Sunday, February 11, 2018

Self Piloting Passenger Aircraft: The Future Of Civil Aviation?

Despite of the current regulatory hurdles, are self-piloting of autonomous passenger aircraft the future of civil aviation?

By: Ringo Bones 

Uber first announced its own concept of self piloting / autonomous passenger aircraft after making a situational advert on what happens if their self-driving car service got snarled by heavy traffic. According to Uber, solution is already at hand via its very own self piloting or autonomous passenger aircraft – and the possibility of it entering service is sooner than you think.  

The ride-sharing firm Uber and Urban Aviation are already partnering with Bell Helicopters and already have a flying prototype of their “pilotless air taxi” which a fleet could enter service as soon as 2020 current regulatory hurdles permitting. But the good news is NASA and the United States Federal Aviation Administration is already developing new air traffic control systems specifically designed to accommodate the upcoming fleets of autonomous air taxis once they enter service by 2020. 

Currently, a number of firms have already joined the bandwagon on pilotless air taxis and pilotless / autonomous passenger aircraft. A Mainland Chinese firm Ehang and Germany’s Volocopter already made a flyable prototype capable of carrying four passengers plus a pilot in case the autonomous computer fails. All of the firms who had released plans to offer a pilotless air taxi service say that the “pilot” only serve as a technician if the autonomous flying computer develops problems but most of the time, the “pilot” will be serving as a de-facto ambassador to the passengers to allay any fears or doubts that they have on their self-flying technology. 

Technically, all of the pilotless air taxis are battery powered, capable of carrying 4 to 5 passengers and has a range of between 60 to 100 miles which make them a very viable alternative to avoid being stuck in rush-hour traffic when commuting from one city center to another which has recently classivied this class of aircraft as “urban air vehicles”. The good news is that the batteries they use to power their aviation grade electric motors are the latest ones that are able to be fully charged between 5 to 15 minutes.   

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: The Safest Year For Air Travel?

Given that there are no commercial airline crashes for the entire year last year – will 2017 go down in history as the safest year for air travel?

By: Ringo Bones 

 Even though it is a proven fact – statistically at least – that flying is the safest form of travel, groups in charge of monitoring air safety are quite surprised that 2017 turned out to be the safest year for air travel given that not a single tragic airline crash occurred for the entire year. There were no passenger jet crashes anywhere in the world for the whole of 2017, according to separate reports made by Dutch consultancy firm To70 and The Aviation Safety Network. 

Despite of the tragic and scary chapter that we call 9/11, the number of airliner accidents has been in a slow and steady decline during the past 20 years. Harro Ranter, president of The Aviation Safety Network said: “Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organizations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry.” 

The Dutch consultancy To70, estimated there was now one fatal accident for every 16-million flights, although its report was compiled before the Costa Rica crash occurred. While the Aviation Safety Network’s report shows that the accident rate now stands at one fatal passenger flight accident per 7,360,000 flights. If cargo planes were included, a report by the Airline Safety Network shows that there were a total of 10 fatal accidents, resulting in 79 deaths for the whole of 2017, compared with 16 accidents and 303 lives lost in 2016. The organization based its figures on incidents involving civil aircraft certified to carry at least 14 people. Could civil aviation industry’s safety record get better in the coming years? Sadly, fake president Trump already claims that the 2017’s air travel safety record was the result of his “presidency”.     

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Lufthansa Pilots Christmas Miracle

By refusing to follow “illegal” deportation orders, did Lufthansa pilots manage to perform a so-called “Christmas Miracle” in the course of 2017?

By: Ringo Bones 

According to Deutsche Welle – in the course of 2017, German pilots stopped 222 planned flights whose purpose were to repatriate Afghan asylum seekers back to their home country they are fleeing from, Last year, the European Union signed a so-called deal with Kabul – which many saw as “Hitlerian” – to start deporting asylum seekers back to so-called “safe areas” in Afghanistan, which instantly drew criticism from human rights groups such as Pro Asyl. Amnesty International said nearly 10,000 Afghans are at risk of torture, kidnapping and death in their home country. 

The majority of the stopped flights, 85, came from Germany’s main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings. Around 140 refusals occurred at Germany’s largest airport – Frankfurt Airport. Some 40 took place at Dusseldorf Airport where Pro Asyl and other campaigners staged the #WelcomeUnited protest against deportation of asylum seekers. A spokesman for Lufthansa Michael Lamberty, told local Westdeutsche Allegeimeine Zeitung that pilots sometimes had to cancel flights due to security reasons. 

In 2017 so far, Germany had processed more asylum applications to a total of 388, 201 – more than any of the other EU countries concerned, according to the German immigration office Bundesamt fϋr Migration und Flϋchtlinge. About 210,000 of these requests have been rebounded, but they usually are accepted in appeal case. Given that this all happened in the course of 2017 but the news report only came out about 20 days ago, many had labeled the actions of the German pilots refusing such “Hitlerian” deportation orders as a “Christmas Miracle”.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

United Airlines: Too Unfriendly To Passengers?

With the latest forcible removal of a passenger incident, is United Airlines getting more “unfriendly” in recent years? 

By: Ringo Bones 

To those old enough to remember the 1970s and the 1980s, United Airlines’ slogan - “Fly the friendly skies” – seems so surreal in the wake of hijacking incidents by PLO affiliated “terrorists”. Fast forward to our pos-9/11 world, it seems that United Airlines is getting more “unfriendly” to the casual, unwary passenger. But is there some truth to this? 

The latest incident of the forcible removal of a Vietnamese-American doctor named David Dao captured by an amateur smartphone camera footage taken by a fellow passenger of the incident has since gone viral a few days ago has resulted in some negative repercussions to the famed airline company when it comes to its existing policy when it comes to overbooked flights – i.e. it’s stocks closed lower a few days ago following the incident. And it also fueled the “liberal conspiracy theory scene” of the rollback of civil liberties enjoyed by non-white Anglo Saxon Americans during the Obama administration giving credence to the concerns that in Donald J. Trump’s America, its going to be a “reckoning day” for non-white Anglo Saxon ethnic groups and hence Dr. David Dao and his legal team stating that his forcible removal incident is much worse than the hardship he endured during the Fall of Saigon during his exodus for political asylum into America. 

Back in 2009, United Airlines got under fire on the shabby treatment of country music star Dave Carroll’s guitars that eventually resulted in United Airlines paying millions of dollars to Carroll to the damage and mental anguish due to the damage of his guitars used in his musical tour at the time. And just last month, a group of female passengers were denied entry because they were wearing supposedly “inappropriate” leggings by United Airlines’ standards.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Transonic Range: Aviation’s Undiscovered Country?

With the Cessna Citation X as the lone example in current production specifically to fly at this speed, is the transonic range still the aviation world’s largely undiscovered country?

By: Ringo Bones 

Specifically designed to operate at around Mach 0.935, a velocity only 80 kilometers per hour or 50 miles per hour slower than the speed of sound, it seems that Cessna Aircraft Company’s Citation X is currently the only aircraft of its kind in current production – military or civilian - specifically designed to operate within the “tricky” transonic range (though Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser proposed back in March 2001 was designed to fly at Mach 0.98 or 15-percent faster than existing subsonic passenger planes at the time but only half as fast as the supersonic Concorde, was cancelled in December 2002 due to post 9/11 aviation slump and was since repurposed into the Boeings rather “conventional” Mach 0.85-capable 787 Dreamliner program). As a high-end private jet / corporate jet, the Citation X can also fly nonstop for 6,000 kilometers or the distance between Moscow to Beijing. But given that some modern high-performance military aircraft can even fly at Mach 1.5 without using their afterburners unlike their fuel guzzling Cold War era predecessors, why is it that most aircraft – military or civilian – tend to fly below or bypass into the supersonic region, instead of cruising continuously into the transonic range?  

Any aircraft in flight displaces the air through which it flies, and produces countless small disturbances. Called pressure waves, these radiate from various points on the aircraft’s surface like ripples from a boat. All of them travel at the speed of sound. At subsonic speeds, these waves are able to move harmlessly out ahead of the aircraft. At sonic speeds – i.e. at the speed of sound 760 mph (1,223 km / hr) at sea level which falls off to around 660 mph (1,062 km / hr) at 25,000 feet and above – these pressure waves can no longer move ahead of the aircraft because it is flying as fast as they are, and so they pile up, reinforcing one another to create a high-pressure shock wave. 

The shock wave buildup starts at about Mach 0.8 for most aircraft. Even though the plane is not then moving as fast as sound, the accelerated air moving over the top of the wing reaches supersonic speed and a small localized shock wave is formed. The region from about Mach 0.8 (525 mph or 845 km/hr) to Mach 1.2 (913.45 mph or 1,470 km/hr) is called the transonic range or transonic region because some of the airflow across the aircraft is subsonic and some have already reached supersonic. 

The swept-back wing design that has since become de rigueur in fast airplanes is a result of minimizing the problem of flying in and beyond this transonic range / transonic region. The fact that even a subsonic plane like the venerable Boeing 707 and its related variants could never operate at the speeds it does unless its wings were swept back. This is because the Boeing 707 and its related variants do in fact cruise at speeds of around 600 miles per hour (966 km/hr) at altitudes of 25,000 feet or over. This is more than 90-percent of the speed of sound. At such speeds, a straight-winged 707 would have airspeed over its wings – due to the acceleration needed for lift – already at supersonic speeds. Assuming such a straight-winged 707 variant had sufficient power to overcome the drag created at these speeds, the shock waves set up could cause severe buffeting and lack of control.

However, by sweeping back the wings, the formation of shock waves is delayed. In flight, the swept-back wing meets the air at an angle. The effect of this is that now the velocity of the wind relative to the wing acts in two directions – one at a right angle to the leading edge of the wing, and the other along the span of the wing. Neither of these components is equal to the original velocity of the wind striking the forward edge of the wing – which, in fact, is the speed of the airplane. It is only that part of the wind passing at a right angle to the leading edge of the wing which is accelerated in its passage in order to obtain lift. Since the speed of this wind is less than the forward speed of the airplane, it becomes possible for the airplane to fly much closer to the speed of sound before shock waves begin to form on the wings.  
Because shock waves so severely affect an airplane’s stability, the greatest problem for a pilot at the “tricky” transonic range is the change in control characteristics. A wing has a slowly moving layer of air called the “boundary layer” that clings to the surface. Near Mach 1, shock waves can interact with the boundary layer to distort the airflow so that lift may be impaired and control surfaces made ineffectual. This disturbance also adds to the turbulent wake which is created by any wing, whatever its speed. 

Wing shape is obviously important in controlling airflow, but other design solutions have been found. Some are ingeniously simple – i.e. Boeing’s cancelled Sonic Cruiser which flies deep into the transonic range by having a cruise speed 15-percent faster that existing subsonic passenger jets, resorted to having a “supersonic ready” flight control surfaces. Tail surfaces, for example, may be moved up or down to get these out of the wings’ troubled wake. But providing supersonic-ready flight control surfaces to transonic planes may prove to be a not-so-brilliant engineering solution because since the advent of the aviation world’s mastery of flying faster than the speed of sound around the middle of the 20th Century, supersonic ready flight control mechanisms / flight control surfaces weigh two and a half times than their subsonic counterparts and cost on average four times as much.