New radar tech helps pilots nimbly avoid severe weather

The latest iteration of Honeywell's IntuVue software was designed to give substantial warning and detailed information on turbulence, hail, and lightning in planes' paths.

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Daniel Terdiman
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The latest iteration of Honeywell's IntuVue weather radar technology allows pilots to see detailed information on severe weather in front of them, including whether there's hail, lightning, or turbulence. Honeywell

Say goodbye to turbulence and flying through nasty weather, and many of the costly delays that go along with such airborne unpleasantness.

That's the promise of the latest iteration of Honeywell's IntuVue weather radar system, technology that is designed to allow airline pilots to steer clear of rough weather.

Although IntuVue has been around for several years, offering pilots a three-dimensional view of weather up to about 370 miles in front of them, the newest version of the software adds warnings of up to 10 minutes for turbulence, hail, and lightning.

The IntuVue system, first unveiled in 2008, provided pilots a 3D view of weather conditions in front of them from the group up to an altitude of 60,000 feet. Honeywell positioned the system as a major improvement over competing technologies that required pilots to scan specific areas of the sky for extreme weather.

But now, IntuVue has been upgraded to allow pilots to see, at a glance, a weather map showing not just the altitude to which a storm rises, but also the location of lightning, hail, and turbulence. The idea is that by knowing precisely where such weather is, pilots can potentially steer through storms rather than having to navigate around them entirely.

That's important because such storm avoidance can add a significant amount of time -- fuel expense -- to a flight, and can inconvenience passengers due to delays. Citing government figures, Honeywell estimated that weather-related delays cost U.S. airlines as much as $8 billion a year.

This image shows weather in front of an airplane, both from a birds'-eye view (top) and from a side view, showing altitude. Honeywell

Another new feature is one that lets pilots looking at a bird's-eye radar view distinguish between extreme weather conditions that are within 4,000 feet of their altitude and conditions that aren't. That could potentially save time relative to radar views that only show that weather is ahead, but not at which altitude, suggested Ratan Khatwa, senior chief engineer in Honeywell's Human Factors division.

The new IntuVue technology has already been certified for the Boeing 737-NG, and Honeywell is seeking certification for other planes, including the Airbus A380, A350, A340, A330, and A320, and Boeing's 777 and 737.