8 March 2013 | Technology

A new aviation system which should earn millions of dollars...

A radar that detects aircraft wake turbulence

Above is a rare picture of wake vortices generated by an aircraft (made visible with smoke flares dropped a few seconds earlier).

The system is being tested at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport (Paris) and its purpose is to determine with more precision, the distances to be observed between aircraft landings.  It allows the control tower to know in real time the intensity of the wake vortex created by an aircraft during approach.

Currently the safety distances between two landings are defined by ICAO based on the tonnage of the aircraft and may be reduced depending on the weather, wind and other criteria.  In the case of an A380 this spacing is set to eight minutes! Wake turbulence is a disturbance of the air generated by the passage of an aircraft.  This can be particularly dangerous for  the following aircraft as it may suffer dangerous roll movements, of up to 180°.

The advantage of this device is to provide from 30 to 60 additional slots per day.  This represents from 5 to 10% the capacity of the airport.  "When we know the price of a slot: about one million euros per year, the calculation quick," says Philip Judge, Director of Advanced Studies in Thales Air Systems Division.

The system consists of an X-band radar, which has the capacity to detect turbulence in rainy weather, and a lidar for detection in good weather.  With highly accurate predictive models, calculated using weather data from the airport provided in real time, the system is able to predict the behavior of wake vortices and determine when they become harmless for the next aircraft.  For now, the entry into service of such system is linked to the evolution of the regulations in force.

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