Air Transport World

Waging war on wind shear. (airline safety research)

Wind shear. The best advice for pilots is to do everything possible to avoid this potential killer. But the pilots of one Boeing 737-100 have been ignoring that prudent dictum studiously. They've been going out of their way to find wind shears and when they find one, they fly right through it--all in the name of safety.

The 737, based at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is the test-bed for the latest technological response to the threat of wind shear: A series of airborne detection systems.

To gauge the ability of these systems to spot their quarry, the pilots must go where wind shears are found. During two weeks of tests last June, the 737 was flown around Orlando, Fla., where moisture-laden microbursts are common. In July, the test site shifted to Denver, known for its dry microbursts. The results from 42 hr. of flight data were encouraging, so more tests at the same cities are scheduled for next summer.

Exploration of microburst dynamics has been carried out only within the last decade and a half. The research, conducted at NASA's and other facilities, was prompted by fatal accidents in New York in 1975, New Orleans in 1982 and Dallas/Ft. Worth in 1985. Impetus came also from close calls such as a record-breaking microburst that hit Andrews Air Force Base just 6 min. after Air Force Once, with President Reagan on board, landed there in 1984.

The research indicated that the microburst, burst, a previously unknown phenomenon, generated low-level wind shears that could rob an aircraft of lift. …

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