Calvin Mackie goes airborne
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Tulane professor invents airplane safety device
Carrie McGugin—Contributing writer
Cara Cartee/Staff Photographer
Tulane mechanical engineering professor Calvin Mackie invented a safety device for commercial airplane overhead luggage compartments.
Have you ever seen anyone get hit in the head with luggage from an overhead compartment on an air plane? It may have been funny to you, but it probably hurt the poor person who received the bow. Tulane’s Dr. Calvin Mackie has found a way to stop the flying luggage.
Mackie, a professor in the mechanical engineering department, saw somebody get hit in the head on a trip to Boston and read an article about unsecured luggage in the USA Today. He thought there must be a solution, and decided to find it. Mackie began to work on his idea while he was in graduate school in the 1996. Together with 1987 Tulane graduate Ben Thomas, he founded Kingdom Builders LLC to manufacture their product, the KB system.
“I thought that this was a problem that could be solved. The actual problem is small luggage that can move around in the bin. Our product provides additional restrain that prevents luggage from falling out,” Dr. Mackie’s said.
Mackie’s idea came from the design of old venetian blinds. The KB system consists of one sheet of netting that is rolled up onto a cylindrical holder mounted on the inside of the overhead door. When the door is shut, the netting attaches to another piece fitted into the interior of the compartment. When the door is re-opened, the netting is stretched across the opening, catching any luggage that may have been displaced during flight.
Digital image courtesy of Calvin mackie
Mackie's invention, the KB system, consists of netting that fits into the overhead compartment of Boeing 727s and 757s to keep luggage from falling out when the compartment is reopened.
The KB system is a safety device that can fit into existing overhead compartments, saving vast amounts of money when compared to other options, such as completely redesigning and replacing bins. The system was intended for overhead bins of the Boeing 737 aircraft, but is also fits the Boeing 757s, covering 57 percent of the market. Modifications are being designed that will allow the system to be used in other types of airplanes.
Currently there is only one other competing device in use, but there are concerns about its cost. Airlines have tried to help matters by restricting carry-on luggage, but injuries still occur, Mackie said airlines are concerned about publicity, and that may injuries go unreported.
A patent has been issued for the KB system by the United States Patent Office. The actual number should be announced within the next month, bringing to a close a process Mackie called challenging. “Since I was a little Kid I wanted to be a researcher. The ultimate goal… is to change the lives of every person in the world,” Mackie said.
Air Safety Week, June 28, 1999
New Device Could Minimize “The Hazard Within”
A device like a rolling window shade fitted to overhead bins would prevent injuries from falling objects when the bin doors pop open.
One of the greatest hazards to passengers, especially those sitting in the aisle seats located right under the overhead bin doors, is injury from falling objects. When the airplane is subjected to a sudden movement, such as an encounter with inflight turbulence or a hard landing, the bin doors have the nasty habit of popping open and pummeling passengers with their contents. Heavy objects particular, such as a laptop computers, books, and densely-packed tote suitcases, have caused numerous injuries (estimates range from hundreds to upwards of 4,000 injuries yearly). Spills also can occur during unloading after perfectly uneventful flights.
A new restrain for overhead bins can virtually eliminate injuries from falling objects. The manufacture claims it does not add to boarding or deplaning time. The self-attaching net can be realeased quicly by pressing a push button adjacent to the bin door release button.
Source: Kingdom Builders LLC
The most recent illustration of the problem is the hard landing June 21 at Denver International Airport (Den) of a United Airplanes [UAL} 747-400. On impact, a number of bin doors popped open. Three flight attendants and two passengers received minor injuries during the landing. In 1997 another United 747 flight enroute from Japan to Hawaii hit turbulence: one passenger, hurled into the overhead, was killed. In this case, too, numerous injuries resulted, and numerous bin doors popped open, duping their contents.
To date, the airlines’ primary response has taken the form of stricter carry-on policies. British Airways has taken a second option, installing on its 747s a bin restraint system that might be described as a “door within a door”. The system has virtually eliminated injuries to passengers. However, the system has not been widely deployed because of concerns about its cost (see ASW, Aug 18, 1997, p.4).
Comes now Benjamin Thomas, an engineer who has co-designed a bin restrain with Calvin Mackie, Ph.D., of Tulane University. It is dubbed the KB system, for the research firm Thomas and Mackie founded, kingdom Builders LLC of San Antonio, Texas. The Design features a stiff plastic net on a roller, much like a rolling window shade (see photo). He claims its foolproof latch will not open in flight. Yet it is “passenger friendly,” requiring no action on the part of the passenger to deploy the net. It can be fitted using existing screws within the bin – installers need not drill any new holes. As a rough estimate, Thomas believes the installed cost of the equipping the 30 bins on a 737 would run around $20,000, and the actual job would take about 3 hours. This cost, Thomas believes, would be more than offset by reduced personal injury claims.
Indeed, there is a personal dimension to this story. Thomas related that an engineer on his design team was hurt on a flight when the airplane encountered turbulence and overhead bin doors popped open, dumping their contents. There have been reported cases where passengers have been observed instinctively placing their hands over their heads when the bin doors popped open.
To be sure, Thomas has a product to sell, but his point is worth considering: people are getting injured and there is no need for it.”>> Thomas, tel. 210/822-0811<<