Five natural phenomena that can overtake you in flight - ForumDaily
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Five natural phenomena that can overtake you in flight

Today, airplanes are considered the safest mode of transport, but despite this, they belong to the modes of increased danger.

Фото: Depositphotos

Фото: Depositphotos

We are used to walking on the ground, we feel safe here, although we are still not spared from surprises. There are more dangers in the air than on the ground, but, fortunately, many of them can be predicted.

Therefore edition N + 1 talks about natural phenomena that the plane may encounter in the air.


Imagine: you are flying in an airplane, comfortably seated in a chair. Lunch is just over. Ahead rest on the sunny beach, palm trees, azure sea. Clouds float through the window. Suddenly, the pilot announces loudly that the plane will soon enter the zone of turbulence, you need to fasten your seat belts, fold the tables and remain calm. Soon, the plane seemed to throw up, then abruptly drop down, and in general an unpleasant chatter begins. Some of the passengers are praying loudly, someone is laughing, someone has become ill, the children are crying. Everyone is scared and they think the end is near.

This is how turbulence manifests itself. The fact is that the atmosphere of the Earth is in motion. It always has air currents, areas with high or low pressure. Under normal conditions, this flow is relatively stable, so the plane flies quietly, without jerks. However, during the flight the plane often falls into different streams. Zones in which the plane got into another air flow are called zones of turbulence.

They occur in many different places. For example, at the junction of warm and cold air currents (over the mountains or at the junction of the sea and land) or at the border of clouds

In most cases, the zone of turbulence can be predicted. If the pilots see a large cloud at the rate, they will fly around it - most likely it will shake. Weather radars on board the aircraft can also determine turbulence zones. But there is a phenomenon called clear-air turbulence. This is a bubbling in a clear blue sky, in which there is not a hint of a little cloud. Predicting this phenomenon is very difficult.

Fractures, bruises and sprains: the consequences of clear-air turbulence aboard Aeroflot in 2017.

There can be several reasons for the occurrence of clear-air turbulence: from the intersection of air currents to the appearance of co-trails of other aircraft (eddy currents behind liners).

Aircraft pilots are usually well prepared to encounter turbulence, and even if it arises unexpectedly, pilots can quickly level the plane and try to get out of the bumping zone.

The last time a disaster due to turbulence occurred in 2001 year. Then, shortly after taking off from the airport in New York, the A-300 airliner got into a satellite jet of another plane and crashed. All 260 people on board died.

St. Elmo's fire

In addition to the turbulence of the blue sky, pilots are familiar with another phenomenon, no less rare. It is about the lights of St. Elmo, which received its name in honor of the Catholic patron saint of sailors.

Lights are corona discharges arising on high and sharp objects due to the high intensity of the electric field in the atmosphere.

In aviation, the lights of Saint Elmo appear at the junction of windshields and the body of the aircraft, wingtips and static dischargers when flying close to or through a thunderstorm front. The lights of Saint Elmo appear at any time of the day, but during the day they are practically invisible, but at night they are clearly visible. In the dark sky at the ends of the wing, blue balls suddenly begin to flare up. A bluish or whitish haze appears along the surface of the wing closer to the leading edge. On the windshields in the cockpit there is the same luminous haze, which periodically goes out and turns into electricity discharges.

The fire of Saint Elmo on the windshield. Photo:

The fire of Saint Elmo on the windshield. Photo:

The lights of Saint Elmo are usually not dangerous. On the upper layer of the metal hull of the aircraft, electricity gradually flows into the atmosphere, usually without harming the aircraft or the passengers. But it is not known for sure if corona discharge could not damage the liner in some extremely rare situations.

It is believed, for example, that the lights of St. Elmo were one of the reasons for the plane crash of the Airbus A-330 airliner flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. 23 minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. All the 228 people on board died. This is so far the only case in aviation history when the lights of St. Elmo were named as one of the causes of the catastrophe.

Thunder and lightning

Often planes have to face in the air directly with a thunderstorm.

Lightning struck the tail of the aircraft. Photo: frame from You Tube

Lightning struck the tail of the plane. Photo: frame from YouTube

In the first place, such a collision is accompanied by the very bubbling. The fact is that a thunderstorm is always a multitude of air currents intersecting and mixing with each other. Such currents, coupled with an inhomogeneous density of clouds, create turbulence zones, where the plane starts to be thrown from side to side. Passengers already feel uncomfortable, to put it mildly, in this bumpiness. And then one of them notices how lightning struck the wing. Panic in this case is guaranteed.

But in fact, nothing much to fear. Lightning for the aircraft almost no danger. Sometimes at the points of entry and exit of the discharge a slight melting can occur, and even then it is possible only at the joints where a spark arises.

In order to further protect the aircraft from lightning, it is equipped with so-called electrostatic dischargers.

In general, each of the aircraft throughout the world during the year several times falls under the category of lightning, and nothing terrible happens.

However, on airplanes that lack modern protection systems, lightning can cause a lot of trouble. So, 22 June 2000, the lightning hit the Chinese Y-7 aircraft (a copy of the Soviet An-24), which came in to land. As a result, fuel vapors in the fuel tanks exploded, the plane fell apart on the 2 part and fell. All 45 people aboard the plane died. In addition, 7 people also became victims of fallen debris on the ground.


The greatest danger in flight for an aircraft is icing. At altitude, especially in cloudy conditions, there are water vapors that can be released on the surface of the aircraft and freeze, turning into an ice crust at altitude. During the flight, this crust can thicken and take on the most bizarre forms under the action of incoming air currents.

Because of the ice crust, the plane becomes heavier, but that is not the danger. Ice sticking to the surface of the airframe, violates the normal flow of air around it.

Because of this, the wing of an aircraft, for example, may cease to create sufficient lift for normal flight. In addition, the ice crust can block some of the moving elements of the wing, because of what the plane will lose control. Icing occurs most often in the cloud zone or during rapid descent.

Today, before sending the plane on the flight, its glider is treated with a special anti-icing compound - a liquid that prevents water droplets from sticking to the surface of the liner. In addition, modern liners are equipped with early warning systems for icing and various anti-icing systems.

But the most dangerous thing in the air is the icing of the engines, since the ice formed on their blades can interfere with the compression of air, thereby worsening the overall operation of the power plant. In addition, large pieces can break away from the ice crust, which can damage the internal elements of the engine.

Reliable algorithm to predict icing in the engine, too, does not yet exist. According to NASA, in 10% of air crashes one of the causes (or the main cause) of the accident is just icing.


In addition to turbulence, lightning and icing, radiation also poses some danger, not for the aircraft itself, but for its passengers. The fact is that at the height of the radiation background is higher than on the surface of the Earth. Typically, the radiation level increases in 2 times every 2 kilometer altitude. Therefore, a long flight by plane is comparable to a full X-ray study.

However, frequent flights are not dangerous for a healthy adult, although radiation may pose a threat to young children. For this reason, it is recommended to abstain from flights and children to pregnant women. In February of this year, it turned out that there are whole “clouds of radiation” in the atmosphere.

They represent areas in which the radiation background is significantly increased compared with the neighboring areas, and in some cases the radiation can be dangerous.

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