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Aeronautics: Landing Without Wheels

2 minute read

Everything seemed normal when Test Pilot David W. Howe eased the LA4 “Lake” amphibian toward Niagara Falls International Airport earlier this month. So he radioed a highly abnormal report to the tower: “Bag down and inflated.” Seconds later he landed—without wheels—on a cushion of air.

Howe was testing a new air-cushion landing gear (ACLG) developed by Textron’s Bell Aerosystems Co. of Buffalo. Based on the British Hovercraft principle (TIME, June 2) and conceived by Bell’s T. Desmond Earl and Wilfred J. Eggington, the system employs an elastic bag made of laminated nylon and rubber attached to the underside of the plane. For takeoffs and landings, the bag is inflated through louvers in the plane’s underbelly by a fan on board. Air is forced through hundreds of openings on the underside of the bag, producing an air cushion that holds the aircraft off the ground for silky take-offs and gentle touchdowns.

Bell’s ACLG permits landings on the most rudimentary runways and also on ice, water, sand, swampland, and terrain dotted with obstacles, such as rocks half the height of the inflatable bag. Deflated in flight, the ACLG hugs the bottom of the aircraft without causing aerodynamic drag. “We consider the ACLG a complete technological breakthrough in landing systems,” says David Perez, civilian project officer in the Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson A.F.B., Dayton. And so last year, the Air Force awarded Bell a $99,000 contract for wind-tunnel tests of the ACLG. Now Bell has won a second contract for $98,700 to study possible use of its ACLG on the Air Force’s C-119 “Flying Boxcar” transport.

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