Air supported structures need to be a closed system to stay inflated. Obvious, right? This is why we use revolving doors to get in and out of them. If you missed it, you can read more about revolving doors in this blog article.
But what happens when you need to get something into a dome that’s bigger than would fit through a revolving door? Deflate the dome, lift a corner, slide it in, then re-inflate the facility? Well you could do it that way, but most air structures that need a big opening for vehicles or equipment use an ingenious invention: the airlock. An airlock is a door system involving two doors. By only having one door open at a time, you prevent losing any air between the inside and the outside.
The principle makes so much sense that airlocks are used in any structure that needs a restriction of the flow of air. As mentioned, air domes use airlocks to keep the air in a dome, but you’ve likely already seen airlocks in use on TV and movies. Most recently, you might have seen Matt Damon using an airlock while depicting an astronaut stranded on Mars in the film The Martian. While this film is fiction, NASA does use airlocks with structures and ships they send out into space.
While the airlock on a dome is slightly different from an airlock in a space shuttle, the principle is exactly the same.
So who invented the airlock? Well no one really knows, the technology has been around in some form or another for a long time. The earliest recorded use of an airlock is also incredibly hard to find. If you happen to stumble upon it, be sure to comment or let us know.
What we do know is how airlocks work with air structures. By using airlock systems, you can install doors that are much larger than you’d expect for an air dome. For example, cargo doors that are large enough to fit trucks in and out have been outfitted on air domes. In fact, the most common limiting factor size-wise is how long a vehicle can be. Whatever you’re trying to get in or out of the airlock system must be shorter than the distance between the two airlock doors. For an airlock to work, both doors must be able to close at the same time.
This is how domes that are used for manufacturing (like our dome where we put together each air dome) or storage/warehouse domes are able to get large shipments in and out of domes. Some multisport domes that require large equipment moved in and out will also use airlock systems.
We’ve even built airlocks that will allow bicycles in and out of a velodrome dome.
Being able to customize airlocks and create unique solutions that think outside the box is where The Farley Group really shines. If you think an air structure won’t work for a particular need, you might need to think again. Airlocks are just one of the solutions to making air structures the perfect facility!