Rocket Science Comes to Rich Stadium, As UB Engineers And Defense Contractor Work to Wind-Proof Light Poles

Release Date: January 25, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researchers and a local defense contractor are applying space technology to the light poles at Rich Stadium in hopes of reducing wear and tear on the 160-foot high standards caused by the sometimes fierce winds that whip through the stadium.

Extra steel rods have already been inserted to further anchor the poles and special dampers like those used on the launch tower at Cape Canaveral will be installed on each of the six poles following the post-season playoffs.

It will be the first time such dampers, used in the launch of commercial satellites, have been installed on light poles.

UB assistant professors of civil engineering Stuart Chen and John Mander first studied the light poles at the request of the Erie County Department of Public Works.

The poles, towering above Bills fans, sit on horizontal steel baseplates fastened by steel anchor bolts to reinforced concrete footings that reach 10 feet underground. Ultrasonic tests on the 20-year-old poles revealed that some anchor bolts had developed small cracks.

"When the wind blows, it produces uplift on the anchor bolts, which can cause fatigue cracking," said Chen.

"In the worst case scenario, the force of the wind can make cracks grow to a critical size and lead to an unbuttoning effect, where the bolts fracture."

To remove load on the bottom nut that holds the bolt in place, the engineers recommended two steps.

The first, completed in the fall, was to drill extra holes through the baseplates and into the foundation of the poles so that extra steel rods could be inserted to anchor the poles.

"We needed extra rods because the existing ones have been fatigued by the back-and-forth rocking motion from the wind," said Chen.

To further extend the life of the light poles and to better protect them from wind, a type of shock absorber was needed. UB engineers approached Taylor Devices of North Tonawanda, which manufactures items that absorb forces ranging from wind to the shock produced by nuclear explosions.

"As luck would have it, we make a big wind damper for the General Dynamics Atlas Missile, which launches commercial satellites," said Douglas Taylor, president of Taylor Devices.

One such damper, installed on the launch tower at Cape Canaveral, Florida, allowed a fully loaded Atlas missile to come through Hurricane Andrew unscathed.

The damper for the missile launcher was easily adaptable. The only major change was in physical specifications to accommodate the size of the light poles.

"The main difference is that one damper has a missile attached to it and the other has a stadium attached," said Taylor.

For the light poles, the company has manufactured stainless steel dampers about 13-feet long to be installed between the poles and the wall of the stadium, near the stadium's upper seats. Two dampers will be attached to each pole.

By cutting the deflection of the light pole under wind, the damper is expected to increase the life span of the poles to 40 years or more.

Taylor Devices is also providing support that enables Chen and Mander to monitor the performance of the dampers once they are in place, an opportunity usually not available to engineers, Chen said.

"The vast majority of research done in structural engineering involves either mathematical simulations or experiments with small-scale models or individual pieces of real structures, not the whole structures themselves," he said.

"We have our predictions about how the light poles should behave differently with the retrofit, but we don't know what actually will happen. This monitoring study will allow us to see how a real structure responds to loads in real life."

The cost for the manufacture and installation of the 12 dampers will be about $200,000, according to Taylor.

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