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. 

AirAsia Going Private: An Economically Viable Move?

After its shares took a beating earlier this year, will the move for AirAsia to go private an economically viable one?

By: Ringo Bones
The founders of Asia’s number one budget carrier AirAsia Bhd are sounding out investors to take the company private in a managed buyout after its shares took a beating earlier in 2015 after a critical research report was published. AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes and his longtime business partner Kamarudin Meranun are working with banks to secure financing for the transaction which could be launched over the next few months said the people who did not want to be identified as the discussions were confidential. 

Obtaining financing will be the key for the deal to succeed, the people said. An AirAsia spokeswoman had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. AirAsia’s market value has fallen by 40-percent to 3.51 billion ringgit (803 million US dollars) since Hong Kong based GMT Research questioned AirAsia’s accounts in a report back in June 2015. Will AirAsia going private prove to be an economically viable move? Risks of managed buyouts include volatility of capital and could prove to be a financially costly move if the US Federal Reserve decides to increase the cost of borrowing money before the end of 2015.