Dutch scientists have come up with breakthrough technology that will help us think outside the box, or should I say the circle, to find new ways of travel. Their revolutionary idea is not just ‘pie in the sky’. As seen in this simulation, it’s a serious solution to overcrowded airports that will enable planes to fly in and take off in all directions, while more evenly redistributing noise, and reducing the need for fuel.
The Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) is in charge of coordinating European research on the Endless Runway project. Henk Hesselink, Project Research Manager at NLR told aeronewstv from his Amsterdam HQ, that he first came up with the idea about five years ago, when watching videos of planes landing in crosswinds. However, his team only began seriously working on the project 18 months ago, after gaining funding from the EU.
The new airport concept is based on building a circular runway with a diametre of about 3.5km around an airport terminal. It would take up only a third of the space of a traditional airport, making up for the expected three-fold increase in air traffic over the coming years. The research team believes it could accommodate the traffic of up to four runways.
"Airports currently have to use a very limited infrastructure and declared capacity is strongly reduced by weather conditions," says Hesselink. "With the circular runway, airplanes can take off and land at points on the circle, making sure they have no crosswinds and only headwind," he adds. His project also takes into account physical constraints at runways, like minimum separation between planes.
Simulators created by the Dutch team are already starting to be used in the market, but construction of an actual airport is still just a blip on the horizon.
“The project would be well suited to existing large airports, but since the infrastructure exists already, they’re unlikely to change,” says Hesselink. “It wouldn’t work as a half and half. It’d be easier to start in a greenfield site, or in a desert or even a small island."
The scientist laughs off the idea that passengers will feel as if they’re on merry-go-round when making a curved landing. “Of course they’ll feel a natural turning sensation, but with a maximum of 1.2g at the outside, it’ll be similar to the g-force in trains now,” he says.
“Planes of all sizes could land in this new runway, even the Airbus A380 (as seen in the video) or the Boeing 747, which have the greatest constraints. The engines are very low on these, but we’ve designed the graduated banks to take this into account,” he adds.
The 9km round runway will be 140m wide, banked at a rising angle from the inside out to reach a maximum gradient of 25°. Pilots would only require limited extra training, as the sloping angle means they only need to turn at an angle of 2.4° to follow the runway. Centrifugal forces, naturally drawing them towards the centre, would do the rest.
“You can compare it to playing roulette... the ball first stays on the upper side of the hole and then moves towards the middle,” muses the scientist. Whether or not he’s bet on a lucky number remains to be seen.