A modern day da Vinci

DN Staff

March 1, 1999

3 Min Read
A modern day da Vinci

While many patents have been granted over the last 30 years or so regarding airbags, origin of the concept may best be attributed to a 20th century artist and aviation pioneer, Jo Kotula. He is best known for his colorful and evocative cover paintings on Model Airplane News, from the mid-1930s into the 1960s, and box art for many early Aurora plastic model kits--both of which inspired future generations of aerospace engineers.

As part of a request in the 1970s for information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety relating to his safety pioneering efforts, he gave origins of the airbag concept, which was first published with drawings in Air Facts magazine in 1941:

"I was immersed in flying, from the late 1920s through four decades, and air safety was my deep concern." Kotula goes on to cite the work of injury researcher Hugh De Haven who found an example of a light aircraft crash in which "a thin sheet of metal, (the instrument panel, which moved forward on impact) absorbed the crash forces, and spared two lives. In another, a nearly empty Aeronca gas tank, in the same forward location, held the indentations of the foreheads of the pilot and passenger, neither seriously hurt, in the spin-crash."

These incidents inspired him to propose a purposeful structure to yield with impact, absorbing energy. "My airbag design was conceived as an essential feature of an optimum, practical, and inexpensive vehicle, in air or surface transportation. The bag-cushion intended to protect the occupants, restrained by the conventional lap belts."

"I felt that such a device, correlated with more scrupulous suppression of projecting controls, knobs, and tubing, would markedly reduce injury in crashes of a relatively low order of impact."

And he was no stranger himself to accidents. Kotula once had a forced landing flying out of historic Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He noted, "I had only 41/2 hours instruction, and the engine in the Cub I was flying quit! I didn't turn and just came straight in across a road. A motorist avoided me and the only damage was a bent engine cowling and longeron--which we straightened out to fly again! I later switched to a Fleet biplane which was stronger than an ox."

Kotula would later add, the technology of the time was not able to solve the problems needed to refine the airbag into practical reality. He went on to design aircraft that incorporated the now-well-known high-lift Fowler flaps pioneered by his friend Harlan Fowler, "aimed generally toward enabling aircraft to approach at lower, safer speeds," and shock-absorbing keel-skids.

Jo Kotula passed away on July 13, 1998 at the age of 88. He will be inducted into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame this spring.

Head Work

Air is compressed in a frictionless manner with no transfer of heat from a condition of 70F and 14.7 psia to 1,000 psia. What is the resulting air temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit?

A) 70

B) 234

C) 990

D) 1,310

E) 10,340

--Answer below

From the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, copyright 1986, Eugene L. Boronow, M.E.E., P.E., Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.



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