RAP wins NASA award
A team of Research Applications Program scientists will receive a Turning Goals into Reality award from NASA this month. The scientists are part of a larger NASA research team called the Turbulence Prediction and Warning System thats helping pilots navigate storms without encountering air turbulence.
We were members of a great NASA team, says Larry Cornman, one of two leaders on the project from RAP. The whole purpose was to create something industry could put on aircraft and help prevent accidents.
The project started several years ago with the goal of upgrading radars on commercial aircraft to provide operationally useful turbulence information. Specifically, the RAP team wanted to use radars to determine which low reflectivity regions are safe from turbulence.
Reflectivity refers to the amount of radar return off raindrops, ice crystals, and snow. Pilots use reflectivity readings from onboard radars to maneuver around thunderstorms. But because reflectivity and turbulence do not correlate, a pilot may assume a region of low reflectivity is safe and fly through it, only to experience turbulence.
The team tackled the problem on two fronts. RAPs Bob Sharman, also a project leader, ran cloud-scale simulations with the help of colleagues Rod Frehlich, Todd Lane, and Teddie Keller.
Cornman and colleagues Shelly Gerding, Greg Meymaris, John Williams, Beth Chorbajian, and Kimberly Wey used the cloud-scale simulations to run radar simulations.. The radar simulations helped them develop the NCAR Efficient Spectral Processing Algorithm (NESPA), a quality-control and turbulence prediction algorithm for use with airborne Doppler radars. NESPA will help pilots decide which low reflectivity regions are safe to fly through.
In a test flight last summer, scientists used NESPA in real time on the NASA B-757 aircraft. The aircraft flew through numerous thunderstorms and encountered 42 cases of moderate or greater turbulence. NESPA had an 80% detection rate and made very few false predictions, even in very low reflectivities.
The algorithm was really quite good, Cornman says. What this proved without a doubt is that these radars can be used to give pilots warnings of at least 30 seconds in advance of turbulence.
Now that the team has demonstrated NESPAs feasibility, the next step will be refining and evaluating the results, as well as building tools to certify industry products.
The Turning Goals into Reality Awards are given for outstanding contributions toward certain NASA objectives, including improved aviation safety. Nicole Gordon