Tag Archives: aircraft

DARPA May Have Found the Secret to Flying Aircraft Carriers

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Dynetics, a defense and aerospace company, has announced that it successfully tested its X-61A Gremlin Air Vehicle in November of 2019. The flight, which lasted for one hour and 41 minutes, demonstrated a number of the drone aircraft’s capabilities. The drone successfully completed the entire test but was destroyed after its main parachute failed to deploy. Dynetics intends to continue testing with its other four drones.

The purpose of this test was for Dynetics to demonstrate that its GAV could launch from a C-130, as well as test various capabilities like wing deployment, cold engine start, and transition to stable, powered flight, verify performance and communication links between ground and air controllers, and collect data on the drone’s overall performance. The parachute system was not on the list of systems for testing, fortunately.

The goal of the X-61A Gremlin is to show how an existing plane like a C-130 can be used to quickly launch and recover drone aircraft. The company’s next flight test will focus on recovering four drones within 30 minutes.

Drone Captain and the World of Tomorrow

“What if we had a plane that could launch other planes?” is an idea with a long history. The British experimented with the idea of slinging Sopwith Camels underneath HM Airship No. 23 in 1917, back when zeppelins were the only way to generate enough lifting capacity to even try this stunt.

So, the big thing is filled with explosive hydrogen, and the little thing is a prop-driven aircraft that was supposed to dock with it. In 1917. They had to use a dirigible for this because nothing else could lift the pilot’s balls off the ground.

Wikipedia notes that both a manned and unmanned Sopwith Camel launched successfully, which kind of makes you wonder whether that means “We pulled a lever and the plane fell off the way it was supposed to,” given that remote control vehicles hadn’t been invented yet.

Once the Hindenberg convinced world+dog that airships were a bad idea, the idea got shelved until after WW2 and the miracle of atomic power. Lockheed suggested the CL-1201 — an aircraft with a wingspan of 1,120 feet (340m). To put that in perspective, the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch vehicle has a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters). The CL-1201, shown below in this image from Reddit with Air Force One displayed for scale, would have deployed a 1,830MW reactor. One potential envisioned use for the aircraft was as an aircraft carrier, with the ability to loiter on site for 41 days. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted a skyscraper-sized aircraft with a massive nuclear reactor flying around over their heads.

Later, Convair proposed using the B-36 Peacemaker as a carrier for four McDonnell F-85 Goblin parasite fighters. The Goblin, if you’ve never seen one, looks like someone took a standard fighter jet, cut half of it out, and then glued the tail back on. Boeing later developed a concept for the 747 that would have seen the jet used as an airborne carrier for up to 10 “microfighters.” The C-130 Hercules has even carried drones before, though these were “Firebee” gunnery target drones — a far cry from the modern vehicles in-use today.

McDonnell XF-85. (U.S. Air Force photo).

Assuming the GAV tests continue to pan out, we could see the C-130 deployed to a genuine aircraft carrier role at some point in the future. It turns out flying aircraft carriers might be plausible once you get rid of the pilots. Dynetics doesn’t seem to have published very many details on what the GAV can do, which isn’t surprising given that this is intended as a military prototype. Devices like the GAV could be outfitted with weapons or used for aerial reconnaissance.

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Boeing Proposes Fixes for Grounded 737 Max Aircraft

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Most countries, including the US, grounded Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft following a second deadly crash two weeks ago. The company has scrambled to address concerns over the plane’s automated flight control system and now says it has a fix ready. It includes both updates to the airplane’s systems and training for pilots, but it’s up to the FAA to approve the plan before any 737 Max 8 aircraft will take to the skies.

Some version of the Boeing 737 has been flying since the 1960s, but 737 Max family is the most recent incarnation. The 737 Max software was recently updated to include a featured called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was supposed to make the planes safer by automatically adjusting the jet’s “angle of attack” if the nose tipped too high. The goal was the lessen the likelihood of dangerous stalls, but two crashes may now be linked to the system pushing the nose down when it shouldn’t have.

Boeing’s recommended remedy for the 737 Max includes a major revamp of the MCAS platform. MCAS will now get data from both of the plane’s angle of attack sensors instead of just one. If those sensors are 5.5 degrees or more apart, MCAS will shut itself off and not attempt to nudge the nose of the aircraft down. The pilot’s controls will display a notification if that happens. Boeing will also roll out new pilot training that focuses on the MCAS system, ensuring flight crews will know how to disable MCAS in the event of an issue.

A stall can occur when the nose of the plane is elevated, so a system that pushes the nose down could make sense — but pilots weren’t trained on how to recover the Boeing 737 Max from this event. Previous 737s lacked this feature. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Early reports on the most recent Ethiopian Airlines crash have suggested that an optional cockpit display could have helped the crew avert disaster. Boeing charges extra for that display, which shows the plane’s angle of attack and the status of the sensors. Boeing will now include that display free on 737 Max aircraft.

The FAA will need to sign off on the proposed fixes, and that’s going to take time. Analysts believe it will be at least six weeks before the 737 Max is allowed to carry passengers again. However, some sources say Boeing will be lucky to get the 737 Max flying in three months. After the FAA approves the plan, it will take just a few days to roll out the new software and get 737 pilots fully trained on MCAS.

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NASA Snaps Stunning Photos of Hypersonic Aircraft

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Until Elon Musk can fly us around the world in a rocket, conventional air travel is the fastest way from point A to point B. It hasn’t gotten any faster over the years, though. Commercial flights are limited by the speed of sound because no one wants sonic booms breaking their windows. That’s why NASA and Lockheed Martin are working toward “low boom” technology. To that end, NASA took some photos of supersonic shockwaves, and the images happen to be quite cool.

Any aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound generates a pressure front that surrounds the frame and forces surrounding air out of the way. People on the ground perceive that shockwave as a sonic boom. To better understand the physics at work and help in designing low-boom aircraft, NASA wanted to get images of supersonic planes in flight. Unsurprisingly, that’s not very easy.

NASA captured the photos using a Beechcraft B200 Super King Air, a twin-turboprop aircraft with a top speed of about 350 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour). The speed of sound is, of course, considerably faster at roughly 767 miles per hour (1,234 kilometers per hour). The subject of the photos is a pair of T-38 jets with a higher top speed. The B200 didn’t need to keep up, though. It just had to be in the right place at the right time as the jets flew in formation, passing about 600 meters from the observer aircraft.

NASA upgraded the camera aboard the B200 to capture wide frames and improved the connection to data storage so it could snap 1,400 frames per second. The final images are a result of a technique called schlieren imagery, which is used to visualize pressure fields. They also happen to look neat.


The X59 concept aircraft that will test low boom technology in the coming years.

In the coming years, NASA and Lockheed Martin hope to have the experimental X-59 aircraft up and running to prove that low boom hypersonic flight is a possibility. The agency could use this same imaging technique to study how pressure waves form around the fuselage of this plane. The first flight could happen in 2021 or 2022. After that, NASA may be able to convince regulators to allow hypersonic flight over populated areas.

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Canada, Australia to send military aircraft to monitor North Korean ships

The Canadian military is joining Britain, the U.S. and Australia in a new surveillance mission to monitor ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other goods to and from North Korea in violation of UN sanctions.

Canada is sending about 40 support personnel and a long-range patrol aircraft, a CP-140 Aurora, to the U.S. military’s Kadena air base on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, a spokesperson for the Canadian defence department confirmed in a statement on Saturday.

The aircraft and personnel are from Canadian Forces Base Comox in B.C.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also issued statements saying the aim of Canada’s participation in the operation is to “counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed his country’s role in the patrols on Saturday, a day after the eaders of North and South Korea pledged at a historic summit to work for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who is also set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in either May or June, has said he would maintain pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions that were imposed in a bid to rein in the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, also promised to keep up economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.

“We do have a P-8A surveillance aircraft that is going to be working in the region to monitor compliance with sanctions, and that is part of our collaboration with our partners in that exercise to enforce those UN sanctions,” Turnbull said, speaking during a televised news conference.

‘Sanctions have been evaded’

“What has been occurring is that sanctions have been evaded by transferring materials from ship to ship … to add to the surveillance of the area enables that to be identified and then, of course, those who are a party to that to be held responsible and brought to account.”

Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said pressure had to be kept on North Korea to ensure the Korean peninsula was denuclearized.

Australia has offered up a P-8A surveillance aircraft to help monitor North Korea’s compliance with sanctions. The U.S. has accused China and Russia of breaching UN sanctions on North Korea by transferring oil from their ships to North Korean tankers out at sea to avoid detection.(Lukas Coch/EPA)

The move by Australia and Canada to deploy patrol aircraft comes after a British warship arrived in Japan this month to join efforts to police UN sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.

“Japan welcomes these (surveillance) activities from the viewpoint of upholding the maximum pressure on North Korea while maintaining the solidarity of the international community,” the Japanese government said in a statement, referring to the moves by Australia, Canada and Britain.

Senior U.S. officials said in February the Trump administration and key Asian allies were preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating the sanctions on North Korea. The strategy called for closer tracking of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components and other prohibited cargo to and from North Korea.

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