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Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 4:33 pm

By bad storms I meant lets say category 3+ Cyclones/Hurricanes/Typhoons and category 4+ thunder storms. I have searched the net and a.net for any information about this but was unsucessful.

Is there high altitude winds above one or unpredictable winds? Is turbulence bad enough to force the plane to detour the storm? I don't know how this came into my head but it did.

I put this in here as I think this forum has the highest number of active users who actually know what they're talking about but if you deem it unnecessary to have it in this forum by all means please move it.

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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 4:54 pm

I think that a hurricane reaches too high up in the air, so a passenger jet would probably fly around it or cancel the flight, if there was a big hurricane in the middle of the route.

[Edited 2006-06-13 09:54:57]
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 6:58 pm

I don't think any Pilot would want to attempt this deliberately,unless they find themselves in such a situation.Its too big a risk,not knowing the Impact.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 7:09 pm

Simple answer..NO...!! Commercial aircraft fly much lower then then the altitude of storm tops.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 8:30 pm

We have flown close to hurricanes at FL430 and higher provided our navigable route did not fly into any thunderstorms or embedded cells. I've seen upper level winds in excess of 180mph and remarkably the flight was smooth. Typically in cyclones and hurricanes the heaviest weather is in bands circling the center of low pressure. Average tops of the general precip varies but typically that is FL300 with the cells going much higher. Negotiating those bands that can climb above FL510 is very much like canyon flying. You best know what you are flying into and keep in mind they are changing with the development of the storm. If you get too close you can encounter extreme turbulence, heavy precipitation and hail.

Some straight turbojets engines (and some high time fanjets) can flameout pretty easily in thin unstable air. In the event an engine flames out, you will have to descend to your relight envelope which can put you in weather that you will probably wish you had not ventured into. For safety, it is best to avoid unless you know you have an open escape route.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 8:58 pm

My guide to weather I can fly over it or not is to figure out if we can fly over it by 1000' for every 10 knots of wind, but never less than 3000'. I would not try flying over the anvil of a thunderstorm using this criteria.

By using our HUD, it makes it very easy to see just how far you'll clear the tops. It also gives us a great view of it's growth or dissipation.
I fly really fast and take a lot of chances.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 9:49 pm

Consider also that just because you SEE the top of a storm doesn't mean there aren't updrafts ABOVE the top of a storm ..

And as mentioned - you always have to consider where you are going to go if you have to descend rapidly due to depressurization, flameout, et al.

If it's that big, caution is probably the better mode of operation ...

Pass it to the side, and enjoy the view of mother nature at work ...

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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Tue Jun 13, 2006 11:01 pm

Another answer is maybe, since the U-2 and the SR-71 are airplanes.

I have seen thunderstorms topping seventy thousand feet. There is a rule of thumb to clear thunderstorms by a thousand feet for each knot of windspeed. Personally I like more clearance than that.

I have flown over the top of some little cells that were maybe only twelve to fifteen thousand feet, putting me twenty thousand feet above them. Pretty much a non-event. But crowding closer to them is dangerous. As was stated above, they have violent updrafts, in fact that is what is building them. They can also spit a column of intense rain or hail outside the visible storm.

There was a pretty thorough discussion of this just about two months ago here. I don't remember the thread title but there was some good stuff there.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Wed Jun 14, 2006 3:57 am

I know a pilot who flew a Tu-160 over a typhoon in the pacific. He was at 17km and that put him about 5km over the disturbances. He did say that it was pretty beautiful from above.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Wed Jun 14, 2006 5:17 am

Thanks heaps for your replies.
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RE: Can Planes Fly Over Bad Storms?

Wed Jun 14, 2006 7:32 am

The answer is (as is usual with many aviation questions)...it depends.

In my experience, many typhoons in the western Pacific do not build to significant heights, except for the odd isolated buildups.
So yes, generally these can be overflown with reasonable safety.

However, in the event of an engine failure, or perhaps a diversion for (say) a medical emergency or pressurization failure, one might find yourself having to descend into the nasty weather, so utmost caution is advised.

Usually, extra fuel is uplifted to avoid flying over these storms for prolonged periods.

[Edited 2006-06-14 00:35:01]

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