Aviation and Exploration #8: Circular Runways- Gained Development or Wasted Research

Over the past week there has been much talk surrounding circular runways. If you have yet to see about this, here is the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-39284294  . This video was published by BBC several days ago, and many people have been talking about it, but why? As soon as I saw it the only thing that popped into my mind was the difficulties this would bring to aviation.

Photo from YouTube

I immediately began to question the authenticity of the video and the research it was covering when one of the first claims was that circular runways will be greener and less noisy. Obviously whoever was behind the video has nothing to do with aviation, as the ‘aircraft are noisy’ concern is sure to get you into an argument with some pilots. People build their home right beside an airport and then try to have it shut down (as seen in Santa Monica), because apparently commercial travel and business commerce are less important than a bloke who bought useless real estate. Also, how would landing on a crooked hill while turning be greener? Nowadays if you slap on a label for something and claim it is green or will help the environment people immediately accept the product as is, no questions asked. This is what they are attempting to do here, say it’ll be greener and the uninformed populous will swallow it hook, line, and sinker. It takes much more than giving your idea the hipster seal of approval in order to convince the aviation community, because we know what works. Things may look good on paper in a liberal arts classroom in the Netherlands, but that doesn’t mean it will work in real life. The video shows Henk Hesselink, the man behind this theory, as he attempts to explain how his years of ‘research’ might be used. Included in this rigmarole is a quick shot of he and a few other colleagues ‘hard at work’  messing about with a cheeky little flight simulator, and one major red flag is immediately raised in my head. Why didn’t they show any shots of pilots attempting to land on this new runway? After rolling through a few shots from the flight sim cockpit which show pixelated rolling hills and quaint little blocky fields, they began giving more propaganda as words over the shots; not once is a landing shown. This immediately tells to me either a.) it is too difficult to land on a NASCAR-like runway OR b.) using the graphics of a Nintendo 64 on their simulator wasn’t good enough for actual data and they spent all their money on a big arcade game (meaning that for those years of research they’ve been loafing around and getting paid for it). Also, using a simulator is fine and good, but it cannot accurately simulate every eventuality of a real cockpit, meaning everything on this project up to this point has been guesswork (reminds you of grade school science fair doesn’t it). All of this, and we haven’t even gotten to the real problems.

As far as how practical a circular runway could be, it doesn’t look promising. Imagine this: you are now on approach, it is getting dark so you head toward a mothership of landing lights, trying to figure out which one you should pick to land by (they’re all the same it’s hard to tell where each marker is for your hunk of the runway (they want to land three at a time, so make sure not to land on anyone)). After choosing what part of the mothership you wish to land on you set up an approach that looks like Burt Reynolds landing in the street while drunk in The Cannonball Run. After the Cannonball theme song runs through your head for a while you remember you have to land on a banking runway as if you are Dale Earnhardt driving in a race. While landing on the slope you get a short crosswind burst and prepare to say goodbye to the inboard wing (happens in Kerbal Space Program all the time, no big deal). Even if you do manage to set it down hopefully the side-loading on the gear don’t snap them off. After they break like toothpicks you can come skidding down the embankment like you’re in the ‘Big One’ at Daytona and end up wingless and gearless in the infield. Look on the bright side, while the mothership crew is hosing your plane down with foam to make sure it doesn’t burst into flames atleast you’ll get to use the slide.

I know, I know. It’s satire. But you understand my point, just because the idea can be talked up and has a sticker placed on it saying eco-friendly doesn’t mean it’s automatically a revolutionarily good idea. Here’s another link, http://www.avgeekery.com/dont-be-fooled-10-reasons-why-circular-runways-are-a-bad-idea/ it’s Avgeekery’s thoughts on the matter; check it out they go in-depth into some of the real mechanical issues surrounding landing on the Daytona International Mothership, or whatever they will end up calling it.


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