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!


Little stuff

September 26, 2011

Again, little bits of things I’ve thought of lately:

American Airlines – what’s the deal?

I flew to St. Louis over the weekend. I flew American Airlines. When I set up my flight there were three seats available, all inside seats in the groups of three on the old MD-80 they were using (2 seats on the left, 3 on the right). A day before I left, there were several window seats available – for an upcharge of $ 14.00! So, they were available all the time, but they were holding them back? What’s that about? On Sunday morning, when I came back, there was a first-class seat available for an upcharge of $ 45.00. It was in the front row, and I was having knee problems, so I went with it. It also meant I could check a bag (actually, 3) for free, so I did. I’m sure if I tried to get a first class ticket a month ahead it would have been a lot more – hell, if I had tried to do it a couple of days before it would have been really pricey! So what’s up with this? I guess that’s why I go with Southwest most of the time. Yeah, they aren’t as cheap or as easy to work with as they used to be, but they still don’t have scams quite like that.

“Heat Rises,” by Richard Castle

I just finished reading Heat Rises, the third book in the Nikki Heat series “written by Richard Castle” from the television show “Castle.” I don’t know who has really been writing them, but the first one was almost unreadable, the second was better, and this one is actually pretty good, with a few cute in-jokes along the way. It’s a short book, but it’s not a bad read. If you like the television show, you will like the book. I don’t know that I can recommend the first one to anybody but the most diehard Castle fans. This one ain’t James Patterson or Michael Connelly, but it’s better than most TV show tie-ins.

Terra Nova

I’m writing this while watching “Terra Nova.” I’m not sure about this one. I know it’s months late in getting on the air, and cost $ 20 million for the first two episodes, but I guess a lot of that is the town sets – apparently 250 sets were constructed overall. It’s pretty extensive. It took a long time to shoot in Australia, too. (Spielberg didn’t want it to look too much like Jurassic Park, so no filming in Hawaii.) The early part, in a seriously screwed-up 22nd century that looks like an uglier Blade Runner future, probably cost a pretty penny, too. But what about the dinosaurs?

Nope. Not so good. I mean, not SyFy Channel-cheap, but not ILM film quality either. Now, I’m not watching it on HD, but I can’t imagine the dinos look a lot better there. And, worst of all, when the pseudo-T-rex attacks, you can actually see its feet not match the ground level.

At $ 4 million an episode, they are only going to do 13, and blow them all by the end of December. At that point it will have cost over $ 60 million. I hope they will have something cool to show for it.

There’s a little subplot about dissidents out there in the bush, and another one about apparently some kind of ancient-astronaut deal or something – anyway, some kinds of geometric markings in the rock, but only the teenagers have seen them, and they ain’t tellin’ because they found them when the kids were outside of the fence without permission.

Brannon Braga is exec producing. Don’t get me started about that. Suffice it to say I don’t see that as a positive. On the other hand, Stephen Lang is a pretty good actor and is better in this part than in his hardass unreasonable crazy weasel character from Avatar. The rest of the cast is going to take some time to shake out.

Couldn’t we just have spent this $ 60 million on a couple of seasons more of “Firefly?



Where is my flyin’ car? Maybe here…

August 25, 2011

This is not what I meant. This is no excuse for no flying cars. And besides, Lotus is dead, right? This commercial is from 2000, which is like 70 years ago in dog or software years…

How about this one? It’s no Terrafugia, but it’s kinda cool. I’d hate to be in it in a thunderstorm, though, in the air or on the ground.



DARPA hypersonic test vehicle does not “achieve all objectives”

August 12, 2011

Yesterday DARPA launched the second hypersonic test vehicle atop a Minotaur IV rocket. It was a high-speed suborbital test of maneuverability of the Mach 20 unmanned test vehicle. For 2700 seconds telemetry was successfully received; then contact with the vehicle was lost. It is assumed that automatic systems aboard the vehicle crashed it in to the Pacific once it lost contact with the ground. The Fox News article is here.

The research project was begun in 2003 and has cost $ 320 million. Only two test articles were built. The first test ended in a crash as well, back in April 2010. Apparently there are still problems with “control in the hypersonic regime.” There are no plans for more vehicles.

Apparently hypersonic flight is going to be a lot more difficult to achieve than we had hoped.

Fox News article | DARPA program page