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Old 09-29-2005, 11:47 AM   #1  
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Default airlines may soon be able to land at 8K more airports

9/29/2005 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- Commercial airlines may soon be able to land at 8,000 more U.S. airports because of research involving Air Force test pilots.

If the research is applied, no longer will aircraft be restricted from landing at smaller airports because of the excessive noise aircraft make upon landing, according to Dennis Eckenrod, an American Airlines MD-80 captain participating in the study.

C-17 Globemaster III test pilots here have joined NASA research pilots and Ames Research Center officials who are researching ways to reduce the noise. By solving this problem, thousands of more airports around the country could open, making it easier for air passengers to travel to destinations once inaccessible in the United States.

"An aircraft that could utilize the shorter runways of smaller regional and community airports could bring commercial air travel to approximately 97 percent of the U.S. population living within one-half hour of an airport," said John Zuk, NASA Extreme Short Takeoff and Landing Vehicle Section manager at Ames in Moffett Field, Calif.

Test pilots, who normally are associated with aircraft developmental and operational testing -- the tail end of research -- are instead participating in the research portion prior to aircraft development.

"It is fun to be able to do some research every once in a while," said Capt. Chris Elenbaum, the C-17 lead flight test engineer with the 418th Flight Test Squadron.

"We spend so much time in (developmental and operational testing) to produce a product for the warfighter, but research is where it all begins. It is nice to be at the beginning of the chain versus the end."

Using specialized equipment, researchers collected flight data of different C-17 landings. They first measured the noise made by aircraft using a straight-in approach, typical of commercial airliner landings.

Another landing tested was the spiral descent, known by military members who have flown into a combat zone. This involved research measuring the noise made by a C-17 as it spiraled down over a landing site, much like a hawk looking for prey.

After researchers collected the data by using 17 microphones covering about 15 square miles positioned on Rogers Dry Lakebed, they determined the spiral landing approach reduced aircraft noise within acceptable bounds of most U.S. airports.

"Preliminary results indicate that the… approaches will concentrate the noise footprint into a narrow area, and that the flight can be conducted safely with the commercial aircraft ride quality," Mr. Zuk said.

The landing approaches were simple and safe, said NASA research pilot Frank Batteas.

"They were flown using the aircraft autopilot and navigation displays," Mr. Batteas said. "With some software changes, the aircraft flight director could provide total flight guidance for these approaches."

Mr. Eckenrod was onboard the C-17 during the test mission. He evaluated the rate of descent from a civilian pilot's perspective and from the comfort level of an airline passenger.

Engineering students and professors from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif., and officials from Northrop Grumman are also participating in the study.
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