Flying in the tube

Worldwide unique flight laboratory opened

Dressmann: dummy equipped with sensors Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Read out

A globally unique flight laboratory was opened on May 6, 2005 in Holzkirchen near Munich. In the Flight Test Facility, flights with a flight altitude of up to 13, 000 meters can be simulated on the ground. This is made possible by a low-pressure tube, which was built around the front part of a wide-bodied aircraft. In the flight laboratory, researchers are investigating how room climate, air quality and acoustics affect passengers and crew.

Dry air, pressure on the ears, the roar of the turbines - that's part of flying like boarding and the friendly safety instructions before the start. The staff is particularly exposed to the different pressure and air conditions. Depending on the flight plan, flight attendants and pilots have to take off and land several times a day. They spend up to 17 hours on board.

But how does the artificial climate in the cabin affect passengers and flight crew? What changes can improve the comfort on board? These and similar questions can now be studied for the first time on the ground. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP, a new type of flight laboratory was built: the Flight Test Facility.

"In the flight laboratory, we can adjust the pressure, temperature and humidity conditions realistically on the ground during a flight, " explains Professor Klaus Sedlbauer, director of the institute at the IBP. For example, it is possible to investigate how the interior climate of the aircraft cabin affects passengers and crew without the need for a plane to take off. "The tests with subjects in the Flight Test Facility are ecological, economical and safe, " adds the initiator of the facility, Erhard Mayer from the IBP.

Half Airbus in the tube

The heart of the flight laboratory is a 30-meter-long low-pressure chamber. In this tube is the front part of an Airbus A310. With the help of three high-performance vacuum pumps, the pressure in the chamber can be lowered to up to 150 hectopascals. That corresponds to an altitude of 13, 000 meters. Humidity and temperature in the cabin can also be adjusted according to the conditions during a flight. display

The researchers are currently examining how air quality and indoor climate affect passengers in the first test flights for the EU project FACE (Friendly Air Cabin Environment). Already, more than 500 subjects participated in 13 "flights" in the low-pressure tube.

To make the tests as realistic as possible, speakers provide the typical aircraft sound. Vibrators under the seats mimic the shaking at takeoff and during the flight. The friendly service staff offers guests drinks and small meals just like on a real flight. Unusually only that the subjects fill out questionnaires. Was it too warm or cold during the flight? Were there any unpleasant odors? Did you suffer from dry eyes? "We ask the passengers' feelings to derive information on how to improve the climate on the plane in the future, " explains Gunnar Gr n from the IBP.

Dressman with sensors

An unusual passenger reacts particularly sensitively to the conditions in the cabin - the dressman. This dummy is equipped with matchbox large sensors, which work similar to the human skin and measure the smallest temperature changes of the surface. "The sensors register exactly whether it is too hot on the head or too cold on the legs, or whether it pulls about, " says Mayer. These data and the information from the air-borne sensors, which record the temperature on the ground, in the seat and near the head, are transmitted to the control room. This provides an accurate picture of the climate in the cabin during the entire flight.

"The flight laboratory is to become an independent testing facility that is open to different manufacturers, airlines, aviation and sports medicine as well as other research organizations, " says Mayer. The results of the respective investigations can form the basis for technical developments in order to make travel and work on board more pleasant and efficient in the future. "In order for the European aviation industry to compete globally, it has to constantly develop new technologies and products, and the Flight Test Facility provides industry with an important means of accelerating innovation, " emphasizes the Pr President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Professor Hans-J rg Bullinger.

(idw - Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, May 8, 2006 - DLO)