Sunday, April 12, 2015

[EM_20150412SCA] Is your Airport Design career “taking off”?


An Airbus 380 has constant acceleration of  1 m/s2.  Its takeoff velocity is 280 km/h.  How long must the runway be at a minimum to allow the plane to take off?

     A practical question for airport design, perhaps?  I present two solutions.  The first uses a graphical method (speed-time graph) which is in the (“Elementary”) Mathematics syllabus and the other uses formulas for motion under constant acceleration taught in Physics.  Whichever method is used, remember to convert from km/h to m/s.  The target velocity is  700/9 m/s,  and the time to achieve this is  700/9 s  starting from rest,  since the acceleration is  1 m/s2.

Solution 1 [“Elementary” Mathematics, speed-time graph]
     The speed-time graph is very useful because it is able show the acceleration (as the gradient or slope of a straight line) and at the same time the area under the graph gives the numerical value of distance travelled.  If the acceleration is constant, we usually we get a trapezium.  But since the aeroplane starts from rest, we get a triangle (see diagram below).  All we need to do is to calculate the area under the graph and get the answer.
     It is interesting to observe that if we used the average speed  700/18 m/s,  we would also get the answer because the area under the graph (yellowish green rectangle) is the same as the area of the triangle.  This trick works for constant acceleration, but it may not work in other situations.

Solution 2 [Physics, constant acceleration]
     We use the important formulas  v = u + at  and  s = ut + ½at2.  In our example,  u = 0  because the initial velocity is zero (the airplane starts from rest).  This makes our calculations very easy.  If we compare the two methods, you find that the calculations are very similar, and we get the same answer.  Remember that speed = |velocity|  the magnitude of velocity.  In this relatively easy problem, the velocity means the same as speed because we are going in a straight line and in one direction only.  In other situations, this may not be so.

Heuristics Used
H02. Use a diagram / model
H05. Work backwards
H09. Restate the problem in another way
H13* Use Equation / write a Mathematical Sentence

Suitable Levels
GCE ‘O’ Level “Elementary” Mathematics
GCE ‘O’ Level Physics
* other syllabuses that acceleration, speed and distance
* precocious kids who always want to learn more

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