Patent for Experimental Aviation Safety Product

November 13, 2018

Gary Ellrod CCM
ACM member Gary Ellrod was included as a co-inventor on a patent for a technique to identify possible severe aircraft turbulence well downstream from thunderstorms (>30km). The patent (#US9564055B2) was granted 7 February 2016 with a priority date of 15 June 2015. The technique uses satellite InfraRed (IR) imagery, global real-time lightning data, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Isentropic Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model, along with projected aircraft routes on long-haul flights.

Mr. Ellrod served the principle investigator for a NASA-funded Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project entitled "Transported Turbulence on Climb, Cruise and Descent" that was completed in December 2015. The SBIR funding was granted to WxOps, Inc., now based in Asheville, NC. WxOps is an industry leader in the development of Common Operating Environment (COE) displays for Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) now used on commercial jet aircraft. The primary inventors of the "Transported Turbulence Product (TTP)" were WxOps CIO Dr. Scott Shipley and CEO Mark Spence.

The TTP is being used to warn aircrews manually on selected long, overwater flights about potential severe Convective-Initiated Turbulence (CIT) well downstream from the source thunderstorm activity. Normally, CIT occurs in the near-storm environment, but the SBIR-funded research showed that as many as 5% of moderate to severe CIT cases reported to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can be found beyond 30 km downwind from the storms, where onboard radar indicated minimal danger. These events are not common, but the results can be severe. In the few known cases recognized as TTP, pilots were flying in clear air with no indicators of turbulence from conventional techniques.

The TTP is produced as follows: Deep convective storms that reach aircraft cruising altitude are identified using satellite IR and lightning detection networks. Storm cloud elements or passive tracers are then transported at hourly intervals using the HYSPLIT model, which incorporates NOAA global forecast model winds. Intersections of the trajectories with projected flight paths then help dispatch personnel warn aircrews of possible turbulence hazards.

Elimination of even a single severe turbulence event can significantly reduce an airline's liability costs caused by injuries to passengers and aircrews. A commercial product based on this research is available from WxOps. The TTP is also deemed to have potential value in space launch operations.

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