DN Staff

October 7, 1996

4 Min Read
Washington Beat

Program launched to improve propulsion of
civil aircraft

A new government-in-dustry program seeks to develop cheaper and better propulsion systems for light general-aviation aircraft. The four-year venture will use cooperative agreements between the U.S. aviation industry and two agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. The undertaking aims to develop technologies and manufacturing processes for "revolutionary, low-cost, environmentally compliant" propulsion systems. Engineers will demonstrate these systems on advanced aircraft. Called the General Aviation Propulsion (GAP) program, it focuses on aircraft with six or fewer seats. Program leaders hope to come up with a simpler engine design having fewer parts, and common engine components that can be used in a wide spectrum of aircraft. GAP will have two groups. One will concentrate on reciprocating engines currently used in light aircraft. The other will study gas turbines, the type used in commercial jet liners. GAP is issuing two cooperative agreements this month.

Automakers propose cutback in force of airbag deployment

A federal agency is reviewing a proposal allowing automakers to install slower, hopefully safer airbags in new cars and trucks. The proposal comes from the Big Three automakers themselves. They want fast changes in requirements that airbags deploy with sufficient force to pillow an unbelted dummy during a crash test into a fixed barrier at 30 mph. The automakers say the tests do not reflect actual crashes, in which most occupants are belted. The companies instead suggest that the government phase in new tests on dummies that are near airbags but out of normal seated positions. They argue that most crashes last for longer periods and are not as forceful as tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Automakers seek a requirement that allows a three-fold cut in deployment speed. Airbags currently inflate at up to 200 mph, with enough force to cut, fracture, and even smother children and small adults. Airbags can be especially hazardous for unbelted children close to dashboards or infants in rear-facing seats. In August, NHTSA proposed standards for bag warning labels and switches that can prevent bag deployment on the passenger side. Automakers say their own plans would void the need for such requirements.

Reusable space rocket passes splashdown test

Rocket engineers have taken a big step toward the age of reusable launch vehicles. They successfully test-fired a main engine of the space shuttle after dropping it into inland waters at Stennis Space Center, MI. Both NASA and the Defense Department seek a new generation of low-cost, reusable rockets for launching satellites. Researchers installed a NASA space-shuttle en-gine in a prototype propulsion module. They then hoisted it onto a crane and twice dropped it into the waterways. That simulated what would happen under proposals by Boeing for returning expensive engine components to earth in water-tight modules for recovery and reuse. After retrieving the test engine, a Boeing-Rockwell-NASA team inspected the engine and mounted it on a test stand. They fired the engine for six minutes, producing about 375,000 lbs of thrust. At peak thrust, more than 1,000 lbs of rocket fuel flowed through the engine. Hundreds of instruments indicated all went well. The test was part of the Evolved Expend-able Launch Vehicle program of the U.S. Air Force aimed at cutting costs of space shots.

Facility will raise accuracy of radiometric sensing

A new government facility will boost the accuracy of remote sensing instruments used in industrial, defense, and environmental applications. It is the Facility for Advanced Radiometric Calibration (FARCAL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD. FARCAL's goal is to develop standards that allow engineers to compare data collected with different instruments in different parts of the world.

Radio ads acclaim engineering achievements

A series of radio advertisements strive to better inform Washington policymakers and their staffs about how engineers contribute to economic and national security. The American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) and the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society are paying for the one-minute spots. Aired initially over a Washington all-news radio station, the ads highlight engineering accomplishments in this century. Among engineers featured are Wilson Greatbatch for the cardiac pacemaker and Marvin Camras for magnetic recording tape. One ad sums up the main message of the campaign this way: "From Telstar One to telemedicine, engineers have made our world better and our lives richer through investments in research and development."

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