Even if you’re a confident flyer, hitting a rough patch of turbulence can be unsettling. The seatbelt sign pings to life, the crew straps into their seats, and the lizard part of your brain whispers, is this the moment I die?
Thankfully clear-air turbulence could soon be less of a problem, as Boeing prepares to test new laser technology that would allow pilots to detect turbulence up to 10 miles away.
Okay, so passenger jets cruise at around 550mph, so a 10-mile warning would only give pilots a heads-up of around a minute. Still, that could be enough time to adjust course or to warn passengers it might be a bad time to go to the toilet.
Clear-air turbulence is caused when the edge of a jet stream mixes with slower moving air. It can’t be seen with the naked eye or detected on radar. Generally, pilots that encounter it pass on the information to help other planes in the sky prepare.
The new lidar technology is developed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and is scheduled for testing on a Boeing 777 early next year.
It works by projecting a laser from the front of the aircraft. An optical sensor then tracks the light bounced back to the plane by particles in the sky. The velocities of these particles can be analysed by software, any significant fluctuations showing that turbulence lies ahead.
The technology might not mean we never experience turbulence again, but it could help make the experience altogether less terrifying.