One of air travel's many unpleasantries—and there are many—is unexpected turbulence, shaking you in your seat, tossing your drink into your lap, or worst case, sending unbuckled passengers straight into the ceiling. A number of studies have shown rough air is actually increasing due to climate change, but now one Austrian company claims it's designed a system that can almost completely eliminate turbulence so passengers barely feel a thing—and the tech is already being tested in live flights.
According to the aptly named avionics firm Turbulence Solutions, it starts with a relatively simple concept. Using a wing-mounted probe, a computer reads incoming turbulence as it hits the plane, runs the data through a "Turbulence Suppressing Program," and adjusts the aircraft's control surfaces to counteract it in within milliseconds. It's sort of like how a car's adaptive suspension takes in data from the road and other dynamic systems to adjust damping on the fly and provide a smooth ride, just with much higher stakes. The company says the system's constant adjustments are separate from the pilot's inputs, so it can be immediately overridden at any time and won't interfere with normal flight controls.
In operation, Turbulence Solutions says its tech can reduce turbulence felt by passengers by more than 80 percent. It's demonstrated the system in action in a manned flight test, logging flight telemetry both with the system active and without. The company also says the technology is already applicable to modern aircraft and can be enhanced further with the integration of lidar and "morphing structures."
This kind of tech can promise more than comfort, too. Turbulent air costs airlines—and by extension, travelers—time and money, as turbulent zones must be detoured around or carefully flown through at lower speeds. And if it's as effective as claimed, it could compensate for some of our atmosphere's declining flying conditions.
Of course, there's a big difference between testing on a small single-engine aircraft and a fully-loaded Boeing 777. The distance between a couple of promising demonstration flights and widespread deployment on airliners is one that will take years to cover. Conquering turbulence may not be as farfetched as the return of supersonic passenger flight, but it's not going to be arriving at your favorite airline any time soon. In the meantime: Please keep your seatbelt fastened while seated at all times in case we encounter any unexpected turbulence.
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