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Big plane vs small plane in turbulence


I am unable to find a definitive answer to this question anywhere online, and even pilots themselves seem like they don’t know the answer.

The question is if a small plane and a very big plane went through the same area of turbulence/wind, does the small plane feel the effect PROPORTIONALLY GREATER when comparing the mass of both planes?

Personally I think is the answer is while the small plane will feel more turbulence, it is NOT proportionally greater.

I’ve taken off in a small 2-seater that weights around 750kg total in very windy conditions and it is bumpy, but not a “rollercoaster”. I’ve also sat as a passenger in a 737 taking off in very windy conditions and it also bounces around a fair bit, but maybe not as much.

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Small planes vary greatly due to wing loading. Compare a DA40 and a TB20 in the same turbulence and the diference will be striking.

Airliners all have a similar very high wing loading.

smaller planes have lower mass and are accelerated more violently than large ones, no ?

EDLN, Germany

EuroFlyer wrote:

smaller planes have lower mass and are accelerated more violently than large ones, no ?

They also have smaller wings so generate less lift (which causes turbulence).

EGTK Oxford

Wing loading is the main answer. With inertia thrown in the mix.

Aircraft with a high wingloading (jets etc. or a helicopter!) fly very fast, and thus the relative effect of windgusts/shear will be less.

Aircraft with a low wingloading (gliders etc.) fly very slow, and thus the relative effect of windgusts/shear will be greater.

I would expect it the turbulence effect to be roughly inversely proportional to speed.

Then an aircraft with a large inertia (i.e. A380 at ½x a million kg) will ride turbulence better. Compare an oil tanker to a row boat.

Factors beyond wing loading are:

  • Airspeed – if the air mass shifts from 50 fps up to 50 fps down over 100 metres, the vertical acceleration will double if speed is doubled (and if flying not too much above stall speed, the stall itself will effectively protect against very high g loads)
  • Wing aspect ratio and wing stiffness – stiff wing structures with long slender wings give the hardest ride; while stubby wings and bending wings will ride the turbulence gentlier. The aspect ratio determines the slope of the lift vs AoA curve which has a lot to say about ride in turbulence. But these factors tend to even each other out, because the long slender wings will usually bend more in turbulence. However gliders with carbon wing spars notably give a hard ride in turbulence.

Although I guess that does not immediately answer the question …

Last Edited by huv at 31 Oct 10:35
EKRK, Denmark

Lots of other things also. The rotational moment of inertia of the plane, in all directions. Where you are seated in relation to the CG. The scale of the turbulent (turbulence in air can be small and strong, but also larger and of the same strength, even though the strength scales somewhat with size).

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