Normally such advice would be heeded, but the purpose of the storm-chasing flight this week was to test a new type of onboard weather radar that major airlines will be buying for thousands of new aircraft in the coming years to comfortably maneuver around storms while saving fuel, improving on-time arrivals and substantially reducing encounters with turbulence.
The ride in the rugged 62-year-old turboprop got increasingly bumpy as the plane dipped and rose through swirling air amid a pelting rain.
Moore increased engine thrust and banked the plane to the northwest, outrunning the center of the approaching storm. In a moment visible on both the weather radar screen and through the plane's windscreen, the dark clouds parted and the Convair threaded the needle of bright blue sky.
The flight plan out of
The new generation of weather radar, manufactured in separate versions by
It represents a technological leap ahead of onboard systems that date to the 1960s and provide a narrower view of weather conditions and increase the pilot workload.
Those legacy systems require a pilot to first turn knobs to manually tilt and retilt the disk-shaped radar antenna housed in the nose of the plane, then interpret the individual radar slices of weather displayed to get an overall understanding -- while at the same time flying the plane.
The IntuVue model RDR-4000 3-D radar on the
Pilots do not fly into dangerous weather that could compromise their ability to return to the ground, at least not if they can see it on cockpit weather displays. And though Tuesday's test flight navigated a lot of airspace marked yellow, signifying moderate thunderstorms, at no time did Moore risk straying into red areas, representing the most severe conditions, or magenta, the symbol for turbulence.
As the ice crystals formed on the windscreen, co-pilot
"You haven't spilled your drink yet, have you?" said Johnson, chief pilot of flight test operations at
Extremely choppy air sometimes sneaks up on flight crews because weather detectors in the noses of planes miss volatile air along the flight path. That's often due to older weather systems scanning only a narrow radar beam. The weather antenna must be manually tilted up and down by the nonflying pilot. Over-scanning or underscanning results in a less-than-complete picture of the sky yonder.
"One of the things this new radar does a better job of is helping pilots interpret distant weather possibly sooner, which definitely could save you some time and fuel and potentially increase safety by making a decision sooner on circumnavigating a nasty thunderstorm," said
"It keeps both pilots in the game by lessening the fine-tuning that you would be doing manually to understand the complete picture of the weather," Lusk said.
The weather map on IntuVue's screen distinguishes weather conditions that will affect the plane up to about 4,000 feet above and below its current route from activity that is farther away. Weather conditions along the plane's route are displayed in solid colors, while more distant conditions are shown in hash mark colors, to help pilots determine whether rerouting is necessary.
"If you can't see out the window and pick your way around the storm, such as at night, in bad visibility, rain, clouds, stormy weather, then the picture you see on the radar display represents what is outside and is so accurate and so real that you can fly by that. And that's the whole point," Johnson said.
The IntuVue system is being outfitted onto many planes coming off the
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is operated by United and other airlines, is outfitted by
Currently, about 2,000 planes flown by more than 70 airlines worldwide are outfitted with IntuVue, with about 2,500 more on order, Hester said.
An earlier model of IntuVue was first offered in 2006 on Boeing 777 aircraft. Since then it has been certified by the
"Some of the old systems can see weather out to 300 nautical miles, but it is a pencil-thin beam. If a pilot points the antenna higher or lower than the location of a storm, you could miss it," said
He said IntuVue has demonstrated a 26 percent improvement in weather avoidance and enhanced pilot decision-making.
Updates to IntuVue are coming next year and in 2017, Hester said. One new feature will be the ability to detect ice that can become attached to the inside of jet engines at high altitudes, he said.
American, which previously used
Will cited a recent trip he flew to
"I was flying a 737 to
A line of thunderstorms quickly intensified.
"We were looking to deviate about 200 miles to the east, but we didn't have enough gas," he said. "We turned the plane toward the line of weather and we found an area that the weather radar indicated was safe. We flew through it and there was not a ripple or a bump."
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