Tag: Aviation

First Ever Plane With No Moving Parts Takes Flight

The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.

The flight represents a breakthrough in “ionic wind” technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust.

Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood.

I was a big fan of Star Trek, and at that point I thought that the future looked like it should be planes that fly silently, with no moving parts – and maybe have a blue glow.

But certainly no propellers or turbines or anything like that. So I started looking into what physics might make flight with no moving parts possible, and came across a concept known as the ionic wind, with was first investigated in the 1920s.




“This didn’t make much progress in that time. It was looked at again in the 1950s, and researchers concluded that it couldn’t work for aeroplanes.

“But I started looking into this and went through a period of about five years, working with a series of graduate students to improve fundamental understanding of how you could reduce ionic winds efficiently, and how that could be optimised.”

How the world’s first solid-state aircraft used ‘ionic wind’ to fly

In the prototype plane, wires at the leading edge of the wing have 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them at 40,000 volts.

This is enough to induce “electron cascades”, ultimately charging air molecules near the wire.

Those charged molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules on the way, and imparting energy to them.

A time lapse image of the craft in flight in an MIT gym.

Those neutral air molecules then stream out of the back of the plane, providing thrust.

The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, almost silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines.

The successful flight of the plane – which has no name beyond the uninspiring “Version Two” – owes as much to the engineering prowess required to make it as thin and light as possible as it does to the propulsion method itself.

The plane weighs just 2.45kg, but manages to fit in a five-metre wingspan, battery stack, and a high-voltage power converter.

In the longer term, the ability to power flight purely through electricity opens up the possibility of carbon-neutral flight, which could lower the emissions of the aviation industry globally.

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Watch NASA Dummies Crash Test Flying And Falling Vehicles

This week, NASA’s Langley Research Center published a video of the crash-test-dummies whose horrifying accidents make air and space travel safer for their human counterparts.

The dummies keep humans safer by giving scientists key data about whether bodies bend or break under different crash conditions.

So they’re outfitted with sensors and instruments, and can vary in size from 105 to 220 pounds to simulate a range adult human bodies.

Then, the dummies are strapped into the seats of both aircraft and spacecraft and dropped. In March 2017, for example, 10 dummies and a whole lot of luggage from an unclaimed baggage center in Alabama were loaded into an airplane’s fuselage, which was dropped 14 feet onto hard dirt.

The bags damaged the plane’s floor in some spots, but the dummies suffered no major injuries. That information will be key for setting safety standards for new planes.




NASA researchers also used dummies in a series of crash tests in 2016 for the Orion crew capsule, which is intended to one day carry astronauts to deep space and back again.

When it returns, the plan is for it to splashdown in the Pacific ocean, slowed by three main parachutes.

NASA used a pair of dummies — one large and one small — in a mockup of the Orion capsule and tested them by dropping it into a 20-foot-deep pool, called the Hydro Impact Basin.

The researchers crash tested both naked and clothed dummies to get a better sense for how a spacesuit and helmet would change the way the body moves.

The truth is that in the end, as valuable as these dummies are, they don’t get a lot of dignity.

So, to the brave dummies at NASA enduring helicopter crashes, fuselage drops, and water landings in mockup spacecraft, we salute you. The safety of air travelers and NASA astronauts alike rests on your battered shoulders.

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How Sidewinder Missiles Work?

The Sidewinder AIM-9 (air intercept missile 9) is classified as a short-range, air-to-air missile. Simply put, its job is to launch from an airborne aircraft and “kill” an enemy aircraft (damage it to the point that it goes down).

Missiles like the Sidewinder are called smart weapons because they have built-in seeking systems that let them home in on a target.




The technology of smart weapons really got going in the decade following World War II. Most early guided weapon prototypes were built around radar technology, which proved to be expensive and problematic.

These missiles had their own radar sensors, but obviously could not carry their own radar transmitters.

For the guidance system to lock on an enemy plane, some remote radar system had to “illuminate” the target by bouncing radar beams off of it.

In most cases, this meant the pilot had to keep the aircraft in a vulnerable position after firing in order to keep a radar lock on the enemy until the missile could find it.

Additionally, the radar equipment in the missile was large and expensive, which made for a high-cost, bulky weapon. Most of these missiles had something around a 90 percent failure rate (nine shots out of 10 missed their targets).

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World’s Biggest Plane, Stratolaunch, Marks Another Key Milestone

Rockets have been the way to get satellites into orbit since the dawn of the space age. But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen hopes to shake that up with help from the world’s biggest airplane.

Stratolaunch” is a 500,000-pound beast with twin fuselages and a wingspan of 385 feet. Allen’s Seattle-based company is developing it as a platform for lifting rockets into the stratosphere before launching them into space.

It’s seen as a cheaper, more reliable route to low-Earth orbit (LEO) — the sweet spot for many kinds of satellites.

The plane is still in development and has yet to fly, but last December it taxied out onto the runway at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California. In another test last Sunday, it hit a new top taxi speed of 46 miles per hour.




If all goes according to plan, the plane will take its first test flight next year. As to when Stratolaunch might begin commercial operations, no date has been given.

Air-launching rockets into space isn’t a new idea. The Pegasus XL rocket built by aerospace contractor Orbital ATK launches from a modified Lockheed TriStar jetliner.

NASA and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group have similar projects under development, as does the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

But none of these other platforms is quite on the scale of Stratolaunch. Powered by six huge Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the aircraft is intended to carry up to 550,000 pounds to an altitude of 35,000 feet.

It has room between its fuselages to suspend rockets from the central portion of the wing. The company has partnered with Orbital ATK to launch its Pegasus XL rocket and aims eventually to carry three on each mission.

Stratolaunch was designed by Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites, which specializes in concept aircraft.

The company won the Ansari X Prize to launch the first private, reusable, manned spacecraft in 2004 with its SpaceShipOne, which was also launched from a plane.

Despite the ambitious nature of the project, space entrepreneur Gary Hudson thinks it has a good chance of success — in part because of Allen’s deep pockets.

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China Announces Plan For Hypersonic Jet That Can Reach New York From Beijing In Two Hours

A team of Chinese researchers has claimed to have designed a hypersonic jet that could travel at 6,000km/h, five times faster than the speed of sound.

The team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the plane would be able to transport passengers and cargo from Beijing to New York in two hours – the journey currently takes an average of 13 and a half hours.

Cui Kai, who headed up the research, published a paper on the new design in this month’s Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy journal, in which he said: “It will take only a couple of hours to travel from Beijing to New York at hypersonic speed”.




The team said they had tested a scaled-down model of the jet in a wind tunnel, and that it reached speeds of 8,600km/h with low drag and high lift. To compare, Concorde’s top speed was 2,179km/h.

The design, dubbed the I Plane, features two layers of wings to reduce turbulence and drag while creating more lift.

Talk of hypersonic travel has been ramping up of late. “It’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” Dr Kevin Bowcutt, senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics for Boeing Research and Technology, told NBC last month.

I think we have the technology now where we could actually do it.

Boeing has dipped its toe in the water with its X-51A WaveRider, and it is now reportedly working with Lockheed Martin to develop a jet-powered hypersonic aircraft – although both are keeping schtum about the design.

Supersonic commercial planes – those that travel faster than 1,236km/h, the speed of sound – are likely to be the precursor to hypersonic jets.

Boom Supersonic, for example, plans to produce passenger aircraft that can travel at MACH 2.2, or 2,335km/h, that will enter service in 2023.

These jets could carry 50 passengers, flying from New York to London in three hours and 15 minutes. But it won’t come cheap; fares are expected to cost $2,500 one way.

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China Appears To Have Rushed Its J-20 Stealth Fighter Into Service

Chinese state media announced on Friday that the Chengdu J-20 stealth jet had officially entered into service as a combat-ready platform— but inside sources say it’s a long way from fighting fit and has an embarrassing flaw.

Citing military sources with knowledge of the J-20’s development, the South China Morning Post reported that the jets that entered service didn’t feature the engines China custom-built for the platform but used older ones instead.

The result is an underpowered, less stealthy jet that can’t cruise at supersonic speeds and is therefore not a true fifth-generation fighter.




The Posts’ sources pinned the jet’s troubles on a test in 2015 in which the custom-built engine, the WS-15, exploded — something they attributed to China’s inability to consistently build engines that can handle the extreme heat of jet propulsion.

It’s so embarrassing to change engines for such an important aircraft project several times … just because of the unreliability of the current WS-15 engines,” one of the sources told the Post.

It is the long-standing core problem among home-grown aircraft.

How old engines make the J-20 fight like an old fighter

The older engine, the WS-10B, is basically the same kind used in the J-11 and J-10 fighters in 1998 and 2002.

Without the new engines, the J-20 can’t supercruise, or fly faster than the speed of sound without igniting its afterburners, like the US’s F-22 and F-35 can.

Experts have assessed that the goal of the J-20 platform is to launch long-range missiles at supersonic speeds, but they won’t perform as well if they can’t fire at such speeds, Bronk said.

The major drawback from not having the ability to supercruise in this case would be having to choose between using a great deal of fuel to go supersonic or stay subsonic and accept shorter effective range from the fighter’s missiles and an inferior energy position compared to a supercruising opponent,” he said.

A senior scientist working on stealth aircraft who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work previously told Business Insider that the J-20’s design had a decent stealth profile from the front angle but could be exposed from others.

According to Bronk, the older engines may exacerbate that problem.

A US Air Force affiliate researching the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force told Business Insider that an analysis of imagery suggested the service’s 9th Brigade traded its Russian-made Su-30s for J-20s, but they disputed whether the jet was operational in the way Western militaries use the word

The researcher said that even for planes that aren’t stealth and as radically different as the J-20, that could take up to a year, adding that the new WS-15 engines most likely won’t be added until 2020.

So while China claims it has become the only nation other than the US to field a fifth-generation stealth jet, at the moment it looks as if it’s hardly stealth, hardly fifth-generation, and a long way from the field.

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China Plans To Launch Space Exploration Rockets From Sea Freighters And Planes

China is planning to use large sea-going freighters and heavy military transport planes to launch space exploration rockets starting next year.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) will reportedly use 10,000-ton freighters as launch pads for its Long March 11 launch rocket. The Long March 11 can carry up to 1,100 pounds into low-earth orbit.

“Eastern Arsenal” bloggers Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer say the idea is use freighters to fire the rockets near the equator to save on fuel and loft bigger payloads.

The other option is for an airborne launch.




The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced this month that they’re developing a solid-fueled space launch rocket to be dropped from the Y-20, a heavy Chinese military transport plane.

The rocket itself is expected to weigh about 60 tons (the Y-20’s payload is 66 tons) and has a low Earth orbit payload of 220 pounds.

If you’re dropping a rocket from an airplane, as opposed to the launching from ground, the rocket’s first stage can be smaller, which means it’ll be more efficient and could handle a larger payload.

That means greater flexibility and a potentially quicker launch — both considerable military advantages.

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Airbus Conquers Physics With A Funky Super-Fast Helicopter

airbus-chopper

Emergency workers and the obscenely rich love helicopters, and for good reason. Unlike airplanes, whirlybirds can take off and land almost anywhere, making them just the thing for tight spots and urban areas.

The drawback, though, is speed. Choppers are slow.

While Gulfstream’s G650 private jet streaks along at north of 600 mph, conventional choppers like the police or your local traffic reporter might use maxes out around 160 mph. Quick, but not that quick when talking about flight.

Airbus thinks it found a way of closing the speed gap without sacrificing a helicopter’s inherent advantages: add wings and props to create an aircraft that can take off and land vertically, hover, and cruise at a heady 250 mph.

Airbus calls it the Racer, for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft.




The idea is to find a way around the physics that limit the speed of a conventional helo. With any helicopter, the top rotor provides lift as the blades slice the air.

When the helicopter is flying forward, air moves around the the blade spinning in the direction of travel faster than it does around the retreating blade on the opposite side, causing something aerodynamicists call dissymmetry of lift.

The faster you go, the more severe the effect and the less stable the helicopter. Aerodynamicists know how to compensate for most of that, but the challenge mounts as the blades approach the speed of sound. An advancing blade hitting the sound barrier creates aerodynamic instabilities engineers cannot compensate for.

So Airbus engineers added two short wings extending from each side of the fuselage. The wings meet at a point and support a rear-facing prop driven by the engines turning the main rotor.

airbus-chopper

In forward flight, the wings provide additional lift, and those small props provide additional propulsion. All of this allows the helo to achieve higher speeds without pushing the main rotor into an aerodynamic red zone.

“The concept of compound helicopters, using one or two pusher fans and small wings along with the main rotor, is not new,” says Mo Sammy, director of the Aerospace Research Center at Ohio State University. “What could be new is the claim of efficiency and affordability, if materialized.”

Although every futuristic aircraft seems to include electric motors these days, Airbus is sticking to a tried and tested powertrain here. Two Rolls-Royce turboprop engines power the main rotor and auxiliary propellers.

Airbus Helicopter

However, Airbus is exploring a “stop-start” system that will shut down one engine during low speeds or light loads. Think of it as “eco” mode for the sky.

Airbus sees a market for its machine that could rival private planes for city to city transport among jet setters in a hurry. Emergency services could benefit, too a higher top speed could mean a shorter flight to hospital.Airbus hopes to make the first flight in 2020. Commercial service could follow five to 10 years later. Just enough time to start saving up.

Airbus hopes to make the first flight in 2020. Commercial service could follow five to 10 years later. Just enough time to start saving up.

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