October 3, 2011
Teams gathered their experimental planes in Santa Rosa, California last week for a competition of their environmental industriousness. The Green Flight Challenge awards some serious prize money to promote what they hope is the future of flight: quiet, fuel-efficient, and with low-emissions. The aircraft, powered by green fuels like hydrogen or electricity, must fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity, to be eligible for the $1.35 million first place purse.
Thirteen teams signed up for the Challenge, but only three teams made it to the actual race without dropping out or being disqualified. Performed over the course of a week, the challengers must meet requirements in three separate tests: noise, performance, and speed.
Two teams were up to the task, fulfilling all requirements. The electric powered Pipistrel scored first place, announced at the awards ceremony Monday afternoon. According to its website:
The Taurus Electro G2 [model of Pipistrel] can use a shorter runway, climbs faster and performs much better than the gasoline-powered version when it comes to high altitude operations. All this is possible thanks to the specially-developed emission-free Pipistrel’s 40kW electric power-train.
One other plane was up to the challenge, though with slightly lower scores than the Pipistrel: the e-Genius. Also a two-seater electric plane, the German plane uses a 60-kilowatt motor and is backed by Airbus. Though it didn’t take top honors, the team will still take home $120,000 for second place and an additional $10,000 for the Lindbergh Quiet Aircraft Prize.
The Green Flight Challenge was founded by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation and is sponsored by Google, while NASA provides the total $1.65 million in cash prizes through their Centennial Challenges Program.
September 12, 2011
This summer the X-47B unmanned combat aircraft made its first arrested landing on the USS Eisenhower. Well, actually it was an F/A-18D Hornet (left) operating as a surrogate, using the software and avionics of the X-47B. And a pilot was in the cockpit, or, in Navy parlance, “in the loop.” Off-camera and well off-ship, a less glamorous King Air fitted with the same control system set down smoothly on a land-based runway.
Both landings brought the Navy a step closer to meeting its mission goal of an “autonomous, low-observable, relevant unmanned aircraft.” The surrogate tests pose lower risk than landing a real X-47B without prior sea trials, and at far lower cost.
Today’s carrier approaches are flown manually by a pilot using visual cues and a radio dispatch, usually sent from the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) on deck. Most of the information is relayed by voice, the rest by handheld flags, which can introduce both delay and errors. The purpose of the UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration) program is to digitize all communications and navigation data, while minimizing the new hardware and training requirements for the awkward human component.
Both the aircraft and the ship’s control tower will use GPS navigation. Eventually the carrier’s LSO will fold up his flags and transmit all instructions via a digital network integrated with the primary flight control tower on deck. Digital control will also reach the ship’s ready room below, which may have no pilots in the traditional sense.
June 15, 2011
Airbus calls its Concept Plane for 2050 an aircraft “inspired by nature.” But it sure includes a lot of technology.
“The idea is to move out from the old-fashioned class system—first class, business class, economy class—and think more about the experience,” says Airbus chief engineer Charles Champion in an interview with The (London) Telegraph. “So the idea is, you approach the plane, you put your hand close to the door, immediately the plane recognizes you, shows you toward your seat, takes care [of] your luggage, and then you’ve got basically a choice within a ‘smart tech’ zone, and a more revitalizing ‘relaxing’ zone.”
For Type A personalities, the cabin’s Smart Tech zone includes an “energy harvesting system” that uses body heat to power the aircraft and light the cabin. Morphing seats adapt to the passenger’s body; each individual’s budget dictates the amount of comfort and space. (Why does this bring to mind Oliver Twist and his bowl of gruel? Please, sir, I want some more.) “You might be traveling alone,” says an Airbus press release, “but holographics, communication technologies and sound showers let you work with your colleagues…” Great.
Passengers looking to get away from work might choose the Vitalising zone, which offers panoramic views outside the aircraft (the fuselage becomes transparent “with the wave of a hand”). There you can veg in your “intelligent organically grown seat” that will offer you a massage, a drink, a gentle sea breeze or the scent of a pine forest.
If you’re like many overworked Americans who never take a vacation, perhaps you’d like to consider the flight itself “a holiday experience.” Head over to the Interaction zone, where you can belly up to the bar or access a “pop-up pod” that “will offer more private spaces that can be used for…a romantic meal.” (Among other things.) Go shopping in the aircraft’s holographic mall, or play tennis, baseball, golf, or “newer options like Airbus Fusion Ball, which lets you play catch across the skyscrapers of New York or the peaks of the Himalayas!”
June 13, 2011
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at this video of the Martin Aircraft Company’s recent mile-high test of its personal jetpack and safety parachute system. The flight topped out at 5,000 feet, but could have gone higher. While a dummy was on board for this test, the New Zealand-based company is marketing their $100,000 jetpack as personal transportation, with special appeal to military and rescue workers. The design goal is to fly for up to 30 minutes at top speeds of 63 miles per hour. And if the gas-powered, two-stroke piston engine conks out, there’s always the parachute.
May 5, 2011
Who can forget billionaire ex-spaceman Jeff Tracy and his five sons (Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon, and John), each named after a Mercury astronaut? Remember how they—through their organization (International Rescue)—um…rescued people…internationally? Ok, so they were puppets. Deal with it, people!
The Royal Air Force Museum (London) invites fans of the 1960s television show Thunderbirds to revisit their inner child (as well as the museum) on May 14 and “play with giant sized versions of classic children’s games whilst listening to music of the 60s and 70s.” The museum will also have on display original models, and will air episodes from Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet in the museum’s cinema. Sylvia Anderson, the voice of Lady Penelope and the co-creator of the show, will discuss her career, the actors she worked with, and the inspiration behind the puppets. (Anderson and her husband are the creative team also responsible for Space: 1999, starring the wooden Barbara Bain and the over-the-top Martin Landau.)
Our marionette heroes use a variety of air- and spacecraft to carry out their missions. Thunderbird 2 (usually piloted by son Virgil Tracy, he of the intimidating eyebrows, above), is a large green VTOL aircraft used in most of the team’s earth-based rescue missions. The big bird can fly anywhere in the world without refueling, and cruises along at 2,000 mph, but can achieve 5,000 mph when needed. Amazingly, it is not the team’s fastest mode of transport. That honor goes to Thunderbird 1 (typically piloted by Scott Tracy), a hypersonic rocket that can travel 15,000 mph, or Mach 22.6. You’d think that a rocket capable of that speed would have extremely complex controls, but no. Thunderbird 1 is controlled by a mere two control levers. Life is so easy when you’re a puppet!
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