cabin.
“Pilots talk curtly on the radios to find smooth air and slow the plane down to rough maneuvering speed to ride over the bumps, like a boat slows down when the waves get stronger.
Now we’re getting serious. That’s when you can hear a scream or two. Pilot voices have escalated several octaves on the radios. There will be paperwork to fill out.”
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR USING YOUR EYES
Captain Morris writes: ‘One of the best methods, to this day, of avoiding squalls, heavy rains and tumultuous clouds is to use a pair of eyeballs. At night, you’ll find me with the cockpit lights off, looking out intently and scanning the sky. We are close to a thunderstorm, I have dimmed the cockpit lights and mostly turned off the external strobe lights, trying to figure out the best way out of this meteorological predicament.”
WHY CAN’T AIRCRAFT JUST DISTRACTION FROM THE TURBULENCE?
Captain Morris writes, “To avoid some turbulent areas you would have to travel hundreds of miles, add tens of minutes or even hours, and possibly need more fuel than the tanks can hold.”
This is your captain speaking (Ecw press) is now out
THE DREAMLINER ANTI-TURBULENCE TECHNOLOGY
Captain Morris writes: ‘The Boeing B787 I fly has a gust suppression system. Strategically placed sensors send signals to the flight controls – rudder, elevator, spoilers, ailerons and flaperons – to neutralize the bumps.’
DOES THE SIGN BELT ILLUMINATE AUTOMATICALLY?
Captain Morris writes: ‘[Turbulence] is strictly subjective and is done with the captain’s consent. Some pilots turn on the seatbelt sign at the onset of the first ripple and imagine lawsuits if they don’t light up the sign. For a long-haul flight, the seat belt symbol may go on and off 10 or more times.
‘[Sometimes] a flight attendant in the back of the plane will call the cockpit to remind the pilot that the tail of the plane is swinging more and will politely request that the seatbelt symbol be turned on.”
TAKE PRIDE IN THE FACT THAT PILOTS DON’T LIKE TURBULENCE TOO.
Captain Morris writes, “Don’t think pilots casually say “ah” in the cockpit. We don’t like rough air either. Everyone likes it.’
FINALLY… IS TURBULENCE DANGEROUS?
“Only if passengers don’t have their seatbelts on,” says Captain Morris.
Click to order a copy of This Is Your Captain Speaking here.