Sunday, January 31, 2010

Necker Nymph - Underwater plane

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson may already own an airline, a record label, a mobile phone company, several luxury restaurants and a Caribbean island. But today the entrepreneur unveiled his latest toy - an underwater plane.

The £415,000 prototype submersible is called the Necker Nymph and can dive to depths of up to 130ft. Sir Richard hopes to one day explore depths of 35,000ft - which is far more than the height of Mount Everest.

Sir Richard plans to lend the Nymph out to visitors of his luxury hideaway, Necker Island. Gliding like an aeroplane through the water it can carry a pilot and two visitors on a two-hour trip.

After undergoing scuba training, guests can uncover ancient shipwrecks, fly side-by-side with dolphins or follow whales.

Such a unique experience comes at a price of course. The Nymph is available to hire for $25,000 a week (£15,000), but only after you have forked out a minimum of $88,000 (£55,000) for seven nights on the luxury catamaran, the Necker Belle.

The luxury sub has fighter jet technology and is piloted with a joystick. While most subs use ballast to propel subs under the water, the Nymph uses downward 'lift' on the wings to fly down.

It was designed and built by Graham Hawkes, chief of Hawkes Ocean Technologies and is the first of its kind.

Marketing manager Karen Hawkes, said: 'The Nymph is an entirely new class of vehicle for us - think of a sleek convertible under water. It is different from our other submersibles because it was specifically designed to dive to scuba depths in tropical waters.

'It has the flexibility to glide peacefully over glorious reefs or bank adventurously in 360 degree turns.'

She described the sub, which is part of its Deep Flight range, as 'hydrobatic' with individual 'wind shields' that removes the pressure of slipstream. This means the sub can have an open cockpit that gives guests panoramic views.

Ms Hawkes also insisted that the sub had a low environmental impact.

'Its positive buoyancy prevents the sub from landing on a reef, and its low light and noise emissions ensure the fragile ocean ecosystems remain undisturbed.'

Sir Richard is expecting the sub to be delivered on February 20. So those readers who have a spare £70,000 may jump at this adventurous week's holiday. The rest of us can just dream...

Recommended reading:
* VSS Enterprise - SpaceShipTwo Unveiled

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sukhoi T-50 Stealth Fighter Jet

Russia's first stealth fighter intended to match the latest U.S. design made its maiden flight Friday, boosting the country's efforts to modernize its rusting Soviet-built arsenals and retain its lucrative export market.

The Sukhoi T-50's flight comes nearly two decades after the first prototype of the U.S. F-22 Raptor took to the air, and Russian officials said it will take another five years for the new jet to enter service. Still, the flight marked a major step in Russia's efforts to burnish the faded glory of its aviation industries and strengthen a beleaguered military.

The sleek twin-engined jet closely resembling the Raptor flew for 47-minutes from an airfield at Sukhoi's production plant in the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Friday. Development of the so-called fifth-generation fighter has been veiled in secrecy and no images of it had been released before the flight.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hailed the flight as a "big step forward," but admitted that "a lot remains to be done in terms of engines and armament."

Craig Caffrey, an analyst for Jane's Defense Procurement-Military Aircraft, said the new fighter is "hugely important," both for modernizing the aging Russian air force fleet and retaining export markets.

"The T-50 should offer the Russian Air Force a significant boost in its capabilities and ensure that it remains one of the best equipped air forces in the world," he told The Associated Press by e-mail.

Caffrey said the new fighter will attract many foreign customers. "For those countries that don't traditionally purchase military equipment from the U.S. it will be the only fifth generation aircraft available," he said.

The NPO Saturn company said in a statement that the jet has new engines, but military analysts suggested that they were a slightly modernized version of the Soviet-era engine powering the Su-27 family of fighters.

"It's a humbug," said independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "It's just a prototype lacking new engines and a new radar. It takes new materials to build a fifth-generation fighter, and Russia lacks them."

Putin said Friday the first batch of new fighters is set to enter an Air Force evaluation unit in 2013 and serial production is set to begin in 2015.

Caffrey said the task looks "very challenging, given the amount of new technology that is being incorporated into the new aircraft."

Russian military analysts were also skeptical, pointing at a history of delays in the program and other Russian weapons projects.

"The schedule will likely be pushed back as usual," said Alexander Konovalov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Assessment, an independent think tank.

Russia's prospective Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile has failed in at least eight of its 12 test launches, dealing a blow to Russia's hopes of making it a cornerstone of its nuclear arsenal. Officials have blamed the failures on manufacturing flaws resulting from post-Soviet industrial degradation.

Felgenhauer and other observers said the fighter program, which depends on hundreds of subcontractors, has been dogged by similar problems.

Russian officials have said the new fighter, like the Raptor, will have supersonic cruising speed and stealth capabilities. Its pilot, Sergei Bogdan, said in televised remarks that it was easy and pleasant to fly.

While officials saw the new fighter as essential, some analysts said the country has more pressing needs.

"There is no mission and no adversary for such plane," Konovalov said, adding that the Russian military lacks a modern communications system and satellite navigation. "It would be more expedient to fit modern avionics to older generation jets."

The U.S. administration decided to quit buying the F-22 Raptor, the world's most expensive fighter jet at more than $140 million apiece, effectively capping its production at the 186 already ordered.

NASA Global Hawk AV-6

The NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft has completed 10.4 hours for pilot training and flight characterization in preparation for the Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) Campaign set to start this spring. Five flights have been completed since the first flight of Air Vehicle Six (AV-6) in October.

Currently, AV-6 is being modified to carry eleven different earth science sensors in preparation for the GloPac Campaign. Missions will be based from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base and be conducted over remote areas of the Pacific and Arctic. Initial flights to test these sensors will begin in March.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Northrop Grumman's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System

Northrop Grumman's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft program can provides wide area surveillance covering more than 50,000 square kilometers and detect objects moving at a wide variety of speeds.

The system's expanded capabilities were recently demonstrated in a major coalition exercise in Korea. Its aircrews received their sixth consecutive battle management award. "These are significant examples of the system's battle management capabilities, and illustrates its ability to adapt to the needs of the warfighter," said Dale Burton, vice president for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and battle management command and control for Northrop.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ethiopian Airline Flight 409 crashes off Beirut international airport

Ethiopian Airline Flight 409 crashes An Ethiopian Airlines plane with 90 people on board crashed into the Mediterranean sea shortly after taking off from Beirut international airport in the early hours of Monday, airport sources said.

The Boeing 737-800 disappeared off the radar some five minutes after taking off, shortly after its scheduled departure time of 2:10 a.m. (0010 GMT), during a thunderstorm and heavy rain, the sources said. It was heading for Addis Ababa.

Eight-two passengers and eight crew were aboard, according to the plane's manifest, the sources said.

About 50 passengers were Lebanese nationals, three with dual nationalities: British, Canadian and Russian. Most of the others were Ethiopians. Hundreds of Ethiopians work as domestic helpers in Lebanon.

According to one source, residents on the coast saw a "ball of fire" crashing off Na'ameh village, a few kilometres (miles) south of the Lebanese capital.

Senior Lebanese officials and some family members of Lebanese passengers headed to Rafik Hariri International Airport after news of the crash. The plane had flown in from Addis Ababa earlier in the night, the sources said.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which could not immediately be reached for comment, has positioned itself as a major player in international air traffic in Africa and has recently expanded its Asian network.

Last Friday it announced an order for 10 of Boeing's Next-Generation 737-800s for a total price of $767 million.

Airbus A400M maiden flight had technical glitch

The Airbus A400M military transport plane experienced a software glitch during its first test flight in December, but the problem was minor, the European planemaker said Sunday.

The technical glitch was not reported when the four-engine turboprop aircraft - over-budget and behind schedule - made its maiden flight Dec. 11.

Airbus' comments came after the German weekly Der Spiegel reported on the problem this weekend, citing confidential documents from engine maker Europrop.

The issue was with the software controlling the engines and has been fixed, Airbus spokesman Jaime Perez-Guerra said.

The software glitch led the pilots to disengage an engine, meaning that its blades turn freely.

The plane has since logged nearly 30 hours of flight and is performing above expectations, he said.

The aircraft is four years behind schedule and more than euro5 billion (US$7.3 billion) over budget.

European aerospace contractor EADS wants the seven customer nations to pay for the extra costs, though a fixed price was agreed on in 2003.

The A400M's customers are Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey

Airbus has asked for a decision to be made by the end of January on how the project is to proceed.

Recommended reading:
*Airbus A400M may get canceled

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Puffin - NASA One-Man Stealth Plane

A super-quiet, hover-capable aircraft design, NASA's experimental one-man Puffin could show just how much electric propulsion can transform our ideas of flight. It looks like nothing less than a flying suit or a jet pack with a cockpit.
Puffin - NASA One-Man Stealth Plane
On the ground, the Puffin is designed to stand on its tail, which splits into four legs to help serve as landing gear. As a pilot prepares to take off, flaps on the wings would tilt to deflect air from the 2.3-meter-wide propeller rotors upward, keeping the plane on the ground until it was ready to fly and preventing errant gusts from tipping it over. The Puffin would rise, hover and then lean over to fly horizontally, with the pilot lying prone as if in a glider. When landing, the extending spring legs would support the 3.7-meter-long, 4.1-meter-wingspan craft, which is designed with carbon-fiber composites to weigh in at 135 kilograms, not including 45 kilograms of rechargeable lithium phosphate batteries.
Puffin - NASA One-Man Stealth Plane
In principle, the Puffin can cruise at 240 kilometers per hour and dash at more than 480 kph. It has no flight ceiling—it is not air-breathing like gas engines are, and thus is not limited by thin air—so it could go up to about 9,150 meters before its energy runs low enough to drive it to descend. With current state-of-the-art batteries, it has a range of just 80 kilometers if cruising, "but many researchers are proposing a tripling of current battery energy densities in the next five to seven years, so we could see a range of 240 to 320 kilometers by 2017," says researcher Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. He and his colleagues will officially unveil the Puffin design on January 20 at an American Helicopter Society meeting in San Francisco.
Puffin - NASA One-Man Stealth Plane
Moore and his colleagues at NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Aerospace, and M-DOT Aerospace named their craft the Puffin because "if you've ever seen a puffin on the ground, it looks very awkward, with wings too small to fly, and that's exactly what our vehicle looks like," he explains. "But it's also apparently called the most environmentally friendly bird, because it hides its poop, and we're environmentally friendly because we have essentially no emissions. Also, puffins tend to live in solitude, only ever coming together on land to mate, and ours is a one-person vehicle."

This design relies on electric motors. These remain efficient regardless of their size, whereas internal combustion engines become less efficient the smaller they are. As such, electric aircraft can use small motors while generating impressive propulsion—the Puffin can lift a person with just 60 horsepower.

At up to 95 percent efficiency, electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines, which only rate some 18 to 23 percent. This means electric aircraft are much quieter than regular planes—at some 150 meters, it is as loud as 50 decibels, or roughly the volume of a conversation, making it roughly 10 times quieter than current low-noise helicopters.

This super-quiet quality makes the Puffin potentially ideal for covert military insertions of special operations units and other troops—indeed, it was originally aimed to launch from submarines; unmanned versions could also help transport supplies. Quieter aircraft also mean that airports for civil applications such as personal travel and fast courier services could be located much closer to population centers and perhaps even residences without bothering others, significantly cutting down commute times. Inventors all over the world are still striving to develop personal air vehicles, the equivalent of a plane in every garage—for instance, Samson Motorworks is trying to develop a land/air-capable motorcycle.

In addition, since electric motors are so efficient, they also generate far less heat. This not only gives them a lower thermal signature for military stealth, but means they don't need anywhere near the same amount of cooling air flowing over them that internal combustion engines do, thereby reducing aerodynamic drag that can slow them down.

Because electric motors have fewer moving parts, they are perhaps 10 or even 20 times more reliable than piston engines. In addition, the Puffin's design allows pieces of either of its two electric motors to fail without any reduction in power to the prop rotors. The plane could also take a hard, forceful landing if necessary, as the landing gear supports the brunt of the load instead of the pilot, unlike some other one-man flying craft.

"The Puffin is an exciting idea.... It converges and demonstrates many technologies at once," said Brien Seeley, president of the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation, a Santa Rosa, Calif.–based independent flight test agency that hosts the annual Electric Aircraft Symposium. "In my opinion, a mass-marketable version will need conventional seating, cup holders and a short runway for glide-in, view-ahead landings—but opening up people's imagination is the first essential step."

By March, the researchers plan on finishing a one third–size, hover-capable Puffin demonstrator, and in the three months following that they will begin investigating how well it transitions from cruise to hover flight. They are already looking past the Puffin, however. The next-generation of this design might incorporate more than just two pairs of prop rotors, so that if one was struck by, say, a bird or gunfire, the aircraft could survive on redundant systems. "We could make it so there's no single point of failure—that's the cool next step," Moore says.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Antonov 124 visiting Brisbane

The giant Russian Antonov 124 will visit Brisbane International, carrying two naval combat NH90 NATO frigate helicopters on its giant cargo deck. The arrival of the aircraft has been organised by Australian Aerospace, Australia's only helicopter manufacturer, and NH Industries, the prime contractor for the NH90 helicopter.
Antonov 124 visiting Brisbane

Antonov 124 visiting Brisbane

The Antonov 124 has a wingspan of 73.5 metres, a little shy of its big brother the Antonov 225, which spans 88 metres. The Antonov is about the same size as the Airbus A380.

The six-engined Antonov strategic airlifter is commercially available to carry oversized payloads anywhere in the world due to its massive cargo deck.

The Canadian military is using an Antonov to carry relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

The Anatov 124 was developed foremost as a military transport aircraft to replace the aging AN-22, designed by Russia in the 1950s.

About Antonov AN-124

The Antonov An-124 Ruslan (Ukrainian and Russian: Антонов Ан-124 «Руслан») (NATO reporting name: 'Condor') was the largest airplane in production until the Antonov An-225 was built. During development it was known, in house, as Izdeliye 400 and An-40 in the West. First flown in 1982, civil certification was issued by the CIS Interstate Aviation Committee on 30 December 1992. Over forty are currently in service (26 civilian models with airlines and 10 firm orders as of August 2006) and 20 were in commercial use in 1998 in Ukraine, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Airbus A400M may get canceled

The production of Airbus A400M may get canceled. The chief executive of Airbus has warned he is prepared to cancel production of the company's A400M military transport plane.

Delays to the A400M project have already increased its budget by 25%. The project is now 5bn euros ($7.25bn; £4.5bn) over its initial budget as a result of weight and engine problems.

The seven European governments that have ordered the plane will decide by the end of January whether to pay more.

Fixed price error

Seven countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK - have ordered 180 A400M aircraft in total between them.

Under contracts signed ahead of the start of the programme six years ago, Airbus has agreed to sell them the planes for a fixed price.

"We made a big mistake when we [entered into] contracts for this aircraft six or seven years ago," Mr Enders said, speaking to BBC World Business Report.

"If you make mistakes don't repeat them. We should not again take a decision which would lead us to further problems in the years to come."

However he added that the final decision on whether to scrap the project would be the decision of the whole board at Airbus' parent company EADS.

Customers disagree

The A400M, which was designed to fly troops and equipment, is set to replace ageing military cargo carriers in several European air forces.

It had been due to go into service last year, but will not take to the skies until 2012 at the earliest. The delay led to South Africa cancelling an order for eight planes.

There is a split between those countries who want the aircraft built and in use quickly, notably the UK and France, and those who would prefer to proceed more slowly to spread the cost, in particular Germany.

Serious threat

Ditching the A400M would cost EADS some 5.7bn euros in advance payments - more than double the 2.4bn euros it has already set aside to cover losses it expects to incur from the project.

There is every chance such losses could rise further, so analysts say Mr Enders' warning is more than just posturing aimed at putting pressure on European governments.

"There will come a point where it is better for EADS to simply walk away," said Nomura aerospace analyst Jason Adams.

Doing so would severely damage Airbus' reputation and boost arch rival Boeing, which has seen the order book for its A400M rival, the C-17, swell.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Air New Zealand latest cabin crew uniforms

Air New Zealand has revealed it's new cabin crew uniforms, but the bright pink design has been labelled fit for a drag queen.
Air NZ Male uniform
Air NZ male uniform

Air NZ ground staff uniform
Air NZ ground staff uniform

Air NZ cabin crew dress
Air NZ cabin crew dress

Friday, January 8, 2010

Qantas A380 Airbus fly passengers over Antarctica

A Qantas A380 Airbus has become the first of the giant airliners to fly passengers over Antarctica, taking 450 revellers out of Melbourne to see in the new year.

A380 over Antarctica

The cheapest seat is $999, the dearest more than $6000. It's the first time an A380 has done such a trip. The travel company involved has run these Antarctic flights since 1994, until now on Boeing 747s. In a way it's a voyage to nowhere, take-off and landing in the same place. It feels somehow as if it shouldn't be happening. The plane has orange, yellow and purple streamers inside. At midnight we find ourselves with champagne and party whistles. In a plane.

A380 over Antarctica

The first iceberg is seen from the plane's left side at 9.50pm. It triggers a rush of excitement, but it's an exercise in diplomacy to get near a window. Head pilot John Dennis is lounging in first class at the time, letting his underlings fly. He's done 40 of these missions. The pilots are treated like celebrities. Later they will sign autographs.

Captain Dennis waves off that first iceberg with the air of someone who knows what will happen next. ''Don't worry about it,'' he says. ''There will be more.''

A380 over Antarctica

Recommended reading:
* Qantas A380 passengers tarmac ordeal

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Qantas A380 passengers tarmac ordeal

The 2010 annus horribilis continues for Qantas, with passengers stuck on the tarmac in another Airbus 380 for hours on end, this time in Los Angeles.

It has emerged that 398 passengers were stuck for three-and-a-half hours on the tarmac on board the flagship superjumbo in Los Angeles on Sunday, US time, while engineers tried to rectify technical faults.

Eventually passengers on QF12 were off-loaded after the crew had exceeded their allowable on-duty hours. The Sydney-bound flight was rescheduled for the next day and arrived this morning.

A Qantas spokesman said the plane had a brake indication fault that occurred twice, the second time after an attempted repair.

It is the second time this week Qantas passengers have been stuck on board an A380 for hours.

The incident mirrors Monday's hold-up at Melbourne Airport, where almost 450 passengers were stuck on board an A380 for more than five hours while engineers tried to fix a technical fault.

The repairs dragged on and eventually passengers were let off the plane after the flight was postponed to the next day.

Qantas blamed the strict new security screening regime required for US flights to America for the decision to keep passengers on board for so long.

Bizarrely, the two incidents were happening almost simultaneously, with the delay hitting the LA flight as passengers prepared to disembark the faulty A380 in Melbourne.

Since the New Year, Qantas has suffered outages of its check-in system, baggage system and aircraft malfunctions that have caused lengthy delays to the travel plans thousands of passengers in Australia and internationally.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Air Berlin Boeing 737-800 overshoots Dortmund runway

A jet veered off the runway at a western German airport, but no one was injured, authorities say.

The pilot of the Air Berlin Boeing 737-800 braked to abort the takeoff from Dortmund airport because of a "technical irregularity", but the plane left the runway in wintry conditions, airline spokeswoman Diane Daedelow said.

It came to rest with its nose pointing down a slight, snow-covered slope.

None of the 165 passengers and six crew members was hurt, and the plane was undamaged, Daedelow said.

Passengers left the aircraft normally using steps, and were taken to nearby Paderborn airport, where another plane flew them to their destination, Las Palmas, in Spain's Canary Islands.

Later in the day, the airline said takeoff was aborted because the pilot and co-pilot were being shown different speeds by their instruments.

Dortmund airport was closed after the incident at 7.05 am (1705 AEDT) on Sunday to allow for the aircraft's recovery.

Other flights were cancelled or diverted. Dortmund fire service official Thomas Osthoff said on n-tv television about 120 officers initially were dispatched to the scene - but "fortunately it turned out that a deployment on this scale wasn't needed".

The plane is the second Boeing 737-800 to leave the runway in recent weeks.

On December 22, an American Airlines flight from Washington left the runway as it landed in Kingston, Jamaica, in heavy rain.

In that case, the fuselage cracked open, the left main landing gear collapsed and the nose was crushed as the plane lurched to a halt at the ocean's edge. There were no deaths, but many passengers needed hospital treatment.