Thursday, December 24, 2009

US Air Force to introduce L-3 Spy Plane

The Air Force as soon as Christmas Day will deliver to Afghanistan the first of 24 new Hawker Beechcraft Corp. planes modified by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. to support ground troops with video, still images and eavesdropping. The L-3 would be the first real spy plane.

The four-man, twin-propeller plane “should arrive on or shortly after Dec. 25th,” about one month ahead of schedule, Lieutenant General David Deptula, who oversees Air Force intelligence and reconnaissance, said in an e-mail today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the service in April 2008 to dramatically increase the number of manned and unmanned aircraft providing intelligence to ground troops. The planes will help support the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan. Six of the new spy planes already are flying missions in Iraq.

The Air Force is setting up stations at its air bases at Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Bagram, near Kabul, the capital, to receive and process data and then send it along to ground troops.

The planes also can beam images and video directly to ground troops, who will be equipped with L-3 Communications ‘‘Rovers” -- laptop devices that allow soldiers to see the same images as airborne operators. Almost 5,000 Rovers have been delivered to the U.S. military by L-3 Communications.

Hand-Held Rovers

The Air Force also will give the Army about 50 of the latest-generation Rovers -- hand-held versions that allow soldiers via satellite link both to receive images and to tell pilots where to direct the plane’s cameras, Deptula said.

The new planes provide “full-motion video and specialized signals intelligence” and all 24 should be in Afghanistan by September, Deptula said.

The aircraft will augment round-the-clock surveillance now provided by unmanned Predator drones.

The modified planes are equipped with both high-resolution and heat-sensing cameras produced by New York City-based L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc. and with radios from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. and Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corp.

The planes also are equipped with sensors that can monitor insurgents’ conversations and help pinpoint their location, said Jeffrey Richelson, author of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” a detailed compendium now in its fifth edition.

The sensors are provided by the National Security Agency, which manages U.S. eavesdropping satellites.

“It’s a lot of intelligence and dissemination capability in a small package,” Richelson said. The planes, with self- protective equipment, are “also clearly designed for a combat environment,” he said.

Congress this year approved $950 million to buy as many as 37 aircraft from Wichita, Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft Corp. The planes can fly as high as 35,000 feet and orbit for as long as five hours. They are modified at L-3 Communication’s Greenville, Texas, facility.

Related links:
* Hawker Beechcraft Corp.
* L-3 Communications Holdings Inc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

American Airlines Flight 331 crashes

No one was seriously injured Tuesday evening when an American Airlines plane overshot a runway near Kingston, Jamaica, during bad weather and crashed into a fence, officials said.

Flight 331 was carrying 145 passengers plus seven crew members and was going from Miami to Kingston, said Omar Lawrence, operations coordinator at Norman Manley International Airport. The incident took place around 10:20 p.m.

Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman, refuted claims that the Boeing 737 broke into pieces but did say that there was damage to the fuselage, some cracks and the landing gear on one side of the plane collapsed.

Smith said they did not have an exact number of people injured but said most of the injuries were minor "bumps and bruises."

The flight originated in Washington D.C. before landing in Miami, Florida, and then heading to Jamaica, Smith said.

A Radio Jamaica reporter, Kirk Abraham, said it had been raining in the area and the plane ran into a fence after overshooting the runway.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

RQ-170 Sentinel Drone - Beast of Kandahar

A stealthy unmanned aircraft system (commonly known as a drone) developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division has secretly joined the US Air Force inventory. RQ-170 Sentinel. The high altitude jet powered vehicle has physical resembles with stealth B-2 bomber.
RQ-170 Sentinel Drone
The USAF confirms that the RQ-170 Sentinel is in development, and is expected "to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward-deployed combat forces", according to a statement released on 4 December.

The RQ-170 is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron, a unit reactivated by the USAF at the Tonopah Test Range in California on 1 September 2005, according to a service fact sheet.
RQ-170 Sentinel Drone
In a news release about a change of command, dated 10 August, the USAF described the 30th as a "developmental UAS squadron under the 432nd Wing, Air Combat Command".
RQ-170 Sentinel Drone
The RQ-170 joins the USAF's growing inventory of large surveillance aircraft, which includes the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems RQ-1 Predator/MQ-9 Reaper. But the Sentinel appears to be the first publicly acknowledged operational UAS designed for stealth.

The Sentinel's confirmed existence also sheds new light on Lockheed's activity in the large UAS market, which was previously considered to be undeveloped.

Lockheed's Dark Star unmanned air vehicle lost a competition in the late 1990s to the Global Hawk. Since then, Lockheed unveiled the P175 Polecat, a stealthy, high-altitude UAS, but the only known example crashed during a flight test.
RQ-170 Sentinel Drone
The main purpose of all UAVs remains reconnaissance for the fighting forces. RQ-170 Sentinel or the Beast of Kandahar will add much to the capabilities of American Forces fighting in Afghanistan.

Related posts:
* MQ-1 Predator Drone

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is it a drone or remotely piloted aerial vehicle

In the high-testosterone world of U.S. military jets and aerial dogfights, the names "drone" and "unmanned aerial vehicle" just don't fly.

The Air Force now prefers to use "remotely piloted aircraft" when discussing its fast-growing fleet of planes that do not have a pilot in the cockpit.

And the thing about an "unmanned aerial vehicle" is that it is not unmanned, said U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, speaking at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington this week.

The new term better reflects the presence of a human operator, who sits at a computer control panel thousands of miles away. The old term is wrong, he said.

"I think it mischaracterizes how the aircraft are operated," Donley said. "So I think 'remotely piloted aircraft' captures it a little bit better."

The change is significant to the Air Force as it recruits a new generation of pilots who may spend little time inside a jet plane. It wants the world to know that humans have "positive control over these vehicles," he said.

The United States and countries around the world have used remotely piloted aircraft for decades as weapons and for reconnaissance. Last week marked the public debut of the newest unmanned plane built by Lockheed Martin, the RQ-170, known in some circles as the "Beast of Kandahar."

Donley said the push for a new reference to the aircraft has been under way for several years.

"We have discussed this among the Air Force leadership, and it is really sort of a commitment that we make together," he said. "It just kind of changes ... the way the Air Force is represented in print."

Rockwell Collins Chief Executive Clay Jones, who flew an F-15 in the 1970s, acknowledged that military technology is changing the traditional role of a pilot. But he said human pilots are in no danger of becoming extinct.

"I think a human will always be in the loop on certain aircraft," Jones told the Reuters summit. "There is a clear opportunity for both types of systems to exist."

At the same time, he could not resist bragging about a Rockwell project to develop a holographic cockpit display mounted inside the visor and helmet of pilots who fly Lockheed Martin's new F-35 jet.

"This is very, very cool," he said. "It's real Buck Rogers stuff."

Related posts:
* MQ-1 Predator Drone

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner maiden flight

Fighting its way through more than two years of delays, Boeing's latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, is scheduled to take its maiden flight Tuesday.

"We think it's a game changer because it provides so much value to the customer," Jim Albaugh, Boeing executive vice president and CEO, said in a CNN interview. "We think this is going to be a very efficient airplane. It's going to change the way people travel."

Despite the delays, Boeing's first new commercial airliner in over a decade will still be relevant, Albaugh said Monday.

"It's more environmentally friendly, it's more efficient, uses less fuel, it's going to cost the operator less to fly, it's going to allow the passengers to pay less and feel better when they land."

Boeing's claims of the Dreamliner's much-touted efficiency are tied to its design. It's the first major airliner to be made of mostly composite materials. Boeing has staked its reputation on claims that the aircraft's relatively lighter, faster body will save airlines up to 20 percent in fuel costs.

The company also says the new material will hold up better to the wear and tear of flight than traditional aluminum. Boeing says it has orders for more than 850 of the planes, which officially sell for around $150 million each.

Depending on the configuration, the Dreamliner can seat between 200 to 300 passengers and can travel more than 2,500 nautical miles. The target market is carriers traveling point-to-point international routes.

But despite the promise of a new more efficient airplane, production delays and technical problems have stolen some of the Dreamliner's luster.

Many of the delays and snags in the supply line with the first Dreamliners have been blamed on the army of partners Boeing brought in to help with the construction.

"They did too much outsourcing, too soon, with too little oversight," said Scott Hamilton of the aviation consulting firm Leeham Co. "The customers have been mightily (upset) over the creeping delays."

Albaugh conceded that "in hindsight" the large amount of outsourcing done with the 787 was not the best strategy. "There a few things we might have kept inside, yes."

Even though 787s won't start flying passenger routes until at least 2011, Boeing executives said they hope a successful first flight will at least begin to quell doubts over the future of airplane production at the company.

The test flight "is going to validate the airplane to an extent," Albaugh said. "We've got 10 months of flight tests in front of us. ... There's a lot of work to do."

For Tuesday's scheduled test flight, the Dreamliner will take off from the hanger where it was assembled in Everett, Washington, and undergo a battery of tests during a five-hour flight before landing some 40 miles away at Boeing Field just south of downtown Seattle.

"We are going to shake this airplane out to demonstrate that it can do everything we've advertised it to do," Albaugh said.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

MQ-1 Predator Drone

The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which the United States Air Force describes as a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen.

The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. The fully operational system consists of four air vehicles (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS), and a Predator primary satellite link communication suite. The U.S. Air Force considers the Predator unmanned aircraft system (UAS) a "Tier II" vehicle.

About UAV

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV; also known as a remotely piloted vehicle or RPV) is an aircraft that flies without a human crew. Their largest uses are in military applications. To distinguish UAVs from missiles, a UAV is defined as a reusable, uncrewed vehicle capable of controlled, sustained, level flight and powered by a jet or reciprocating engine. Therefore, cruise missiles are not considered UAVs, because, like many other guided missiles, the vehicle itself is a weapon that is not reused, even though it is also unmanned and in some cases remotely guided.

There is a wide variety of UAV shapes, sizes, configurations, and characteristics. Historically, UAVs were simple drones (remotely piloted aircraft), but autonomous control is increasingly being employed in UAVs. UAVs come in two varieties: some are controlled from a remote location, and others fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans using more complex dynamic automation systems.

General characteristics

* Crew: none
* Length: 27 ft (8.22 m)
* Wingspan: 48.7 ft (14.8 m (dependent on block of aircraft))
* Height: 6.9 ft (2.1 m)
* Wing area: 123.3 sq ft (11.5 m²)
* Empty weight: 1,130 lb (512 kg)
* Loaded weight: 2,250 lb (1,020 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 2,250 lb (1,020 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Rotax 914F turbocharged Four-cylinder engine, 115 hp (86 kW)

Predator Performance

* Maximum speed: 135 mph (117 knots, 217 km/h)
* Cruise speed: 81–103 mph (70–90 knots, 130–165 km/h)
* Stall speed: 62 mph (54 knots (dependent on weight of aircraft), 100 km/h)
* Range: >2,000 nm (3,704 km, 2,302 miles)
* Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,620 m)

Predator Armament

2 hard points

* 2 × AGM-114 Hellfire (MQ-1B)
* 2 × AIM-92 Stinger (unknown number) (MQ-1B)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

China to launch Chang'e-2 lunar probe in October 2010

China will launch a second lunar probe in October 2010, state-run media reported. The probe, named Chang'e-2, will orbit 60 miles (100 km) closer to the moon than the nation's first probe, which launched in 2007.

That unmanned probe, Chang-e-1, hit the moon in a controlled crash in March after a 16-month mission.

Chang'e-2 is part of the second phase of China's ambitious lunar exploration program. In the third phase, scheduled for 2017, China plans to send a spacecraft to collect samples on the moon, China Daily reported.

The country's space program has made significant steps this decade.

In 2003 China became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to put a person in orbit. That year, Yang Liwei was celebrated as a national hero when he became the first Chinese in space.

Five years later, Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese to make a spacewalk.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Florida's space economy gloomy with end of US shuttle program

The United State's space shuttle program, which is so much part of state lore that Floridians voted to depict the winged space vehicle on a 2004 commemorative quarter coin, now has just a few missions left before winding down in 2010 after 29 years of flights.

And there is no clear replacement for what is an important driver of the fourth most-populous U.S. state's economy, as the Obama administration is debating a new U.S. manned-space program that would at best be many years away from new launches.

Florida's economy has been especially hard hit by recession. U.S. state and local governments are sapped by budget deficits, while fledgling private-sector efforts to carry Americans into space for fat fees appear to be nowhere near getting traction.

But on Monday, in California, billionaire Richard Branson unveiled a small passenger spaceship (dubbed VSS Enterprise) aimed at creating a commercial space tourism industry. Virgin Galactic, hopes the craft will carry tourists into zero gravity beginning in two or three years.

The rest of Florida, whose large economy and 18.3 million people are strikingly reliant on tourism and housing, also gets a meaningful lift from America's space programs that put the first people on the moon four decades ago.

During the 2008 fiscal year, NASA activities generated $4.1 billion in overall economic benefits for the state, including $2.1 billion in household income, and 40,802 jobs, according to a state study.

NASA last year spent $1.8 billion in Brevard, where 93 percent of the space center's 15,000 workers live. The space shuttle also drove much of the county's fast population growth over the last three decades.

Government officials acknowledge the state's space economy will never be the same, even if the federal government goes ahead with a proposed new manned space program that the head of a presidential panel has said was fatally flawed.

Yet, on the space coast, economic anxiety is displayed on checkout counters, where customers are encouraged to pick up and sign pre-typed letters to President Obama that implore him to make good on campaign promises to back the space program.

The letter-writing campaign and a website,, are part of a movement by local residents to make space programs a U.S. budget priority.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

VSS Enterprise - SpaceShipTwo Unveiled

Virgin Galactic Spaceship Enterprise or VSS Enterprise unveiled by Sir Richard Branson and designer Burt Rutan should begin ferrying passengers to sub-orbital space in as few as 18 months.