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The 6 Types Of Turbulence, And How To Report Each One

How's the ride up there? Here's how you can report it to ATC.

1) Light Chop

Light chops is defined as a slight, rapid, and somewhat rhythmic bumpiness. In your plane, not a lot changes, you don't experience any large deviations in altitude or attitude.

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2) Light Turbulence

Light turbulence is a series of momentary, slightly erratic changes in your altitude or attitude. When you're in light turbulence, you might feel a slight strain against your seat belt or shoulder straps. Small unsecured objects might get dislodged in your plane. If you could, it would be easy to walk around the cabin with little or no difficulty (except for the fact if your in a GA airplane, you probably can't walk around anyway).

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3) Moderate Chop

Moderate chop is similar to light chop, but it's more intense. Moderate chop has consistent bumps or jolts, with little to no change in altitude or attitude.

4) Moderate Turbulence

Moderate turbulence consists of changes in your altitude or attitude, but your aircraft remains in positive control at all times. You'll feel a definite strain against you seat belt or shoulder straps. And if you have unsecured objects in the cabin, they'll become dislodged. If you could, walking will be difficult in your cabin.

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5) Severe Turbulence

This is where things start to get dicey. Severe turbulence consists of large, abrupt changes in altitude or attitude. Your aircraft may be temporarily out of control, and you'll be forced violently against your seat belt. On top of that, it can cause messes like this on commercial aircraft:

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6) Extreme Turbulence

In extreme turbulence, your aircraft is violently tossed about and practically impossible to control. Extreme turbulence can cause structural damage or even break apart your airframe. The airplane below flew into a squall line and experienced extreme turbulence, resulting in a mid-air break up.

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What's The Turbulence Frequency?

When you report turbulence to ATC, it's important to include the turbulence frequency as well. Here's what you should tell them.

  • Occasional - Less than 1/3 of the time.
  • Intermittent - 1/3 to 2/3 of the time.
  • Continuous - More than 2/3 of the time.

So there you have it! The next time you're up in turbulence, you'll know how to give a pilot report to ATC like a pro.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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