Sunday, November 8, 2015

Will BAE Systems Make UK The Next Major Space-Faring Nation?

With the 20-percent purchase of Reaction Engines, will BAE Systems soon make the UK the next major space-faring nation?

By: Ringo Bones 

Well, at least in the near future, BAE Systems could sell to Virgin CEO Richard Branson a space tourism “aerospace-plane” that’s more reliable than the Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two, but as BAE Systems purchases 20-percent of Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines for UK£20.6-million in a deal that will see the defence giant’s expertise applied to research on a privately held company’s engine, which combines jet and rocket technology.     

Nigel Whitehead, managing director at BAE Systems, said: “The potential for this engine is incredible. I feel like we’re in the same position as the people who were the first to consider putting a propeller on an internal combustion engine: we understand that there are amazing possibilities but don’t fully understand what they are, as we just can’t imagine them all. It could be very high speed flight, low-cost launches into orbit or other fantastic achievements.” 

For 20 years, Reaction Engines has been developing its Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) which works like a conventional jet engine while in the Earth’s atmosphere, sucking in oxygen-rich air to burn with its hydrogen fuel. However, once it hits hypersonic speed starting at five times the speed of sound – about 4,000 mph or three-times the speed of a typical hunting rifle bullet – in the thin upper atmosphere, it switches over to become a conventional liquid-fueled rocket engine using the liquid oxygen that it carries as the oxidizer to burn with its hydrogen fuel. The ability to switch between two very different modes of operation means that the SABRE engine system is lighter than existing conventional liquid fuel rocket engines which have to carry much more liquid oxygen in its operation where used up tanks are then jettisoned. 

Reaction Engine’s SABRE’s technological tour-de-force is the development of a proprietary heat exchanger which cools the air going into the engine to a level where it is almost liquid before it is ignited, allowing the SABRE engine to swap between jet and rocket modes. The proprietary heat exchanger can cool hot air from more than 1,000 degrees Celsius to minus 150 degrees Celsius in less than 1/100 of a second. With further research and funding, the UK would be able to operate its own practical aerospace plane that can send astronauts to low Earth orbit at a much reduced operational costs than NASA’s Space Shuttle or those Russian rockets launched at Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Will COMAC’s C919 Revolutionize Asia’s Airline Industry?

As the first Mainland Chinese built passenger jet, will the C919 revolutionize Asia’s airline industry?

By: Ringo Bones 

As the first Mainland Chinese built passenger plane, the C9191 was aimed to rival Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 – two of the most oft-used planes in the small to medium airline companies in Asia. As Mainland China’s attempt to propel itself into the “top flight” of the global aviation industry, the roll off of the C919 was witnessed by 4,000 spectators, including Beijing’s senior communist party leaders, engineers and journalist as they gathered at a hangar at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport for the viewing of the new 158-seat passenger plane. 

The C919 is a product of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China or COMAC. Work on the C919 began back in 2008 but its first test flight, originally scheduled back in 2014, was postponed until 2016 according to COMAC’s chief executive. While the “C” in C919 stands for China, many of the plane’s subsystems have been provided by foreign companies, including Honeywell and Rockwell Collins. 

While it is no secret that the civil aviation business is one of the fastest growing industry in Mainland China and the rest of East Asia, Boeing predicts that by the year 2034, Mainland Chinese airline companies will need to buy 4,630 new single-aisle passenger planes with a total worth of about 490 billion US dollars and 1,500 new wide-bodied passenger planes worth 450 billion US dollars. So despite of the foreign competition, there would still be buyers for COMAC’s C919 passenger jets. But despite growing demands for new jet airliners in the Far East, most major airline companies in the region at the moment prefer to buy their planes form the “big boys” – i.e. the established passenger jet makers like the United State’s Boeing, the E.U.’s Airbus and Brazil’s Embraer. 

Metrojet Flight 9268 Crash: A Game Changer For The Aviation Industry Again?

In our post 9/11 world does the October 31, 2015 crash of the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 represent another game changer for the civil aviation industry?

By: Ringo Bones 

With the latest findings of the European investigators of the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 after extensive forensic examination of its black-box now point with 99-percent confidence that a smuggled explosive device was the cause of the crash, the world now precociously face another “game-changer” yet again for the post 9/11 civil aviation industry. Ever since the “shoe-bomber incident”, air travel for ordinary folks in our post 9/11 world has been marked by very invasive and draconian security checks where even items as innocuous as baby formula exceeding a certain volume are banned in flights for fear that they might be a “terrorist’s explosive device”. But does the recent Metrojet Flight 9268 crash over the Sinai back in Halloween point that lax security checks for airport workers might be the air travel industry’s weakest point? 

While Russian newspapers loyal to the strongman Vladimir Putin had been busy publishing “conspiracy theories” that MI-5 , CIA agents and even those handful of Ukrainians fighting for Islamic State / Daesh are the ones responsible for the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 before Islamic State / Daesh released a statement that they managed to successfully smuggle an explosive device on board the flight that brought the plane down with the loss of 217 passengers and 7 flight crew, it seems that this tragic event means that another “inconvenient” security routine will be passed on to us, the average airline commuter, yet again. And ordinary “budget tourists” of Russian, British and other nationalities currently visiting Egypt are the very one’s inconvenienced by the security implications of the tragic incident. 

The aircraft involved was Airbus A321-231 operated by the Russian airline company Kogalymavia – which is branded as Metrojet to non Russian speakers exploded in mid air over the northern Sinai back in October 31, 2015 after it departed from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. While Egyptian authorities have beefed up security in its major airports, this tragic incident could ruin the still recovering tourism industry of Egypt. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Case Closed?

Even though a significant progress has been made about what brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, are we even closer from declaring the matter as “case closed”?

By: Ringo Bones 

The recent release of findings by the Dutch Safety Board investigation earlier this week show definitely that a Russian made Buk surface-to-air missile was the cause of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 – a Boeing 777 plane that was shot down back in July 18, 2014 while flying its Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur route that resulted in the deaths of 298 people – 189 of which are Dutch nationals. Almost immediately, the Russian government has challenged the findings that a Russian made Buk surface-to-air missile was responsible for the crash. 

Relatives of the crash victims were shown an early copy of the Dutch Safety Board report a few weeks ago before it was presented to the press. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the report advances the search for the truth about how MH17 was shot down. 

Definitive proof that it was the Russian made Buk surface-to-air missile that brought down the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 as it hit the cockpit first was based on the metal fragments that got imbedded in the bodies of the crew members. 120 metal objects were found in the body of the First Officer, mostly in the left side of the upper torso. More than 100 objects were found in the body of the Purser. “Hundreds” of metal fragments were found in the fragmented body of the Captain. 

In the Annex X of the report – an analysis of the high-energy objects that hit the plane conducted by the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory show that the damage observed on the wreckage is not consistent with the damage caused by the warhead of an air-to-air missile – which the Russian government insists that a Ukrainian aircraft shot down MH17 with an air-to-air missile. Instead, the report proves that the metal fragments were consistent with the ones that result when a Russian made Buk surface-to-air missile explodes when it comes near to its target triggered by its proximity fuse. Specifically, bowtie shaped fragments consistent with the damage caused by the 9N314M warhead used in the 9M38 and 9M38M1 Buk surface-to-air missile.    

Even before the Dutch Safety Board conducted its definitive report on the crash of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, there was already a damning evidence that points to pro Russian separatists in the Donetsk region were responsible to bringing down Flight MH17 using a Buk surface-to-air missile that dates back a few days after the crash. A group of American agents imbedded with pro Russian separatist units managed to screen-grab a Tweet between two pro Russian separatists named “Greek” and “Major” of the “screw up” that they accidentally launched a Buk missile that brought down Flight MH17. Would the culpability of the incident even reach as high up as the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin? 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Has Propeller Technology Already Reached Its Limits?

Despite over a century of development since the Wright brothers first developed their own surprisingly efficient design, has propeller technology already reached its limits? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Believe it or not, the Wright brothers not only managed to make the first working heavier-than-air craft but also a surprisingly efficient propeller that made it possible to fly in the air with relatively little engine power. Even though other aviation pioneers that came before the Wright brothers managed to take off, albeit briefly, into the air with the heavier-than-air craft of their own design, it failed sustained powered flight largely because the propellers used are highly inefficient. 

After the Wright brothers developed a suitable airframe and a gasoline engine light and powerful enough to theoretically take it into the air, designing an effective – as in efficient – propeller proved perplexing. The brothers recognized a salient point: that a propeller is really a wing or airfoil moving in a spiral course. Just how it worked, however, baffled them. “With the machine moving forward,” they later wrote, “the air flying backward, the propellers moving side-wise, and nothing standing still, it seems impossible… to trace the… reactions.” It took months, but in the end they had formulated and built an efficient propeller, and on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk all was ready for the final test. 

The efficiency of the original Wright propeller was a marvel for its day: it could translate 66-percent of its engine’s rotational energy into forward thrust. After more than a century of research in aeronautics, the best of today’s airscrews achieve about 85-percent efficiency. Does this mean that we can no longer design more efficiency into a typical airplane’s propeller this day and age? 

From a historical perspective, the limits of propeller technology were probably reached around a decade before Frank Whittle build his very first working jet engine. As piston engine performance advanced, it became necessary also to improve the thrusting device, the propeller, which had been a major source of trouble since the pioneer era of aviation. Until the 1920s, all propellers were made of wood. In wet weather they were likely to absorb water, and if one blade absorbed more than the other, the propeller became unbalanced, setting up a tremendous vibration in the airplane. At the time, propellers sometimes flew apart in the air. If one blade flew off and the other remained, the resulting imbalance could – and often did – tear the engine out of the airplane. 

The more powerful the engines became, the faster propellers had to turn. This produced very high tip speeds. As with any whirling mechanism – be it a propeller, automobile wheel or merry-go-round – speed increases with distance from the hub, since the outer rim or tip must move a greater distance during each revolution. High tip speed brought on potentially destructive vibrations. 

Hoping to avoid the defects of wooden propellers, planemakers tried aluminum. But aluminum metallurgy was still at its infancy back in the 1920s and aluminum propellers were subject to cracks and pitting and occasionally, one would shear off in flight. The first steel propellers, tested in the early 1920s, frequently caused trouble, sometimes before they leave the ground. In 1921, Frank Caldwell, a propeller specialist, subjected an early steel propeller to twice its rated power on an electric testing device. It appeared to withstand the strain beautifully, so it was mounted on a stationary airplane engine in a laboratory. The propeller was revved up to its full power – at which point a blade broke off, sliced through an instrument control board, passed between the heads of two technicians, flew up a flight of stairs and out through the roof. The engine was reduced to rubble. 

Years of testing and experimentation, particularly directed to reducing the vibration inherent in propellers turning at high speed, led to more reliable designs and manufacturing techniques. Propeller failure virtually ceased to be a serious problem. 

But those who, during the 1920s, looked ahead of to the day when aerodynamic research would make possible high subsonic and even supersonic velocities concluded that even the best propeller has a limited future. They saw that the piston engine had a power potential of perhaps 5,000 horsepower, and this would increase the problem of tip speed. 

Since propeller tip speed is faster than the airplane’s forward speed, the propeller tips of most planes flying at 450 miles per hour would have their propeller tips rotating at supersonic speeds. At such speeds, the thrusting efficiency of the propeller is reduced. Clearly it was time to investigate a source of thrust free of the propeller’s limitations and thus paving the way for the development of the jet engine.