NASA Spinoff

On December 28, 1997, a United Airlines plane flying from Japan to Hawaii experienced severe turbulence while over the West Pacific Ocean. Over 100 individuals on this flight of 374 passengers and 19 flight crew members were injured during the encounter, one fatally. Investigative reports issued following the incident indicated that the plane was subjected to a “sudden upward push of almost twice the force of gravity,” followed by a “sharp, downward push” about 6 seconds later.

All turbofan engines work on the same principle. A large fan at the front of the engine draws air in. A portion of the air enters the compressor, but a greater portion passes on the outside of the engine—this is called bypass air. The air that enters the compressor then passes through several stages of rotating fan blades that compress the air more, and then it passes into the combustor. In the combustor, fuel is injected into the airstream, and the fuel-air mixture is ignited. The hot gasses produced expand rapidly to the rear, and the engine reacts by moving forward.

A new information system is delivering real-time weather reports to pilots where they need it the most—inside their aircraft cockpits. Codeveloped by NASA and ViGYAN, Inc., the WSI InFlight™ Cockpit Weather System provides a continuous, satellite-based broadcast of weather information to a portable or panel-mounted display inside the cockpit. With complete coverage and content for the continental United States at any altitude, the system is specifically designed for in-flight use.

Throughout aviation history, a condition known as hypoxia has posed a risk to aircraft pilots, crew members, and passengers flying at high altitudes. Hypoxia occurs when the human body is exposed to high altitudes without protection. Defined as an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body’s tissues, hypoxia affects the central nervous system and organs. Brain cells, which are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation, can begin to die within 5 minutes after the oxygen supply has been cut off. When hypoxia lasts for longer periods of time, it can cause coma, seizures, and even brain death. Aircraft passengers exposed to either a slow, progressive increase in cabin altitude, or a sudden exposure to high cabin altitude, may show symptoms of inattentiveness, poor judgment, memory loss, and a decrease in motor coordination. Pilots afflicted with hypoxia may not be able to acknowledge the situation or take corrective action, leading to aircraft accidents or crashes.

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