Lockheed Funds Texas A&M Research on Wind Shear Detection System

This article first appeared in the January 1986 Flight Test News.

MARIETTA, Ga., Dec. 17 — An aircraft sensor system capable of detecting wind shear during flight is being evaluated in tests at Texas A&M University and will be tested on Lockheed-Georgia Company’s High Technology Test Bed (HTTB) aircraft.

Developed by Texas A&M research engineer Oran Nicks, and funded for further development by a Lockheed-Georgia research contract, the device is designed to sense the wind shear at the moment the forward part of an aircraft encounters the change in wind direction or speed, measure the severity of the change, and provide visual and audio signals to alert the pilot.

Wind shear is the violent change in wind speed or direction often associated with thunderstorms that have been blamed for several recent disasters.

“It is designed to buy the pilot some time to respond. Maybe only a few seconds, but that could make the difference,” said Nicks, a longtime aerospace researcher who heads Texas A&M’s Space Research Center.

Nicks developed the total energy sensors several years ago for use on sailplanes and the device currently is in use around the world by soaring enthusiasts.

Using small aircraft from Texas A&M’s Flight Mechanics Laboratory, the system currently is being evaluated by several general aviation pilots to determine the utility of the device and the best way of displaying the information in the cockpit.

The system will be installed in Lockheed’s High Technology Test Bed, a flying laboratory for aerospace systems. HTTB pilots will help determine the device’s usefulness on a tactical airlifter during steep, slow landing approaches.

Dr. Donald Ward, professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M, leads two graduate students in the research project. Ward’s students, Rosa Oseguera and Tom Anderson will develop computer simulations of the project from evaluation tests of the system.

“The information this device provides already is available in other forms from other instruments in large aircraft, but not in this way,” said Ward, a former test pilot. “This device is relatively inexpensive and might help quantify the wind shear in a way that helps the pilot react more quickly.”

The device is a sensor in the form of a cylindrical tube mounted on the front of the aircraft and instrumentation to record and display the measurements in the cockpit. Special gauges that combine a vertical speed indicator and a total energy indicator have been developed for the project by Redwood Instruments of Redwood, Calif.

Tests conducted previously by NASA’s Langley Research Center resulted in recommendations that the device be further investigated.

In the future, if the device proves helpful for pilots, Ward said, the system might be integrated with the aircraft’s propulsion control scheme, allowing automatic reaction by the throttle if the aircraft encounters a sharp loss of its total energy–a signal of encountering wind shear.

Editor’s Note: The April 1984 issue of MD Flight Approach has an excellent discussion of meteorological hazards that can cause wind shear: Microbursts, Downbursts, and Macrobursts. The April 1985 issue of MD Flight Approach published flight procedures and precautions which supercede those presented on page 14 of the April 1984 issue. MD Flight Approach is published by the Flight Operations Group of Douglas Aircraft Company, 3855 Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach, California 90846.

This article first appeared in the January 1986 Flight Test News.

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