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Science: Sky View

2 minute read

Gunning along at 21,000 feet through the overcast skies above the Grand Can yon, a T.W.A. Constellation collided with a United Airlines DC-7 one morning last summer, sending 128 people plunging to their deaths in the worst commercialairline disaster in U.S. aviation history (TIME, July 9). To ensure greater safety in the nation’s crowded skies, the Civil Aeronautics Administration this week ordered 23 long-range radars designed to give controllers a picture of aircraft from 15,000 to 70,000 feet in virtually all the U.S. air space.

Although CAA’s radar network plan was announced early last spring, it was given top priority only after the Grand Canyon disaster shocked Congress into appropriating an additional $35 million toward its completion. Currently, CAA controllers outside of New York City and Washington, D.C. must form their pictures of air traffic conditions from position reports radioed in by pilots. The new installations will enable controllers to scan the skies for 200 miles around 23 of the nation’s major cities, spotting everything from highflying, supersonic military jets to plodding commercial airliners and buzzing private planes.

On densely traveled routes, the radars will also pick up small aircraft flying at altitudes lower than 15,000 feet. Designed and built by the Raytheon Manufacturing Co., the new installations will each use a mammoth 40-ft. antenna and will be able to feed up to 15 monitor screens simultaneously. Among their other refinements: an appreciable decrease in the “clutter” which plagues much radar during rainy weather; a filtering system which cuts out reflections from fixed objects, thus registering only moving objects; electronically generated maps, which can be superimposed on the radarscope for immediate identification of the territory over which a plane is flying.

CAA expects to have its new equipment in operation by next summer. Within three years, CAA figures, the nation will have a network of more than 70 civil and military radar installations, enough to handle four times the current volume of U.S. air traffic.

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