In 1982, the FAA, NCAR and University of Chicago set out to prove or disprove the theory that microbursts existed and were a potential threat to aircraft. Microbursts can be lethal for a jet aircraft on takeoff or landing because of the extreme magnitude of the flows. Doppler radars, anemometers, and sounding systems were deployed in eastern Colorado to search for microbursts. The project was called the “Joint Airport Weather Studies Project (JAWS)”.
PAM station for JAWS.
During the summer of 1982, approximately 99 microburst events were detected within 10 nm of Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Most of the microbursts were associated with high based cumulus clouds with little precipitation hitting the ground. These “dry” microbursts are the most hazardous because they provide few visual clues for pilots.
Participants set up a PAM station for JAWS near Stapleton Airport in Denver. Photo courtesy Robert Bumpas.
JAWS research resulted in scientific knowledge that led to the development of several windshear detection solutions.
After the JAWS project, the FAA and NASA pursued four primary research paths for addressing windshear:
Known Wind Shear Accidents
1956 - BOAC 252/773 Kano, Nigeria (32 dead, 11 injured)
1975 - Continental 426 (B727) Denver (15 injured)
1977 - Continental 63 (B727) Tucson (0 injured)
1982 - Pan Am 759 New Orleans (152 dead, 9 injured)
1984 - United 663, Denver (airframe damage, no injuries)
2008 – Continental 1404, Denver (airframe destroyed, injuries)*
* Investigation pending, or windshear contributing factor
1974 - Pan Am 806 Pago Pago (96 dead)
1975 - Eastern 66 (B727) JFK, New York (112 dead, 12 injured)
1976 - Royal Jordan 600 Doha, Qatar (45 dead, 15 injured)
1976 - Allegheny 121 Philadelphia (86 injured)
1985 - Delta 191 (L-1011) DFW Dallas (134 dead)
1989 - IL-62 Cuba, Santiago (169 dead)
1992 - (DC-10) Faro, Portugal (54 dead)
1994 - US Air, Charlotte (37 dead)
1999 – *American 1420, Little Rock, Arkansas (11 dead, 89 injured)
1999 – *China Air, Hong Kong (3 dead, 211 injuries)
* Windshear or crosswind shear contributing factor