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Full Circle – Turbulence

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March 2012


Over the past 50-plus years of being involved with airplanes, I’ve had a number of memorable bouts with turbulence. When I count the episodes that come to mind, you might be surprised to discover that those that occurred in large airplanes outnumber the light aircraft incidents by a significant margin. This imbalance makes immediate sense because I’ve got a great deal more hourly exposure in transport-category airplanes than in General Aviation singles and light twins. But the hours alone are not the only reason.

Here are the other factors that have made my turbulence stories come more from the airline-flying category: first and foremost, when I’m faced with a long and bumpy trip in a light airplane, I can often find a reason to do something else that day. Not so with the airline; they wanted me to go anyway.

Also, the nature of jet travel puts us across lots of altitudes and lots of air masses—some of them rubbing quite aggressively against their neighbors—while an all-day ride in my personal airplane often deals with no more than two separate weather arenas. For General Aviation trips under three hours, it’s not uncommon to be steadfastly in the grips of the same designated air mass the entire journey, and that makes the likelihood of big changes in the atmosphere—the generating force for really good examples of bad turbulence—less prevalent.

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