RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
The William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center is considered the world’s premier aviation research and development, test, and evaluation facility. Jim Patterson, who is part of the airport safety technology R&D team at the tech center, deals with safety technologies from airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) to new large aircraft research (NLA) to runway lighting and much more.
New large aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing B747-8 Dreamliner, is one of the most current issues taken on by the Tech Center.
“The problem here in the United States,” says Patterson, “is that we have compacted our airports in so much, that we really don’t have the ability to build our airports to meet design Group Six standards.”
With six A380’s currently in operation and 192 on order, relates Patterson, “we cannot beat the aircraft to the punch,” meaning, the Tech Center has to be reactive as opposed to proactive.
In an effort to address these issues, Patterson says ARFF trucks are being outfitted with new technologies such as the “next generation high-reach extendable turret.” The turret has a reach of 65 feet with the ability to penetrate the second deck of NLA. The Tech Center is also constantly testing new foam firefighting agents, explains Patterson.
Runway safety technology is another major focus at the Tech Center, says Patterson. The center recently had solar-powered runway guard lights constructed and installed at two airports for testing. The lamps in the guard lights were replaced by LEDs which emit a very crisp flash pattern with less power draw. The lights operate completely on solar power with a battery back-up for night operation.
In the realm of bead and paint marking research, Patterson says current testing is being done on the bonding of reflective beads with waterborne paint. Another new technology, cementitious paint, is made with cement material which has the yellow pigment and glass beads within it. The idea, relates Patterson, is that as the concrete wears, the paint wears at the same time. As new layers of pavement become exposed, more new pigment and beads are exposed as well creating a type of “rejuvenating paint.”
Pavement grooving technology, used to displace water on runways, has an improved design which moves from the standard quarter-inch wide grooves to a trapezoid grooving design, which is wider at the top and thinner at the bottom. The advantage says Patterson, is that the trapezoidal grooves displace water more quickly, are harder to break, and result in less rubber contamination from aircraft tires.
Some of the most innovative safety technologies involve airport visual guidance research, says Patterson. Laser illuminations for airfield applications are an upcoming technology that can be capable of illuminating an entire runway.
“Lasers are the way of the future,” says Patterson. “We are trying to embrace the technology and bring it to our airports as best and safely as we can.”
In-pavement LED sources, which are LEDs encapsulated in plastic extrusions, can be installed into the pavement and work very well for illuminating runway numbers or thresholds, relates Patterson.
“LEDs burn so clear and are so pure in color,” explains Patterson. “Some day in the near future, if you haven’t seen it already, you’re going to see runways with LEDs; you’re going to see instrument approach lighting systems solely made of LEDs.”
The tech center is also researching retro-reflective light points for small general aviation airports as well, says Patterson.
“We are trying to come up with technologies that are affordable and easy to install and would improve the safety of general aviation airports,” explains Patterson.
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