Hushing The Roar Of Air Traffic Growth

Higher, faster, and farther have long been the goals of aircraft designers; less obvious has been the quest for quiet.


The catch to using low-noise guidance in the real world will come from air traffic control. So far, NASA has focused on pilots and crew procedures. The next step is a controller study, Lewis points out.

Busy airspace may not lend itself to continuous descent, especially in the environs of New York or Washington, D.C., where multiple departure and arrival corridors crisscross the sky. However, Lewis says, there are many places where it could provide benefits.

NASA is not the only player in continuous descent, which has attracted attention from Delta Airlines and the FAA, among others.

United Parcel Service has been experimenting with quiet approaches at its hub at Louisville, Kentucky, says Bob Walker, Advanced Flight Division manager. The company plans to implement continuous descent arrivals as a regular procedure at Louisville this year, and may do the same at other airports. The company expects large fuel savings, in addition to reductions in noise and emissions from the new procedures.

Aircraft noise is not a new issue, and it is not one that will go away anytime soon. NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, worked on reducing aircraft noise before jet engines entered commercial air service in the late 1950s.   Give and take

The first serious investigation into community aircraft noise took place, not surprisingly, around London's Heathrow airport in 1963, says NASA's Shepherd.

Aircraft noise comes from a startling number of sources, not just the "airframe" or the "engines" -- including the landing gear, the details on the gear, the flaps, the slats, the fan, the jet, the combustor, and so on.

You can work all those issues separately, as people are doing, and you can also ask what noise benefits would result from wholesale design changes -- for example, by changing how engines are attached to wings. But aircraft design is a game of give and take, and changes that are good for noise must not detract from safety or performance. After all, the quietest airliner is one sitting on the ramp with its engines off.

"Noise reduction is not easy," Shepherd says. "If it were, we'd have done it."



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