Category Archives: Aeronautical

Stratospheric Tourism Coming Soon

On 31 May 1931 Professor Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer made the first balloon flight into the stratosphere in a pressurized gondola. These aeronauts reached an altitude of 51,777 ft (15,782 m) above Augsburg, Germany in the balloon named FNRS (Belgian National Foundation for Scientific Research). At that time, a state-of-the-art high-altitude balloon was made of relatively heavy rubberized fabric. Several nations made stratospheric balloon flights in the 1930s, with the U.S. National Geographic Society’s Explorer II setting an altitude record of 72,395 ft (22,065 m) on 11 November 1935.

After World War II, very large, lightweight, polyethylene plastic balloons were developed in the U.S. by Jean Piccard (August Piccard’s twin brother) and Otto Winzen. These balloons were used primarily by the U.S. military to fly payloads to very high altitudes for a variety of research and other projects.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) launched its first Project Skyhook balloon (a Piccard-Winzen balloon) on 25 September 1947, and launched more than 1,500 Skyhook balloons during the following decade. The first manned flight in a Skyhook balloon occurred in 1949.

The record for the highest unmanned balloon flight was set in 1972 by the Winzen Research Balloon, which achieved a record altitude of 170,000 ft (51,816 m) over Chico, CA.

USAF Project Man High & U.S. Navy Strato-Lab: 1956 – 1961

Manned stratospheric balloon flights became common in the 1950s and early 1960s under the U.S. Air Force’s Man High program and the U.S. Navy’s Strato-Lab program. One goal of these flights was to gather physiological data on humans in pressure suits exposed to near-space conditions at altitudes of about 20 miles (32.2 km) above the Earth. You’ll find an overview of these military programs at the following link:

http://www.space-unit.com/articles/manned_pioneer_flights_in_the_usa.pdf

Three Man High flights were conducted between June 1957 and October 1958. In August 1957, the Man High II balloon flight by Major David Simons reached the highest altitude of the program: 101,516 feet (30,942 m). The rather cramped Man High II gondola is shown in the following diagram.

Man High II gondola. Source: USAF.

The Man High II gondola is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH. You’ll find details on the Man High II mission at the following link:

http://stratocat.com.ar/fichas-e/1957/CBY-19570819.htm

Five Strato-Lab flights were made between August 1956 and May 1961, with some flights using a pressurized gondola and others an open, unpressurized gondola. The last mission, Strato-Lab High V, carrying Commander Malcolm Ross and scientist Victor Prather in an unpressurized gondola, reached a maximum altitude of 113,740 ft (34,575 meters) on the 4 May 1961. The main objective of this flight was to test the Navy’s Mark IV full-pressure flight suit.

Strato-Lab V open gondola. Source: stratocat.com

See the following link for details on Strato-Lab missions.

http://stratocat.com.ar/artics/stratolab-e.htm

USAF Project Excelsior: 1959 – 60

To study the effects of high-altitude bailout on pilots, the USAF conducted Project Excelsior in 1959 and 1960, with USAF Capt. Joseph Kittinger making all three Excelsior balloon flights. In the Excelsior III flight on 16 August 1960, Capt. Kittinger bailed out from the unpressurized gondola at an altitude of 102,800 feet (31,330 m) and was in free-fall for 4 minutes 36 seconds. Thanks to lessons learned on the previous Excelsior flights, a small drogue stabilized Kittinger’s free-fall, during which he reached a maximum vertical velocity of 614 mph (988 km/h) before slowing to a typical skydiving velocity of 110 – 120 mph (177 – 193 kph) in the lower atmosphere. You’ll find Capt. Kittinger’s personal account of this record parachute jump at the following link:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121008-joseph-kittinger-felix-baumgartner-skydive-science/

Project Stargazer: 1960

Capt. Kittinger and astronomer William White performed 18 hours of astronomical observations from the open gondola of the Stargazer balloon. The flight, conducted on 13 – 14 December 1960, reached a maximum altitude of 82,200 feet (25,100 m).

Red Bull Stratos: 2012

On 14 October 2012, Felix Baumgartner exited the Red Bull Stratos balloon gondola at 128,100 feet (39,045 m) and broke Joe Kittinger’s 52-year old record for the highest parachute jump. Shortly after release, Baumgartner started gyrating uncontrollably due to asymmetric drag in the thin upper atmosphere and no means to stabilize his attitude until reaching denser atmosphere. During his perilous 4 minute 40 second free-fall to an altitude of about 8,200 ft (2,500 m), he went supersonic and reached a maximum vertical velocity of 833.9 mph (1,342.8 kph, Mach 1.263).

You’ll find details on Baumgartner’s mission at the following link:

http://www.redbullstratos.com

Capt. Kittinger was an advisor to the Red Bull Stratos team. The gondola, Felix Baumgartner’s pressure suit and parachute are on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Red Bull Stratos gondola & pressure suit. Source: Smithsonian

Stratospheric Explorer: 2014

Baumgartner’s record was short-lived, being broken on 14 October 2014 when Alan Eustace jumped from the Stratospheric Explorer (StratEx) balloon at an altitude of 135,899 ft (41,422 meters).  Eustace used a drogue device to help maintain stability during the free-fall, before his main parachute opened. He fell 123,235 ft (37,623 meters) with the drogue and reached a maximum vertical velocity of 822 mph (1,320 km/h); faster than the speed of sound. You can read an interview of Alan Eustace, including his thoughts on stratosphere balloon tourism, at the following link:

http://www.popsci.com/moonshot-man-why-googles-alan-eustace-set-new-free-fall-record

More information of this record-setting parachute jump is at the following link:

http://www.space.com/34725-14-minutes-from-earth-supersonic-skydive.html

World View® Voyager

If you’re not ready to sign up for a passenger rocket flight, and the idea of bailing out of a balloon high in the stratosphere isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps you’d consider a less stressful flight into the stratosphere in the pressurized gondola of the Voyager passenger balloon being developed by World View Enterprises, Inc. They describe an ascent in the Voyager passenger balloon as follows:

“With World View®, you’ll discover what it’s like to leave the surface of the Earth behind. Every tree, every building, even the mountains themselves become smaller and smaller as you gently and effortlessly rise above. The world becomes a natural collage of magnificent beauty, one you can only appreciate from space. Floating up more than 100,000 feet within the layers of the atmosphere, you will be safely and securely sailing at the very threshold of the heavens, skimming the edge of space for hours. The breathtaking view unfolds before you—our home planet suspended in the deep, beckoning cosmos. Your world view will be forever changed.”

You can view an animated video of such a flight at the following link:

https://vimeo.com/76082638

The following screenshots from this video show the very large balloon and the pressurized Voyager gondola, which is suspended beneath a pre-deployed parafoil parachute connected to the balloon. After reaching maximum altitude, the Voyager balloon will descend until appropriate conditions are met for releasing the parafoil and gondola, which will glide back to a predetermined landing point.

Source for five screenshots, above:  WorldView Enterprises, Inc.

In February 2017, World View opened a large facility at Spaceport Tucson to support its plans for developing and deploying unmanned balloons for a variety of missions as well as Voyager passenger balloons. World View announced plans to a fly a test vehicle named Explorer from Spaceport Tucson in early 2018, with edge-of-space passenger flights by the end of the decade.

For more information on World View Enterprises and the Voyager stratosphere balloon, visit their website at the following link:

http://www.worldview.space/about/#overview

 

 

Protocol for Reporting UFO Sightings

The United States Air Force began investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the fall of 1947 under a program called Project Sign, which later became Project Grudge, and in January 1952 became Project Blue Book. As you might expect, the USAF developed a reporting protocol for these projects.

Starting in 1951, the succession of Air Force documents that provided UFO reporting guidance is summarized below:

Headquarters USAF Letter AFOIN-C/CC-2

This letter, entitled, “Reporting of Information on Unidentified Flying Objects,” dated 19 December 1951, may be the original guidance document for UFO reporting. So far, I have been unable to find a copy of this document. The Project Blue Book archives contain examples of UFO reports from 1952 citing AFOIN-C/CC-2.

Air Force Letter AFL 200-5

The first reporting protocol I could find was Air Force Letter AFL 200-5, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting,” dated 29 April 1952, which was issued on behalf of the Secretary of the USAF by Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the USAF.

  • Defines UFOs as, “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type.”
  • UFO reporting is treated as an Intelligence activity (denoted by the 200-series document number)
  • Provides brief guidance on report content, which was to be submitted on AF Form 112, “Air Intelligence Information Report,” and not classified higher than RESTRICTED.
  • The local Commanding Officer is responsible for forwarding FLYOBRPTS to the appropriate agencies. FLYOBRPT is an acronym for FLYing OBject RePorT.
  • Responsibility for investigating UFOs was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. ATIC was a field activity of the Directorate of Intelligence in USAF Headquarters.
  • AFL 200-5 does not indicate that it superseded any prior USAF UFO reporting guidance document, but it is likely that it replaced USAF letter AFOIN-C/CC-2, dated 19 December 1951.

Download AFL 200-5 at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/AFL_200-5.pdf

How to Make FLYOBRPTs

In 1953, the AITC issued “How to Make FLYOBRPTs,” dated 25 July 1953, to help improve reporting required by AFL 200-5.

Figure 1 from How to Make a FLYOBRPT

Source: USAF

This guidance document provides an interesting narrative about UFOs through 1953, explains how to collect information on a UFO sighting, including interacting with the public during the investigation, and how to complete a FLYOBRPT using four detailed data collection forms.

  • Ground Observer’s Information Sheet (9 pages)
  • Electronics Data Sheet (radar) (5 pages)
  • Airborne Observer’s Data Sheet (9 pages) and,
  • Supporting Data form (8 pages)

This report showed that the USAF had a sense of humor about UFO reporting.

Figure 2 from How to Make a FLYOBRPTSource: USAF

Download “How to Make FLYOBRPTs” at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/FLYOBRPT.pdf

Air Force Regulation AFR 200-2

In 1953, the Secretary of the Air Force, Harold E. Talbott, issued the original Air Force Regulation AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting”, dated 26 August 1953.

  • Superseded AFL 200-5, dated 29 April 1952
  • Defines procedures for reporting UFOs and restrictions on public discussion by Air Force personnel
  • Change 200-2A was issued on 2 November 1953
  • Between 1954 and 1962, the USAF issued several subsequent versions of AFR 200-2, as listed below.

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting (Short Title: FLYOBRPT)”, dated 12 August 1954.

  • Superseded AFR 200-2 dated 26 August 1953 and Change 200-2A
  • Identifies the USAF interest in UFOs as follows: “Air Force interest in unidentified flying objects is twofold: First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces, and secondly, to determine technical aspects involved.”
  • Defines an expected report format that is less comprehensive than the guidance in “How to Make FLYOBRPTs.”
  • Clarifies that Headquarters USAF will release summaries of evaluated data to the public. Also notes that it is permissible to respond to local inquiries when the object is positively identified as a “familiar object” (not a UFO). In other cases, the only response is that ATIC will analyze the data.
  • Download this version of AFR 200-2 at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/afr200-2.htm

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 5 February 1958

  • Supersedes the version dated 12 August 1954
  • Broadens the USAF interest in UFOs: “First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces; second, to determine the technical or scientific characteristics of any such UFOs; third, to explain or identify all UFO sightings…”
  • Updates report formats and provides additional guidance on reporting
  • Download this version from the CIA website at the following link:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP81R00560R000100040072-9.pdf

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 14 September 1959

  • Supersedes the version dated 5 February 1958

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 20 July 1962

  • Supersedes the version dated 14 September 1959
  • Superseded by AFR 80-17

Air Force Regulation AFR 80-17

In 1966, the USAF issued AFR 80-17, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 19 September 1966

  • Supersedes AFR 200-2 dated 20 July 1962.
  • Two changes were issued:
    • AFR 80-17, Change 80-17A, dated 8 November 1966
    • AFR 80-17, Change 1, dated 26 October 1968, superseded AFR 80-17A, 8 November 1966
  • No longer considers UFO reporting as an intelligence activity, as denoted by the 80-series number assigned to the AFR
  • Places UFO reporting under the Research and Development Command. This is consistent with recasting ATIC into the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of the Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson AFB.
  • Broadly redefines UFO as “any aerial phenomenon which is unknown or appears out of the ordinary to the observer.”
  • Orders all Air Force bases to provide an investigative capability
  • Change 80-17A assigned University of Colorado to conduct an independent scientific investigation of UFOs. Physicist Edward U. Condon would direct this work.

Download AFR 80-17, with change 80-17A and change 1 here:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/afr80-17.htm

Project Blue Book’s final report

In late October 1968, the University of Colorado’s final report was completed and submitted for review by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. The panel approved of the methodology and concurred with Edward Condon’s conclusion:

“That nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”

In January 1969, a 965-page paperback version of the report was published under the title, “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.”

On 17 December 1969, Air Force Secretary Robert C. Seamans, Jr., announced the termination of Project Blue Book.

Additional resources

You’ll find a good history by of the U.S. Air Force UFO programs written by Thomas Tulien at the following link:

http://sohp.us/history-of-the-usaf-ufo-programs/8-turning-point.php

 

 

 

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Electronics, and More

Announced on 29 January 2013, DARPA is conducting an intriguing program known as VAPR:

“The Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

VAPR aims to enable transient electronics as a deployable technology. To achieve this goal, researchers are pursuing new concepts and capabilities to enable the materials, components, integration and manufacturing that could together realize this new class of electronics.”

VAPR has been referred to as “Snapchat for hardware”. There’s more information on the VAPR program on the DARPA website at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/program/vanishing-programmable-resources

Here are a few of the announced results of the VAPR program.

Disintegrating electronics

In December 2013, DARPA awarded a $2.5 million VAPR contract to the Honeywell Aerospace Microelectronics & Precision Sensors segment in Plymouth, MN for transient electronics.

In February 2014, IBM was awarded a $3.4 million VAPR contract to develop a radio-frequency based trigger to shatter a thin glass coating: “IBM plans is to utilize the property of strained glass substrates to shatter as the driving force to reduce attached CMOS chips into …. powder.” Read more at the following link:

http://www.zdnet.com/article/ibm-lands-deal-to-make-darpas-self-destructing-vapr-ware/

Also in February 2014, DARPA awarded a $2.1 million VAPR contract to PARC, a Xerox company. In September 2015, PARC demonstrated an electronic chip built on “strained” Corning Gorilla Glass that will shatter within 10 seconds when remotely triggered. The “strained” glass is susceptible to heat. On command, a resistor heats the glass, causing it to shatter and destroy the embedded electronics. This transience technology is referred to as: Disintegration Upon Stress-release Trigger, or DUST. Read more on PARC’s demonstration and see a short video at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/computing/hardware/us-militarys-chip-self-destructs-on-command

Disintegrating power source

In December 2013, USA Today reported that DARPA awarded a $4.7 million VAPR contract to SRI International, “to develop a transient power supply that, when triggered, becomes unobservable to the human eye.” The power source is the SPECTRE (Stressed Pillar-Engineered CMOS Technology Readied for Evanescence) silicon-air battery. Details are at the following link:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/nation/2013/12/27/vanishing-silicon-air-battery-darpa/4222327/

On 12 August 2016, the website Science Friday reported that Iowa State scientists have successfully developed a transient lithium-ion battery:

“They’ve developed the first self-destructing, lithium-ion battery capable of delivering 2.5 volts—enough to power a desktop calculator for about 15 minutes. The battery’s polyvinyl alcohol-based polymer casing dissolves in 30 minutes when dropped in water, and its nanoparticles disperse. “

You can read the complete post at:

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/this-battery-will-self-destruct-in-30-minutes/

ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems)

On 9 October 2015, DARPA issued “a call for disappearing delivery vehicles,” which you can read at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-10-09

In this announcement DARPA stated:

“Our partners in the VAPR program are developing a lot of structurally sound transient materials whose mechanical properties have exceeded our expectations,” said VAPR and ICARUS program manager Troy Olsson. Among the most eye-widening of these ephemeral materials so far have been small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use. A goal of the VAPR program is electronics made of materials that can be made to vanish if they get left behind after battle, to prevent their retrieval by adversaries.”

With the progress made in VAPR, it became plausible to imagine building larger, more robust structures using these materials for an even wider array of applications. And that led to the question, ‘What sorts of things would be even more useful if they disappeared right after we used them?’”

This is how DARPA conceived the ICARUS single-use drone program described in October 2015 in Broad Area Announcement DARPA-BAA-16-03. The goal of this $8 million, 26-month DARPA program is to develop small drones with the following attributes

  • One-way, autonomous mission
  • 3 meter (9.8 feet) maximum span
  • Disintegrate in 4-hours after payload delivery, or within 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight
  • Fly a lateral distance of 150 km (93 miles) when released from an altitude of 35,000 feet (6.6 miles)
  • Navigate to and deliver various payloads up to 3 pounds (1.36 kg) within 10 meters (31 feet) of a GPS-designated target

The ICARUS mission profile is shown below.

ICARUS mission profileICARUS mission. Source: DARPA-BAA-16-03

More information on ICARUS is available on the DARPA website at:

http://www.darpa.mil/program/inbound-controlled-air-reasonable-unrecoverable-systems

On 14 June 2016, Military & Aerospace reported that two ICARUS contracts had been awarded:

  • PARC (Palo Alto, CA): $2.3 million Phase 1 + $1.9 million Phase 2 option
  • DZYNE Technologies, Inc. (Fairfax, VA): $2.9 million Phase 1 + $3.2 million Phase 2 option

You can watch a short video describing the ICARUS competition at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2U1UTDqZbQ

The firm Otherlab (https://otherlab.com) has been involved with several DARPA projects in recent years. While I haven’t seen a DARPA announcement that Otherlab is a funded ICARUS contractor, a recent post by April Glaser on the recode website indicates that the Otherlab has developed a one-way, cardboard glider capable of delivering a small cargo to a precise target.

“When transporting vaccines or other medical supplies, the more you can pack onto the drone, the more relief you can supply,” said Star Simpson, an aeronautics research engineer at Otherlab, the group that’s building the new paper drone. If you don’t haul batteries for a return trip, you can pack more onto the drone, says Simpson.

The autonomous disposable paper drone flies like a glider, meaning it has no motor on board. It does have a small computer, as well as sensors that are programed to adjust the aircraft’s control surfaces, like on its wings or rudder, that determine where the aircraft will travel and land.”

 Otherlab_SkyMachines_APSARA.0Sky machines. Source: Otherworld

Read the complete post on the Otherlab glider on the recode website at the following link:

http://www.recode.net/2017/1/12/14245816/disposable-drones-paper-darpa-save-your-life-otherlab

The future

The general utility of vanishing electronics, power sources and delivery vehicles is clear in the context of military applications. It will be interesting to watch the future development and deployment of integrated systems using these vanishing resources.

The use of autonomous, air-releasable, one-way delivery vehicles (vanishing or not) also should have civilian applications for special situations such as emergency response in hazardous or inaccessible areas.

 

 

Airbus Delivers its 10,000th Aircraft

Airbus was founded on 18 December 1970 and delivered its first aircraft, an A300B2, to Air France on 10 May 1974. This was the world’s first twin-engine, wide body (two aisles) commercial airliner, beating Boeing’s 767, which was not introduced into commercial service until September 1982. The A300 was followed in the early 1980s by a shorter derivative, the A310, and then, later that decade, by the single-aisle A320. The A320 competed directly with the single-aisle Boeing 737 and developed into a very successful family of single-aisle commercial airliners: A318, A319, A320 and A321.

On 14 October 2016, Airbus announced the delivery of its 10,000th aircraft, which was an A350-900 destined for service with Singapore Airlines.

EVE-1236Source: Airbus

In their announcement, Airbus noted:

“The 10,000th Airbus delivery comes as the manufacturer achieves its highest level of production ever and is on track to deliver at least 650 aircraft this year from its extensive product line. These range from 100 to over 600 seats and efficiently meet every airline requirement, from high frequency short haul operations to the world’s longest intercontinental flights.”

You can read the complete Airbus press release at the following link:

http://www.airbus.com/presscentre/pressreleases/press-release-detail/detail/-9b32c4364a/

As noted previously, Airbus beat Boeing to the market for twinjet, wide-body commercial airliners, which are the dominant airliner type on international and high-density routes today. Airbus also was an early adopter of fly-by-wire flight controls and a “glass cockpit”, which they first introduced in the A320 family.

In October 2007, the ultra-large A380 entered service, taking the honors from the venerable Boeing 747 as the largest commercial airliner.   Rather than compete head-to-head with the A380, Boeing opted for stretching its 777 and developing a smaller, more advanced and more efficient, all-composite new airliner, the 787, which was introduced in airline service 2011.

Airbus countered with the A350 XWB in 2013. This is the first Airbus with fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon fiber composite material, similar to the Boeing 787.

The current Airbus product line comprises a total of 16 models in four aircraft families: A320 (single aisle), A330 (two aisle wide body), A350 XWB (two aisle wide body) and A380 (twin deck, two aisle wide body). The following table summarizes Airbus commercial jet orders, deliveries and operational status as of 30 November 2016.

Airbus orders* Includes all models in this family. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus

Boeing is the primary competitor to Airbus. Boeing’s first commercial jet airliner, the 707, began commercial service Pan American World Airways on 26 October 1958. The current Boeing product line comprises five airplane families: 737 (single-aisle), 747 (twin deck, two aisle wide body), 767 (wide body, freighter only), 777 (two aisle wide body) and 787 (two aisle wide body).

The following table summarizes Boeing’s commercial jet orders, deliveries and operational status as of 30 June 2016. In that table, note that the Boeing 717 started life in 1965 as the Douglas DC-9, which in 1980 became the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 (series) / MD-90 (series) before Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas in 1997. Then the latest version, the MD-95, became the Boeing 717.

Boeing commercial order status 30Jun2016

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_Commercial_Airplanes

Boeing’s official sales projections for 2016 are for 740 – 745 aircraft. Industry reports suggest a lower sales total is more likely because of weak worldwide sales of wide body aircraft.

Not including the earliest Boeing models (707, 720, 727) or the Douglas DC-9 derived 717, here’s how the modern competition stacks up between Airbus and Boeing.

Single-aisle twinjet:

  • 12,805 Airbus A320 family (A318, A319, A320 and A321)
  • 14,527 Boeing 737 and 757

Two-aisle twinjet:

  • 3,260 Airbus A300, A310, A330 and A350
  • 3,912 Boeing 767, 777 and 787

Twin aisle four jet heavy:

  • 696 Airbus A340 and A380
  • 1,543 Boeing 747

These simple metrics show how close the competition is between Airbus and Boeing. It will be interesting to see how these large airframe manufacturers fare in the next decade as they face more international competition, primarily at the lower end of their product range: the single-aisle twinjets. Former regional jet manufacturers Bombardier (Canada) and Embraer (Brazil) are now offering larger aircraft that can compete effectively in some markets. For example, the new Bombardier C Series is optimized for the 100 – 150 market segment. The Embraer E170/175/190/195 families offer capacities from 70 to 124 seats, and range up to 3,943 km (2,450 miles).  Other new manufacturers soon will be entering this market segment, including Russia’s Sukhoi Superjet 100 with about 108 seats, the Chinese Comac C919 with up to 168 seats, and Japan’s Mitsubishi Regional Jet with 70 – 80 seats.

At the upper end of the market, demand for four jet heavy aircraft is dwindling. Boeing is reducing the production rate of its 747-8, and some airlines are planning to not renew their leases on A380s currently in operation.

It will be interesting to watch how Airbus and Boeing respond to this increasing competition and to increasing pressure for controlling aircraft engine emissions after the Paris Agreement became effective in November 2016.

Status of Ukraine’s Giant Transport Aircraft: Antonov An-124 and An-225

Historically, the Antonov Design Bureau was responsible for the design and development of large military and civil transport aircraft for the former Soviet Union. With headquarters and production facilities in and around Kiev, this Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing and servicing firm is now known as Antonov State Company. The largest of the jet powered transport aircraft built by Antonov are the four-engine An-124 and the even larger six-engine An-225.

An-124 Ruslan (NATO name: Condor)

The An-124 made its first flight in December 1982 and entered operational service in 1986. This aircraft is a counterpart to the Lockheed C-5A, which is the largest U.S. military transport aircraft. A comparison of the basic parameters of these two aircraft is presented in the following table.

An-124 vs C-5A_AviatorjoedotnetSource: aviatorjoe.net

As you can see in this comparison, the An-124 is somewhat larger than the C-5A, which has a longer range, but at a slower maximum speed.

The An-124 currently is operated by the Russian air force and also by two commercial cargo carriers: Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines and Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Airlines. The civil An-124-100 is a commercial derivative of the military An-124. The civil version was certified in 1992, and meets all current civil standards for noise limits and avionic systems.

In their commercial cargo role, these aircraft specialize in carrying outsized and/or very heavy cargo that cannot be carried by other aircraft. These heavy-lift aircraft serve civil and military customers worldwide, including NATO and the U.S. military. I’ve seen an An-124s twice on the tarmac at North Island Naval Station in San Diego. In both cases, it arrived in the afternoon and was gone before sunrise the next day. Loading and/or unloading occurred after dark.

An-124_RA-82028_09-May-2010An-124-100. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As shown in the following photo, the An-124 can retract its nose landing gear and “kneel” to facilitate cargo loading through the raised forward door.

An-124_ramp downAn-124-100. Source: Mike Young / Wikimedia Commons

The following diagram shows the geometry and large size of the cargo hold on the An-124. The built-in cargo handling equipment includes an overhead crane system capable of lifting and moving loads up to 30 metric tons (about 66,100 pounds) within the cargo hold. As shown in the diagram below, the cargo hold is about 36.5 meters (119.7 feet) long, 6.4 meters (21 feet) wide, and the clearance from the floor to the ceiling of the cargo hold is 4.4 meters (14.4 feet). The installed crane hoists may reduce overhead clearance to 3.51 meters (11.5 feet).

An-124-diagram_tcm87-4236An-124-100 cargo hold dimensions. Source: aircharterservice.com

An-124_takeoffAn-124-100. Source: aircharterservice.com

Production of the An-124 was suspended following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. In spite of repeated attempts by Ukraine to restart the An-124 production line, it appears that Antonov may not have the resources to restart An-124 production. For more information on this matter, see the 22 June 2016 article on the Defense Industry Daily website at the following link:

http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/more-an124s-on-the-way-antonov-signs-agreement-with-key-customers-02913/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Military%20EBB%206-22-16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Military%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

An-225 Mriya

The An-225 was adapted from the An-124 and significantly enlarged to serve as the carrier aircraft for the Soviet space shuttle, the Buran. The relative sizes of the An-124 and An-225 are shown in the following diagram, with a more detailed comparison in the following table.

An-124 & 225 planform comparisonAn-124 & -225 comparison. Source: Airvectors.com

An-124 & 225 comparisonAn-124 & -225 comparison. Source: aviatorjoe.net

The only An-225 ever produced made its first flight in December 1988. It is shown carrying the Buran space shuttle in the following photo.

AN-225 & BuranAn-225 carrying Buran space shuttle. Source: fcba.tumblr.com

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the cancellation of the Buran space program, the An-225 was mothballed for eight years until Antonov Airlines reactivated the aircraft for use as a commercial heavy-lift transport. In this role, it can carry ultra-heavy / oversize cargo weighing up to 250 metric tons (551,000 pounds).

An-225 gear downAn-225 Mriya. Source: AntonovAn-225 gear up

Surprisingly, it appears that the giant An-225 is about to enter series production. Antonov and Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) signed a deal on 30 August 2016 that will result in An-225 production in China. The first new An-225 could be produced in China as early as in 2019.

When it enters service, this new version of the An-225 will modernize and greatly expand China’s military and civil airlift capabilities. While it isn’t clear how this airlift capability will be employed, it certainly will improve China ability to deliver heavy machinery, bulk material, and many personnel anywhere in the world, including any location in and around the South China Sea that has an adequate runway.

For more information on this Ukraine – China deal, see the 31 August 2016 article by Gareth Jennings entitled, “China and Ukraine agree to restart An-225 production,” on the IHS Jane’s 360 website at the following link:

http://www.janes.com/article/63341/china-and-ukraine-agree-to-restart-an-225-production

You’ll find more general information on the An-124 and An-225 on the Airvectors website at the following link:

http://www.airvectors.net/avantgt.html

 

 

 

 

Modern Airships

Lighter-than-air ships are common sights over many major sporting events; the most common being the Goodyear blimp. In 2011 Goodyear replaced its aging fleet of GZ-20A non-rigid airships (blimps) with Zeppelin model LZ N007-101 semi-rigid (hybrid) airships. However, the name “Goodyear blimp” still applies.

Goodyear new_blimpGoodyear’s new blimp – Zeppelin LZ N007-101. Source: Goodyear

You can read a very good illustrated history of the Goodyear blimp at the following link

http://www.goodyearblimp.com/relive-history/#page/2

There is a resurgence of interest in the use of lighter-than-air craft in a variety of military, commercial and other civilian roles, including:

  • Persistent optionally-manned surveillance platforms
  • Maritime surveillance / search and rescue
  • Heavy cargo carriers serving remote, unimproved sites
  • Disaster relief, particularly in areas not easily accessible by other means
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) / unmanned air system (UAS) carrier
  • Commercial flying cruise liner

In this post, we’ll take a look at several of the advanced airship designs that have been developed, or are under development, to perform these types of missions. These airships are:

  • Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) Skybus 80K
  • Aeros Aeroscraft Dragon Dream
  • Northrop Grumman / Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-304 (LEMV)
  • Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 & 50
  • Lockheed Martin P-791 & LMH1
  • Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Carrier
  • Commercial Flying Cruise Liner

 SAIC Skybus 80K

 The Skybus 80K was a proof-of-concept, non-rigid airship designed to carry a significant payload and fly autonomously on long duration missions. The goal of this program was to demonstrate greater persistence over target with a greater payload than was possible using an unmanned drone aircraft. Lindstrand USA was responsible for the Skybus 80K vehicle primary envelope and flight structure.

SAIC Skybus 80KSkybus 80K. Source: Lindstrand USA

Flying out of Loring Air Force Base in Caribou, Maine, the Skybus 80K met its program objectives for carrying 500 pounds to 10,000 feet for 24 hours without refueling. While these may seem to be modest objectives, Skybus 80K was granted the first U.S. certificate for an unmanned experimental airship. This was an important milestone in the development of optionally manned airships.

You can see a short 2010 video of the Skybus 80K rollout and flight at the following link:

http://lindstrandusaus.com/index.php/videos/mediaitem/49-saic

An SAIC concept for an full-scale optionally manned airship is shown in the following figure.

SAIC optionally manned airship conceptOptionally manned surveillance airship. Source: SAIC

Aeros Aeroscraft Dragon Dream

In 2013, Worldwide Aeros Corp. (Aeros) tested their half-scale proof-of-design demonstration vehicle, Dragon Dream, which embodied the following design features that are shared with other Aeroscraft rigid airships:

  • Control-of-static-heaviness (COSH) system for variable buoyancy control
  • Rigid structure, with hard points for mounting the cockpit, propulsion system, aerodynamic control surfaces, and the cargo compartment
  • Ceiling suspension cargo deployment system for managing cargo with minimal requirements for ground support infrastructure
  • Landing cushions for operation on unimproved surfaces, including ice and water
  • Vectored thrust engines for improved control at low speed and hover
  • Low-speed control system for maintaining position and orientation during vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and hover in low wind conditions

Aeros claims that, “these technologies enable the Aeroscraft to fly up to  6,000 nautical miles, while achieving true vertical takeoff and landing at maximum payload, to hover over unprepared surfaces, and to offload over-sized cargo directly at the point of need.”

Aeros Dragon Dream 1Source: AerosAeros Dragon Dream 2Source: Aeros

The aeroshell defines the boundary of the helium envelope. Within the aeroshell are Helium Pressure Envelopes (HPE, blue tanks) and Air Expansion Vessels (AEV, grey bladders):

Aeros Dragon Dream cutaway

Aeroscraft cutaway showing HPE and AEC. Source: Aeros

The COSH variable buoyancy operating principle is as follows:

  • To reduce buoyancy: The COSH system compresses helium from the aeroshell volume into the HPEs, which contain the compressed helium and control the helium pressure within the aeroshell.   The compression of helium into the HPEs creates a negative pressure within the aeroshell, permitting the AEVs to expand and fill with readily available environmental ballast (air). The air acts in concert with the reduced helium lift to make the Aeroscraft heavier when desired.
  • To increase buoyancy: The COSH system releases pressurized helium from the HPEs into the aeroshell. This creates a positive pressure within the aeroshell, causing the AEVs to compress and discharge air back to the environment. With reduced environmental ballast and greater helium lift, overall buoyancy of the Aeroscraft is increased when desired.

Operational Aeroscraft airships will be designed with an internal cargo bay and a cargo suspension deployment system that permits terrestrial or marine (shipboard) delivery of cargo from a hovering Aeroscraft, without the need for local infrastructure.

Aeroscraft cargo delivery systemAeroscraft cargo handling. Source: Aeros

For more information on the Aeroscraft rigid airship and advanced concepts for heavy cargo carrying airships, visit their website at the following link:

http://aeroscraft.com/aeroscraft/4575666071

Northrop Grumman / Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-304 (LEMV)

In partnership with Northrop Grumman, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) developed the HAV-304 hybrid airship for the U.S. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program, which intended to deploy a large optionally manned airship capable of flying surveillance missions of up to three weeks duration over Afghanistan.

The HAV-304 first flew on 7 August 2012 from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Operations were terminated when the LEMV contract was cancelled in February 2013.

Hybrid Air Vehicles bought the airship and associated materials back from the Army and returned to the UK to continue developing airships for civilian use.

Northrop Grumman LEMV 2012LEMV. Source: Northrop Grumman

Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10 & 50

The Airlander 10 airship, manufactured by Hybrid Air Vehicles, is the commercial reincarnation of the HAV-304 LEMV airship. This hybrid airship that files using a combination of buoyant lift from helium, vectored thrust lift from its engines during takeoff and landing, and aerodynamic lift from its airfoil shaped hull during forward flight.

Helium lift nominally provides about 60% of the lift required for Airlander 10 to fly, with the balance coming from vectored thrust and/or aerodynamic lift depending on the flight mode.

In Airlander 10, helium lift is controlled much like in a conventional blimp, using multiple ballonets located fore and aft in each of the hulls. A ballonet is a gas volume that can be inflated with air inside the main helium volume of the airship’s hull. Inflating a ballonet with air increases the mass of the airship and compresses the helium into a smaller volume, with the net result of decreasing buoyant lift. Inflating only the fore or aft ballonet will make the bow or stern of the airship heavier and change the pitch of the airship. These operating principles are shown in the following diagrams of a blimp with two ballonets shown in blue.

Blimp ballonetBlimp with ballonets (blue). Source: zeppelinfan.de

Airlander 10 currently is the world’s largest aircraft, measuring 302 feet (92 m) long and 143 feet (43.5 m) wide. HAV describes the airship’s construction as follows:

“There is no internal structure in the Airlander – it maintains its shape due to the pressure stabilization of the helium inside the hull, and the smart and strong Vectran material it is made of. Carbon composites are used throughout the aircraft for strength and weight savings.”

Maximum payload capacity is 22,050 pounds (10,000 kg), which must be suspended externally from a centerline payload beam. Maximum speed is 80 kts (148 kph), maximum altitude is 16,000 feet (4,880 m), and manned mission duration is up to 5 days. Unmanned missions can be significantly longer.

Airlander 10 made its first two flights on 25 August 2016 from Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England. While the first flight went well, the second ended with an inauspicious soft crash landing with some damage to the airship, but no injuries to the crew.

Airlander 10 first flightAirlander 10 first flight. Source: CNNMoney.

Airlander 10 second landingAirlander 10 soft crash landing after second flight. Source: Sky news

A larger version known as Airlander 50 is being designed with internal cargo bays capable of carrying up to 132,300 pound (60,000 kg) payloads. An concept drawing for Airlander 50 is shown below.

Airlander 50 concept drawingAirlander 50. Source: hybridairvehicles.com

More information on Airlander airships is available on the Hybrid Air Vehicles website at the following link:

https://www.hybridairvehicles.com/about-us

Lockheed Martin P-791

The Lockheed Martin P-791 was one of the competitors in the U.S. Army’s LEMV program, which was won by the Northrop Grumman team with the HAV-3 hybrid airship.

Like the HAV-3, the P-791 tri-lobe airship files under the combined influence of buoyant lift from helium, vectored thrust from propellers during takeoff and landing, and aerodynamic lift from the airfoil shaped hull when the airship is in forward flight. The first flight of the P-791 took place on 31 January 2006 at a Lockheed’s facility in Palmdale, CA.

Lockheed Martin P-791P-791. Source: Lockheed MartinLockheed Martin P-791_2P-791. Source: Lockheed Martin

You can see a short video on the P-791 at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrW7EGwYEzg

Lockheed Martin LMH1

LMH1 is a hybrid airship based on the P-791 design, but intended for commercial applications. The LMH1 is designed to carry a crew of 2, up to 19 passengers, and 20 tons (18,143 kg) of cargo at a maximum speed of 60 kts (111 kph) over a range 1,400 nautical miles (2,593 km). This airship design can be scaled to carry much heavier cargo.

Lockheed Martin LMH1LMH1. Source: Lockheed MartinLockheed martin LMH-1_2LMH1. Source: Lockheed Martin

In November 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Lockheed’s certification plan for the LMH1. Lockheed Martin has engaged sales firm Hybrid Enterprises to market the LMH1 and current plans call for initial deliveries in 2018.

Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Carrier

Small, unmanned air vehicles (UAV), now commonly called UAS, can carry advanced sensors and weapons, but generally have short range. In spite of their range limitations, UASs can provide valuable and cost-effective capabilities for military planners and war fighters. At a recent conference is Washington D.C., Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Deputy Director Steve Walker asked the following question: “With the ranges we are looking at in the Pacific Theater, how do we get our small UAS to the fight?” Actually, he already knew the answer.

In March 2016, DARPA awarded the first contracts in support of its Gremlins program, which DARPA describes as:

“Gremlins (program)…… seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UASs) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air. Such systems, or “gremlins,” would be deployed with a mixture of mission payloads capable of generating a variety of effects in a distributed and coordinated manner, providing U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at a lower cost than is possible with conventional, monolithic platforms.”

While the primary launch / recovery vehicle for this phase of the Gremlins program is a C-130 Hercules turboprop transport aircraft, the UAS launch and recovery techniques developed by the Gremlins program may be adaptable to other types of air vehicles, such as airships. Read more on the DARPA Gremlins program at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2016-03-31

SAIC and ArcZeon International, LLC have proposed a UAS carrier airship for this type of mission. A concept drawing for such an airship is shown below.

Airship launching UAS swarmAirship deploying UAS. Source: SAIC / ArcZeon

Commercial Flying Cruise Liner

Dassault Systems posted an evocative advertisement in the a July 2016 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, with the following tag line:

“If we go on a cruise, does it have to be at sea level?”

Dassault flying cruise liner 1e Source: Dassault Systemes / Raybrennancreative.com

The image of a lighter-than-air cruise ship flying over snow-capped mountains looks like an airship builders dream from the mid-1930s, but with a distinctly modern airship design. The print ad concluded with the question:

“How long before the sky becomes the destination?”

While Dassault Systemes is not in the business of building airships, they have developed an integrated system called the 3DExperience platform to assist clients in developing “compelling consumer experiences.” I hope one of their clients likes the idea of a flying cruise liner. Let’s take a closer look.

Dassault flying cruise liner 2 cropSource: Dassault Systemes / Raybrennancreative.com

Very nice!!

The closest you can come to such an adventure today is a short commercial flight aboard a Zeppelin NT airship from Friedrichshafen, Germany, home of the Zeppelin factory. You can book your flight at the following link:

http://zeppelin-nt.de/en/homepage.html

Zeppelin NT 2View of German countryside from Zeppelin-NT. Source: zeppelin-nt.de

 

Bio-fuel at Less Than Half the Price

1.  New process for manufacturing bio-fuel

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is a Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research center dedicated to developing advanced bio-fuels, which are liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. Such fuels currently are replacing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels in selected applications.

On 1 July 2016, a team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) scientists working at JBEI published a paper entitled, “CO2 enabled process integration for the production of cellulosic ethanol using bionic liquids.” The new process reported in this paper greatly simplifies the industrial manufacturing of bio-fuel and significantly reduces waste stream volume and toxicity as well as manufacturing cost.

The abstract provides further information:

“There is a clear and unmet need for a robust and affordable biomass conversion technology that can process a wide range of biomass feedstocks and produce high yields of fermentable sugars and bio-fuels with minimal intervention between unit operations. The lower microbial toxicity of recently developed renewable ionic liquids (ILs), or bionic liquids (BILs), helps overcome the challenges associated with the integration of pretreatment with enzymatic saccharification and microbial fermentation. However, the most effective BILs known to date for biomass pretreatment form extremely basic pH solutions in the presence of water, and therefore require neutralization before the pH range is acceptable for the enzymes and microbes used to complete the biomass conversion process. Neutralization using acids creates unwanted secondary effects that are problematic for efficient and cost-effective biorefinery operations using either continuous or batch modes.

We demonstrate a novel approach that addresses these challenges through the use of gaseous carbon dioxide to reversibly control the pH mismatch. This approach enables the realization of an integrated biomass conversion process (i.e., “single pot”) that eliminates the need for intermediate washing and/or separation steps. A preliminary technoeconomic analysis indicates that this integrated approach could reduce production costs by 50–65% compared to previous IL biomass conversion methods studied.”

 Regarding the above abstract, here are a couple of useful definitions:

  • Ionic liquids: powerful solvents composed entirely of paired ions that can be used to dissolve cellulosic biomass into sugars for fermentation.
  • Enzymatic saccharification: breaking complex carbohydrates such as starch or cellulose into their monosaccharide (carbohydrate) components, which are the simplest carbohydrates, also known as single sugars.

The paper was published on-line in the journal, Energy and Environmental Sciences, which you can access via the following link:

http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/ee/c6ee00913a#!divAbstract

Let’s hope they’re right about the significant cost reduction for bio-fuel production.

2.  Operational use of bio-fuel

One factor limiting the wide-scale use of bio-fuel is its higher price relative to the conventional fossil fuels it is intended to replace. The prospect for significantly lower bio-fuel prices comes at a time when operational use of bio-fuel is expanding, particularly in commercial airlines and in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). These bio-fuel users want advanced bio-fuels that are “drop-in” replacements to traditional gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. This means that the advanced bio-fuels need to be compatible with the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure and run satisfactorily in the intended facilities and vehicles without introducing significant operational or maintenance / repair / overhaul (MRO) constraints.

You will find a fact sheet on the DoD bio-fuel program at the following link:

http://www.americansecurityproject.org/dods-biofuels-program/

The “drop in” concept can be difficult to achieve because a bio-fuel may have different energy content and properties than the petroleum fuel it is intended to replace. You can find a Department of Energy (DOE) fuel properties comparison chart at the following link:

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/fuel_comparison_chart.pdf

Another increasingly important factor affecting the deployment of bio-fuels is that the “water footprint” involved in growing the biomass needed for bio-fuel production and then producing the bio-fuel is considerably greater than the water footprint for conventional hydrocarbon fuel extraction and production.

 A.  Commercial airline use of bio-fuel:

Commercial airlines became increasingly interested in alternative fuels after worldwide oil prices peaked near $140 in 2008 and remained high until 2014.

A 2009 Rand Corporation technical report, “Near-term Feasibility of Alternative Jet Fuels,” provides a good overview of issues and timescales associated with employment of bio-fuels in the commercial aviation industry. Important findings included:

  • Drop-in” fuels have considerable advantages over other alternatives as practical replacements for petroleum-based aviation fuel.
  • Alcohols do not offer direct benefits to aviation, primarily because high vapor pressure poses problems for high-altitude flight and safe fuel handling. In addition, the reduced energy density of alcohols relative to petroleum-based aviation fuel would substantially reduced aircraft operating capabilities and would be less energy efficient.
  • Biodiesel and biokerosene, collectively known as FAMEs, are not appropriate for use in aviation, primarily because they leave deposits at the high temperatures found in aircraft engines, freeze at higher temperatures than petroleum-based fuel, and break down during storage

You can download this Rand report at the following link

http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2009/RAND_TR554.pdf

After almost two years of collaboration with member airlines and strategic partners, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published the report, “IATA Guidance Material for Biojet Fuel Management,” in November 2012. A key finding in this document is the following:

“To be acceptable to Civil Aviation Authorities, aviation turbine fuel must meet strict chemical and physical criteria. There exist several specifications that authorities refer to when describing acceptable conventional jet fuel such as ASTM D1655 and Def Stan 91-91. At the time of issue, blends of up to 50% biojet fuel produced through either the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process or the hydroprocessing of oils and fats (HEFA – hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) are acceptable for use under these specifications, but must first be certified under ASTM D7566. Once the blend has demonstrated compliance with the relevant product specifications, it may be regarded as equivalent to conventional jet fuel in most applications.“

You can download this IATA document at the following link:

https://www.iata.org/publications/Documents/guidance-biojet-management.pdf

In 2011, KLM flew the world’s first commercial bio-fuel flight, carrying passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. Also in 2011, Aeromexico flew the world’s first bio-fuel trans-Atlantic revenue passenger flight, from Mexico City to Madrid.

In March 2015, United Airlines (UA) inaugurated use of bio-fuel on flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Eventually, UA plans to expand the use of bio-fuel to all flights operating from LAX. UA is the first U.S. airline to use renewable fuel for regular commercial operation.

Many other airlines worldwide are in various stages of bio-fuel testing and operational use.

B.  U.S. Navy use of bio-fuel:

The Navy is deploying bio-fuel in shore facilities, aircraft, and surface ships. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has established a goal to replace half of the Navy’s conventional fuel supply with renewables by 2020.

In 2012, the Navy experimented with a 50:50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil and algae oil.   This blend was used successfully on about 40 U.S. surface ships that participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with ships of other nations. The cost of pure bio-fuel fuel for this demonstration was about $26.00 per gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuel at that time.

In 2016, the Navy established the “Great Green Fleet” (GGF) as a year-long initiative to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to transform its energy use.

Great Green Fleet logo          Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy described this initiative as follows:

“The centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet is a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) that deploys on alternative fuels, including nuclear power for the carrier and a blend of advanced bio-fuel made from beef fat and traditional petroleum for its escort ships. These bio-fuels have been procured by DON (Department of Navy) at prices that are on par with conventional fuels, as required by law, and are certified as “drop-in” replacements that require no engine modifications or changes to operational procedures.”

Deployment of the Great Green Fleet started in January 2016 with the deployment of Strike Group 3 and its flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. The conventionally-powered ships in the Strike Group are using a blend of 10% bio-fuel and 90% petroleum. The Navy originally aimed for a 50:50 ratio, but the cost was too high. The Navy purchased about 78 million gallons of blended bio-fuel for the Great Green Fleet at a price of $2.05 per gallon.

C.  U.S. Air Force use of bio-fuel:

The USAF has a goal of meeting half its domestic fuel needs with alternative sources by 2016, including aviation fuel.

The Air Force has been testing different blends of jet fuel and biofuels known generically as Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ). This class of fuel uses triglycerides and free fatty acids from plant oils and animal fats as the feedstock that is processed to create a hydrocarbon aviation fuel.

To meet its energy plan, the USAF plans to use a blend that combines military-grade fuel known as JP-8 with up to 50 percent HRJ. The Air Force also has certified a 50:50 blend of Fisher-Tropsch synthetic kerosene and conventional JP-8 jet fuel across its fleet.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida is responsible for certifying the USAF aviation fuel infrastructure to ensure its readiness to deploy blended JP-8/bio-fuel.

 

Solar Impulse 2 Completes the First Around-the-World Flight on Solar Power

Solar Impulse 2 completed its around-the-world mission when pilot Bertrand Piccard landed on 26 July 2016 at 00:05 PM UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) in Abu Dhabi, UAE after completing leg 17, which was a 48 hour 7 minute, 2694 km (1674 mile) flight from Cairo, Egypt. This historic mission began on 9 March 2015 from Abu Dhabi and covered more than 42,000 km (26,097 miles) before Solar Impulse 2 returned to its starting point.

Si2 landing at Abu Dhabi 1Source: Solar ImpulseSi2 landing at Abu Dhabi 2Source: Solar ImpulseSi2 landing at Abu Dhabi 3Source: Solar ImpulseSi2 landing at Abu Dhabi 4André Borschberg (l) and pilot Bertrand Piccard (r). Source: Solar Impulse

The Solar Impulse 2 team posted the following message on their website:

 “Taking turns at the controls of Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) – their zero-emission electric and solar airplane, capable of flying day and night without fuel – Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg succeeded in their crazy dream of achieving the first ever Round-The-World Solar Flight. By landing back in Abu Dhabi after a total of 21 days of flight travelled in a 17-leg journey, Si2 has proven that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.”

Congratulations to pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg and the entire Solar Impulse 2 team for accomplishing this incredible milestone in aviation history.

Si2 landing at Abu Dhabi 5Source: Solar Impulse

For more information on the historic around-the world mission of Solar Impulse 2, visit the team’s website at the following link:

http://www.solarimpulse.com

Also see my following posts:

  • 23 May 2016:   Solar Impulse 2 is Making its way Across the USA
  • 27 February 2016: Solar Impulse 2 Preparing for the Next Leg of its Around-the-World Journey
  • 3 July 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Completes Record Solo, Non-Stop, Solar-Powered Flight from Nagoya, Japan to Oahu, Hawaii
  • 10 March 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Designed for Around-the-World Flight on Solar Power

 

 

 

Solar Impulse 2 is Making its way Across the USA

If you have been reading the Pete’s Lynx blog for a while, then you should be familiar with the remarkable team that created the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft and is attempting to make the first flight around the world on solar power.  The planned route is shown in the following map.

Solar Impulse 2 route map

Image source: Solar Impulse

I refer you to my following posts for background information:

  • 10 March 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Designed for Around-the-World Flight on Solar Power
  • 3 July 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Completes Record Solo, Non-Stop, Solar-Powered Flight from Nagoya, Japan to Oahu, Hawaii
  • 27 February 2016: Solar Impulse 2 Preparing for the Next Leg of its Around-the-World Journey

Picking off where these stories left off in Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 has made four more flights:

  • 21 – 24 April 2016: Hawaii to Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA; 2,539 miles (4,086 km) in 62 h 29 m
  • 2 – 3 May 2016: San Francisco to Phoenix, AZ; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 15 h 52 m
  • 12 – 13 May 2016: Phoenix to Tulsa, OK; 976 miles (1,570 km) in 18 h 10 m
  • 21 – 22 May 2016: Tulsa to Dayton, OH; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 16 h 34 m

From the above distances and flight times, the average speed of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA was a stately 43.6 mph (70.2 kph).  Except for the arrival in the Bay Area, I think the USA segments of the Solar Impulse 2 mission have been given remarkably little coverage by the mainstream media.

SI2 flying above the USAImage source: Solar Impulse

Regarding the selection of Dayton as a destination for Solar Impulse 2, the team posted the following:

“On his way to Dayton, Ohio, hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright, André Borschberg pays tribute to pioneering spirit, 113 years after the two brothers succeeded in flying the first power-driven aircraft heavier than air.

To develop their wing warping concept, the two inventors used their intuition and observation of nature to think out of the box. They defied current knowledge at a time where all experts said it would be impossible. When in 1903, their achievement marked the beginning of modern aviation; they did not suspect that a century later, two pioneers would follow in their footsteps, rejecting all dogmas to fly an airplane around the world without a drop of fuel.

This flight reunites explorers who defied the impossible to give the world hope, audacious men who believed in their dream enough to make it a reality.”

Wright Bros and SI2 pilotsImage source: Solar Impulse.

You can see in the above route map that future destinations are not precisely defined. Flight schedules and specific routes are selected with due consideration for en-route weather.

The Solar Impulse 2 team announced that its next flight is scheduled to take off from Dayton on 24 May and make an 18-hour flight to the Lehigh Valley Airport in Pennsylvania. Following that, the next flight is expected to be to an airport near New York City.

If you haven’t been following the flight of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA, I hope you will start now. This is a remarkable aeronautical mission and it is happening right now. You can check out the Solar Impulse website at:

http://www.solarimpulse.com

If you wish, you can navigate to and sign up for e-mail updates on future flights. Here’s the direct link:

http://www.solarimpulse.com/subscribe

With these updates, you also will be able to access live video feeds during the flights. OK, the videos are mostly pretty boring, but they are remarkable nonetheless because of the mission you have an opportunity to watch, even briefly, in real time.

There’s much more slow, steady flying to come before Solar Impulse 2 completes its around-the-world journey back to Abu Dhabi. I send my best wishes for a successful mission to the brave pilots, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, and to the entire Solar Impulse 2 team.

 

 

 

Landing a Reusable Booster Rocket on a Dime

There are two U.S. firms that have succeeded in launching and recovering a booster rocket that was designed to be reusable. These firms are Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.   Their booster rockets are designed for very different missions.

  • Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster and capsule are intended for brief, suborbital flights for space tourism and scientific research. The booster and capsule will be “man-rated” for passenger-carrying suborbital missions.
  • In contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster rocket is designed to deliver a variety of payloads to Earth orbit. The payload may be the SpaceX Dragon capsule or a different civilian or military spacecraft. Currently, the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon capsule are not “man-rated” for orbital missions. SpaceX is developing a crewed version of the Dragon capsule that, in the future, will be used to deliver and return crewmembers for the International Space Station (ISS).

Both firms cite a cost advantage of recovering and reusing an expensive booster rocket and space capsule. Let’s see how they’re doing.

Blue Origin

The basic flight profiles of a single-stage, single engine New Shepard booster and capsule are shown in the following diagram. The primary goals of each flight are to boost the capsule and passengers above 62.1 miles (100 km), safely recover the capsule and passengers, and safely recover the booster rocket. You can see in the diagram that the booster rocket and the capsule separate after the booster’s rocket engine is shutdown and they are recovered separately. At separation, the booster and capsule are traveling at about Mach 3 (about 1,980 mph, 3,186 kph). The orientation of the booster rocket is controlled during descent and the rocket engine is restarted once at low altitude to bring the booster to a soft, vertical landing. Both the booster rocket and the capsule are designed for reuse.

Blue-origin-flight-profileSource: Blue Origin

On 23 November 2015, Blue Origin made history when, on its first attempt, the New Shepard booster completed a suborbital flight that culminated with the autonomous landing of the booster rocket near the launch site in west Texas. The capsule landed nearby under parachutes. You can view a video of this historic flight at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pillaOxGCo

This same New Shepard booster was launched again on 22 January 2016, completed the planned suborbital flight, and again made an autonomous safe landing. This flight marked the first reuse of a booster rocket.

Again using the same hardware, New Shepard was launched on its third flight and safely recovered on 2 April 2016. On this flight, the rocket engine was re-started at a lower altitude (3,635 feet, 1,107 m) than on the previous flights to demonstrate the fast startup of the engine. The booster rocket made an on-target landing, touching down at a velocity of 4.8 mph (7.7 kph).

New Shepard landing 3Source: Blue Origin

You can view a short video of the third New Shepard flight at the following link:

https://www.blueorigin.com/news/news/pushing-the-envelope#youtubeYU3J-jKb75g

In this video, the view from the capsule at 64.6 miles (104 km) above the Earth is stunning. As the landing of the booster rocket approaches, it is dropping like a stone until the rocket engine powers up, quickly stops the descent, and brings the booster rocket in for an accurate, soft, vertical landing.

So, the current score for Blue Origin is 3 attempts and 3 successful soft, vertical landings in less than 5 months. The same New Shepard booster was used all three times (i.e., it has been reused twice).

Refer to the Blue Origin website at the following link for more information.

https://www.blueorigin.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 (F9R)

The basic flight profile for a two-stage Falcon 9 recoverable booster on an orbital mission is shown in the following diagram. For ISS re-supply missions, the target for the Dragon capsule is in a near-circular orbit at an altitude of about 250 miles (403 km) and an orbital velocity of about 17,136 mph (27,578 kph). The first stage shuts down and separates from the second stage at an altitude of about 62.1 miles (100 km) and a speed of about 4,600 mph (7,400 kph, Mach 7). These parameters are for illustrative purposes only and will vary as needed to meet the particular mission requirements. The second stage continues into orbit with a Dragon capsule or other payload.

The nine-engine first stage carries extra fuel to enable some of the booster rockets to re-start three times after stage separation to adjust trajectory, decelerate, and make a soft vertical landing on an autonomous recovery barge floating in the ocean 200 miles (320 km) or more downrange from the launch site.

The empty weight of the recoverable version of the Falcon 9 first stage (the F9R) is 56,438 pounds (25,600 kg,), which is about 5,511 pounds (2,500 kg) more than the basic, non-recoverable version (V1.1). The added fuel and structural weight to enable recovery of the first stage reduces the payload mass that can be delivered to orbit.

Falcon flight profile to barge landingSource: SpaceX

The autonomous “drone” barge is a very small target measuring about 170 ft. × 300 ft. (52 m × 91 m). It is equipped with azimuthal thrusters that provide precise positioning using GPS position data. The Falcon 9 booster knows where the drone barge should be. The Falcon 9’s four landing legs span 60 ft. (18 m), and all must land on the barge.

SpaceX_ASDSSource: SpaceX

SpaceX made a series of unsuccessful attempts to land on a drone barge before their first successful landing:

  • 10 January 2015: First attempt; hard landing; booster destroyed.
  • 11 February 2015: High seas prevented use of the barge. Instead, the Falcon 9 first stage was flown to a soft, vertical landing in the ocean, simulating a barge landing.
  • 14 April 2015: Second attempt; successful vertical landing but the booster toppled, likely due to remaining lateral momentum.
  • 7 January 2016: Third attempt; successful vertical landing but the booster toppled, likely due to a mechanical failure in one landing leg.
  • 4 March 2016: Fourth attempt, with low fuel reserve and using only three engines; hard landing; booster destroyed.

On 8 April 2016, a Falcon 9 booster was launched from Cape Canaveral on an ISS re-supply mission. The first stage of this booster rocket became the first to make a successful landing on the drone barge downrange in the Atlantic.

A002_C002_0408A9Source: SpaceX

You can view a short video of the Falcon 9 booster landing on the drone barge at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPGUQySBikQ

In the video, you will note the barge heaving in the moderate seas. After landing, the 156 foot (47.5 m) tall booster rocket is just balanced on its landing legs. Before the barge can be towed back to port, crew must board the barge and secure the booster. This is done by placing “shoes” over the landing feet and welding the shoes to the deck of the barge. Once back at Cape Canaveral, the booster will be examined and the rocket engine will be test fired to determine if the first stage can be reused.

Previously, on 21 December 2015, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 booster on an orbital mission and then landed the first stage back on the ground at Cape Canaveral. As shown in the diagram below, this involved a very different flight profile than for a Falcon 9 flight with a landing on the downrange drone barge. For the December 2015 flight, the Falcon 9 first stage had to reverse direction to fly back to Cape Canaveral from about 59 miles (95 km) downrange and then decelerate and maneuver for a soft, vertical landing about 10 minutes after launch.

Blue Origin-Falcon flight profile comparedSource: SpaceX

After recovering the booster, the Falcon 9 was inspected and the engines were successfully re-tested on 15 January 2016, on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral. I could not determine if this Falcon 9 first stage has been reused.

So, the current score for SpaceX is 6 attempts (not counting the February 2015 soft landing in the ocean) and 2 successes (one on land and one on the drone barge) in 15 months.

Refer to the SpaceX website at the following link for more information.

http://www.spacex.com

The bottom line

In the above diagram for the December 2015 Falcon 9 flight, the relative complexity of a typical New Shepard flight profile and the Falcon 9 flight profile with return to Cape Canaveral is clear. The Falcon 9 flight profile for a landing on the small, moving, down-range drone barge is even more complex.

The New Shepard sub-orbital mission is much less challenging than any Falcon 9 orbital mission. Nonetheless, both booster rockets face very similar challenges as they approach the landing site to execute an autonomous, soft, vertical landing.

Both Blue Origin and SpaceX have made tremendous technological leaps in demonstrating that a booster rocket can make an autonomous, soft, vertical landing and remain in a condition that allows its reuse in a subsequent mission. Blue Origin actually has reused their booster rocket and capsule twice, further demonstrating the maturity of reusable rocket technology.

It remains to be seen if this technology actually delivers the operating cost savings anticipated by Blue Origin and SpaceX. I hope it does. When space tourism becomes a reality, the hoped-for cost benefits of reusable booster rockets and spacecraft could affect my ticket price.