Weather radar to prevent air crashes



An operational demonstration of Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) at Stapleton International Airport, Denver, finishes August 31. For 2 months, TDWR has been used to detect wind shear and other hazardous weather around air terminals and to provide warnings to air traffic controllers and pilots in time to avert accidents.

The biggest hazard for aircraft approaching or departing terminals is the microburst, a form of wind shear. Microbursts are produced by a small-scale, powerful downdraft of cold, heavy air occurring beneath a thunderstorm, rain shower, or cumulus cloud. As the downdraft reaches Earth's surface, it spreads out horizontally (see Figure 1). An aircraft flying through a microburst at low-altitude encounters a strong headwind, then a downdraft, and finally a tailwind that causes a sharp reduction in speed and loss of lift. This deadly sequence of events has caused at least 30 accidents and 500 deaths in the United States since the mid-1960s.