Flying toward safer skies

Originally published in the 2015 edition of Innovation magazine

by Paige Pope

Purdue’s Department of Aviation Technology is making the skies a safer place one research project, flight simulation, and takeoff at a time, as a host and core contributor to PEGASAS, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Safety, Accessibility and Sustainability.

As part of PEGASAS, Purdue faculty and students work with airports, government agencies and businesses such as GE Aviation Corp. to solve problems that compromise aviation safety.
PEGASAS is currently researching the capability of Angle of Attack (AOA) equipment to help pilots and instructors avoid stalls that can lead to crashes. The AOA, which many pilots do not use, helps pilots interpret the flight path and the aircraft’s attitude — the relative orientation of the aircraft’s body frame to Earth.

The AOA is the angle formed by the airfoil’s chord — an imaginary straight line joining the leading and trailing edges of an aircraft wing — and the aircraft’s flight path. Equipment is placed on the aircraft wing, where it derives the AOA from the air pressure. If continually displayed in the cockpit and used by pilots, the AOA information has the potential to decrease the 1,259 yearly fatalities that are caused by in-flight loss of control, according to Mary Johnson, co-principal investigator on the project at Purdue.

“An increased AOA leads to a critical angle, which leads to a stall — which leads to a crash,” says Johnson, assistant department head for research and associate professor of aviation technology. “Although AOA equipment is not required, utilizing an AOA display can greatly enhance pilots’ awareness and increase their safety.”

PEGASAS is working on 12 projects in addition to its research into AOA, including studies on heated airport pavements, runway centerline deviation, linear LED lighting, alternative aviation fuels, fire safety, and weather technology in the cockpit.

“We are trying to identify and fill gaps with knowledge and information to improve the safety of planes that work for a living,” Johnson says. “We do a lot of hard work, but it’s fun to solve problems that can enhance our national airspace system.”


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