A rare look at aircraft wake turbulence

Wake turbulence is what an aircraft leaves behind it as it passes through the air.  Wikipedia has a good introductory article about it, if you’re interested.  Normally it can’t be seen, of course, but when atmospheric conditions are just right the shimmering effect of wake turbulence becomes visible.  This video of aircraft landing at Madeira airport gives us a rare glimpse of this phenomenon.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

That also illustrates why larger aircraft have zones behind them of ‘wake vortex separation‘, where other aircraft aren’t supposed to fly – up to 8 nautical miles in the case of ‘superheavy’ planes like the Airbus A380.  The turbulence they leave in their wake can be so severe as to damage another aircraft or cause its pilots to lose control if it runs into it.



  1. I once got sequenced in to a runway parallel to one where 737s were landing and there was a crosswind. I can still remember looking out the right hand window straight down as the stall horn beeped and the ailerons hit the stop. I was about 75' up at the time. I wound up landing just fine, but it did rattle me.

    I hate airports that have a VASI, I prefer to make a much steeper approach.

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