Circular logic: Round runways could save a lot of land, reduce fuel consumption and cut noise


Airports take up a lot of room that could be used for other productive purposes, and often their runways do not align with the wind direction, making landings difficult. But Designboom shows us what might be the answer to the problem: make the runways into a big circle. Designboom notes that " that making runways ring-shaped can have a positive environmental impact. since planes will not have to compete with strong cross winds, they will burn less fuel in the area around the airfield. " They are also much smaller.

The idea, from Henk Hesselink of the Netherlands Aerospace Centre, is in the news thanks to a recent BBC video.

It is an interesting idea; Hesselink writes:

The fundamental principle of The Endless Runway is that the aircraft take-off and land on a large circular structure. This will allow for the unique characteristic that the runway can be used in any wind direction, thus making the runway independent of the direction of the wind and therefore also the airport capacity independent of the wind direction.

The Endless Runway

Since the BBC video came out there have been numerous posts on websites from pilots who say it is ridiculous, that landing will be harder for the pilots, that navigation systems will not work, that a banking plane has to go faster to maintain lift. One critic tells LifeHacker: “Guy who made this probably isn’t a pilot or did it as a joke.” Jeff Gilmore of AVgeekery says " This idea is as dumb as a football bat. What’s even more disappointing is that the BBC reporter barely knows enough about aviation to challenge this ‘expert’. A ’news’ story like this one should be downright embarrassing for a major worldwide-news network." he then goes on to list ten reasons why it would never work.

They may all be right, and I am no pilot. But I went back to the original sources at the Endless Runway website and scan some of the hundreds of pages of documents available there, and it appears that all of these points are addressed, and that this is certainly no joke.

The Endless Runway/via

The idea has also been around for a while; the background document shows a number of patent applications going back many years. The Navy actually used endless runways to train pilots in crosswind landings. Hesselink concludes at the end of one 140 page summary:

The results of the literature survey in this document are promising and suggest that a circular runway can be developed with current and expected technology. Today’s aircraft characteristics allow to take off and land with speeds and low altitude bank angles compatible with the operation on a circular track. The Endless Runway fits in future concepts that specify improved planning of operations, new navigation equipment, and intermodal transport.

Now I feel I should point out that over the years there have been so many times that I have been called an idiot who doesn’t know what I am talking about, particularly about subjects that I studied in university and dealt with as an architect or teach as a professor. People tend to make snap judgements, particularly in comments.

The Endless Runway

But this episode is particularly strange; people are writing long dissertations about why it cannot work, without a single reference back to the original research, with one expert at NYC Aviation actually starting a long essay by saying “I must concede that they may have answers and solutions to my below issues that were not provided in the short BBC report” and then goes on for pages. What kind of writer does that?

If there is one thing I have learned as a blogger, the first rule is that you click through to the source, even if your finger gets tired.

The Endless Runway

I like the fact that the Endless Runway takes up so much less space; that’s why it’s on TreeHugger. I still don’t know if this idea makes any sense. But I do know that there is a whole lot of research behind it and I do believe that it deserves better than a lot of instant opinions based on a BBC video.

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