11
$\begingroup$

How could I plan a flight to increase my chances of a fun ride through turbulence? What if I want to plan my flight before the weather forecast is available? The internet is full of people who are afraid of turbulence, but I find it enjoyable, within reason.

Edit: I am still looking for answers like

Plan your flight to a location with [geographic properties] at [altitude] feet when it is [time of day] in the [season] and you are likely to find a reasonable amount of turbulence.

$\endgroup$
13
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ I think these are wrong answers: Fly into a thunderstorm cell. Violate minimum separation with an A380. $\endgroup$ Sep 27, 2023 at 14:29
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The problem with turbulence is that you can't be sure of the "within reason" part -- especially in a light plane, it can go from "a little bumpy" to "why am I upside down with the wing stalled and how did I lose 2000 feet of altitude in no time?" without warning... $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 27, 2023 at 14:35
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ With plan a flight, do you mean as a passenger on a scheduled flight or as a private pilot picking a route? $\endgroup$
    – Sanchises
    Sep 27, 2023 at 14:38
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ The difference between your idea of fun and fatal in a light airplane could be very small. Be careful what you wish for. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Sep 27, 2023 at 14:39
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ If you like turbulence you should consider aerobatics, it's way better. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Sep 27, 2023 at 15:56

3 Answers 3

24
$\begingroup$

The best/safest way I know to get "within reason" turbulence is to go flying on a day when the sailplanes are having good flights. Every little popcorn cumulus cloud will have a thermal under it, and that thermal will give you one or two nice bumps as you fly through it, but they'll be gentle enough (providing your avoid budding cumulonimbus) not to damage you or even a pretty lightweight airplane like a Cub or Pacer. Do keep a very careful eye out for unpowered traffic in that weather; they have right of way and can be hard to spot, since they're likely to be above or below you, not just off to the side or ahead.

The problem is that the weather that creates those cloud lanes and popcorn in the sky can also change to a thunderstorm (with "beyond reason" turbulence, updrafts that can suck you to 20,000 feet or higher while you try to keep the wings from coming off, and lightning that can flip every breaker on your panel, hail that can punch right through a light plane, etc.), so in those conditions you need to keep an eye on the weather and an ear on weather reports from folks with better instruments than you.

Where you'll get turbulence related to what glider pilots call "lift" is two classes of areas: mountain ranges perpendicular to current wind direction, creating ridge lift (which will be uneven due to the uneven nature of the mountain front) and large flat regions in sunlight, especially if there is a patchwork of plowed and grown-over fields (plowed earth will warm faster and get warmer than crops, producing more thermal activity).

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ Good advice. However, in my experience most places do not have any sailplanes. Wikipedia's old information says there are only 33,000 gliders. $\endgroup$ Sep 27, 2023 at 15:05
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist While this is true, it doesn't change the kind of weather glider pilots like -- they need rising air to stay up, and if you don't have hills or mountains to provide ridge lift, you need thermals. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 27, 2023 at 15:56
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist That's not a correct understanding of statistics. Areas that are known to be good weather for sailplanes will naturally attract them, so those areas will have much higher expected concentration of them than anywhere else. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Sep 28, 2023 at 3:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ and that thermal will give you one or two nice bumps as you fly through it. On good soaring days thermals can give much much more than "one or two nice bumps", and even more if you are closer to the ground on a windy day. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2023 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Nelson The answer is about when there is turbulence, not where. Gliders relocate very slowly, so I think my comment is accurate. I will edit the question to encourage answers about "where." $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2023 at 11:36
6
$\begingroup$

What is your definition of turbulence? If it's crazy enough, it could be dangerous it fly into. That's the turbulence we mostly know where it is (because flight wouldn't be safe without that knowledge). That includes thunderstorms and wakes from large aircraft.

There is a good band of turbulence that we can't predict, but is typically not dangerous.

There is some like Zeiss Ikon mentioned that is usually OK and somewhat predictable (updrafts that condense at the top, thus being marked with a cloud).

Then there is some that is pretty light and predictable: your own wake. Fly a steep turn circle, and if you do it right, you'll hit a bump that is your own wake.

And, yes, mountains + wind does make turbulence. Just like water flowing over a rock in a river, you get a repeating wave downstream of the mountain/rock. It sweeps into a peak and then drops again, sweeps up into a peak, etc. Near the top of these, there can be rotors, sometimes even rotor clouds, and that is the worst turbulence I have experienced in a GA aircraft: we were in glass smooth updraft and then all of the sudden we rolled until the CFI thought we were going to go into an upset attitude.

Is your definition of turbulence the wings rolling a bit and the nose bumping up and down, or more of a "your stomach while on a roller coaster" type?

If it's the roller coaster feeling, you can make that feeling with how the aircraft is flown. Go a ways up and fly something not quite parabolic arc for something like the swing feeling, or a perfect parabolic arc for a weightless feeling (yes, I can tell you the two a different, from skydiving experience).

If it's the random rolling/pitching, you could just pay for a flight lesson in a GA aircraft, and (at a good margin less than Va) ask the CFI to do their best to simulate (while staying safe) the worst turbulence they've ever experienced, with random inputs. If that's not good enough, do something similar with an aerobatic pilot in an aerobatic plane. If that's not good enough, see if you can somehow arrange a ride with a fighter pilot with a similar request. I highly suspect that somewhere along that progression, you'll find that "that's enough" point!

$\endgroup$
6
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Dangerous turbulence is excluded with the OP's qualifier "within reason". Turbulence by its nature involves unpredictable movement in all directions, which is part of the appeal to those who find it fun (at least it is for me). Parabolic arcs, or aerobatics as was also suggested would not be the same thing. My definition of fun is a level where for example it is difficult or even impossible to walk down the aisle of an airliner because of pitching in all directions. Although I only find that fun if the flight attendants and all passengers are safely seated. Mountains seems to be a good answer. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2023 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton I think one of the things that makes answering this question hard is we are lacking some context: is this person a pilot or just a part 121 (scheduled airline) passenger? "fun ride" sounds like 121 passenger, but "plan my flight" sounds like part 91 pilot. The "common" sense needed to evaluate "within reason" could very well not be in common between those groups. Remember that freight pilots say "boxes don't bitch" where part 121 pilots work to to avoid (escape when encountered) turbulence freight would consider minor. $\endgroup$
    – Azendale
    Sep 28, 2023 at 13:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Azendale - I agree on first reading it's a little vague, but the needed information is there. The OP pointed out in a later comment that passenger travel would be off-topic, and in fact in the question they used the term "plan a flight" instead of select a flight. Passengers plan trips, pilots plan flights. And the lack of specificity about the level of turbulence other than the "within reason" qualifier means that while dangerous extremes are excluded, the OP is not limiting answers to a specific level of turbulence. And the "fun" qualifier implies more than just making your coffee swirl. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2023 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton Some of this question could be "how can I replicate a feeling I haven't experienced any other way". Both freight and airlines are large planes less affected by turbulence, than a lighter, small, low wing loading GA aircraft, like a Kitfox 7. So has OP experienced GA turbulence? Note that extremes is not in one scale: you have extremes of safety and extremes of how it feels. I have been in turbulence that didn't feel very weird at the time, but looking back it it was actually dangerous. Is having a buddy input large random inputs in a GA plane well under Va a valid answer? $\endgroup$
    – Azendale
    Sep 28, 2023 at 14:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Azendale - since they didn't specify a level of turbulence I don't think they are limiting it to levels that they have personally experienced in whatever type of flying they have done. I interpret "within reason" as relating to safety not the experience. But that's just my interpretation. Your didn't feel weird example sounds like the turbulence itself wasn't dangerous, it was the weather conditions that you were in that were dangerous which you realized later. The question excludes dangerous conditions, as clarified by the OP in a later comment. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2023 at 14:48
3
$\begingroup$

You can create your own turbulence and fly through it, although it will be very short in duration. As a Navy T-6 instructor pilot I had this happen routinely on aerobatic flights. When a proficient student would perform a loop or a steep 360 degree turn correctly the result was us flying through either our own prop wash, or wing tip vortices. The result of this is a moderate bump when you hit it. Not the same as sustained turbulence, but still pretty cool.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice practical answer. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2023 at 19:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .