As thunderstorm season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s worth remembering how weather-radar technology has improved in the past three decades. Southern Airways Flight 242, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, crashed in Pauling County outside Atlanta on April 4, 1977, after flying directly into a severe thunderstorm, calling attention to the then little understood issue of radar signal attenuation in areas of heavy precipitation.
When Gulfstream’s G650 enters service later this year, pilots will find a pleasant surprise, a Honeywell RDR 4000 3-D weather radar that is far easier to operate than earlier systems. The radar has been flying for a few years on airliners, and the G650 is the first business jet application. New features just implemented on the RDR 4000 include turbulence detection, hail and lightning display and a new attenuation display.
Vaisala, a provider of weather-measuring equipment and services, has upgraded the quality of its Global Lightning Dataset GLD360 “with greater location accuracy, improved polarity classification and peak current estimates,” according to the company.
Honeywell won a $49 million contract to upgrade the National Weather Service’s ground-radar, wind-profiler network that will predict severe storms earlier and provide more accurate warnings of upcoming storms. Honeywell’s work on the production phase of the next-generation NOAA wind-profiler network includes upgrading the NOAA network of wind profilers that provide upper air wind data for crucial weather forecasting tasks.
The National Convective Weather Forecast (NCWF), which combines National Weather Service (NWS) radar mosaics and cloud-to-ground lightning data into a
six-color hazardous weather depiction, is now available on the Internet and the NWS information networks.
Mitsubishi MU-2B-40, Bunnell, Fla., Aug. 25, 2006–The NTSB determined that the crash of the MU-2 resulted from an inadvertent encounter with thunderstorms. The commercial pilot, cruising at FL280, had received a sigmet about convective activity. His onboard weather radar was working, and Jacksonville Center was equipped with Nexrad-derived weather displays, which indicated weak to moderate echoes above FL240.
Some pilots don’t look forward to flying in bad weather, but helicopter pilot and TV news reporter Johnny Rowlands actually fires up his Bell JetRanger and goes after the very worst in bad weather. Twice in May, on the 4th and 8th, Rowlands used “NewsChopper 9,” KMBC-TV’s Bell JetRanger, to track tornadoes that were savaging the Kansas City area, destroying property and killing people.
Banking and oil heir Michael Huffington, who is suing Bombardier over a Global Express he first ordered in 1995 and later rejected after he learned the aircraft had been struck by lightning, has produced a consultant’s report hoping to bolster his lawsuit against Bombardier. That report claims that the GEX is far more likely to be hit by lightning and suffer serious damage than its competitors. Bombardier disputes the report.
Archie Trammell, former magazine editor turned radar and convective weather expert, has added a bimonthly online magazine to supplement his long-running radar seminars. The new publication, at www.radar4pilots.com, contains references to weather research studies and articles.