Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orbital Spaceplane test flight

Boeing and the USAF are preparing for the first test flight of an unmanned military space plane. The X-37B should lift off atop an Atlas V in November from Cape Canaveral and hopefully land in one piece a little later in a runway landing at Edwards AFB in California. The flight will test the operational concept of this type of reusable multi-mission space vehicle which has been in development for a long time though the X-37B is just a test plane and an operational type could be quite different.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (7) : Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747 is of course the iconic Jumbo Jet and the mainstay of the world's long-haul passenger fleets (though to be honest i fly on Airbus A340s to Asia most often these days) and over 1400 have been built to date. However only 45 of these have been the 747SP Special Performance, a heavily modified version for longer range flights.

The 747SP was developed as a shorter-bodied version of the 747-100, this was partly to try and compete in the market with the smaller wide-bodies of the time, the Tristar and DC-10 (and indeed Boeing did explore a 3 engined version of the 747 that looked like someone had cut the tail off a Tristar and stuck it onto the end of a 747) and also for the new market need growing in the late 1970s for ultra-long range routes.

The 747SP looks quite different to a "normal" 747 in having a fuselage around 14m shorter to give it a stubby look but also a taller tail fin (the shorter fuselage caused increased yaw movement) and simpler flaps. The 747SP can carry around 300 passengers in a mixed class layout and has a typical range of 6650nm compared to 5300nm for a fully loaded standard 747-100 (it was the longest range airliner available until the arrival of the 747-400 in the late 1980s). The SP is also faster being able to cruise at Mach 0.88 compared to Mach 0.82 for a -100.

However despite the "special performance" only 45 SPs were built due to the increased oil price in the 1970s and reduced capacity of the type compared to normal 747s. Less than 20 are still in service, many serving as VIP aircraft with Middle Eastern governments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BA & RR on alternative air fuels

British Airways and Rolls Royce are working together on alternative fuels for air use (like everyone seems to be these days) and interestingly RR are rather down on non-sustainable biofuels. They want a fuel made from biomass that doesn't compete with food production and say that current biofuels don't cut it yetas they only work down to -5C. Testing of up to 4 alternative fuels will be carried out on a ground rigged RB211.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leap-X latest next generation airliner powerplant

We have already mentioned the geared turbofan or GTF from Pratt & Whitney which is one of the contenders to power airliners in the next decade with lower fuel and environmental costs compared to current technology. CFM have now entered the fray too with their Leap-X technology which they say can power the next generation of single-aisle airliners.

CFM, which is a GE & Snecma joint venture, say the Leap-X has no commonality with the mega-selling CFM 56 family and will feature 16% lower fuel consumption than it also with significantly less noise and emissions. Leap-X's new technology includes 3-D woven composite fan blades and a new combuster and will be much lighter than current engines. A demonstrator is planned for later this year with a full rig test in 2010. As far as today's suffering airlines are concerned it can't come quick enough!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Watchkeeper 450 progress

Derived from the Elbit Hermes 450 and developed by Thales, the British Army's future UAV the Watchkeeper WK450 made it's first flight a few weeks ago and has made a good impression already. The WK450 was said to be a robust and stable aircraft. It differs from the Hermes 450 in having an automated take-off and landing system (as yet not tested), a de-icing system for it's new wing, and a better engine from a UK supplier.

Payload (caution acronym overload!)

For it's ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) role WK450 will be fitted with a Thales I-Master SAR (synthetic aperture radar) / GMTI (ground moving target indication) sensor and a Elop Compass IV EO (electro-optical) / IR (infrared sensor) with laser target designator. I-Master is said to already give very good resolution with the SAR said to be world-leading but there is still some fine tuning that can be done. Development is being carried out by these systems on other manned and unmanned test aircraft.

Thales are looking into providing WK450 with the ability to process imagary and only sending back revelent imagery via the datalink to reduce the work load on ground controller and image analysts. There are also attempts to fuse the SAR/GMTI and EO/IR data.

Production WK450 airframes will be built in the UK by Lola with production expected to begin in 2009. Elbit will produce their own version called the Hermes 450B. Future growth could see a twin-engined version in the future.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Airship coming soon in shape of neutrally buoyant rotorcraft

Boeing are to build for Skyhook the JHL-40 (Jess Heavy Lifter) termed a neutrally buoyant rotorcraft which must be the politically correct term for an airship with big engines. The JHL-40 does not carry a lot of gas though, just enough for countering the craft's weight. The JHL-40 is a helium filled airship anyway and will be able to lift 40 tons and transport it 200 miles.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Enabling armchair strategic analysis via Google Earth

Google Earth is a wonderful tool, i have used it in the past to roam the vast expanses of Siberia, finding the odd strange "thing" here and there. The IMINT and Analysis blog has taken Google Earth analysis to a whole new level and is a blog dedicated to "Open source military analysis, strategic thinking, and Google Earth imagery interpretation" it says.

Something i found last year deep in Siberia, perhaps a forest ranger observation tower or radio antenna.

A few months ago the blog owner went into Syrian air defences in depth, no doubt something professional military planners also do, maybe even with similar imagery (though one assumes the military have better quality). To take a look at the SSBN base article however and you wonder how much better the "professionals" could be!

Open source intelligence tools are being used by people around the world tired of the biased and trivia obsessed media and want to find out whats really happening, of course these things can also let the powerless "play" at being General and target the enemy for destruction. Only without any ICBMs to launch!