SARSYS Friction Tester: Home of The Coolest Job at the Airport

Nancy Anderson
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Photo provided by Tradewind Scientific, exclusive North American providers for the SFT.

Interesting problems come in all shapes and sizes, but rarely do you get questions like, ‘What’s the friction like on this runway right now? And how will it affect the massive commercial aircraft we’re shuffling on and off the tarmac?’ Luckily, there’s a good way to address this, and at airports around the world, there are those who get to drive a Saab as fast as they can down the middle of busy runway.

Jalopnik, who are in the middle of their ‘Who Wants to Be America’s Next Top Car Blogger?’ competition, recently highlighted an interesting bit of kit that’s been in use for forty years. SARSYS (that’s Scandinavian Airport and Road Systems AB) produce the de facto standard in runway friction testing units, and install them, as they always have, in Saab automobiles. The SARSYS Friction Tester (SFT) is a heavily instrumented package comprising an additional wheel that is mechanically linked to the drive-train at a fixed slip ratio, allowing the wheel to skid along the surface being measured. The SFT system can also be outfitted with a water tank where wet pavement measurements are required.

The friction coefficient is calculated within minutes of starting the test run; data can be wirelessly uploaded to computers in the airport control tower, and be made available to pilots as needed.

SARSYS also produce a trailer-mounted version to be towed behind any appropriate vehicle, but it loses the fun of the bright yellow, turbocharged Saab wagon.

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Mike Wrightly is mostly diesel fumes and duct tape; he grew up around heavy equipment, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.

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