Just as ships moving through the water create a wake, aircraft moving through the air create one as well. Wake vortices from aircraft often go unseen, but the wake turbulence they create can have severe consequences for aircraft if pilots are not aware. On departure and approach, the distance separating aircraft is based on their wake turbulence category, which increases with an aircraft’s maximum take off weight.

Aircraft are spaced by air traffic control to mitigate wake turbulence, but controllers will often warn following aircraft if they should be aware of wake turbulence. In the United States, a controller might tell an aircraft, ‘Flight 123, cleared to land runway 10. Caution wake turbulence, following a Heavy Boeing 777’. This keeps the pilots aware of any possibly wake turbulence they may encounter.

Visible wake vortices created by a British Airways 737 approaching Gatwick Airport.

Towards a Wake Turbulence Warning System

The DLR Advanced Technology Research Aircraft
The DLR Advanced Technology Research Aircraft A320

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is currently in the second phase of testing a wake turbulence warning system in flight experiments using its Advanced Technology Research Aircraft A320, D-ATRA. In 2014, DLR performed the first phase of flight experiments with its A320 and Falcon aircraft. According to the DLR, the system can ‘predict potentially dangerous wake turbulence using just the positional data and weather information from a preceding aircraft’.

D-ATRA’s recent flight path for wake turbulence testing
D-ATRA’s recent flight path for wake turbulence testing

Tracking Future Tests

To follow future test flights, track with registration D-ATRA or use callsign filter ‘LFO’.


Featured image by THPlanespotting

Ian Petchenik’s love of aviation began at an early age growing up next to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. As Flightradar24’s director of communications and co-host of the AvTalk podcast Ian now gets to share that passion for aviation with millions of Flightradar24 users and listeners around the world.

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