The aircraft nose’s official name – the radome (radar + dome = radome). The radome is a spherical plastic cap that opens up and serves as the weatherproof housing for a few vital equipments – the radar antenna, generally known as the dish antenna – a sensitive plate that transmits and receives radio waves. The nose is made of smart material that blocks external weather influences but allows electromagnetic radiation to go through.

The radar antenna’s most vital functions are:

The weather radar

That measures the size of water droplets within the air allowing the aircraft to detect unpleasant weather conditions ahead. Pilots need their flights to be as comfortable as possible for their passengers and crew and use the data to avoid precipitation and turbulence. That’s particularly nice if you’ve just started on your chicken or beef.

The Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS)

GPWS warns pilots if the aircraft is flying too close to the ground or if there’s an object within the vicinity. It scans the terrain below the aircraft so pilots always know their altitude. for instance, if the aircraft is descending too fast, they’ll hear the command PULL UP and the pilot must raise the aircraft nose as quickly as possible.
Then there’s another antenna, known as the localiser. It works in combination with the glideslope antenna (located underneath the A330 cockpit or near the B777 nose wheel) and the flight director signal, a kind of Satnav for pilots that indicates the flight plan. The localiser plots the ideal descent path for the aircraft. The onboard antennas make contact with antennas along the runway to work out the best possible landing position. The glideslope antenna looks at the aircraft altitude to prevent it from starting its descent too early or too late. The localiser looks at whether the aircraft is drifting sideways too much. Pretty useful!

The opened radome of an Airbus A330-300.

A few more facts regarding the nose of an aircraft

  • Extreme weather conditions can be bad for the nose. for instance, the radome can sustain damage from hail storms. So, it’s vital that the aircraft nose gets checked carefully, and that happens regularly in the hangar. Still, a damaged nose isn’t a flight hazard. in that case, pilots are trained to land their aircraft in every situation.
  • Radar testing may never take place within the hangar. radar can emit considerable radiation and can only be tested at designated test locations outside the hangar.
  • Have you ever noticed the lines on the nose? They’re vital. If lightning should strike the aircraft nose – which does happen – the wires on the nose divert the electrical charge safely along the fuselage to the tail, where it leaves the plane again.
  • Flightradar24 doesn’t track aircraft through the aircraft dish antenna, but via antennas on the aircraft belly. These are small, yellowfins that transmit the aircraft position.
  • The nose of an A330 opens upwards while that of a B777 opens sideways.

Boeing 777 with opened radome.

 

 

 

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