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Monday, July 26, 2010

You Built What?! A Backyard B-50 Bomber

You Built What?! A Backyard B-50 Bomber

You Built What?!
Weighing nearly 100 pounds, a giant model plane takes to the skies

Big Flyer The craft can get up to about 50 mph in the air. Jonathan Worth
Four years ago, engineer Tony Nijhuis was visiting an aviation museum in Duxford, England, when he spotted his next project: the iconic World War II–era Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Nijhuis has been building electric models since he was a boy, but he had been thinking about doing something bigger. Much bigger. The result is a replica that— with a 20-foot wingspan, period decals, and loudspeakers that blare sounds of the real engine—boasts nearly everything but the bombs.
Nijhuis decided to go with a variant of the B-29, the B-50, because of its aerodynamic design and because it was more novel. The real bomber had four engines, so he hunted down four of the biggest electric motors he could find. He created 2-D sketches of the body, wings and tail using AutoCAD and commissioned a laser-cutting company to handle the more than 300 custom segments he needed. To make the plastic nose and gun canopies, Nijhuis first had to hand-carve wooden molds of each one. For the retractable landing gear, he hooked an off-the-shelf pneumatic system up to pressurized air tanks made from plastic Coke bottles. He also skinned the balsa-wood-ribbed fuselage with laminate wood composite and fiberglass.
Aside from some shredded tires, test flights have been a success. Nijhuis believes that it’s the largest and heaviest electric flying model in the world, and thanks to the added sound effects, he says, “it is certainly one of
the loudest.”
Plane Power:  Jonathan Worth

How It Works

Time: 2 Years
Cost: $9,000
Nijhuis estimated that the model would weigh 95 pounds. A rough calculation determined that he would need 40 watts of power per pound to take off, so he figured four 3.5-kilowatt electric motors would do the trick. He designed a balsa-wood-and-plywood-based nacelle, or housing, for each of the motors, the nickel-hydride batteries, and the speed controllers that would crank them up or wind them down. Each nacelle is totally independent of the others, so if one fails, the others aren’t compromised, and Nijhuis can still land his baby safely.
Eight Easy Pieces: The bolts had to be repositioned so that the skin around the fuselage wouldn’t crack when the plane’s parts were snapped together during assembly. For more details, go to tonynijhuisdesigns.co.uk.  Jonathan Worth

Nijhuis designed the structure to separate into eight pieces. The wings and tail fins are secured by aluminum and carbon-fiber rods, respectively, and the fuselage bolts together. He moved the bolts in line with the longerons—the parts that act as a structural spine, running perpendicular to the ribs—so it would connect properly. SOUND
The builder wanted the craft to sound authentic, too. So he had a sound designer find a recording of a plane with the same engines as the B-50, and add the sound files to a memory chip. He installed four speakers on the underside of the wings, added amps, and hooked them all up to the speed controllers. The speakers blare the sounds loudest when the motors are working their hardest. Instead of an electric whir, it sounds like the real thing.

B-50 Sound Design:  Jonathan Worth

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Air Force Wants Drones That Can Sense Other Airplanes' Intent

The Avenger General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Future airplane flocks would require a trained corps of pilots who intimately know their aircraft and their partners’ flying habits. Drone flocks would be a different task, however. Drones are not as smart as pilots, and cannot tell what other aircraft will do. But the military would like to change that.
The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio is asking engineers to design an algorithm that would allow drones to recognize the intent of other aircraft.
The main goal would be allowing drones to integrate with piloted planes for takeoff and landing. Drones would be able to link up with air traffic controllers and consult a database of airport procedures, and use algorithms to understand what other aircraft will do.
This proposal solicitation outlines the Air Force’s desires: unmanned aerial systems that can analyze airfield maps and air traffic control data, just like pilots do. They would use cameras to watch other aircraft and use this “intent data” to remove ambiguity. “The developed algorithm(s), optimally, would require no more a priori information than a human pilot,” the Air Force says.
The Air Force gives an example of aircraft landing on parallel runways. To a drone, they look like they’re on a collision course before they bank and land. The drone does not know the plane’s course will change, however, so it perceives the other plane’s trajectory as a collision threat. An algorithm could help the drone process airfield maps and realize there’s no danger.
Danger Room points out that there are a few commercial benefits to this type of technology, especially as the nation's skies grow more crowded. FedEx, for one, has considered using flocks of drones led by a piloted plane, and an intent algorithm could make that possible.
[Danger Room]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fighter jet crashes in Lethbridge, pilot ejects safely

Posted: Jul 24, 2010 10:38 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2010 6:25 PM
A CF-18 fighter jet crashed on Friday in Lethbridge as it prepared for an airshow in Alberta, but the pilot managed to eject before the plane slammed into the ground.

Despite the crash at the Lethbridge airport, the Alberta International AirShow will go ahead as planned this weekend.

Canadian Air Force pilot Captain Brian Bews ejected safely from his CF-18 fighter jet just moments before it crashed during a practice flight on the eve of the annual event.

Bews escaped serious injury in the crash, which occurred during the noon-hour while he was attempting a slow-speed pass over the airport. After ejecting, he narrowly missed being hit by the plane as it plunged to the ground and exploded in flames near the junction of two runways, according to witnesses.

The Department of National Defence is handling the investigation into the cause of the crash. Transport Canada officials also arrived Friday to monitor the situation but are leaving the investigation in the hands of the military.

“We planned for this. We know this kind of thing can happen. The military said they would support us, and we thought we couldn’t let our community down,” said Kathy Wallocha, past president of the air show.
Image above courtesy Ian Martens/Lethbridge Herald/CBC News (more).
Click here to read more at the Lethbridge Herald.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Airbus Plane of the Future Concept Has Smart Fuselage, See-Through Walls

So far, it's just an idea

Concept Plane Airbus unveiled this 2030 concept plane at the 2010 Farnborough International Airshow. Airbus
Of all the aviation tech emerging from the Farnborough International Airshow, Airbus’ futurist visions are among the coolest.
The aviation firm unveiled its 2030 Concept Plane earlier this week, which includes dreams of a self-cleaning cabin; extra-long, slim wings; a U-shaped tail; and an intelligent fuselage designed to improve efficiency.
Airbus acknowledges the plane is somewhat a flight of fancy, but it’s worth imagining how aviation would look if advancements in existing technologies “continue apace,” as the company puts it.
Some of the concepts:
  • Smart seats made from plant fibers, which could change shape to offer a comfortable fit
  • See-through walls that offer passengers a 360-degree view
  • Fuel cells, “cryo-power,” and even human body heat to provide power
  • Self-cleaning materials that use beads of water to remove dirt and pathogens
  • Holographic projections of virtual decors, allowing travelers to transform their private cabin into an office, bedroom or Zen garden
“It’s not a real aircraft and all the technologies it features, though feasible, are not likely to come together in the same manner. Here we are stretching our imagination and thinking beyond our usual boundaries,” says Charles Champion, vice president of engineering at Airbus, in a press statement. Accompanying the concept plane is a futurist document (PDF) that would make Burt Rutan blush. "Futurologist" Robin Mannings envisions planes flying in formation like a flock of geese; flying aircraft carriers used for long-distance flights, which would allow small aircraft to dock; cryo-planes powered by hydrogen; and more.
He even suggests flying cruise ships, complete with casinos and entertainment, which might generate enough revenue to make the tickets free.
Here's hoping these planes of the future look as cool as this design.
Concept Plane Engines: The Airbus concept plane has embedded engines, a U-shaped tail and a smart fuselage intended to improve energy efficiency.  Airbus
[Airbus via Smart Planet]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Boeing's Corpulent Hydrogen-Powered Spy Plane Will Fly at 65,000 Feet For Four Days

Phantom Eye Boeing's Phantom Eye hydrogen-powered aircraft. Boeing
The future of spycraft looks pretty heavy, if this new Boeing plane is any indication. Adding to today's parade of pretty new planes, Boeing unveiled a hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft system Monday that will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for four days.
The Phantom Eye is not exactly sleek, but it's one of the greenest aircraft out there -- its only byproduct is water.
The aircraft heralds a potential new market in data and communications collection, Boeing says. Later this summer, it will be shipped from Boeing's Phantom Works facility in St. Louis to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center for ground and taxi testing. The debut flight will likely take place next year and should last four to eight hours, a mere preview of the aircraft's apparent capabilities.
In terms of power, Phantom Eye is a lightweight -- it has two 2.3 liter, four-cylinder engines that provide 150 hp each, not much more than your average car. This makes sense, because Ford provided the engines, according to a Boeing news release. The plane has a 150-foot wingspan and can carry up to a 450-pound payload, Boeing says. It will cruise at 150 knots, or 170 miles per hour.
It's the latest effort by Boeing to build aircraft powered by hydrogen. The firm claimed firsties on a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft back in 2008 when a different Phantom Works division flew a manned aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Phantom Eye evolved from Boeing's Condor aircraft, also powered by a piston engine, which made history by reaching a top altitude of 67, 028 feet. Its likely descendants include the Phantom Ray drone, which looks like a slim B-2.
[Boeing Phantom Works]