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Assessing Aircraft Performance in a Warming Climate

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  • 1 Sustainable Engineering Department, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania
  • | 2 Biological and Environmental Engineering Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
  • | 3 Department of Geography and the Environment, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania
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Abstract

Increases in maximum and minimum air temperatures resulting from anthropogenic climate change will present challenges to aircraft performance. Elevated density altitude (DA) reduces aircraft and engine performance and has a direct impact on operational capabilities. The frequency of higher DA will increase with the combination of higher air temperatures and higher dewpoint temperatures. The inclusion of dewpoint temperature in DA projections will become increasingly critical as minimum air temperatures rise. High DA impacts aircraft performance in the following ways: reduction in power because the engine takes in less air; reduction in thrust because a propeller is less efficient in less dense air; reduction in lift because less dense air exerts less force on the airfoils. For fixed-wing aircraft, the performance impacts include decreased maximum takeoff weight and increased true airspeed, which results in longer takeoff and landing distance. For rotary-wing aircraft, the performance impacts include reduced power margin, reduced maximum gross weight, reduced hover ceiling, and reduced rate of climb. In this research, downscaled and bias-corrected maximum and minimum air temperatures for future time periods are collected and analyzed for a selected site: Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Impacts corresponding to DA thresholds are identified and integrated into risk probability matrices enabling quantifiable comparisons. As the magnitude and frequency of high DA occurrences are projected to increase as a result of climate change, it is imperative for military mission planners and acquisition officers to comprehend and utilize these projections in their decision-making processes.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Mary McRae, mmcrae1@villanova.edu

Abstract

Increases in maximum and minimum air temperatures resulting from anthropogenic climate change will present challenges to aircraft performance. Elevated density altitude (DA) reduces aircraft and engine performance and has a direct impact on operational capabilities. The frequency of higher DA will increase with the combination of higher air temperatures and higher dewpoint temperatures. The inclusion of dewpoint temperature in DA projections will become increasingly critical as minimum air temperatures rise. High DA impacts aircraft performance in the following ways: reduction in power because the engine takes in less air; reduction in thrust because a propeller is less efficient in less dense air; reduction in lift because less dense air exerts less force on the airfoils. For fixed-wing aircraft, the performance impacts include decreased maximum takeoff weight and increased true airspeed, which results in longer takeoff and landing distance. For rotary-wing aircraft, the performance impacts include reduced power margin, reduced maximum gross weight, reduced hover ceiling, and reduced rate of climb. In this research, downscaled and bias-corrected maximum and minimum air temperatures for future time periods are collected and analyzed for a selected site: Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Impacts corresponding to DA thresholds are identified and integrated into risk probability matrices enabling quantifiable comparisons. As the magnitude and frequency of high DA occurrences are projected to increase as a result of climate change, it is imperative for military mission planners and acquisition officers to comprehend and utilize these projections in their decision-making processes.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Mary McRae, mmcrae1@villanova.edu
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