New Aviation Technology Brings Safer Travel Today, Looks To Future

Commercial aviation technology has come a long way since its first flight in 1914, a 23-minute flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Along the way, a great amount of the technology in today’s aircraft, enabling travelers to fly around the world, was developed right here in the United States. That tradition continues with some recent advances, in use right now or on their way, that address current needs and future concerns.

In Alaska, landing a commercial aircraft has its unique challenges. Mountains surround the airport in Juneau; Sitka’s small runway or Kodiak’s strip that ends at the side of a mountain have first officers watching the captains-only landings.

“The weather around here can be unpredictable,” said Clarissa Conley, the F.A.A. manager for Juneau International Airport in a New York Times report. “You name it, we’ve got it. And the terrain can make flying here pretty challenging, particularly when visibility is low.”

Addressing that specific issue of today, Alaska Airlines developed satellite guidance, a navigation technique that made landing at Alaska’s airports far safer and is a big part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic system.Meanwhile, looking to the future, NASA is about to wrap up a three-week flight test of biofuels that began on February 28. Called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research, NASA is flying a DC-8 “flying laboratory” out of its Dryden facility, doing tests on biofuel that promise to collect data on emissions, engine performance and contrails. NASA does that by flying one of their Falcon jets as close as 300 feet behind the DC-8, mostly over restricted airspace.

But an AVWeb post notes NASA saying that “if weather conditions permit, the Falcon jet will trail commercial aircraft flying in the Southern California region, in coordination with air traffic controllers.” NASA does say that if following a commercial airliner, the distance will be ten miles between aircraft.

The NASA study and similar investigations by the European community hope to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and, in turn, reduce emissions by the commercial airline industry.

[Photo credit – Flickr user Niels van Eck]

New tour combines flightseeing, kayaking and bear viewing on Alaska’s Admiralty Island

Watch Inside the Fortress on PBS. See more from Nature.

The United States Forest Service recently awarded Above & Beyond Alaska a 10-year permit to operate guided day trips by kayak around Admiralty Island, a highly protected area where an estimated 1,800 brown bears — the largest concentration in the world — roam free. In fact, Admiralty Island has more brown bears than all the lower 48 states combined, causing the native Tlingít people to call the island “Kootznoowoo,” meaning “Fortress of the Bear.”

Although several other outfitters offer bear-viewing opportunities, Above & Beyond Alaska is the only company permitted to offer guided brown bear viewing trips by kayak. This allows travelers access to areas that are hard to reach on foot and also might allow visitors to Admiralty Island a chance to get even closer to the bears (and other wildlife, such as the eagles that are pictured) without disturbing their habitat. Above & Beyond Alaska is certainly living up to their name, and has put together a tour that starts in Juneau with a 25-minute floatplane flight followed by a sea kayak excursion that offers two different viewing experiences: either a rugged trip to Windfall Harbor, where bears can be seen frequenting streams from the kayaks, or a slightly more tame outing to Pack Creek, a popular destination where travelers can spot bears from a viewing tower.

The seven-hour tours will be available May 15 through September 15, with peak season falling between July and August when salmon are spawning. Rates start at $569 per person. For more information on Admiralty Island, see the above video from PBS.

Photo courtesy Above & Beyond Alaska.