Device Boosts Takeoff Safety for Aircraft

19 April 2018

Just as air travel safety incidents are making headlines, researchers at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania, are designing an innovative device to increase aircraft safety during takeoff. During the first 10 seconds of the takeoff roll, the device predicts if the aircraft will reach the sufficient speed for taking off. The idea behind the technology can be adapted both for small aircraft and large jets.

According to statistics provided by Boeing, but including all airliner accidents, 13 percent of fatal aircraft Source: KTUSource: KTUaccidents occur during takeoff. When faced with an issue, pilots must decide whether to continue the takeoff and deal with a problem during the flight or to stop the aircraft.

Information provided by Eurostat indicates that 85 percent of all fatal air accidents in 2016 were connected to general aviation aircraft. Experts claim that most general aviation – defined as all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services – accidents involve some kind of pilot error.

“Where subjectivity is involved, errors are inevitable,” says Dr. Darijus Pagodinas, researcher at KTU, faculty of electrical and electronics engineering.

A pilot himself, Dr. Pagodinas is familiar with official regulations that indicate what length of runway is needed for an aircraft of certain weight, under certain weather conditions. However, these regulations are useful only when everything goes well: when the engines are working on their full capacity and when there are no unexpected failures, sudden weather changes or other disturbances. When something goes wrong, a pilot might make a mistake in assessing the acceleration of the plane and fail to understand that the length of the runway is too short for the aircraft to reach the speed needed for safe takeoff.

“If the aircraft’s engine is not working properly, if the cross or back wind component is too big, the air is too humid, the takeoff field is too rough, slippery or wet, the pilot is left to rely on his or her subjective opinion whether the aircraft will reach the required speed for takeoff in the given distance or not,” explains Dr. Pagodinas.

The device under development would objectively assess the factual acceleration of an aircraft during the start and, coordinating the data of accelerometer with the runway length, it would calculate prospects for safe takeoff. The instrument would also inform the pilot if the aircraft couldn’t safely accelerate to the required speed..

During the first 10 seconds of the takeoff roll, the system calculates if the aircraft will reach the required speed under current conditions. In total the takeoff takes up to 40 seconds; if the device predicts failure, the pilot still has time to stop the aircraft.

The portable device created at KTU uses the parameters of the aircraft accelerometers. The pilot of light or ultralight aircraft enters five additional parameters: magnetic course of the runway, wind direction and speed, approximate length of the runway, and the takeoff speed (or, in aviation terms, v1 speed). The device converts acceleration into speed and speed into distance, and while the aircraft is rolling on the runway its location and the possibility to take off is being calculated.

The current autonomic device has been prototyped and tested and while designed for small private planes, the same idea can be adapted to all aircraft, including large jets flying on commercial routes.

“The system could be easily installed in contemporary passenger aircraft, such as Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and similar. This would not involve any additional sensors, just a special software, which would compare the plane’s factual speed at the start with the defined speed profile, stored in the memory of the aircraft computer. If the real speed profile was not matching the defined one, the system would send an alarm signal,” says Dr. Pagodinas.

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