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This crucial invention keeps us flying safely. See how it works.

Radar: Your essential tool for safe flying

Chris St. Clair
Weather Broadcaster

Monday, August 25, 2014, 8:16 AM - Radar had its birth in 1886 when Heinrich Hertz demonstrated that radio waves would reflect off of solid objects. 

As usual, war - specifically, the Second World War - spurred forward the development of Radio Detection and Ranging ('Radar' is just an acronym).  

Simply, radar works by sending a signal from a station in a certain direction. The signal will bounce back towards the station if it encounters a solid object. 

Over time we have been able to adjust the strength of our outgoing signals and the sensitivity of our receiver to enable modern day radar to tell us how solid the object is (rain, snow, ice or mountain) and in what direction the object is moving. All very helpful in weather forecasting. 

In aviation, radar is used to track aircraft movement both on ground and in the air. But, behind there’s also a radar behind the round front nose cone of most every aircraft. This helps pilots find other aircraft and, of course, avoid nasty weather and 'granite clouds.'

Great strides have been made in aviation radar in the past 20 years. Pilots can adjust the angle of their radar to inspect the height of clouds ahead and even abeam their planes. They can also look ahead up to several hundred kilometers, allowing themselves the option of avoiding developing weather altogether. 

Under development right now is Lidar. This uses lasers rather than radio waves to detect movement in molecules. 

When we can track movement on that small a scale we will then be able to see areas of turbulent air long before we fly into it.  

There are also developments aimed at making radar become predictive. In essence, it will model what a storm cloud will likely do by the time the aircraft is projected to be near it. That way, aviators can plan their storm avoidance long before they actually near threatening weather. 


CLOSE-UP: Watch how real-life pilots use weather radar to fly safely.

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