Category Archives: Technology

To Infinity and Beyond

Tomorrow,  Buzz Lightyear Yves Rossy  and his wingsuit are  ready to cross the chasm of America’s most renowned canyon.

 Swiss adventurer who has flown his jet-propelled wingsuit over the Swiss Alps and across the English Channel hopes to fulfill a dream by flying through the Grand Canyon. Former fighter pilot Yves Rossy plans to attempt the stunt early Friday, though he has not yet secured the necessary approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It all seems so very Evel Knievel-ish.  As long as there have been records, people have sought to exceed them. From fastest pilot to longest wingwalker to highest free fall. Pushing envelopes can lead to new discoveries (else why build an X-1) but the venue suggests otherwise. There’s a lot of publicity to be had and this is a stuntman’s dream. To his credit, he’s been developing his “Jetman” suit persistently and is always breaking new ground with sometimes perilous results. He flew a new version of his jet-powered flight system last year and successfully performed 2 aerial loops, so there’s that.

Plans are to fly over Grand Canyon West. The regular park service takes a dim view on this sort of thing so it’s being handled through the  Hualapai Indian Reservation. Since it doesn’t qualify as an ultralight, it required an experimental registration to fly and after a series of tests, the FAA has given its approval and registration number N15YR to the , um…wing. Check the news tomorrow at 10:00 mountain to see if he made it and check this excellent write up (It is easier to read the actual magazine article) from EAA of the man and his quest to do what many dream about: soaring like a jet without an airplane.

Update: Not yet

an apologetic Rossy stood before a crowd of reporters not in the black jet suit but in a T-shirt and jeans to declare the stunt was called off. He said the same elements that piqued his interest in flying over the massive gorge years ago also meant the flight would be too much of a challenge without any practice runs.”If I do a mistake and half of U.S. television (is here), it’s really bad for you, for me, for everybody,”

It will also scotch a whole lot of endorsement money, especially Breitling, if he delploys the chute before reaching the other side. The call is with the PIC: A superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment so as not to have to use his superior skill..  

End of the Age of Speed

A WSJ article opines that the age of speed is coming to a close. The Space Shuttle’s final flight in June marks the end of  the quest for the next fastest thing.

When the U.S. space shuttle completes its final flight, planned for June, mankind will take another step back from its top speed. Space shuttles are the fastest reusable manned vehicles ever built. Their maximum was only exceeded by single-shot moon rockets.The shuttles’ retirement follows the grounding over recent years of other ultrafast people carriers, including the supersonic Concorde and the speedier SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. With nothing ready to replace them, our species is decelerating—perhaps for the first time in history.

It has been a good two-century sprint, says Neil Armstrong, who in 1969 covered almost 240,000 miles in less than four days to plant the first human footprint on the Moon. Through the 18th century, he noted in an email exchange, humans could travel by foot or horse at approximately six miles per hour. “In the 19th, with trains, they reached 60 mph. In the 20th, with jet aircraft, we could travel at 600 mph. Can we expect 6,000 mph in the 21st?” he wondered. “It does not seem likely,” Mr. Armstrong continued, …… Eugene Cernan, one of three astronauts in the Apollo 10 capsule—and the holder of the lunar speed record driving a moon buggy during Apollo 17, says “25,000 mph is at the edge of people’s ability to comprehend.” In space, it was “easier than riding a roller coaster,” he added. “We won’t go that fast again until we return from Mars.”

Unmanned vehicles are another matter: The Scramjet  is no slouch and could theoretically operate between Mach 12 and Mach 24. The unmanned Boeing X-51  hit speeds of Mach 6 last year. Given the prevailing penchant for UAV’s, it is doubtful that we will see occupants zooming around in one anytime soon.

As the era draws to a close, the folks at the Vehicle Assembly Building remind us that it is  all about speed:

Tastes Like Chicken

Chicken fat in jets: NASA’s version of  fast food.

Chicken Fat Studied by NASA as Eco-friendly Jet Fuel

“It’s made out of chicken fat, actually,” said Langley’s Bruce Anderson, AAFEX II project scientist. “The Air Force bought many thousands of gallons of this to burn in some of their jets and provided about 8,000 gallons (30,283 liters) to NASA for this experiment.”

Do you taste test the fuel instead of checking the color and what exactly does that smell like when you hit the afterburner?  Original or extra crispy?

Is That all You Got?

Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking

It seems that I’m on a commercial flight almost every week. Once in a while, I’m fortunate to fly on a large, comfortable aircraft and today that’s a 777. We were being propelled forward by two very large, very powerful GE90-115B turbofans. Reliable too. Prior to this class of engine, the FAA required four engines for overseas travel.

Aircraft engine manufacturers such as General Electric, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce allocate a ton of resources to develop and prove out their products and we’re glad. While commercial passengers may loathe the inconvenience of the TSA, they can take safe air travel for granted. Jets are far more reliable than recip engines (what I normally fly when I’m in the left seat). I do have a little time in the L-29 which features a Jet-A sucking turbojet. Newer jet aircraft all have turbofans which use bypass ducts that are quieter and more efficient. Military jets use turbofans too but of the low bypass variety.

Engine qualification involves some exotic tests. It’s noisy and fun to watch. From a distance. 

For example: What happens if you throw ¾ of a ton of large hail pellets into the maw of the beast at takeoff thrust? How about 4 1/2 tons of water? GE will also inject both 2.5 and 8 lb. birds into the engine’s composite blades as part of the certification process, All without any impact on the engine’s operation and the fan blades unharmed. If that weren’t enough, technicians planted some C-4  on the fan and  detonated it at 2,485 rpm. Even with an engines worst nightmare, the remaining composite blades with titanium leading edges continue to spin. Here’s what it looks like:


The GE90 is huge at over ten feet in diameter and that’s what allows it to produce a record breaking 127,900 pounds of thrust. It’s sufficient to allow the Triple Seven to break the ETOPS record with a five and a half hour flight on one engine.

Even if you don’t get a great seat assignment or a bag of pretzels, there’s comfort in knowing you have an engine that goes the distance.

Sneaking with the enemy

Yet another drone: This one is a spy plane designed to look like a hummingbird.

The aircraft with a 6.5-inch wing span can record sights and sounds on a video camera in its belly. Developers say it can perch on a window ledge and gather intelligence unbeknownst to an enemy.The craft can hover and move quickly in almost any direction, a capability defense officials want in a small aircraft for intelligence and reconnaissance.

The latest in nano-technology – an aircraft with a 6.5 inch wingspan.   This could be pretty fearsome – think of a whole swarm of them going after bad guys like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Do a careful check around your bird feeder this spring.

H/T to Rob

Innovation for Sale

An American Success Story Is No Longer American

Cirrus was founded in the mid 80s by two brothers out of college, Alan and Dale Klapmeier. They turned out to be aviation’s equivalent of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple fame.

The Klapmeier’s believed they could do for the safety of small airplanes what seat belts and airbags, had done for cars. Most notably , they introduced a ballistic recovery system the Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System (CAPS), which would float the entire aircraft to ground in an emergency.  The military uses expensive, heavy ejection seats, not suitable for planes with solid roofs.

The decision to introduce CAPS was based on a hair raising disaster that nearly killed Alan Klapmeier. When he was 25,  Klapmeier suffered a mid air. His wing sliced through the strut of the other plane which spun into the ground, killing the pilot. Klapmeier had to keep his control yoke hard to the left to keep his plane, which had lost part of its right wing, flying somewhat straight. He was barely able to land.

What’s surprizing is that Klapmeier’s start up airplane venture didn’t also enter a graveyard spiral. The average failure rate for start-ups is between 75 – 80% and the failure rate for new aviation companies is even higher. (Commercial aviation is very risky too). While expensive (about $500k for the SR-22GTS), Cirrus initially couldn’t keep pace with demand. They were selling them faster than they could get them out the door.The tubocharged version achieves 211 knots and 25,000 service ceiling. This is what you’d want if air taxis were to proliferate. A safe, fast comfortable light aircraft.

Continue reading

Flying the IPad

Apple hit a home run with the iPad. Among it’s countless applications, I can download the WSJ and USA Today each morning and read it on a commercial flight along with the latest book download. But that’s not the reason it was on my wish list. I wanted to stop already with the paper charts and approach plates and use it an EFB (Electronic Flight Bag). I gave it a test “drive” by flying to eight different airports. In a word: Fantastic. My flight bag will go on a diet and lose weight as I ditch books of approach plates and airport directories.  

Beyond EFB functionality is the iPad’s ability to work as a moving map for en route charts and VFR sectionals as well as flying an approach but, and this is important, it’s not approved for IFR and it may let you down in a critical navigation situation.  Some pilots have found that it can overheat and shut down in a very hot cockpit and there’s a 10,000 MSL limit for operation (non pressurized). Air molecules become sufficiently less dense at flight levels, leading to overheat and power off. So the GPS works great, except when it doesn’t. This means a minimal number of paper charts and plates are still needed for back up unless your primary navigation device is a G1000 or similar device. In my unscientific tests, it worked perfectly except for screen glare at the wrong angle. AvWeb has a slightly more critical view:

There was no GPS when I started my flight training years ago. Continue reading

Personal Drones

Most people associate drones with Predator and Reaper aircraft launching Hellfire missiles at bad guys in Pakistan.  However, the technology is moving beyond military applications to other applications and fast.  An unmanned aircraft now costs $300 and can be operated by iPhone.

Former Navy fighter pilot Missy Cummings is working with her students to build a “Personal Sentry” drone..her goal is to develop a drone the size of a pizza box with small propellers that can watch a soldier’s back on the battlefield.. many nonmilitary uses of drones provide obvious benefits—from surveying wildlife to tracking the security of oil pipelines. Other potential commercial applications include unmanned cargo flights.

Of course it might also be used for spying on celebrities and the neighbor next door. More concerning are nefarious individuals bent on illegal or terrorist activities. For now, battery life is the limiting factor as well as payload, but that will change. There’s always the trusty 12 gauge if one starts violating your personal space.

Skeet shooting anyone?

Failure to Communicate

Navy loses control of UAV for 20 minutes

Drones have their limitations. Hopefully they will never have a mind of their own.

The Navy did say that the drone got within 40 miles of Washington before operators were able to re-establish communication and guide it back to its base in southern Maryland… The Navy is calling the problem a “software issue” that foiled the drone’s operators

This is a little unnerving. A pilot-less aircraft flew itself 23 miles into the restricted airspace surrounding Washington, D.C.. Maybe they didn’t ask nicely. Or maybe one of these days, Skynet will become self-aware

See You at Airventure

If you like anything related to flying you need to be here. This clip explains why:

10,000 planes; 578,000 aviation enthusiasts; 750 exhibitors and 1,000 demonstrations. Just to name a few: 

  • C.E. “Bud” Anderson, Jack Roush, Jim Hagedorn with two Old Crow P-51s
  • D-Day paratroopers Col. Ed Shames and 1st Lt. Fred Bahlau with the C-47 Tico Belle
  • “Max Effort” Air Show featuring DC-3/C-47 formation flights and aerial displays 
  • Christina Olds with the Collings Foundation F-4.
  • The Lonestar Flight Museum’s B-17  
  • Buck & Bill Patillo with 2 P-51s, Sweet & Lovely and Little Rebel
  • World Symposium on Electric Aircraft by GE Aviation
  • Bob Hoover with the Vintage Wings of Canada’ s F-86
  • Salute to Veterans with aerial demonstrations 
  • The Douglas AD-1 Skyraider
  • Daily Air Shows and even one at night

July 26th through August 1st in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. What’s not to like?