What do pilots use to detect turbulence?

I think the concept of “turbulence” has gotten a bad reputation.

Just like the wind, and partially related to it, turbulence isn’t an On or Off thing; it’s a spectrum.

Step outside one day and a light breeze might be hard to feel while the next day, you might have trouble holding onto your hat because the wind is so strong. But most of the time it’s somewhere in between those extremes.

Turbulence is exactly the same. Some days, some places, nothing. Some days it can rattle your teeth (or turn your stomach). But most of the time when turbulence exists it is light or at worst case slightly annoying.

Weather forecasts provide estimates when there might be turbulence. The thing to remember is the noun “forecast.” It’s not a guarantee that it will be turbulent, nor is the lack of mention of turbulence in a forecast a guarantee that there won’t be turbulence.

In addition, turbulence can be widespread as well as very localized.

I typically detect or expect serious or widespread turbulence as well as local turbulence in one of three of ways:

  • Cumulus clouds — If the clouds are tall and vertical and /or getting taller then there is a good chance there is turbulence around. The taller the clouds and the faster they are growing, the worse the probable turbulence. Especially IN the clouds. The worst example of that would be a Thunderstorm. The turbulence within a thunderstorm can tear an aircraft apart.
  • Hot days — Also known as Convection, warm and, especially, HOT days means that the hot air is rising and the reciprocal, cold air is descending. That’s a recipe for turbulence. Depending upon the temperature and the aircraft’s altitude the turbulence can be irritating or it can be very uncomfortable.
  • Wind — Wind can “tumble” especially downwind of mountains — often for many miles downwind — and it can even be turbulent over mountains as winds are encouraged to rise following the upwind mountain side.

With very few exceptions for the most part turbulence isn’t dangerous. At least to aircraft. Pilots know how to manage turbulence, often simply by slowing the aircraft’s airspeed and/or changing altitude.

However, Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) — severe turbulence that happens in what otherwise seems to be a calm clear air — can cause injuries to passengers that aren’t wearing seat belts or, worse, are walking. And CAT is very difficult to detect until you experience it.

BTW, Clear Air Turbulence got its name because although turbulence is often accompanied by clouds, this particular form isn’t. Hence the name…

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Have you ever been caught by severe turbulence? You are welcome to share your experience in the comments below!

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What are your thoughts on this subject?
Dorie McKeown
I used to be terrified when there was turbulence and indeed we experienced it for two and a half hours on a flight to Tenerife a few years ago. That was the worst ever. I have found however that if you lie back into your seat and literally go with the plane it’s ok. Put your earphones in and listen to your music. The guys up front have homes to go to too and they are so well trained I leave it with them Thanks guys 👍
Nov 21, 2019 5:37PM
Susan Golebiewski
I learned something more about turbulence today. Thank you.
Jul 19, 2020 7:55PM
Peter Robertson
How do they detect turbulence? Well supposing that in the cockpit you can't feel it? I suppose a good way then,would be ask the cabin crew to keep an eye on the passengers faces???
May 24, 2020 4:27PM
Jean Glionna
Years ago my husband and I were flying back to Canada from the US when the plane dropped a mile , the attendants were wearing the lunch they were trying to serve to us. The good news we were all)ok. The plane hit unmarked turbulence. The pilot was terrific and skilled. All home safely
May 8, 2020 10:20AM
I was flying our PA32-260 from Green Bay and FSS told me about some clear air turbulence so I slowed to maneuvering speed.Just like they said when I approached the area we almost did a wing over,I made the plane level again and never had any more problems. It happened so fast I almost didn't stop the plane from being up side down.
Feb 3, 2020 7:58PM
Lynne Cage
Informative thnx
Dec 8, 2019 5:00AM
Good information, but I don't fly. In fact, I hate flying! I've only flown about 4 or 5 times in my life, and I'm 59! Y'all can fly all you want to, but I'm gonna drive or not go there!
Oct 28, 2019 5:02PM
Every time there's a turbulence I am scared to death but prayer keeps me calm.
Oct 17, 2019 5:23PM
Sandy Lambert
I learned a lot today. Thanks for the information.
Sep 12, 2019 10:59PM
Warren Domke
Turbulence can certainly contribute to pilot fatigue in small aircraft. Over time that could pose some dangers. Most aircraft can withstand even fairly severe turbulence.
Sep 11, 2019 10:07PM
brian brooks
Smaller aircraft are especially affected by turbulence but handle wind shear better. The exact opposite for larger aircraft. Helicopters are more resistant to turbulence because of gyroscopic effect
Aug 8, 2019 2:36AM
Edward Marr
Found dual prop passenger planes the worst for turbulence.
Aug 2, 2019 6:24PM
Marquita Simmons
Very interesting stuff to know.
Jul 15, 2019 11:46AM
tord magnusson
I know, used to have a private license. However especially landing in turbulence could be a bit of a trouble.
May 17, 2019 5:31AM
Darlene Davidson
Trust your pilot. They know how to fly.
May 15, 2019 9:19PM

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