Press Release

NASA Tests Aviation Turbulence Detection System

By SpaceRef Editor
June 8, 2004
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A NASA developed technology that can automatically alert
pilots of potentially dangerous turbulence will make its
first evaluation flights on a commercial airliner.

The idea behind NASA’s Turbulence Prediction and Warning
System (TPAWS) airborne radar is to give flight crews enough
advance warning, so they can avoid turbulence or advise
flight attendants and passengers to sit down and buckle up to
avoid injury.

Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC),
Hampton, Va., developed TPAWS to detect turbulence associated
with thunderstorms as part of the NASA Aviation Safety and
Security Program. NASA teamed with Delta Air Lines, Atlanta;
AeroTech Research, Hampton, Va.; and Rockwell Collins, Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, for the in-service evaluation of a production-
prototype airborne radar unit with turbulence hazard
prediction capabilities.

Delta will install the TPAWS/Rockwell Collins radar unit on a
Boeing 737-800 this summer. Delta flight crews will use and
evaluate the technology during regularly scheduled flights in
the U.S. and South America. The prototype is expected to fly
for six to nine months.

Researchers from NASA, the companies involved and the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) will evaluate interim and final
results of the turbulence prediction radar system. If the
evaluation is successful, the technology may be adopted for
new and existing aircraft.

“The TPAWS technology is an enhanced turbulence detection
radar system that detects atmospheric turbulence by measuring
the motions of the moisture in the air,” said NASA’s TPAWS
project manager Jim Watson. “It is a software signal
processing upgrade to existing predictive Doppler wind shear
systems that are already on airplanes,” he added.

“Delta Air Lines is always interested in evaluating new
technologies that offer the potential for improved ride
quality and safety for our customers and flight crews,” said
Ira Pearl, Delta flight operations technical support

Researchers have already tested TPAWS on a NASA Boeing 757
research aircraft. The TPAWS equipped plane searched for
turbulence activity around thunderstorms for eight weeks. The
aircraft flew within a safe distance of storms, so
researchers could experience the turbulence and compare the
radar prediction to how the plane responded to the
encounters. After one severe patch of turbulence, a NASA
research pilot said his confidence in the enhanced radar had
“gone up dramatically,” since the plane’s weather radar did
not show anything, while the same time the TPAWS display
showed rough skies ahead.

Atmospheric turbulence encounters are the leading cause of
injuries to passengers and flight crews in non-fatal airline
accidents. FAA statistics show an average of 58 airline
passengers are annually injured in U.S. turbulence incidents.
Ninety eight percent of those injuries happen, because people
don’t have their seat belts fastened. Turbulence encounters
are hazardous; they cost airlines money and time, in the form
of re-routing flights, late arrivals, additional inspections
and maintenance for aircraft.

The NASA Aviation Safety and Security Program is a
partnership with the FAA, aircraft manufacturers, airlines
and the Department of Homeland Security to reduce the fatal
aircraft accident rate, protect air travelers and the public
from security threats. Researchers at four NASA centers are
working to develop advanced, affordable technologies to make
flying safer and more secure. NASA’s LaRC; Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; Dryden Flight Research Center,
Edwards, Calif.; and Glenn Research Center, Cleveland are
working on the program.

For information about NASA’s Aviation Safety and Security
Program on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.