The round, white, aesthetically pleasing radar dome at Andrews Air Force Base was supposed to be moved Monday to Dulles International Airport - but it disintegrated instead.
"We're back to Square One," said the Federal Aviation Administration's Fred Farrar, borrowing a phrase from the Vietnam War. The radar dome was to have been moved by another Vietnam-era device, a UH-1 Army helicopter.
Those who do not recall will need some background.
Dulles International Airport, generally regarded as an architectural masterpiece, has a handsome air traffic control tower with a round white radar doom (cover) on top. It covers the ground-control radar, the device that lets controllers see planes as they move through deep fog on runways and taxiways.
When it rains, water clings to the radar dome, an inflated, film-like shield, and makes the radar unreliable. Air traffic controllers have charged that it is unsafe.
A new cover, variously described as looking like an upside-down cup and saucer, a collie hat or a pagoda, supposedly provides better protection and improves the radar's performance. But it does not look like the top of the tower at Dulles Airport.
So, in an attempt to improve the radar's operation in wet weather and keep Dulles looking like Dulles, the FAA decided to take the look-alike Andrews dome - which was rigid plastic - and replace the Dulles dome with it.
The big day came Monday, Cables were attached to six points on the Andrews dome, then tied to a master cable leading the helicopter.
The helicopter lifted. A chip was knocked out of the dome. The helicopter pilot decided to make a practice run along the Andrews runway "to see how she rides," he told Farrar. She rode all right.
One more practice run, then the 40-minute trip to Dulles, the pilot said. On that second practice run the pilot told Farrar, a large crack appeared, then a number of smaller cracks, then the whole thing came unglued and fell about 100 feet to the ground. The dome had cost $20,000 in 1962 when it was installed.
"We have found an old inflatable dome in Oklahoma City and were flying it in to Dulles." Farrar said.
William Flener, chief of air traffic for the FAA, said it "would be an accurate statement" to say that the inflatable dome is not as good as the pagoda. But it will be installed, he said, at least partly because of [Text Omitted From Source]