Since the earliest days of powered aviation, runways have had a simple, consistent design: A long, straight path, usually made of concrete or asphalt (or sometimes nothing more than a dirt strip or open field). It seems logical enough, as aircraft need a certain amount of clearance to land or takeoff. Thousands of airports have been built around this runway concept. It seems like an unshakable foundation of modern aviation.
But one group is challenging the notion of the current standard runway. Their so-called Endless Runway project actually proposes circular runways, that would surround an airport terminal:
The fundamental principle of The Endless Runway is that the aircraft take-off and land on a large circular structure. This will allow for the unique characteristic that the runway can be used in any wind direction, thus making the runway independent of the direction of the wind and therefore also the airport capacity independent of the wind direction.
That somewhat technical explanation breaks down to this: If runways are laid out in a circular fashion, air traffic controllers could adjust the entry and exit points of aircraft depending on where ground conditions are most favorable within the circle. Modern runway designs are static and mostly immovable. If there are heavy crosswinds that could cause trouble for takeoffs and landings, pilots and controllers either have to make the best of a bad situation or potentially call for the runway to be closed. But the circular runway design means aircraft can be directed to use the safest part of the circle, no matter what the conditions may be on any other part of the circle.
This approach could make airports safer and more efficient. For more information on circular runways, check out this video recently produced by the BBC.
Want to know what the world’s longest aircraft looks like? You’re probably picturing something sleek and angular like a Concorde jet or maybe something ultra-futuristic from a sci-fi film. But you’d be wrong. Very, very wrong. Because the world’s longest aircraft looks more like a giant elongated watermelon with fins on the back. Yes, it’s the Airlander 10. A kind of plane-airship hybrid. And it was recently taken out of the hangar for the first time.
The Airlander 10, officially named the Martha Gwyn, is the result of years of work by British company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). Martha measures at 302 feet in length, which is about 60 feet longer than most commercial airliners.
The craft was originally conceived by the U.S. military for surveillance purposes. But the project ran out of money before it could be completed. Hybrid Air Vehicles took the army’s original concept and ran with it. The company believes the Airlander 10 could be used for more than just military work. HAV is hoping to build multiple Airlanders in the next few years where they could be used for passenger vehicles, tourism movers, humanitarian missions, cargo jobs, and more.
Martha Gwyn was towed out of its hangar onto a field where it is to remained tethered to the ground. No firm date has been set for the giant aircraft’s first official flight.
Flown primarily by British Airways and Air France, the Concorde supersonic jet was an impressive achievement in aviation technology. The delta-wing style plane first flew in 1976. After a few years of operation, the Concorde was relegated mostly to transoceanic flights, because its noisy sonic booms caused problems for people who lived under the plane’s flight path. The Concorde was officially retired in 2003, with most of the fleet winding up in aviation museums around the world.
Due to the its unique design and limited cabin capacity compared to other modern airliners, Concorde tickets were usually out of the price range of everyday travelers. If you wanted to get from London to New York in speedy style aboard a Concorde, you’d have to shell out thousands of dollars above the average ticket price. For this reason, the Concorde was often utilized by celebrities and wealthy business people. And while the economy probably hasn’t improved that dramatically for most people over the last twelve years, there are still some deep-pocketed travelers who’d like to see the Concorde return.
A group calling itself Club Concorde is pooling money together to revive the supersonic jet and they believe they’ll be able to achieve this goal as early as 2019. It’s unclear as to how the club will actually get its airplanes. Pulling old Concordes out of mothballs and restoring them to flying status doesn’t seem like a viable option, so brand new planes would have to be built. And while the group has raised over $180 million so far, it’s going to need much more than that to fund just one working Concorde.
Original image by Roger W on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.