What’s wake turbulence?

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Wake turbulence is the chaotic air movements that follow an aircraft, consisting of wingtip vortices and jetwash. It is dangerous if another aircraft gets caught in it, particularly during takeoff and landing. The International Civil Aviation Organization has developed rules to minimize the possibility of wake turbulence hazard.

Wake turbulence refers to the chaotic motions of air that follow an aircraft as it moves through the atmosphere. There are two main elements: wingtip vortices and jetwash. Wake turbulence can be dangerous if another aircraft gets caught in it.

Wingtip vortices are narrow tubes of turbulence that spiral back from the tips of each aircraft wing as they generate lift. They create drag on the plane and are also the most important and dangerous component of wake turbulence. Wingtip vortices can stay airborne for up to three minutes and are much more stable than jetwashes. Jetwash is the turbulence that occurs as a result of gases expelled from a jet aircraft’s engine as it flies. It is much more chaotic than wingtip vortices, but it also has a much shorter lifespan.

Wake turbulence presents a particular threat during landing and takeoff. During these parts of a flight, the aircraft moves relatively slowly and at a high bank angle, maximizing the formation of wingtip vortices. The planes are also closer to each other during takeoff and landing, increasing the chance of one getting stuck behind the other. Finally, the planes are close to the ground at this time, making recovery difficult in the event that a plane could get caught in wake turbulence.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a branch of the United Nations that governs classes of international air traffic aircraft based on their Maximum Takeoff Mass (MTOM) and has developed rules to minimize the possibility of wake turbulence hazard . According to ICAO guidelines, aircraft must wait a minimum time between taking off or landing after another aircraft, depending on each aircraft’s MTOM. The greatest potential wake turbulence hazard occurs when a light aircraft lands after a heavy aircraft. In addition to maintaining the recommended distance, the pilot of the light aircraft must stay in line with or above the path of the heavy aircraft.

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