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Home > Air Turbulence > Aircraft in turbulence - what is its effect on controls and body structure?
Aircraft in turbulence - what is its effect on controls and body structure?
Weather - Air Turbulence
Tuesday, 11 December 2007 21:09

Hi Capt Lim,

I have been through your site and it was really very informative and has answered a lot of questions I wanted to know. Thank you so much. I am writing to you from India.

I have always enjoyed flying until a few years ago when, while flying on business within India, I experienced turbulence several times and it really got me scared. I wanted to know the following:

(1) Is it possible that a pilot could loose control during turbulence especially when it goes through an air pocket and drops. I felt that it would just continue dropping and the pilot might not be able to regain control.

(2) Also, I have not had too much problem while flying long routes on bigger aircrafts like Boeing 747, but during internal flights on smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737, I feel that it hits far more air pockets. Is it true that larger aircraft is more stable during air pockets than smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737?

(3) Is there reason to be scared during such times...I always ensure that my seatbelt is fastened at all times during flight

I look forward to your answers. Thank you again.

Regards,
Varghese Paul

Hi Paul,

(1) It is very very unlikely for a pilot to loose control of an aircraft in turbulence (common term for 'air pocket'). In fact, on most commercial aircraft, the pilot would leave the autopilot on even during the turbulent condition ( except in very severe turbulence). No one flies better than the autopilot! Even with the autopilot off, the pilot can still control the aircraft without any problem. The only thing is that he has to work harder to fly the aircraft manually out of turbulence! It would be rough but it is not a difficult task.

(2) It is true that bigger aircraft like the Boeing 747 takes turbulence better than a smaller aircraft. It does not mean that smaller aircraft hits more turbulence but that any turbulence would be more pronounced due to its smaller size. The other reason is that, the Boeing 737 may fly at a lower altitude in very short domestic sectors. This made it more difficult to deviate from widespread thunderstorms. Hence, the Boeing 737 often encounter more turbulent weather than the Boeing 747 that cruises at higher level. Further at higher level, it has more space to maneuver or deviate from the thunderstorms.

(3) The reason why people are scared is because of lack of knowledge. Now that you have taken the trouble to find out, your fears would be reduced. The aircraft would not break apart even with the worst of the turbulence nor would it drop off from the sky. Aircraft manufacturers make sure the aircraft would not break up.

For instance, when the Boeing 777 was in the development stage, its wings were pulled 24 feet above their normal position before they broke during a full-scale destruct test. Computer-controlled hydraulic actuators applied about half a million pounds of pressure on each wing until both broke at the predicted position. The test confirmed that the airplane's wings exceeded the load it was designed for.

Just have your seat belts securely fastened at all time during the flight and you should be able to ride safely in any turbulence or air pockets.

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