Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The 18-Rotor Volocopter: The World’s Safest Helicopter?

Its aerodynamic design was said to be inspired by the inherent aerodynamic stability of quad copter drones, is the 18-rotor Volocopter VC200 the world’s safest helicopter? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Ever since Igor Sikorsky “perfected” the main rotor and small tail-rotor type helicopter near the end of the 1930s, it has since become the favored configuration of helicopters in military and civilian use since. And despite its inherent safe record, accidents still happen, but is there a better aeronautical engineering design out there that’s much safer than the “Sikorsky Configuration”? Fortunately, a bunch of Germans got inspired by the inherent stability of quadcopter drones and believe that a safer helicopter design should involve increasing the number of rotors, so they designed and built a helicopter with 18 different blades.   

It’s called the Volocopter VC200 and the German engineers have been working on it since 2010. They’ve done manned flights before, operating the craft like a gigantic 18-rotor man-carrying drone, but this time, E-Volo Managing Director Alexander Zosel got behind the controls and flew the craft himself. 

One of the biggest problems with helicopters is that they’re extremely difficult to fly in comparison with conventional fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopter configuration that’s in widespread use – the Sikorsky Configuration – only has one main source of lift and when it fails the results are usually disastrous. Multi-rotor flying craft like the popular quadcopter drones are more stable in the air, and more importantly, much easier to handle aerodynamically for inexperienced pilots. The Volocopter team wants their flying craft to bridge the skill gap between everyday transportation like cars and human flight. The Volocopter’s controls are incredibly simple – a single joystick with a few buttons – and a giant canopy of independent rotors mean it can hover almost perfectly with very little effort or skill required.  

Using current battery technology, the battery powered Volocopter VC200 only has a flight endurance of 25 minutes but if its batter runs out in flight, the Volocopter can automatically lands itself safely even with a student pilot at the helm. Currently the Volocopter VC200 costs around UK£200,000 each but E-Volo Managing Director Alex Zosel hopes that demand from interested affluent buyers and flight schools could generate enough funds for additional research and development funding for a Volocopter version with an increased flight time and greater payload. With its inherent safety and low carbon footprint are multi-rotor battery powered helicopters the future of helicopters? 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Steam Powered Aircraft: An Aeronautical Engineering Impossibility?

Even though mid 19th Century accounts of their flight attempts are notable for their “comical failure” are those steam powered aircraft still an aeronautical engineering impossibility in the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones 

Maybe we should be “blaming” the Mythbusters for doing those proof of concept experiments in their shows – especially ones pertaining to “aeronautical engineering impossibilities” – like the lead balloon and the concrete glider, which more or less, they managed to successfully flew on their shows and confirming them that they are not an aeronautical engineering impossibility after all. But has the Mythbusters ever tried to build and fly a steam powered aircraft? After all, if one managed to successfully fly back around 1850, the Wright brothers would probably have given up designing and building their first successful gasoline-powered aircraft. 

The steam powered aircraft gained legendary status probably because the press-at-large became very intrigued by William Samuel Henson’s publication of the design of his “Aerial Steam Carriage” back in 1843 after it was patented in 1842. Although a full-sized model was never built, illustrations of this “remarkable aircraft” were given world wide publicity and did more than anything else to establish the modern airplane configuration of fixed monoplane wings, a fuselage, a tail unit, and propulsive airscrews – features that became standard in many airplanes some 65 years later. 

Another intriguing possibility that a steam powered aircraft – like William Samuel Henson’s Aerial Steam Carriage and those like it – could have successfully flown back in the middle of the 19th Century is that Henson hired a very skilled mechanic named John Stringfellow to design and build an extremely light steam engine that could have flown the first ever steam powered airplane. Stringfrllow’s steam engine achieved a power-to-weight ratio of around 20 pounds of engine weight per horsepower produced – which was comparable to the power-to-weight ratio of the engine used by the Wright brothers during their first ever successful flight. Sadly, neither Henson nor Stringfellow managed to design a propeller that is as efficient as the one designed by the Wright brothers in converting mechanical rotation into forward thrust – i.e. the Wright brothers’ propeller has a 66-percent efficiency rating. Given that today’s modern propeller designs can now achieve 90-percent efficiency, will the Mythbusters or any other daring aeronautical engineer be building their own flyable steam powered aircraft anytime soon? 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Emirates Airbus A380 Completes World’s Longest Commercially Scheduled Flight

Emirates say the record may be short-lived but did the feat just happened because Emirates is taking advantage of current low crude oil prices?

By: Ringo Bones 

Given that crude oil has lost 70-percent of its value since 2014, it is likely that “adventurous” airline companies could now be exploring world record setting feats as a way to attract new customers, but the world’s longest flight recently set by an Emirates Airbus A380 as it flew from Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand back in March 2, 2016 to complete what is currently the world’s longest commercially scheduled flight promises more than a one-off taking advantage of the current slump in crude oil prices. The 17 hour 15 minute 14,200-kilometer flight cuts 3 hours off the current route that includes layovers. 

However, the record-setting Dubai to Auckland flight of March 2, 2016 is expected to be short lived because Emirates’ upcoming Dubai to Panama City service will take 17-hours and 35-minutes when it launches later this month. Emirates described it as “one of the longest air routes in the world by distance”. “But with the assistance of clever technology and good planning, passengers will get to their destination in the shortest possible time,” it said. 

The inaugural Dubai-Auckland flight of March 2, 2016 was made by an Emirates Airbus A380 which the double-decker super-jumbo has been in service with the world’s leading airline companies for the past 5-years but the regular service will be carried out – according to Emirates – by their fleet of more fuel-efficient Boeing 777-200LR planes. New Zealand Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the non-stop service, which cuts three hours off the current Dubai-Auckland travel times, improved New Zealand’s connectivity to the rest of the world. And to anyone wondering, the previously held record as the world’s longest commercially-scheduled flight route was the Qantas 13,800-kilometer Sydney to Dallas route that was launched back in 2014. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Do Laser Pointers Pose A Danger To Airline Flights?

Though they are not yet capable of blowing up a plane like those shown in science fiction movies, but can high-powered laser pointers pose a danger to airline flights?

By: Ringo Bones 

A “laser incident” forced a pilot to turn around a flight from London to New York, Virgin Airlines said. Virgin Atlantic Flight 025 was en route from Heathrow Airport on Sunday – February 14, 2016 – when a laser was pointed at the plane, spokeswoman Jamie Fraiser said. “Following this incident, the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing,” the airline said on its website. The aircraft landed safely at Heathrow with 252 passengers and 15 crew Fraiser said. Virgin Atlantic said its offering the affected passengers overnight accommodation and the flight is scheduled to depart London on Monday. 

The airline is working with authorities to confirm the source of the laser, it said. London’s Metropolitan Police Service said it is investigating, but there have been no arrests. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority recorded 48 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in the first half of 2015. Such incidents are on the rise – especially in the United States – as handheld lasers that are several times more powerful than the ones used in a boardroom presentation become more common and affordable. A laser beam has the potential to burn a pilot’s cornea and cause serious injury. Direct hits have put pilots in the hospital. The beams can also temporarily disorient and blind pilots.  

The laser used to “dazzle” pilots and cause near-crashes during “laser incidents” are a more compact version of those bulky helium-neon lasers used in planetarium laser shows during the 1970s. They range in size from those as big as torch-lights to those as big as a mid-sized pair of binoculars. These lasers are legitimately used in stage lighting effects during concerts and other special occasions but due to their relatively affordable cost – they range in price from 10 to 40 US dollars and are widely available on online shops like e-Bay – pranksters have used them to point at planes especially at the cockpit window part of the plane. The green ones pose the most danger because the human eye is most sensitive in this part of the visible light spectrum and they are the most likely to disorient the pilot and the co-pilot and could trigger a tragic crash because “laser pranksters” often point lasers at planes during takeoff. These lasers are so bright that during tests by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, these lasers are capable of disorienting pilots even if the pointed lasers are located 3,000 feet away from the plane’s cockpit windows. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Will Climate Change Soon Make Airline Flight-Times Take Longer?

Though still dismissed by conservative Evangelical skeptics as a left-wing conspiracy, is there evidence that climate change will soon make airline flight-times take longer?

By: Ringo Bones 

Ever since the neo-Conservatives successfully managed to seamlessly use both politics and organized religion to discredit the validity of the science behind climate change and global warming during the latter half of the 1990s, climate change concerns by the world’s poorest 99-percent were largely dismissed by right-wing Evangelical conservatives as nothing more than left-wing conspiracy to tax the world’s richest 1-percent. Sadly, it seems that the longer we ignore the signs of climate change and put off ways to mitigate and even reverse its worst effects on humanity, all of humanity will be doomed – just that the richest 1-percent will be the very last to feel its worst effects. But will the frequent-flying richest 1-percent be affected by the insidious effects of climate change in the form of longer flight times as they jet-set to their various dens of iniquities?

Even though this will too affect the working-class frequent-flyers, flights from the U.K. to the U.S. could take longer due to changes in the climate, according to a new study. Global warming is likely to speed up the jet stream, say researchers and slow down airplanes travelling from the U.K. to the U.S. While eastbound flights from the U.S. to the U.K. will be quicker but overall round trip journeys will “significantly lengthen.” The University of Reading scientists believe the changes will increase carbon emissions and fuel consumption and potentially raise airline ticket prices. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. 

High altitude jet streams in the northern and southern hemisphere are the powerful winds that help move weather systems around the globe. Air traffic normally tries to take advantage of these speedy flows of the Atlantic jet stream from west to east to reduce journey times on routes between Europe and North America. This is one of the world’s busiest air routes with around 600 flights every day. Previous studies have shown that climate change is likely to increase turbulence on these transatlantic flights. In this new study, researchers modelled how atmospheric winds would change given a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. They fed the results into the same route algorithms that airlines routinely use to plan their transatlantic journeys. They found that winds in the New York to London route will become 15-percent faster on average. Flights from London to New York will become twice as likely to take over seven hours while the flights from New York to London will speed up and will become twice as likely to take under five hours and twenty minutes. While on average, flights will only gain and lose a few minutes each way, the cumulative impact is “significant” says the study. 

“If you look at the round trips, the eastbound flights are getting shorter by less than the westbound flights are getting longer.” Lead author Dr. Paul Williams from the University of Reading told BBC News. “So there is a robust increase in the round trip journey time, which means planes spending longer in the air, when you add that up for all transatlantic aircraft you get an extra 2,000 hours of planes in the air every year, with US$22-million extra in fuel costs and 70-million kilograms of carbon dioxide.” The researchers say the extra carbon dioxide generated is equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 7,000 British homes.