Sunday, November 2, 2014

Avoiding a Mid-Air with "Rough Air"

While riding in one of Delta's cramped cabins last week on the way to Denver, I listened as a flight attendant announced that we should wear our seat belts when seated in case we encounter...

"rough air."

I like this euphemism for turbulence. It sooths. Rough air isn't something to be overly concerned about. Turbulence is.

As we cruised along, with my shoulder, arm,  and leg in constant contact with a stranger sitting next to me on what Delta calls a seat, I looked out the window and thought to myself, "at least it's a beautiful day with a smooth ride."

Without warning the aircraft dropped with a violent motion. If I hadn't been strapped in, I would have come unseated. Nervous laughter filled the cabin, then a quiet waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A few minutes later, a pilot made a PA and explained that we had encountered the wake turbulence of an aircraft 8 miles ahead. Wow - 8 miles and it rocked our world - in a fully loaded passenger jet.

Imagine hitting that wake in your little helicopter.

I did that once myself. I was departing from the now-closed Caraway hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, which sits close to the airport and near the final approach course to one of the runways. I took off headed away from the airport and turned back toward the University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham, which lies across that same final approach course. A jet had just landed at the airport, but as I hadn't seen him on his final I didn't give it much thought. He was down and no factor.

His wake was still there though, invisible, in front of me; in my mighty Bell 206 L-4. Under a cloudless blue sky in calm winds we flew right into an invisible hammer that slammed us. It was an Oh-crap! moment. And a lesson.

Pilots of all aircraft should visualize the location of the vortex trail behind larger aircraft and use proper vortex avoidance procedures to achieve safe operation.

Crew members can assist with situational awareness, by staying aware of other aircraft in the vicinity and visualizing a wake streaming along behind and perhaps below these aircraft. Ask questions about where that wake might be now, and where it might be going. In a busy moment, while talking to ATC and listening to an LZ briefing, and getting ready to land near an airport, a pilot might not be aware of a pending wake turbulence encounter. You can help with this. It's no different than looking for wires and towers.

Except you might be able to see them. You have to anticipate "rough air."

Too learn more about wake turbulence, click here...

Safe Flights...

Image courtesy AirLiners.net

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