Odd Jobs: The Friction Man

A recent episode of the Discovery Channel series, Nerve Center (a fascinating show that goes behind the scenes of familiar but complex places like the Port of Los Angeles, Grand Central Station, the Panama Canal, or Cirque Du Soleil) featured the behind-the-scenes operations of Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport.

One of the odd but fascinating (at least to someone like me) roles is the guy called the “Friction Man” who measures the effects of all those airplane tire marks on the runway in terms of lessening grip.

According to the show, each day 31 metric tonnes of rubber are deposited on the runway by planes taking off and landing. It is equivalent to 17,000 tires. After hours, the operator drives a car at high-speed down the runway and then lowers a fifth wheel that measures surface grip under both wet and drive scenarios.

There is a whole sub-industry devoted to the measurement of runways and to the removal of the skid marks. Here’s but one example: http://www.europlastgroup.com/airport-friction-tester.htm

Here’s a link to the particular segment of the Nerve Center episode. It just goes to show you, everything needs measurement and improvement.


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