December 2004/January 2005
Volume 03, Issue 8
Striking out tailstrikes
BY KATHERINE SOPRANOS
Boeing has developed an industry-leading system to strike out tailstrikes.
The Airplane Tailstrike Protection System is designed for longer commercial airplanes, such as the 777-300ER (Extended Range), to reduce tailstrikes. A tailstrike occurs when a plane's rear fuselage hits the runway during takeoffs or landings. The electronic tailstrike protection system, invented by five Boeing colleagues, is a significant technical advancement because it addresses all factors needed to effectively curb tailstrikes.
Currently, the tailstrike protection system is installed in the flight-control system on the 777-300ER and will also be included in the configuration design of the 7E7's stretch-body version.
Previously, Boeing helped counter inadvertent tailstrikes on longer jets, as in the case of the 767-300, by having tailskids-plates with shock absorbers- fitted to airplanes' aft underbodies. While the 777-300ER supplements the plate-version tailskid with the electronic protection system, the next application even will eliminate the physical tailskid, which will save weight, maintenance and cost.
When is a tailstrike protection system needed? If a pilot follows normal takeoff procedure and rotates the airplane nose upward at the correct speed and rate of rotation, it's unlikely for a tailstrike to happen. But if the pilot begins to rotate too soon or too fast, there's more risk of making runway contact.
"For a stretch-body airplane equipped with the physical tailskid, [damage from] a light tailstrike is minor, but moderate to severe strike can be costly to an airline," said Mithra Sankrithi, manager, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Product Development, Configuration and Engineering Analysis, and a coinventor who originated the idea for the system. "It can put an airplane out of service to replace shock absorbers, inspect the body structure for damage or, if necessary, undergo repair." He added that a tailstrike is a maintenance rather than a flight-safety issue, as the pilots still have full control of the airplane.
The electronic protection system also optimizes stretch-body airplanes' aerodynamic performance on takeoff and landing, enabling greater payloads.
"With this tailstrike protection system, customers have a reliable plane that will help reduce their operating expenses and help increase performance," Sankrithi said. "Cost-savings include fewer schedule interruptions and less maintenance and repairs. Also, increased payloads help airlines increase revenues."
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