Saturday, January 22, 2011

Out of clear air

If you've ever experienced turbulence on an airplane, you know how discomforting it can be. One type of turbulence - clear-air turbulence (CAT) - is particularly disturbing, because it is very difficult to see with eyes or radar. Detecting it is further complicated by the fact that there are several unrelated factors that can cause CAT, such as jet stream, vertical and horizontal temperature gradients, vertical and horizontal wind shear, even gravity wave wind shear.

Caused by converging bodies of air meeting at very different speeds, CAT has been known to injure - and even kill - people on board airplanes, with sudden drops of at least 100 feet having been recorded.

Prolific inventor, Brian Tillotson, has been working on this problem for a number of years, and has recently issued a patent - on behalf of Boeing - that utilizes a regular digital camera to take a succession of photos of the horizon. An image processing computer compares the images for refraction of the horizon line, which is about the only surefire indicator that CAT could be present.

A complicated problem solved with a simple solution. What a great idea!

Until they implement Tillotson's system - or something like it - you best buckle up:

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