Until 1985, microbursts—the most severe kind of wind shear (a change in wind speed or direction from one point to another)—represented a deadly threat to aircraft. Beginning that year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requested that NCAR embark on a study with other organizations to better understand this invisible wind and then to create an airport control tower system that could detect such winds in time to alert planes in the vicinity. Today that system is in place around the US, and no further aircraft crashes have been attributed to this phenomenon since the FAA-sponsored study began.

NCAR’s Microburst exhibit allows visitors to squeeze a bulb that pumps air into water, a fluid system like the air above us. As the downward air traces a design on the glass tank not unike an inverted mushroom, people can get the idea of the shape of this treacherous wind. The adjacent display of text and photographs shows how runway warning systems were designed at airports to be used in conjunction with Doppler radar.

There is much information available online at the website of the Research Applications Program (RAP), the NCAR program that organized the microburst project in 1985. Go to http://www.rap.ucar.edu.

To read more about one of the newest microburst detection installation systems in the world, located at the Cheju International Airport in Korea, see http://www.rap.ucar.edu/whatsnew.html.

To read more about other aviation-related projects currently ongoing at RAP, check out http://www.rap.ucar.edu/research/index.html.