Posts Tagged ‘aircraft’


The SR-72! ?

November 5, 2013


According to this information from Lockheed, they have a way to combine a regular jet turbine engine with a ramjet that could power a Mach 6 aircraft. Calling it the SR-72 as a nod to the famed SR-71 reconnaissance plane the Lockheed Skunk Works built in the 1960s, this one is to be unmanned – like pretty much every military plane on the drawing boards.

I just hate it that they announced way before they bent any tin, though. The X-33 disaster of promise-oops- can’t deliver is still too fresh in my mind. (In defense of Lockheed, though, a lot of the problem with getting the X-33 demonstrator flying was political. Interference by Congress has a way of screwing up programs like that. Well, any program, really. ) Saying they may have this operational by 2030 sounds like a long way off, but the F-35 Strike Fighter has been in development really for over 12 years. They are just barely getting production aircraft out to the USAF now, seven years after the first prototype flew.

I really hope this will happen, even if just for the jumpstart hypersonic flight would get. But the generation that built the U-2, the SR-71 and even the stealth fighter are pretty much retired or passed on. (Kelly Johnson, the legendary leader at the Skunk Works, died in 1990.)

If anyone can do it I figure Lockheed will. But why announce it so early?



Maybe this one is THE one…

October 21, 2013


This pretty little thing is called the Aeromobil, and it was designed by two Slovakian gentlemen. This is supposed to be version 3.0, and the current flying version is 2.5. You can see it flying at this link.

Is it cooler-looking than the Terrafugia? Yeah. Than the next iteration the Terrafugia folks want to build, by 2020? Yeah, probably so. But not by much:

tfx v03 cityliftoff-WM


And this one will be an electric hybrid, and will pretty much fly itself. We’ll see how things shake out. At least the technology has progressed to a point where a “roadable aircraft” can really be built…



Clarifying the term “commercial space”

May 16, 2012

Paul D. Spudis, writing in the Smithsonian Air & Space blog, explains why “commercial space” firms like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences aren’t “commercial” in the strictly defined capitalist sense – at least not with their current business model. He’s not unduly harsh, although it’s evident he doesn’t like the situation. However, his feelings come from a lack of a national space policy, not from the actions of the companies themselves. (I think SpaceX would prefer to be less beholden to the Government, but in many respects, right now, it’s the only game in town. I confess that I may believe that as much because of my own hopes as because of those of Elon Musk.)

Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch carrier and SpaceX-built rocket

And I agree, Bigelow Aerospace and Virgin Galactic¬†better fit the definition of “commercial” in the purer sense. And Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, as well. Interesting that these companies don’t seem to expect to support themselves by providing services to the US Government.

And thanks to Mark Whittington for finding the article!


Where’s my flyin’ car, again?

April 3, 2012

What we should be flyin’ in now, circa 1955.

The Apple iPhone 5, circa 1920.

The flying car of 2012, from a century ago. I like the driver. And the hats!

Check out Paleofuture for more cool stuff!


Retro-space imagery of what might have been

January 15, 2012

The novel I wrote two years ago that takes place in the alternate universe of the Domination of the Draka will be available on the interweebs soon. It’s sort of an alternate-universe take on the early days of the US experimental jet and space vehicles that flew out of Edwards Air Force Base in the 1950s and 1960s – sort of an alternate “The Right Stuff.”

It needs a cover, like all novels. About a year ago I acquired a resin limited-run model kit from Fantastic Plastic that was a speculative look at what might have been if the X-15 rocket plane program had continued into the late 1960s. The kit of the X-15-D was mastered by Scott Lowther, editor/publisher and primary author of the Aerospace Projects Review and one of the authorities on concept aircraft and spacecraft. It was cast by BLAP Models and included decals by JBOT, both legends in the garage-kit space model kit business.

The kit was beautifully done, both in design and in execution. It was pretty a pretty simple build, especially because I didn’t want to include landing gear. Instead, I filled in the landing gear wells before painting.

I had in mind that the “real” concept spaceplane of 1967, the X-15-D, could become my X-14 Demon of 1953 in my book. The Demon was described as a single-seat suborbital spaceplane, sort of a super-X-15 with a scramjet chamber as well as rocket engines. The look of the X-15-D fit the description pretty well, even though I had originally envisioned the Demon about six or seven years ago without knowing about the design for an X-15 follow-on. (This is not that surprising. In The Stone Dogs, the third Draka novel, author S.M. Stirling sets forth a timeline of technological development and history that has the US and the Draka both getting men into orbit in the late 1950s – but using spaceplanes, not disintegrating totem poles.)

I had to make a couple of changes. First, the X-15 was covered in Iconel-X, a very temperature-resistant nickel-based alloy, and it was usually painted black. (On one flight it was coated in a heat-shedding ablative coating that was bright pink; the pilots refused to fly a pink airplane so white paint was applied over the coating before flight.) The Demon’s skin was made of a cermet, a ceramic-metallic composite material that had a rather unusual origin – you’ll have to read the book! Anyway, the cermet wouldn’t look purely metallic, or purely flat black, so I painted it black and dusted it with silver and blue shades to give it a hint of a different color.

I left off the NASA markings and a few of the others that I felt were out of scale with what I imagined the plane to be. (There is no NASA in the Drakaverse.) Otherwise, it’s Lowther’s airplane – I made no changes in the design. I ended up with this:

I hope I did Scott and the folks justice in building this model. It’s a cool design. I can’t just put the plane on the cover like this, though – I wanted to make it look realistic, as if it was in flight. I have very little of a real artistic hand, but I started fooling with a few tools and came up with a few possibilities. These are probably not what will eventually make the cover, but they are a start as I learn the software.¬† I used a masking plug-in for Photoshop called Topaz ReMask to clip the plane out of the image, then composited with various images taken from high-altitude aircraft and balloons. Then I used a nifty little tool called Neatberry PhotoStyler to create some “vintage” photos of the plane in flight.

Over California

At apogee

Black and white is stylish, right?

Over a certain place in Nevada that doesn't exist

I don’t quite have it to the point where the model doesn’t look like a model, yet. A couple of these backgrounds were shot from orbital altitude, and the Demon wasn’t supposed to be able to go into orbit…that wouldn’t be for a few years yet. I’m working on it, and it’s been great fun. I highly recommend these tools, along with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, as software even an untrained person like me can use.

You can say you saw the Demon first!

(And by the way, the Demon was flown in the book by Jack Ridley, a test pilot and engineer who was a real person and a great pilot. He’s the guy who gave Chuck Yeager the stick of Beeman’s gum (and the broom handle) before Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X-1 in real life! Check out Yeager’s autobiography for more information.)


It pays to think big!

December 14, 2011


While NASA is fooling around with their latest stimulus program – oops, I mean their heavy lifter expendable booster – others are going ahead and finding smarter ways to get into orbit than what Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle called “disintegrating totem poles.”

This monstrosity, the brainchild of Burt Rutan and Paul Allen, looks at first glance to be something to show up on the cover of Popular Science and then vanish into obscurity as something too outrageous to actually be practical. There’s just a couple of problems with that.

First, Paul Allen (yep, billionaire Paul Allen from Microsoft) has the ambition AND the money to make it happen.

Second, Scaled Composites is building the plane. This is Burt Rutan’s company (that he sold to Northrop Grumman) that built the SpaceShipOne for the X-Prize and is building the follow-on versions for Virgin Galactic.

The actual orbital vehicle is to be built by SpaceX, based on the Dragon capsule and technology from the Falcon launch vehicle, which has already proven itself in several launches. In fact, the first real test of the Dragon in orbit should occur in February, flying one by remote to the ISS.

SpaceX Dragon vehicle berthed at the ISS (NASA image)

The new company, Stratolaunch Systems, is headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama. In addition to Scaled Composites and SpaceX, they have chosen a company called Dynetics of Huntsville to build the mating device that attaches the rocket vehicle to the plane.

The company has some heavy hitters: former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin is on the board, and the CEO and President is Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA.

The plane will be the largest in the world: a wingspan of 380 feet, gross takeoff weight of 1.2 million pounds, and it will require six jet engines that were designed for the Boeing 747 to power it. It can’t fly from just anywhere; it takes a runway at least 12,000 feet long. It will be built at the Mojave Space Port in a new hangar that will be constructed just for the plane.

The other day, I mentioned that the USAF was planning to use a reusable flyback booster of a design similar to those that have been planned for decades. There’s nothing wrong with that – people have devoted thousands of hours to designs for a flyback of this type and it should be an excellent intermediate step.

This plane is the next step. Build a fully reusable first stage for a launch vehicle – in this case, an aircraft instead of a rocket-powered first stage. Give it excellent abort characteristics. You have just eliminated the lion’s share of the launch vehicle weight by flying the rocket to a reasonable altitude and speed. Something goes wrong and you either abort and fly the whole package home, or drop the rocket and let the Dragon use its abort rocket system. Oh, and it means the crew – and yes, eventually this plane is designed to fly crewed Dragons – won’t be sitting on a gigantic stack of thin metal balloons filled with explosives. (That is, after all, what a rocket-powered launch vehicle is.)

This is the most encouraging news I’ve heard in a long time about a permanent space presence. If someone else had proposed it, I probably would have dismissed it as another great idea with no follow-through. These guys have a proven track record, and the funding to make it happen.

And it will be damned impressive to see in the air, won’t it?


Some gorgeous fantasy aircraft and spacecraft art

November 13, 2011

X-wing repaint for the Navy

An artist going by the name of Clave has done twelve pages – over a hundred individual images – of beautiful profiles of aircraft and spacecraft, repainted in livery that they would never historically have, like an F-22 of the Soviet Air Force, etc. The majority are aircraft, mainly WWI and current jet aircraft, but some are TV/film spacecraft like the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds ships and the Battlestar Galactica Viper. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this one example. Go to these pages to find the others. Even if you are not a fan of aircraft, science fiction, or alternate history, you will enjoy the sheer artistry in his work. He is an incredible craftsman. Rarely have I seen so much beautiful, exacting imagery of such high quality and with such interesting ideas!