How Arrestor Beds Stopped Mike Pence's Plane From A Disastrous Crash

These blocks of lightweight cement are miracle workers.
10/28/2016 09:13am ET | Updated October 28, 2016

Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence had quite the scare Thursday when his campaign plane skidded off the runway while landing in rainy conditions at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.

Pence told reporters that no one was injured in the incident.

The device credited with stopping the plane after it “overshot” the 7,000-foot-long runway is called an “arrestor bed.” What exactly is this technology, and why haven’t you heard of it before?

JON LEVY via Getty Images
A TWA aircraft flies over the Foam Arrestor bed at the end of runway 4R-22L at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York. Designed to stop a large aircraft traveling at 75 knots, the bed is comprised of about 2,000 aerated cellular cement blocks. 

Arrestor beds are made of blocks of “lightweight, crushable cellular cement material” that will collapse under the weight of the plane to slow it down or stop it. These beds have been installed at more than 100 runway ends at airports like Boston Logan, Chicago Midway and San Diego International. As of February 2016, arrestor beds had safely stopped 10 aircraft that overshot the runway.

In a statement released earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acknowledged that runway safety areas are not up to code in many older United States airports. Runway safety areas are typically 500 feet wide and extend 1,000 feet beyond the end of the runway, reducing the risk of damage if airplanes overshoot, undershoot or veer off the runway. But in airports that were built before this standard was adopted, like LaGuardia, creating an RSA of this size simply isn’t feasible.

The FAA began researching this problem in the 1990s. They introduced engineered material arresting systems, or arrestor beds, to safely stop an aircraft that skids off the runway.

Here’s hoping there are some arrestor beds waiting for Pence at the end of Donald Trump’s campaign on Election Day

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated arrestor beds have been installed at approximately 1,000 runway ends at airports. According to the FAA, as of February 2016 they’re installed at approximately 103 runway ends at 61 airports in the United States.