An airport runway that’s rounded instead of a straight line could change the future of aviation.
What if a runway were like a racetrack? That’s the basis of an idea called the Endless Runway by Dutch researcher Henk Hesselink and partners at the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) in the Netherlands, who think circular runways could help the future take flight.
The traditional runway—a long concrete stripe across the landscape—has some problems. A big one is crosswinds. If the wind blows hard and perpendicular to the direction of the runway, planes face harrowing takeoffs and landings. If the winds are bad enough, airports must close certain runways and reroute air traffic, sending a chain reaction of delays through the system.
But if a runway were circular, then a plane theoretically could take off in whatever direction was most favorable. And multiple planes could use the Endless Runway simultaneously.
Of course, this is more complicated than putting a big concrete circle on the ground and calling it a day. The rounded runway would need to be banked like a racetrack (that is, it would be built at an angle to keep the plane from skidding off in the corners.) It would be huge: Hesselink’s concept version would have a diameter of 2.2 miles and a circumference of 6.2.
Says Fast Company:
“To see how the design would hold up at a major airport, Hesselink and his team took the flight patterns from France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, which has four runways, and used a computer simulation to prove that the circular runway could handle the same number of departures and landings. It’s also more efficient in terms of runway space: Though the circle’s circumference is roughly the length of three standard runways, it’s able to handle the traffic capacity of four. And since landing airplanes wouldn’t have to fight strong crosswinds, airlines would save on fuel, too.”
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.