Airplanes normally fly through clouds, but why do they fly around thunderstorm clouds ?
Question asked by Colin
Airliners are designed to fly trough clouds and can do so routinely without any problems. Thunderstorm clouds ( cumulonimbus ), are different from other types of clouds. There are several reasons why a pilot does not want fly an airplane into one.
Within thunderstorm clouds there are severe air updrafts and downdrafts. This results in severe turbulence. Obviously this would be very uncomfortable and disconcerting for
passengers and crew. There is a chance that some passengers and crew could be injured. Also, there is a possibility that the airplane might sustain damage.
The updrafts and downdrafts within thunderstorm clouds generate static electricity. The discharge of this electricity is what causes lightning and thunder. Lightning can also cause damage to airplanes, however this damage is generally minor. Airplanes do have protection and equipment to dissipate the effects of lightning strikes.
Thunderstorm, or cumulonimbus clouds, also contain a lot of moisture and ice. Updrafts within the cloud carry moisture from lower altitudes to high altitudes, where the moisture droplets will freeze instantly upon contact with airplane surface. The accumulation of ice on airplane’s wings can reduce lift the wings need to generate to maintain altitude. The moisture droplets can also turn into hail, which can do physical damage to an airplane.
Thunderstorm clouds in Canada can reach altitudes above 50,000 feet, or 10,000 meters. Pilots will fly around thunderstorm clouds by several kilometers. However, because of the size of these clouds it looks like an airplane might be just a few hundred meters away.
A bit more about Captain Dan:
Captain Dan Baz enrolled in Flight School at the age of 16.
He has completed studies in Aircraft Engineering and Master of Business Administration. He has been at the controls of many different types of aircraft, from single engine Cessnas to large intercontinental jets on global routes.
Over the last four decades he has flown thousands of hours up in the blue sky.
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