Jun 2, 2009

Unfriendly Skies

As the investigation into the tragic loss of Air France 447 gets under way thunderstorms are considered a possible cause.

Isolated thunderstorms can be handled fairly easily in the daytime.  Under those conditions aircraft actually operate near them on a routine basis:
I spent a summer flying hail suppression in the north end of Thunderstorm Alley at Penhold Alberta, Canada.

But crossing a towering line of tropical thunderstorms in the dark of night is on every pilot's list of least favorite pass-times.  Even with the best radar equipment available, encounters with severe turbulence and worst-of-all, hail, are always a possibility.

Were storms a factor in 447's sudden demise?  It's way too early to tell.  Until the flight data recorders are recovered, we're only guessing.  In the meantime investigators will be keeping thunderstorms near the top of the list of suspects.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, as a bus driver, can a bolt of lightning take down a commercial airliner that relies to heavily on its electrics?

Jay

Aluwings said...

While lightning can be very spectacular it's not the main issue. Especially with later generation electronic aircraft which are very specifically designed to withstand electrical surges.

More significant problems are associated with turbulence and jet upset (buffet boundary and flight control issues) and hail.