Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

Limousine Crash Raises Questions About Safety

The recent limousine crash in Schoharie, New York raises some safety concerns for large modified vehicles. The accident, which took the lives of 20 individuals, involved a large modified version of a Ford Excursion that had been essentially cut in half with the middle extended, then re-assembled to form a larger vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as NHTSA, stated that this was the most deadly transportation disaster in almost 10 years. The issues that surround the case include whether or not the limousine driver was properly licensed, and the shoddy inspection history held by the subject limousine company and failed inspection results. The history of the vehicle involved in the accident is not completely known to the public, but it is evident from the details that have been released that the vehicle began its life as a 2001 Excursion. While many limousines start out as a normal passenger vehicle, it is common for the limousines to be completely custom made by a third party, lengthening the vehicle to accommodate more people inside. In fact, the term “stretch” limousine appropriately defines what these vehicles are: stretched versions of a vehicle that have extra-long wheelbases, multiple windows in a row between front and rear, and have the capability of holding 10 or more passengers. Sometimes these custom modified vehicles are termed “Frankenstein” vehicles However, simply stretching a vehicle to turn it into a limousine has some very serious side effects. Most importantly, when a vehicle is modified with new custom parts and components, some of the original safety systems may be left out. Things like airbags and seatbelts, which were originally part of the vehicle, are removed from modified limousines. Unfortunately regulations on seatbelt requirements for rear seat passengers, just like those paying customers who hire a limousine service, are not regulated the same in every state. In fact, in New York, where this accident occurred, rear seated passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. Ultimately this accident indicated that there is a significant gap in regulation around the limousine industry that will likely be addressed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration soon. -taken from www.npr.org

Autonomous Aircraft To Help Fight Fires

Wildland fires are currently destroying many natural forested areas of the United States. These huge fires spread over natural terrain very rapidly and are difficult to control because they occur in remote areas, often burning everything in sight. Many people have lost their mountain homes due to wildland fires, and firefighters are having a difficult time controlling the fires from spreading further during the hot summer months. One weapon used against wildland firefighters is the heavy air tanker aircraft. Air tankers are designed to carry heavy payloads and when air tankers are used in wildland firefighting, they are equipped to carry enormous payloads of water or fire retardant to the location of the wildland fire and then drop their payload on the area of the fire as they fly overhead. Air tankers are invaluable in the fight against wildfires and are in high demand during fire season. Two companies, Thrush and Drone America, have teamed together to develop an autonomous air tanker that can be used to drop water and fire retardant on wildland fires while being piloted robotically. The autonomous air tanker is an enhancement of other drone-like aircraft currently in use by law enforcement and fire fighters. Current autonomous aircraft are used to monitor wildland fires from an aerial viewpoint, search for hot spots that may reignite, and photograph the spread of fires over time. Dropping a payload autonomously has significant benefits for emergency workers, however. Primarily, keeping pilots out of dangerous situations and flying over dangerous terrain is beneficial from a personnel standpoint. Also, autonomous aircraft have the benefit of being able to fly during the night time and navigate terrain successfully using onboard sensors. Since temperatures are usually lower at night, fires tend not to spread as quickly when the sun goes down, allowing autonomous air tankers to drop water and fire retardant on fires when they are less prone to spread. Plans for development are still under consideration, and teams from both companies are exploring other uses for autonomous aircraft as well. -taken from www.dronelife.com

NASA Developing Supersonic Flight

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a new supersonic aircraft for use as a passenger plane. The project is put in place to test new supersonic technologies in an attempt to reduce the noise levels of sonic booms from these large aircraft. Supersonic aircraft development is nothing new. In fact, early X prototype aircraft were developed in the 1940’s and 1950’s and these aircraft were capable of traveling above the speed of sound. However, using supersonic flight for passenger planes has had a much more troubled history. Concord airplanes, used in the 1970’s for over thirty years in all areas across the world, were capable of reducing trans-continental flight times significantly. The problem with Concord planes was not the speed at which they traveled, but the significant sonic boom that the aircraft created when traveling at or above the speed of sound. In fact, the sonic boom from aircraft has been known to break windows and cause minor structural damage to buildings. Despite the drawbacks to supersonic flight, the appeal of short flights from continent to continent is very appealing. This is why NASA has awarded a new contract to Lockheed Martin in an attempt to reduce the effect of sonic boom caused by aircraft flying at the speed of sound. The new concept aircraft, dubbed the “Low Boom Flight Demonstration”, will be used to test new technologies that are aimed at reducing the effects of sonic booms. New aircraft hull designs are theoretically supposed to reduce the sound of a sonic boom to acceptable levels. In fact the aircraft being designed by Lockheed Martin will theoretically only produce a sonic boom that is as loud as a car door slamming, or repeated doors slamming over a period of time. Supersonic flight technologies are gaining rapid attention in many sectors across the world and NASA is not the only group to be focused on improving this mode of flight. In fact, DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also looking into supersonic flight technologies to counter the recent efforts that have been made by China in supersonic flight. -Taken From www.sae.org