From NextGen navigation to rumbling engines

This picture shows what is known as a "glass cockpit" in a modern airliner. The old analog gauges traditionally placed in front of pilots are replaced with computerized displays. In anticipation of the implementation of the NextGen system, airliners are being fitted with Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) equipment, which will add critical navigational information to the pilot's displays. Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration

Having possessed varying degrees of interest in aviation since childhood, I was particularly drawn to Conda Boyd’s informative article in the Sept. 20 issue of the Westlake | Bay Village Observer titled “WCOG mayors host FAA Metroplex project discussion.”

In her story, Ms. Boyd discusses the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen Metroplex project and how the agency has been seeking input from local officials, along with the public, as an integral part of the Cleveland-Detroit NextGen Metroplex initial design phase.

Utilizing Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology, the FAA’s NextGen project will bring our nation’s aviation radio-navigation infrastructure into the 21st century. While GPS is already widely used to assist with aircraft navigation, it is currently being adapted to an underlying routing system designed around decades-old, ground-based radio-navigation technology. NextGen promises to take full advantage of GPS accuracy and flexibility while at the same time offering pilots vastly more information regarding their in-flight situation.

Touched upon in the story was the potential of the NextGen Metroplex design to cause an increase of aircraft noise over Westshore cities, including Westlake and Bay Village.

Aircraft noise in proximity to airports is a very valid quality-of-life issue and it is understandable that public officials in potentially affected areas would be greatly concerned for their citizens regarding such.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon (at which I tend to excel), if folks think aircraft noise is objectionable now they might be reminded of what it was like 50-plus years ago. I’m old enough to remember, though at the time their numbers were waning, when propeller-driven airliners with four large radial piston engines built into their wings were still flying in and out of Hopkins Airport. I clearly recall the engines and propellers on those planes making lots and lots of loud rumbling noise, especially as they would climb-out on departure from the airfield. In their heyday, radial piston powerplants were designed to deliver maximum reliable power with not much concern for the noise they generated.

The story was very much the same for early turbojet-powered aircraft. In their earlier stages of development, jet engine designers had enough to do in coaxing decent levels of thrust from their whirring contraptions to leave much leeway for noise reduction.

In contrast, for a good number of years (I’m thinking since the mid-70s, anyway) the FAA, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and local officials have increasingly taken the issue of aviation noise and its varied solutions seriously.

From my own observation, great strides have been realized in making aircraft engines and airframes incrementally more quiet over the years, with much credit in the endeavor going to the personnel at Cleveland’s own NASA Glenn Research Center. Since its beginning in 1941 as a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) facility, NASA Glenn has a long history of aircraft engine development, very much including techniques for noise reduction.

Of course, this doesn’t mean further progress in aircraft noise reduction isn’t possible and shouldn’t be pursued.

Dan Hirschfeld

I'm a longtime resident of the Bay Village and Westlake area (Bay 1965 to 1977, then Westlake since) who has always enjoyed living here while seeing lots of change over the years.

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Volume 8, Issue 19, Posted 9:07 AM, 10.04.2016