National Wind Turbine Map: A new Pilot Resource

As one of the fastest growing forms of renewable energy, wind turbines are sprouting up all over the country.  On a recent airline flight across the country, I was blown away to see areas in northern Texas with rows of wind-turbines that went on for miles—some of which included well over of a hundred turbines. Now I know why they call them wind farms!  This technology is increasingly popular in rural Alaska, where the cost of fuel to generate electricity is through the roof expensive.  As with all good things, they come with potential impacts.  As pilots, wind turbines provide several challenges: initially as obstructions we have to avoid during flight.  If located too close to airports, they interfere with instrument approaches resulting in higher minimums and reduced access.  Finally, when the wind  blows they represent a source of turbulence, which we still have much to learn about (more on that later).

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Locating individual wind turbines
Recently the US Geological Survey has given us a new tool to locate wind turbines, on a nation-wide basis.  A new interactive mapping application, provides access to a database that not only shows us where wind turbines are found, but records their height, blade length, and other information on a tower-by-tower basis. Prior to this, while some states captured the locations of individual wind turbines, there was no uniform database that provided this information across the country.  Starting with the FAA’s Digital Obstruction File (through July 22, 2013), a USGS team led by Dr. Jay Diffendorfer located over 47,000 turbine sites, verifying individual tower locations with high-resolution satellite imagery. This data base gives us a much better way to find individual tower locations, with a location accuracy estimated to be within 10 meters.

While fewer in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

While still few in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

Understanding impacts
This database is designed to support research into environmental effects on both critters that fly, and wildlife habitat.  But these data may also be useful in the future to project the impact of down-wind effects on general aviation airports, which is still an evolving research topic.  A recent study at the University of Kansas has shown that the turbulence from a wind turbine extends further as wind speed increases, up to 3 miles in some cases.  This and the potential increase in cross winds could be a significant impact for small aircraft at GA airports.  Hopefully, more work will be done to quantify these conditions, leading to improvements in the FAA’s obstruction review process, which today only takes into account the height of an obstruction above ground when air space reviews are conducted.

Provide feedback
All maps are only as current as the date used to make them.  This data set incorporated information from FAA’s obstruction file as of last July.  And if you come across wind turbines that aren’t in the database, please capture what information you can and send an email with the location to jediffendorfer@usgs.gov.

Thanks to this effort, we have a better way to learn where wind turbines are located in the areas where we fly!

Milwaukee News Program Targets General Aviation…And Misses the Real Story.

A Milwaukee television station TMJ-4 is promoting an “investigative” report entitled “Small Airports, Big Upgrade” that will air tonight. The preview states: “Millions of your tax dollars dumped into tiny airports that you’ll never use. Why are Wisconsin’s smallest airports getting big upgrades with your money? You asked, we investigate.” (Link below).
AOPA contacted the reporter and was promised a call back, but never received one.
Here’s what you probably won’t see or hear on tonight’s report:
  • Total impact of general aviation on Wisconsin’s economy: $694.5 million in economic output/9,390 job/$259 million in personal income earned in 2010.
  • Total impact of all aviation in Wisconsin: $6.9 billion in output/90,900 jobs/$3.5 billion personal income earned in 2010.

A sampling of the impact of a few small and medium-sized airports:

  • WAUKESHA COUNTY AIRPORT –  $42 million in sales/$10 million in wage income/281 jobs in 2008-2009;
  • EAST TROY MUNICIPAL AIRPORT — $12.9 million in sales/$4.8 million in wage income/113 jobs in 2010;
  • EAGLE RIVER UNION AIRPORT — $8.4 million in economic output/$2.1 million in personal income and 122 jobs in 2004;
  • CENTRAL WISCONSIN AIRPORT, Mosinee — $71.5 million in economic output/564 jobs/$16.4 million in wage income in 2012;
  • OUTAGAMIE COUNTY REGIONAL AIRPORT, Appleton — $293 million in economic output/1,417 jobs/$79.5 million in payroll. (All figures according to Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics economic impact studies).

Contact the TMJ-4 vice president/general manager, Steve Wexler, at:  swexler@journalbroadcastgroup.com

Link to “story”: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/news/you-ask-we-investigate/small-airports-big-upgrades-244707131.html

AOPA’s Mark Baker Comes to Michigan!

The Great Lakes Aviation Conference and Expo (GLIAC) will be held February 14th and 15th at the Lansing Convention Center in Downtown Lansing, Michigan.  It has been a major attraction for those in the aviation field in the Great Lakes Region for 14 years. The Conference and Expo is designed to provide an interactive and education event offering 60 breakout sessions for pilots, maintenance professionals, sport pilots, instructors, and students.

The GLIAC has a unique partnership with the FAA, Aviation Business Leaders, Industry Experts, and other individuals that strive to make it a complete and comprehensive event.

Among the talented keynote presenters including Barry Cooper, FAA Regional Administrator, General John Borling, and Art Mortvedt will be AOPA’s President and CEO Mark Baker.  Mark will discuss the Association’s ongoing work to protect our freedom to fly and his own mission to energize pilots and put the fun back into flying during the Friday 12:00pm Keynote Address.

Yours truly will also be in attendance will some great giveaways at the AOPA booth.  Please stop by and say hello!