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For Release: March 19, 1997

Michael Finneran
(757) 864-6121/24

RELEASE NO. 97-018

March 19:


NASA Langley Research Center has deployed a laser-radar system near Norfolk International Airport to study planes landing as part of a national effort to improve airport productivity.

The system will be demonstrated, and interviews will be possible, from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, March 19. Color photographs and video b-roll also will be available.

The laser-radar system, or lidar, is collecting the signatures of wake vortices, which are invisible “tornadoes” that spin off the wingtips of aircraft. The wakes from small planes are not strong enough to affect most passenger aircraft. But those from large planes can cause problems ranging from passenger discomfort to serious accidents in smaller planes that fly into wake vortices.

The wake vortex data will be used to help determine if airplanes may, in some cases, safely follow more closely together when landing during inclement weather. Currently, air traffic controllers rigidly apply fixed spacings between different classes of aircraft during adverse weather conditions. These spacings often cause air traffic delays that disrupt flight schedules and increase costs. But if more is understood about the behavior of wake vortices, it may be possible to change those separation standards.

The wake vortex work is part of a larger NASA effort called the Terminal Area Productivity (TAP) program. The program goal is to reduce costs and delays in a variety of areas at airports.

Directions to the Wake Vortex Lidar Trailer: Off Military Highway near the Interstate 664 overpass in Norfolk, take Robin Hood Road toward the airport. Take a right onto Miller Store Road. Take the first left, into a unused overflow parking lot. Follow the lot, as it dog-legs to the right, to the end. Park and look for the 40-foot trailer with the NASA logo on the side.

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