By Kim Robson:
Every year, the demand for air travel grows. But around most cities, there is very little available open space on which to build new airports to meet this demand. In San Diego, for instance, planners have been looking for years for an adjunct to space-limited Lindberg Field. They cast longing eyes on the long runways and open land of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, but (unsurprisingly) the military seems totally disinclined to consider giving it up.
Bottom line is, airports take up a lot of space. Nobody wants to live near one. But a visionary, Henk Hesselink of the Netherland Aerospace Centre, believes he has found the solution: make the runways circular.
The idea was tested by the military in the 1960s, and Hesselink has been developing the unusual concept with a team at the Netherland Aerospace Centre, using flight simulators to test it. Building a 360° runway will not only maximize space, but it also will be greener for the environment.
One banked circular runway surrounds the airport terminals in the center, all enclosed within a three-kilometer diameter. The length of the runway is equivalent to three standard runways, but can handle the traffic of four because of space efficiency. Up to three planes can take off or land at once while others are taxiing to and from points in the center. Experts at the Aerospace Centre believe the circular runway is just as safe as a conventional runway.
Another advantage is that, based on wind direction, pilots and air traffic controllers can direct takeoffs and landings to one of several points located around the runway circumference. On straight runways, strong crosswinds can make for dangerous and terrifying landings, and these “sideways” landings (when not aborted altogether, burning even more fuel) can put critical torque stresses on the landing gear. With a circular runway, planes can always take off or land directly into the wind.
“The passengers will experience a slight turn, similar to a turn in the air. Because of the centrifugal forces, the aircraft will automatically go slower and go towards the center of the runway,” Hesselink told the BBC. He also points out that an “Endless Runway” would be more environmentally friendly, with less fuel burn around the airfield, because planes won’t be forced to abort dangerous landings, fight unruly winds, or pull up hard to avoid residential neighborhoods with noise restrictions. Everyone living in the immediate area around the airport would be subject to a similar amount of noise.
“We can also design procedures to make certain the environment is experiencing less noise as we now have the possibility to fly in from any direction and toward any direction, we can make the decision on where to fly and where to avoid flying,” Hesselink added.
Hesselink’s research has been funded by the European Commission, but as of this writing, a circular runaway has never been built. I’d be so excited to have the first one here!