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Determining how long aging aircraft can remain safely in the air is a difficult task, but it's one that researchers in the Aging Aircraft Laboratory at the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University are studying. Melinda Laubach-Hock, director of the lab, explains why the issue is such a challenge.
Announcer: The recent rupture of the fuselage on a Southwest Airlines flight has raised questions about current testing models and inspections of aging aircraft. The director of the Aging Aircraft Laboratory at the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University, Melinda Laubach-Hock, says it's not easy to predict the aging process.
Laubach-Hock: "The reasons why it's hard to predict how an aircraft ages is it's not just calendar age, it's also the way the aircraft was operated, the way it was maintained, the way it was inspected, the materials used to manufacture it, so there's a large number of things that go into predicting the useful life of an airplane."
Announcer: Laubach-Hock says, in theory, you can fly an airplane forever. But she says there comes a point where it's economically feasible to retire the airplane instead of keeping it in service. This is Joe Kleinsasser at Wichita State University.
Sound bite #1
Laubach-Hock explains what the Aging Aircraft Lab at Wichita State is looking for. The sound bite is 12 seconds and the outcue is "of an airframe."
Laubach-Hock: "The aging aircraft lab looks at aircraft from a destructive perspective. When we do that we're looking for cracks, corrosion, mechanical damage, other things that might decrease the useful life of an airframe."
Sound bite #2
Laubach-Hock says the Aging Aircraft Lab at WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research has not found serious safety issues. The sound bite is 14 seconds and the outcue is "safety of the aircraft."
Laubach-Hock: "For the research on the airframes that we've done for private industry as well as for the federal government, we've found cracks, corrosion, some minor maintenance issues, but we really haven't found anything that I would think would jeopardize the safety of the aircraft."
Sound bite #3
Laubach-Hock explains one of the challenges in studying aging aircraft. The sound bite is 8 seconds and the outcue is "entire fleet."
Laubach-Hock: "The challenges we've seen when we apply our research is just because we find something on one airplane doesn't mean it's representative of the entire fleet."
Sound bite #4
Laubach-Hock says in theory, you can fly an airplane forever. The sound bite is 10 seconds and the outcue is "to use it in service."
Laubach-Hock: "Theoretically, you could fly an airplane forever, but it costs time and money and there becomes a point where it's just economically feasible to retire the airplane over continuing to use it in service."
Sound bite #5
Laubach-Hock says flying is safe, even with aging aircraft. The sound bite is 8 seconds and the outcue is "very frequently."
Laubach-Hock: "The main thing I want to reiterate is that flying is safe, even with aging aircraft. We see high-profile issues, but we don't see them very frequently."