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September 30, 2002

Release: 02-53

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NASA and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) researchers will estimate how long it takes to secure the passenger cabin of a wide-body airliner in advance of oncoming air turbulence during a three-day joint experiment this week at the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. The Aircraft Cabin Turbulence Warning Experiment Oct. 1 — 3 will provide critical information to improve in-flight safety for turbulence encounters, the largest cause of in-flight injuries.

Sponsored by the joint FAA — NASA Aviation Safety Program, tests will be conducted by crews from three major air carriers -- United, Delta and US Air -- one airline each day. In addition, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are supporting the work with equipment and staff, and two flight attendant unions -- the Association of Flight Attendants and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants -- are providing support through planning and technical consultation.

Experimenters will use about 70 hired test subjects in the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute's (CAMI) Boeing 747 research craft on Aeronautical Center ramps at Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City. A team of human factors researchers from the FAA, NASA, industry and interested employee organizations will conduct the tests at CAMI using several scenarios each day, including one alert during food and beverage service.

Test results will provide warning time benchmarks for manufacturers and for aviation industry certification activities required before installation of new turbulence detection equipment in operational aircraft. New technology developed under the Aviation Safety Program, one version of which is based on modified weather radar technology, has been recently demonstrated that provides more than one minute of encounter warning and a low false alarm rate. Realistic warning time estimates from this series of trials will provide useful guidance to these activities.

"The aim here is to reduce passenger and crew injuries in turbulence encounters," said Robert Shaftstall of the CAMI staff. " These results will provide a valuable benchmark against which future developments will be measured."

"The lack of a reliable turbulence warning has been one reason that commercial aircraft cabin crews have not been able to effectively prepare for turbulence encounters," added Rod Bogue, Aviation Safety Program and turbulence technology project manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. "Current turbulence warning announcements and seat belt advisories have a high false alarm rate, and it is not surprising that passengers and flight attendants place little confidence on in-flight warnings. Quite often, they are out of their seats or in their seats without belts fastened when turbulence encounters occur."

CAMI's Boeing 747 wide-body research vehicle is used for cabin evacuation testing, cabin airflow analysis and other studies. It was recently used in an accident scenario during Will Rogers World Airport's triennial disaster preparedness exercise. The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute conducts human factors research for the FAA in all areas of aviation.

"This experiment is an excellent example of how government agencies can work together using their individual strengths to provide a useful benefit to the traveling public, reducing turbulence injuries," Bogue continued. "These trials demonstrate the FAA — NASA collaboration to bring turbulence warning technology to practical application in commercial airliners."


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