When you are flying in turbulent air do you think, “How Far Do Planes Fall During Turbulence?” It certainly feels like the airplane is falling, but is it really? Let’s find out.
How Far Do Planes Fall During Turbulence?
Aircraft may lose or gain around 100 feet, sometimes more, in turbulence. However, when an aircraft is flying in or near thunderstorms deviation in altitude can be 2000 to 6000 feet due to microburst activity.
1. Do Airplanes Really “Fall” In Turbulence?
To me the term “Fall” when referring to the flight of an aircraft is ambiguous as is the term “Lift” referring to why an airplane flies.
Airplanes don’t fall in turbulence, as they are simply reacting to the relative wind acting on the wing. Turbulence can cause an aircraft to gain altitude as well.
It just feels like they are falling, maybe because of the innate fear of falling. But there isn’t a fall.
It is the force of the wind pushing up and down on the aircraft wing. These forces acting on the wing are updrafts and downdrafts.
Aircraft are equipped with an instantaneous vertical speed indicator (VSI).
This tells the pilot what the airplane is doing in regard to the changes in altitude caused by turbulence or any disturbance from straight and level flight.
An experienced pilot will react to these and input the necessary control changes to maintain altitude.
Sometimes autopilots just don’t react as quickly as they should so it is up to the person flying.
2. What Is Turbulence?
Turbulence is defined as the “violent or unsteady movement of air, water or some other fluid.”
Because turbulence is such an issue it is important to know the causes as well as the types of turbulence.
You can read this information in one of my previous articles here.
3. The Bumpy Ride
Although turbulence is an issue with comfort on the airplane ride, it is not something to worry about. It is not dangerous.
Aircraft are designed to withstand even the roughest ride. We can ride the bumpy ride without fear.
I learned to respect the bumps early in my flying.
I was macho I suppose and thought seatbelts were not needed. I put them on but I ignored their need until I bounced my head a few times. Hard enough to knock sense into me.
Bumpy rides are inevitable.
4. Positive And Negative “G” Forces
When I first learned to fly and I had the privilege of flying my own aircraft anywhere I wanted to journey off to.
I discovered a bit of aerobatic flight. With some of the Worlds best at the time.
A fun trick I learned was to play with “G” forces.
When you are straight and level and you push the nose over hard the contents of the aircraft that are not locked down will float.
Your body will feel one of the ways to experience weightlessness without a flight into space. Negative “G’s”.
Then pull back on the yolk hard and you will be forced down into your seat which is positive “G’s”.
This is what happens to you in turbulence as well, just quite a bit faster. The feeling of rising and falling.
5. Wind shear
Wind shear is most prevalent in and around thunderstorms.
It is the most deadly form of turbulence an airplane can encounter, most especially near the ground.
It is one of the reasons that airports do not allow arrivals and departures when thunderstorms are near the airfield.
Wind shear can create downdrafts, referred t as “microbursts,” in excess of 4000 feet per minute with sustained winds from 40 to 100 knots for a duration of about 15 minutes during thunderstorms.
This is enough force to push an aircraft low in altitude into the ground.
Technology finally ended the tragic crashes from these microbursts with the development of equipment capable of measuring wind shear on the airport.
The story of the development of this technology can be accessed here.
Most airplane rides are uneventful with a few exceptions.
We also know that the sensations of falling and floating when an aircraft experiences turbulence are really our minds playing tricks.
It’s also quite natural to fear things that we don’t fully understand.
Turbulence in aircraft needs to be understood and I hope this article has given insight into some truths about flying.
I am also not downplaying turbulence or that there have not been times that I became somewhat scared during a flight. There are things that do go bump in the night!
Be situationally aware and practice safety. LIVE to fly another day.