EARLY NEXT YEAR, a Boeing 777 will take off from the company’s airfield near Seattle with a laser shooting out of its nose. It may sound like a novel (and grisly) way to avoid bird strikes, but this isn’t that kind of laser. Rather, it’s part of a new system that Boeing hopes could spot brutal turbulence that can damage aircraft and toss passengers around the cabin—and give crews enough time to hunker down before the going gets tough.
While modern passenger aircraft can withstand even the bumpiest rides, turbulence remains dangerous for the people inside those planes. According to the FAA, 44 people were severely injured by turbulence in 2016, and that doesn’t count the less severe rocking and spilled drinks passengers endure on flights on a daily basis.
Boeing thinks a long-range lidar could be the answer.