More safety in air traffic - early detection of air turbulence

November 2013

New results in atmospheric research indicate that climate change will increase possible encounters of turbulence by cruising aircraft. A method to detect turbulences was now developed for the first time within the European project DELICAT (Demonstration of LIDAR based Clear Air Turbulence detection) by scientists of the DLR Institute for Atmospheric Physics. The Lidar (Light Detecting and Ranging) instrument is mounted at the aircraft and emits shortwave UV laser rays. The amount of UV light that is backscattered by oxygen and nitrogen molecules determines the density of air. Density fluctuations indicate turbulences. This information enables a specific analysis of the air ahead of the flying aircraft and makes the invisible “Clear Air Turbulence” (CAT) detectable.

The new technology has been tested by DLR together with project partners this summer. A campaign of measurement flights has been carried out from Amsterdam over whole Europe between July, 17 and August, 12 2013. The DELICAT test flights served the demonstration of the measurement principle and the feasibility of the new technology. The research aircraft PH-LAB of the Dutch partner National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), a modified Cessna Citation, has been used for this purpose. After the successful flight campaign follows now the data analysis which yields first promising findings. The comprehensive results will not only allow demonstrating the new technology. Moreover, this unique set of data will provide important new knowledge on the generation mechanisms of clear air turbulence and the complex processes in the atmosphere. As a long-term goal, an integrated detection system is envisaged that will allow avoiding encounters of air turbulence.

The project is funded within the 7th framework programme of the European Commission (FP7, 2007-2013) under Grant-Agreement Nr. 233801. 



Dr. Patrick Vrancken

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