Orlando International Airport
Orlando International Airport

Airport - a location where aircraft such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and blimps take off and land. Aircraft may be stored or maintained at an airport. An airport consists of at least one surface such as a runway for a plane to take off and land, a helipad, or water for takeoffs and landings, and often includes buildings such as control towers, hangars and terminal buildings. Larger airports may have air traffic control, passenger facilities such as restaurants and lounges, and emergency services.
  • Orlando International Airport - hub and rail system to take passengers from central hub to pods of gates
  • London Heathrow Airport or Heathrow - a major international airport serving London, England. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the United Kingdom and the third busiest airport in the world (as of 2012) in terms of total passenger traffic, handling more international passengers than any other airport around the globe.

The earliest aircraft takeoff and landing sites were grassy fields. The plane could approach at any angle that provided a favorable wind direction. A slight improvement was the dirt-only field, which eliminated the drag from grass. However, these only functioned well in dry conditions. Later, concrete surfaces would allow landings, rain or shine, day or night.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) system - Controllers (usually ground-based) direct aircraft movements via radio or other communications links. This coordinated oversight facilitates safety and speed in complex operations where traffic moves in all three dimensions. Air traffic control responsibilities at airports are usually divided into at least two main areas: ground and tower, though a single controller may work both stations. The busiest airports also have clearance delivery, apron control, and other specialized ATC stations.

There are a number of aids available to pilots, though not all airports are equipped with them.
  • Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) helps pilots fly the approach for landing.
  • VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) to help pilots find the direction to the airport.
  • distance measuring equipment (DME) to determine the distance to the VOR.
  • instrument landing system (ILS) to find the runway and fly the correct approach, even if they cannot see the ground.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) is rapidly increasing and may eventually be the primary means for instrument landings.


What's the problem?
Runways have to withstand huge forces as heavy aircraft takeoff and land, and provide room for big aircraft to get stopped as well. Some older airport do not have space for extending the runway, so special soft material is being installed to slow down aircraft beyond the end of the regular runway.

FAA Overrun (video 1:00) - an FAA 727 taking part in an over-run demonstration to show the benefits of the Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS) for slowing an aircraft in an emergency.
  • Ask - Aircraft are bigger, faster and heavier than when some older airports were built. Now the problem is how to safely stop aircraft in an emergency if they can't get stopped on the regular runway.
  • Imagine - It takes more energy to roll through soft material than it does to roll along a paved runway. How could this be applied to the emergency situation to stop the aircraft quickly and safely? What kind of material could be used? How would it work? How much shorter would the stopping distance be?
  • Design, Build - Various materials are being used today. A special form of concrete is used. As the plane runs over the surface, the concrete collapses enough to slow the plane without harming the passengers or the plane. Once the plane is stopped, how can emergency vehicles and personnel help the passengers and crew from the plane? How will the plane be removed from the special material?
  • Improve - Many more airports need to be improved with Engineered Materials Arrestor Systems (EMAS). Using crushable concrete is the only system that meets the FAA standard. Ongoing research includes systems of foam glass (video 6:45) talks about the problem and how other materials might be used.

That's engineering
  • glide slope - provides the pilot with vertical guidance to allow the aircraft to descend at the proper angle to the runway touchdown point. (Aeronautics) the proper path for an airplane approaching a landing strip; also called glide path. The path indicated by a radio beacon as the proper path for an airplane to use in approaching a landing strip.
  • frangible material - through deformation it tends to break up into fragments. Cookies or crackers are examples of frangible materials, while fresh bread, which deforms elastically, is not frangible.

Engineering ideas
  • prevailing wind, favorable direction, weather, drainage, concrete, lighting, radio communications, radar

Do It
Challenges for you to work on...
  • Make a ramp for a small toy vehicle. At the bottom of the ramp, make an "emergency run off area" with several different materials. Test each material to see which provides the best stopping action. Why is this the best? Could this be used at an airport? How could this be modified for use in an actual airport?
  • Glide slope ratio

News, updates

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