Tag Archives: aviation

A glider sets new altitude record

The Perlan-2 glider yesterday set a new altitude record, reaching an altitude of more than fourteen miles.

Then on September 2, Perlan pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner strapped themselves in and rode the glider to an altitude of 76,000 ft (23,000 m), setting a new flight record. This is higher than Lockheed Martin’s jet-powered U2 spy plane flown by the CIA, which reached 73,700 ft (22,475 m), and places it amongst a handful of manned aircraft to sustain flight at such as altitude.

Implied but unstated in the article at the link is the military value of this technology, once combined with drone technology.

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World’s largest jet engine makes first test flight

The world’s largest jet engine, built by GE Aviation for Boeing’s next generation wide body passenger jet, made its first test flight last week.

The GE9X is a monster compared to its predecessors. Due to the extensive use of composites in building the fan blades and the fan case, 3D-printed nozzles, new light- and heat-resistant ceramics, and reducing the number of fan blades from 22 to 16, GE was able to lighten the engine and expand its size so that its fan is now 134-inches (341 cm) across and the entire engine is as wide as a Boeing 737 fuselage. In addition, it can push 100,000 lb of thrust and is 10 percent more efficient than the GE90 engine used on the current generation of 777s.

The engine was attached to a 747 test plane for the flight, and the images at the link truly illustrate how large this engine is. The 747 still had its two outer normal engines attached, and the size difference is gob-smacking. When I first looked at the pictures I was convinced it was fake and that they had photoshopped this giant engine onto the 747. They didn’t.

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Private commercial supersonic jet gains funding

A private commercial supersonic jet company, Boom Supersonic, has gained significant investment funding since it first revealed its design concept in March.

Boom, whose suppliers include General Electric Co, Boeing, Honeywell International Inc and Netherlands-based TenCate Advanced Composites, has reportedly received 76 pre-orders from airlines, excluding the option of up to 20 aircraft from Japan Airlines. As of March 2017, the firm had raised about $41 million (£30.5 million) in funding.

Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines, added: ‘Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more “time” to our valued passengers while emphasising flight safety.’

The firm has previously revealed that initial test flights for its 1,451mph (2,330kph) aircraft, nicknamed ‘Baby Boom’, will begin by the end of 2018.

Including the JAL preorder that makes 96 airplane sales total. It appears that this company is increasingly for real.

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United flies its last 747

United yesterday completed its last scheduled 747 passenger flight, ending a period lasting almost a half century since the first 747 took off.

The flight had a 1970s theme, with the crew in vintage uniforms and the passengers dressing in costumes invoking that time period.

The article does a nice job of recounting the 747’s history, as well as why it is being replaced. It also noted this:

[T]he aircraft would go on to defy all expectations. Boeing anticipated it would become obsolete before the Nineties, believing that supersonic jets would overtake conventional aircraft.

In fact the 747 is still in production with current orders placed by a number of developing countries which will potentially see it serving into 2030. While the aircraft’s life is limited in the US – with Delta the only airline still flying the craft and due to retire it later this year – other major carriers will continue operating it well into the next decade. British Airways, which now operates 36 of the aircraft, more than any other airline, has confirmed it will be phasing it out – but will not part ways with it entirely until 2024.

Even once it has disappeared from passenger routes, it is expected the 747 will go on to serve many more years as a cargo plane.

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The final commercial 747 flights

Link here.

United announced Monday that its final Boeing 747 flight will take place Nov. 7 with a celebratory recreation of its first United flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.

Twenty-eight minutes later, at 3:47 p.m. Monday, Delta announced that it recently operated its final Boeing 747 Tokyo Narita-Honolulu flight (on Sept. 5), and that it had operated what were thought to be the final domestic 747 flights from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Detroit. Delta subsequently used two 747s on Orlando evacuation flights as Hurricane Irma approached, bringing a widely-applauded end to its domestic 747 flying.

United plans to recreate the 1970 San Francisco-Honolulu flight, its first commercial Boeing 747 flight, on the Nov. 7 flight. “From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style,” United said in a press release.

Though the plane has been bypassed by newer technology, I suspect that we will see 747s flying for many years to come, but only in specialized situations. It was a grand achievement, and proved that giant planes could be built.

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Near disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada plane preparing to land in San Francisco almost smashed into four planes on the ground when the pilot mistakenly aimed for the parallel taxiway rather than the runway itself.

In what one aviation expert called a near-miss of what could have been the largest aviation disaster ever, an Air Canada pilot on Friday narrowly avoided a tragic mistake: landing on the San Francisco International Airport taxiway instead of the runway.

Sitting on Taxiway C shortly before midnight were four airplanes full of passengers and fuel awaiting permission to take off, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the “rare” incident. An air traffic controller sent the descending Air Canada Airbus 320 on a “go-around” — an unusual event where pilots must pull up and circle around to try again — before the safe landing, according to the federal agency.

FAA investigators are still trying to determine how close the Air Canada aircraft came to landing and potentially crashing into the four aircraft below, but the apparent pilot error already has the aviation industry buzzing.

This would have been the ultimate in pilot error, and might end the career of that pilot.

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Maiden flight of China’s new 158-seat C919 passenger jet

China’s answer to Boeing and Airbus’s domination of the aviation business, a 158-seat passenger jet dubbed C919, is due to make its maiden flight later this week.

According to Xinhua, the first flight of the C919, assembled by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), will be conducted at the Shanghai International Airport on Friday, but could be delayed if weather conditions are not suitable. The timing for the first flight was set after the passenger jet passed a thorough assessment in April.

A successful maiden flight, followed by a series of safety certification processes, could open a floodgate for new orders for the single-aisle passenger jet, likely to generate 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.13 trillion) in business for Comac, according to Galaxy Securities. The C919 has received 570 orders and commitments from 23 customers, mainly Chinese state-owned carriers and leasing companies.

The plane is three years behind schedule. And while much of it is Chinese-made, a considerable percentage of major parts are produced by U.S. and European manufacturers.

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Pan Am Boeing 707 – 1965 Emergency Landing

An evening pause: This television news report about a 1965 near disaster where a Pan American passenger jet’s engine and wing fall off and the captain brings everything down safely is fascinating to watch, partly because of the live action footage taken by one passenger, but also at how television news has evolved since then, for the worse. This 1965 report has no shots a newsperson standing in front of the camera telling us what happened, as is typical today. Instead, the filming focuses on the events and the witnesses themselves, and lets them tell the story in as straight-forward a manner as possible.

Hat tip Mike Nelson.

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Planes flying at high latitudes can travel through clouds of high cosmic radiation

The uncertainty of science: Researchers have found evidence that suggests that planes flying at higher latitudes can sometimes fly through concentrated pockets of high cosmic radiation.

“We have flown radiation sensors onboard 264 research flights at altitudes as high as 17.3 km (56,700 ft) from 2013 to 2017,” says Kent Tobiska, lead author of the paper and PI of the NASA-supported program Automated Radiation Measurements for Aerospace Safety (ARMAS). “On at least six occasions, our sensors have recorded surges in ionizing radiation that we interpret as analogous to localized clouds.”

…Conventional wisdom says that dose rates should vary smoothly with latitude and longitude and the height of the aircraft. Any changes as a plane navigates airspace should be gradual. Tobiska and colleagues have found something quite different, however: Sometimes dose rates skyrocket for no apparent reason. “We were quite surprised to see this,” says Tobiska.

All of the surges they observed occurred at relatively high latitudes, well above 50 degrees in both hemispheres. One example offered in their paper is typical: On Oct 3, 2015, an NSF/NCAR research aircraft took off from southern Chile and flew south to measure the thickness of the Antarctic ice shelf. Onboard, the ARMAS flight module recorded a 2x increase in ionizing radiation for about 30 minutes while the plane flew 11 km (36,000 feet) over the Antarctic Peninsula. No solar storm was in progress. The plane did not abruptly change direction or altitude. Nevertheless, the ambient radiation environment changed sharply. Similar episodes have occurred off the coast of Washington state.

The theories proposed to explain this at the link are not very convincing, and suggest to me that they really do not know what causes this. All we do know is that it likely associated with the interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field and cosmic radiation.

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Airbus to slash more than a 1,000 jobs to cut costs

The competition heats up: In a continuing re-organization to cut costs, Airbus yesterday announced plans to slash 1,164 jobs.

The initiative is part of [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’s four-year campaign to reshape the business in the wake of the failed attempt in 2012 to merge with BAE Systems PLC, Europe’s largest arms maker. After the deal with BAE faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision-making. The old structure was a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

Airbus in 2013 moved to merge its defense and space assets and shed some operations not central to its aerospace business.

This approach matches very well with the company’s joint partnership with Safran and their hard-nosed insistence that they own and control Ariane 6. They are pushing to get the government bureaucracy out of their business so that they can work more efficiently and make more money.

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Birds that can fly practically forever

New research using data loggers tagged to thirteen common swifts has revealed that these birds were capable of remaining airborne for months at a time.

The researchers found that some of the birds made a few brief night landings in winter but remained airborne for 99% of the time. Three birds didn’t touch down once in the entire ten months….“Common swifts have evolved to be very efficient flyers, with streamlined body shapes and long and narrow wings, generating lift force at low cost,” says Anders Hedenström, a study co-author and a biologist at Lund University in Sweden. The birds even eat while airborne, snatching flying termites, ballooning spiders and other aerial insects for in-flight meals.

Hedenström says that common swifts have adapted to a low-energy lifestyle, but his team does not yet know whether the birds sleep while aloft. “Most animals suffer dramatically from far less sleep loss,” says Niels Rattenborg, a neurobiologist at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. “But these birds seem to have found a trick through evolution that allows them to get by on far less sleep.”

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Airbus imposes management cuts to save money

The competition heats up: In restructuring to cut costs and reduce its bureaucracy Airbus has decided to make significant management cuts and merge different divisions.

More here, including this revealing quote:

The move is the latest in [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’ four-year campaign to overhaul the company in the wake of the 2012 failed merger attempt with Europe’s largest arms maker BAE Systems PLC. “For me this is the logical conclusion of the journey we started in 2012,” Mr. Enders said.

After the deal faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision making, a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

The first link above also adds this:

[Airbus] changed its name from EADS and overhauled its governance in 2013-14, limiting the influence of French and German minority state shareholdings and granting more independence to management under German-born Chief Executive Tom Enders. But it remained saddled with separate bureaucracies and confusion over the brand, with the planemaking unit keeping the core “Airbus” identity and no fewer than five CEOs spread across the parent company, three units and one geographical division.

In other words, this restructuring is intended to remove any further government influence on the management of the company. Rather than provide pork for politicians, Airbus will now focus on maximizing its profits. The thinking here also corresponds with how the company organized its joint partnership with Safran and took over design and construction of Ariane 6 from the bureaucracy of the European Space Agency. Expect similar management cuts and even the possible elimination entirely of ESA’s Arianespace division in the coming years.

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China unveils world’s largest amphibious plane

China has built the world’s largest amphibious plane, designed initially for rescue and fire-fighting duties.

Made by the state’s aircraft maker, the AG600 is around the size of a Boeing 737 and will be used to douse forest fires and rescue people in danger offshore. Measuring 37 m (121 ft) long with a wingspan of 38.8 m (127 ft), the gargantuan amphibious aircraft is capable of taking off and landing both on terra firma and stretches of water, provided they are more than 1,500 m long, 200 m wide and 2.5 m deep (0.93 mi, 656 ft and 8.2 ft). It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes (59 tons), a top cruising speed of 500 km/h (310.7 mph) and a range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi), and can fly for 12 hours at a time, according to its builder, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Much like the Russians, the Chinese aerospace industry is controlled and supervised by the government. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese for the moment seem much more capable under this top-down system to develop new designs. They say for example that this new amphibious plane already has 17 domestic orders.

I must admit to a bit of skepticism however. Was this plane built because there was a demand, or because the powers-that-be decided they wanted it built? I am not sure. The video at the link suggests to me the latter, with its hard core sales pitch similar to a lot of other government projects I have seen, where the project is built because some politician or bureaucrat conceived and pushed it, but it doesn’t really have a viable purpose.

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Swedish engineer test flies human-carrying drone

A Swedish engineer, in his garage, has built a flying vehicle using drones and gasoline engines.

You have to see the thing to understand how insanely simple, crazy, and cool this is. For example, the whole thing is essentially nothing more than a seat surrounded by eight drones, their spinning propellers rotating only about two feet from the passenger.

But it appears to work, though the design is without doubt not quite finalized. I have embedded a video of one of his test flights below the fold. This was fortunately an unmanned flight, because about three minutes in the vehicle goes out of control and crashes.
» Read more

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The B-1 Lancer Bomber

An evening pause: One reason we have a Memorial Day is to honor those who have died to keep us free. We also remember them to remind us that the sacrifice was necessary.

I think it is long past time to repeat the same effort, no matter the cost, and use this plane’s payload a lot more than we are. There are people in the Middle East who are gleefully killing people for the sake of power. We should no longer tolerate them.

Hat tip Rocco.

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Want to buy your own 747?

You can!

Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever Boeing 747 jumbo jet has been listed for sale on eBay with a starting bid of more than a quarter million dollars and a ‘buy it now’ price of $900,000 (£615,000). The retired double-decker plane, called Lady Penelope, was taken out of service last year and is gathering dust at an aircraft boneyard, but it could see new life as a hotel or restaurant, depending on the buyer’s intentions.

Here is the ebay listing.

Sadly, it can no longer fly as its engines have been removed. You will have to take it apart and ship it yourself.

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Largest jet engine ever test fired

The competition heats up: General Electric has completed the first test firing of the largest airplane jet engine ever built.

With a front fan spreading a full 11 ft (3.35 m), the GE9X is a world record holder and generates thrust in the order of 100,000 lb. To accommodate the aeronautical behemoth, the Peebles facility was recently upgraded with a larger air intake, extra fuel tanks to feed the giant engine, and high temperature gear to deal with the hotter, more efficient design.

GE says that the GE9X is currently undergoing its first Full Engine To Test (FETT). This is the next level of the test series, which began in 2011 at the component level, and marks the first test of the complete system, which comes only six months after the engine design was finalized. GE says that this relatively early testing was to ensure that the test data was available as soon as possible for the certification engines, which are scheduled to be installed in GE Aviation’s flying test bed for certification of flight testing in 2018.

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Practicing Landings on a Carrier in bad weather

An evening pause: Last night we had the Flight of the Foo Birds. Tonight, we look at real flight, military pilots practicing landings on an aircraft carrier when the ocean is rough and the ship is rolling. The movies always give us the impression that this is easy, when in fact it is not.

Hat tip Rocco.

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Virgin Galactic signs deal for supersonic plane

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with Boom, the start-up company trying to build the first commercial supersonic passenger jet since the Concorde.

Boom, which has spent the past three months participating in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program in Silicon Valley, has inked a deal with Virgin. As part of the deal, Virgin has taken an option in Boom’s first 10 planes, while Virgin Galactic, the private space exploration company, will assist with manufacturing and testing through its manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company.

I hope Boom is more successful than Virgin Galactic in getting its project off the ground. If not, than it will be a long time before we see this plane take off.

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