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About Turbulence

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  • About Turbulence

    When you see an airliner up in the sky, do you wonder what’s holding it up? Air? But air is thin. How can air hold anything that heavy up there? It seems like it should fall. The whole enterprise of being up in the air seems dicey. And then comes turbulence, and what you feel - the plane falling - makes you wish you were down on terra firma.

    If “seeing is believing,” and you can’t see anything hold it up, shouldn’t the plane fall? There are good reasons why it doesn’t. To understand what holds the plane up requires understanding theoretical concepts. Most of us are not good at that.

    I try to simplify things. So for a simple explanation, see the Jello Exercise video. It helps. But it’s hard to get away from the feeling that, when you are high above the earth, you are extremely vulnerable.

    This sense of vulnerability makes us exaggerate what we feel when we fly. What you feel in turbulence, in terms of g-forces, is no different than what you feel in an elevator. If you were using a g-force meter in an elevator, before the elevator moves, your g-force meter would read the force of gravity, which is called 1.0 g. When an elevator starts moving upward, its acceleration produces a small amount of g-force, about 0.2 to 0.4 g. That additional g-force, when added to the g-force produced by gravity, would cause the g-force meter to read 1.2 g to 1.4g.

    If you are headed toward the tenth floor, when you pass the ninth floor, the elevator slows down and you feel light-headed. That is due to deceleration. While the elevator is decelerating, you would get a reading between 0.8 to 0.6.

    In a plane, if using a g-force meter in light turbulence, you would get readings between 0.8 and 1.2. In moderate turbulence, readings would be between 0.6 and 1.4.

    Stronger turbulence is extremely rare. I only experienced stronger turbulence thirty seconds total in thirty years of flying. This means nearly one-hundred percent of in-flight turbulence produces less g-force variation than an elevator. In an elevator, you know what is going on so it isn’t frightening. In a plane, you may not be so sure all is well. So the same forces - or even milder forces - can bother you.

    But, you may ask, what if there is severe turbulence? Fair enough. Though extremely rare it could happen. If so, it would be like riding on one of the high-speed elevators in a tall building. Elevators do what they do every day. Airliners do what they do every day. And it all works out fine.

    A g-force meter is available on the free SOAR app (iPhone and Android) at Fear of Flying - SOAR iPhone App

    To end fear of turbulence, we teach you how to turn off the fear system when flying. If ready to get started, go to

  • #2
    Something you wrote in your book was useful to me. It feels like we are moving up and down many feet in turbulence, but you explained how to compare that to driving over bumps. If we were to drive over rough terrain that only varied in inches, but we did so at a high rate of speed, it would feel very rough...and that in reality, most turbulence only moves the plane in inches. So now, I deliberately pay attention to bumps while driving and observe the sensation and relative size of the bump in the road. I realize if I were to experience the bumps I feel while driving the same as when flying...I would be much more stressed in the plane...but now I know that I'm only moving inches, not plunging 20 feet! Thanks.


    • #3
      Great! Glad it helps. Also, see the newer app, SOAR In-Flight.


      • #4
        I watched the jello video and kept this image in my mind during on/off hours of turbulence. It was incredibly helpful to have it explained this way - the thickness of air ect.