Monday, March 29, 2010

Space shuttle Discovery set for launch April 5

Space shuttle Discovery set for launch April 5

Space Shuttle Discovery will launch April 5 on one of the last remaining shuttle flights to the International Space Station, mission managers said Sunday.

NASA managers said concerns over potential valve leaks had been settled and the shuttle was considered ready for the mission.

Discovery will blast off at 6:21 a.m. ET, according to NASA. The 13-day mission will provide the international space station with eight tons of science equipment and cargo, NASA said.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

VSS Enterprise maiden flight

British billionaire Richard Branson's dream of space travel that thousands of people can afford took a leap toward reality with the maiden flight of the world's first commercial spacecraft over California's Mojave Desert.

Branson's company Virgin Galactic announced Monday that the VSS Enterprise had successfully completed what it called a captive carry flight attached to a carrier plane.

The spacecraft's developer called it a "momentous day."

"The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program," said Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, which built the spacecraft.

The VSS Enterprise remained attached to its carrier aircraft for the duration of the 2-hour, 54-minute flight, reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet, according to a statement from Virgin.

Eventually, the 60-foot long rocket plane will be taken 60,000 feet above the Earth by its carrier and fire rockets to propel itself into space.

The test-flight program is expected to continue through 2011, going first to a free glide and then to a powered flight before commercial flights begin.

"Seeing the finished spaceship in December was a major day for us but watching VSS Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful, ground-breaking vehicles Burt and his team have developed for us," Branson said.

"Today was another major step along that road and a testament to U.S. engineering and innovation," he said.

Virgin Galactic has envisioned one flight a week, with six tourists aboard. Each will pay $200,000 for the ride and train for at least three days before going. About 80,000 people have placed their names on the waiting list for seats.

"What we want to be able to do is bring space travel down to a price range where hundreds of thousands of people would be able to experience space, and they never dreamed that [they] could," Branson said last year.

He has said he hopes the technology will lead to a new form of Earth travel, jetting people across oceans and continents faster through suborbital routes.

Recommended reading:
* VSS Enterprise - SpaceShipTwo Unveiled

Friday, March 26, 2010

Comac C919

The Comac C919 is a planned 168-190 seat narrow-body airliner to be built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac).

It will be the largest commercial airliner designed and built in China since the defunct Shanghai Y-10. Its first flight is expected to take place in 2014, with deliveries scheduled for 2016. The C919 forms part of China's long-term goal to break Airbus and Boeing's duopoly, and will compete against Airbus A320 family and the Boeing 737 Next Generation.

Comac C919

Recommended reading:
* Inside Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental
* Airbus A400M may get canceled

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Avic AC313 helicopter

A heavy-lift AC313 helicopter, built by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic), can carry 27 passengers or up to 13.8 tonnes. The AC313 helicopter has a maximum range of 900km (560 miles)

Related link:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Airbus A350 XWB

The German government is ready to grant a 1.1 billion euro ($A1.62 billion) loan to develop the Airbus A350 extra wide body (XWB) long-haul passenger aircraft, a senior economics ministry official said yesterday.

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus A350 XWB

"As far as we are concerned all pre-conditions have been met and the funds are available," said Peter Hintze, parliamentary state secretary at the ministry of economics.

His statement implied that the conditions were in line with World Trade Organisation rules.

Hintze said that "final issues" would have to be solved, notably how to divide up work between France and Germany on another project, the A30X, a potential successor to the A320.

"We want to be sure that (A30X) research and development will be done in Germany," he said.

The A30X's completion is widely expected to take place in Hamburg, northern Germany.

"We want an agreement quickly," he said. "We want to wind up the negotiations in spring."

Airbus, a division of the European aerospace giant EADS, intends to launch the A350 as a rival to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

The Airbus A350 XWB (extra-wide body) is described by the company as an eco-friendly passenger aircraft that can seat between 270 and 350 passengers.

Photos: Inside the Airbus A350 XWB

Able to run on less fuel than current planes, its development is supported by four partner nations -- Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

France has announced support of 1.4 billion euros for the 12-billion-euro programme and Britain around 400 million.

The Spanish government remains in discussions with Airbus over its funding offer but reports say it could be around 300 million euros.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

T-Hawk UAV

The T-Hawk is made by Honeywell Corp. and used by U.S. Army infantry in Iraq. The T-Hawk can zip up to 10,000 feet for up to 45 minutes. At 16.5 pounds it is lightweight.

T-Hawk UAV

Monday, March 22, 2010

RQ-7B Shadow UAV

This is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Army battalions need tactical surveillance. It has flown hundreds of thousands of hours. A little more than 11 feet long, it weighs 375 pounds and has a wingspan of 14 feet. An infrared illuminator can laser-pinpoint targets for laser-guided missiles and bombs.

RQ-7B Shadow UAV

Related posts:
* RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wasp III

Used by U.S. Air Force Special Ops. The Wasp weighs one pound, and is a hand-launch flying wing is outfitted with a day and night camera. Electric, two-bladed propeller makes it sneaky quiet. Its inventory is classified.

Wasp III

Saturday, March 20, 2010

RQ-11 Raven

Made by AeroVironment, the Raven is the most prominent UAV with more than 7,000 units in service. Nearly every Army combat brigade in Afghanistan or Iraq has one. Three feet long and 4.2 pounds, the Raven is fitted with an electronically stabilized color video camera or an infrared video camera for night missions, which pan, tilt and zoom digitally.

RQ-11 Raven

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hermes 450/Watchkeeper UAV

Made by Elbit Systems of Israel, this drone furnishes target coordinates over Israeli battlefields, and provides reconnaissance for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can hover for about 20 hours on its 34-foot wing, up to an altitude of 18,000 feet, providing real-time surveillance.

Hermes 450/Watchkeeper UAV

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Scan Eagle UAV

The Scan Eagle is in use by Marine Corps troops in Iraq and aboard U.S. Navy ships anywhere in the world. The device is about 40 pounds and four-feet long with a 10.2-foot wingspan, and is powered by a gasoline engine for 15 hours.

Scan Eagle UAV

MQ-5 Hunter

The MQ-5 Hunter is made by Northrup Grumman and flown by the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Hunter has been in service since the Balkans war, and was recently retrofitted in the MQ variant to run on heavy fuel and carry Viper Strike munitions.

MQ-5 Hunter

Related posts:
* MQ-1C Sky Warrior

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hypersonic X-51 Waverider

The U.S. Air Force is gearing up for the first of four planned test flights of a hypersonic aircraft designed to operate for much longer durations and cover far greater distances than previous platforms of its type.

The maiden flight of the X-51 Waverider aircraft — the first U.S. hypersonic vehicle to fly in six years — is scheduled to take place later in March. Boeing Defense, Space & Security Systems of St. Louis has been developing the aircraft since 2003 on behalf of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The missile-shaped X-51 will be carried aloft under the wing of a B-52 bomber, Joe Vogel, Boeing's director of hypersonics, said in a Feb. 22 interview. It will be released from the jet over the Pacific Ocean and drop for four seconds until its rocket motor ignites and accelerates it to about 5,800 kilometers per hour, just shy of the widely accepted start of hypersonic flight at Mach 5, or about 6,100 kilometers per hour. At that point, its air-breathing scramjet — or supersonic combustion ramjet — engine, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., will kick in, shooting the craft to Mach 6, or more than 7,400 kilometers per hour.

Grand plans for hypersonic vehicles have been around for decades, but their goals were often unrealistic and not matched by budgets, resulting in failure. The approach on X-51 has been to demonstrate the technologies that could one day enable things like single-stage-to-orbit vehicles.

"Theoretically you can probably get there someday, but trying to do it all at once with not enough money is very, very challenging," Vogel said.

Potential applications for hypersonic technology are superfast airplanes, missiles and reusable space launch vehicles, Vogel said. While the technology is not ready to ferry passengers from New York to Los Angeles in under an hour, such a scenario is not all that far-fetched, Vogel said. The upcoming demonstrations should show that the technology could be used in a next-generation missile program, he said.

Boeing has 42 people working on the X-51 program, down from a peak of about 90 people in 2007. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's team peaked around 60 people and is now down to nine people, Vogel said.

Boeing also built the United States' previous hypersonic flight demonstrator, the X-43A, on behalf of NASA. The X-43A program made two successful flights in 2004: an 11-second flight that reached Mach 7, and a 10-second flight that approached Mach 10 and set a new record for fastest flight by a jet-powered aircraft. Both vehicles were designed to plummet into the ocean and be destroyed.

Scramjet engines like those on the X-43A and X-51 must be accelerated to very high speeds to deliver compressed air to their combustion chambers. Both crafts rely on rocket propulsion to create this initial speed.

While the X-51 will not reach the top speed of its predecessor, it is intended to demonstrate more operationally realistic technologies, Vogel said. Whereas the X-43A used a highly energetic hydrogen fuel, the X-51 uses the same JP-7 fuel that powered the SR-71 surveillance aircraft, and its engine could be adapted to use other hydrocarbon-based fuels, he said. The X-51 is expected to fly about 900 kilometers under jet power in about five minutes, 30 times longer in duration than the X-43A flights.

Boeing has built four X-51 aircraft for the upcoming test campaign. Though none will be recovered after its test flight, their liquid-cooled scramjet engines have shown in ground testing to be very durable, Vogel said. The X-43A engine was not actively cooled and was not intended for reuse.

"This [the X-51] engine has been tested extensively in the laboratory, and it's come out and been reused multiple times," Vogel said. "In theory, if we had more time and more money and more space in the vehicle, we probably would have put a recovery system into it. Future vehicles could have a recovery system, and we have started looking at ways to recover the engine."

The government does not currently plan to support the X-51 program beyond the four identical flight tests, which should be complete by the fall, Vogel said. Boeing has proposed a next phase of the program to the government, but he declined to be specific.

Since 2003 the government has spent about $250 million on the X-51 program, Vogel said. Air Force Research Laboratory spokesman Derek Kaufman was unable to provide funding details by press time.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vulture UAV

Vulture UAV by Jim Wilson/Lockheed Martin

Class: High-Altitude

Habitat: A belt of relatively calm air around 55,000 feet

Behavior: Lockheed Martin’s design for Darpa’s Vulture program can stay aloft for five years, turning lazy circles above any patch of ground that needs continuous monitoring. A suite of day-and-night cameras can scan a 600-mile swath, sending data back to handlers on the ground. The craft will have to beat out species from a Boeing-led consortium and Virginia-based Aurora Flight Sciences for a second round of funding.

Notable Feature: The craft’s semiflexible structure bends instead of breaking when winds cause the long span to oscillate violently

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Embla UAV

Embla UAV by Aesir

Embla UAV

Class: Hovercraft

Habitat: Afghanistan and disaster zones, starting in June, according to British manufacturer Aesir. About the size and shape of a spare tire, the Embla lifts straight up from the ground without the need for a runway, making it more useful to combat soldiers stationed in rough terrain. Its diminutive size lets it zoom down urban canyons to find hard-to-reach enemy hideouts, and it can send video to a remote PDA-size controller, revealing potential ambushes. Loaded with explosives, it could even enter an enemy compound on a suicide mission. Yet it’s not exclusively a military breed—Embla’s maneuverability makes it a good scout in emergency scenarios too dangerous for humans to enter.

Behavior: The Embla can change direction on a dime, fly at 50 mph, and climb to 10,000 feet. It also has the ability to hover in place to, for instance, transmit encrypted HD video. Notable Feature: Whereas a ducted fan funnels air straight down to generate lift, the Embla’s turbine sucks air in through its top and forces it out through a skirt-like wing. This design bends the flow toward the ground. This makes Embla strong enough to carry cameras, weapons and sensors on its belly, oriented toward the terrain it’s watching.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ion Tiger UAV

Ion Tiger UAV by Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C.

Ion Tiger UAV

Class: Endurance

Habitat: European airfields, potentially, from which it could reach the Middle East, once the Navy perfects the fuel-cell technology inside. It could fly as low as 1,000 feet without being heard on the ground, or as high as 14,000 feet.

Behavior: Its ability to stay aloft for 24 hours allows the Ion Tiger to encroach on the terrain of much bigger birds, such as the Predator, and its small size lets it get closer to a target to shoot footage with its lighter, cheaper camera.

Notable Feature: Its carbon-wrapped aluminum hydrogen tanks weigh only about nine pounds each, which helps this UAV stay airborne longer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Excalibur UAV

Excalibur UAV by McArdle Productions

Excalibur UAV

Class: Hunt-and-kill

Habitat: Future war zones, on land and at sea. If Aurora Flight Sciences can scale up the prototype, Excalibur could be deployed on the battlefield within five years.

Behavior: Unlike Air Force drones, which are flown by operators stateside and are in short supply, the Excalibur can be remotely operated from wherever it’s deployed—the mountains of Afghanistan or the helipad of a ship—providing immediate tactical support to Army, Navy and Marine troops. It can take off and land without a runway and flies at 30,000 feet. Fitted with 400 pounds of laser-guided munitions, including Hellfire missiles, the hybrid turbine-electric Excalibur strikes enemy targets up to 600 miles away from its handler. It can loiter and inspect the damage with a suite of infrared or electro-optical surveillance cameras and follow anyone who gets away.

Notable Feature: After takeoff, the jet engine pivots in-line with the fuselage, and the lift turbines retract inside the wing section for forward flight. It travels at a brisk 530 mph—twice as fast as a helicopter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

S-100 Camcopter UAV

S-100 Camcopter UAV by Franz Pfluegl/Schiebel.

S-100 Camcopter UAV

Class: Hovercraft

Habitat: Warships, borders, forest fires, mob scenes

Behavior: Made by Austrian electronics manufacturer Schiebel, the helicopter can take off and land autonomously from a half-sized helipad and fly for six hours with a 75-pound payload at 120 knots. Fitted with its standard infrared and daytime cameras, it can hover at up to 18,000 feet and watch anything from troop movements to illegal border crossings to spreading forest fires.

Notable Feature: Separate controls for the vehicle and the cameras or payload allow for complex missions, such as deploying tear gas over a crowd.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Being developed by the BAE Systems laboratory in London, the Demon flies with no fins. The entire body of the craft is shaped like a wing. Dozens of thrusters situated on its top and bottom shape airflow, replacing the work typically done by tail fins and ailerons. Onboard software varies the strength of each thruster to control pitch, side-to-side movement, or yaw, and roll.



Monday, March 8, 2010

Boeing Phantom Ray UAV

This stealth UAV aircraft is being tested at the Edwards Air Force Base, Lancaster, Calif. This prototype jet-powered flying wing has morphed into a test bed for advanced UAV technologies, including electronic warfare tools like radar jamming, autonomous aerial refueling, air-missile defense and surveillance. Engineers expect it to fly at up to 40,000 feet. With an anticipated cruising speed of up to 610 mph, the Phantom Ray will be one of the fastest UAVs on record.

Boeing Phantom Ray

Boeing Phantom Ray

Sunday, March 7, 2010

RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV

RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV from Northrop Grumman.

RQ-4 Global Hawk  UAV

Habitat: High above Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—or anywhere else the U.S. Central Command wants to keep under watch.

Behavior: Soaring at 65,000 feet with an endurance of 36 hours, the Global Hawk can keep watch over 40,000 nautical square miles per mission. Carrying a full suite of electro-optical, infrared and synthetic aperture radar sensors, it can operate day and night in all weather conditions. The larger variation has a 130-foot wingspan.

Notable Feature: The fact that it can take off and land autonomously greatly reduces the potential for crashes, which have handicapped the Predator and Reaper.

Recommended read:
* RQ-170 Sentinel Drone - Beast of Kandahar

Skylite UAV

skylite uav

Class: Stealth

Habitat: Israeli borders

Behavior: Equipped with cameras and sensors, SkyLite typically flies up to 36,000 feet, the same altitude as commercial airplanes, providing a bird’s-eye view of enemy terrain and movement.

Notable Feature: Fits in a backpack and can stay aloft for four hours on a single charge

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mantis UAV

Mantis UAV from Ronen Nadir/Bluebird Aero Systems

Class: Autonomous

Habitat: Up to 40,000 feet above any battlefield, disaster site or border, relaying intelligence data back to controllers on the ground

Behavior: All a soldier will have to do to send the self-piloted Mantis on a mission is push a button. From there, it can calculate flight plans, fly around obstacles, and check in with ground controllers when it spots something interesting, like smoke or troop movement. At the end of the mission, it flies home and lands itself. Mantis’s maiden flight went off without a hitch in Australia last October, an astoundingly fast development—it didn’t even exist in 2007. BAE Systems expects it to be ready for sale within two years and hopes to use it as a proving ground for systems in its forthcoming automated stealth bomber, the Taranis.

Notable Feature: Mantis is the first in a new breed of smart drones. A craft that can hone its searches requires less bandwidth than those that constantly stream images. Mantis can also monitor itself for damage—a sputtering engine, for example—and adjust its electronics to complete a mission. It can fly up to 345 miles an hour and operate for up to 36 hours.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Avenger UAV

Avenger UAV from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems


Flight-operations center for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in Palmdale, California, where it’s performing final test flights for prospective buyers

The stealthy jet-powered Avenger is packed with 3,000 pounds of surveillance equipment and lethal munitions, such as laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 500-pound GBU-38 bombs. It can reach speeds of up to 530 mph, far faster than its spindly predecessors, the Predator and Reaper. With fuel packed into every available nook of the fuselage, it can loiter above a target for nearly 20 hours.

Notable Feature:
Its internal weapons bay allows for interchangeable payloads, such as next-gen wide-area surveillance sensors.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Zephyr UAV

Zephyr UAV from QinetiQ

Zephyr UAV QinetiQ

Less than 100 pounds, 75-foot wingspan

50,000 feet above Yuma, Arizona, where London-based manufacturer QinetiQ is testing prototypes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Indian Navy Jet crashed near Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad

Indian Navy Jet crashed near Begumpet Airport in HyderabadAn Indian Navy jet crashed during an air show in southern India Wednesday, killing the pilots and injuring two civilians on the ground, authorities said.

The pilot and co-pilot died in the crash of the Kiran MK-II, according to Murli Krishna, a deputy police commissioner.

Indian navy chief Nirmal Verma told reporters that the pilot and the co-pilot probably avoided ejection in a bid to minimize damage on the ground.

The plane hit a three-story building in a residential area near Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad, injuring two civilians, he said.

A mother and her son, who were watching the air show from the balcony of their apartment suffered minor injuries, Hyderabad police commissioner A.K. Khan said

Indian Navy Jet crashed near Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad

The plane was flying as part of a four-plane formation by a Navy aerobatics team when it went down.


Concept of High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV from Boeing.

Size: 7 tons, 250-foot wingspan

65,000 feet above future battlefields, where it will provide 24/7 surveillance and data communication.

Notable Feature: The plane stays up for 10 days, powered by a Ford truck engine modified to run on hydrogen fuel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Global Observer UAV

Global Observer UAV from AeroVironment

Global Observer UAV

Size: Weight undisclosed, 175-foot wingspan

Made by Monrovia, California’s AeroVironment, Global Observer will circle up to 65,000 feet above battlefields, disaster sites, borders—any locale in need of aerial surveillance or a wireless data link

Notable Feature:
Liquid hydrogen powers an electric generator, which drives four propellers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

5th Generation Fighter Jets

The different 5th Generation Fighters illustrating the capabilities of Sukhoi-T50 and Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor.

5th Generation Fighters

Samarai UAV

Samarai UAV from Lockheed Martin

Samarai UAV


150 grams, 12-inch wingspan

Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Tech Laboratories in Bethesda, Maryland

Like the spiraling maple-leaf seedlings—more commonly known as whirlybirds—that inspired it, the single wing spins around a central hub to create lift. A miniature jet engine provides thrust. A tiny flap on the trailing edge of the wing, its only moving part, controls direction. If engineers can shrink it to three inches and 15 grams, the autonomous device could be used to spy indoors.

Notable Feature: In the future, a camera mounted on the central hub that snaps a picture once every rotation will collect enough images to stitch together full-motion video. Diet: Today, batteries; but engineers plan to feed the next version propane, which is light and readily available in the military supply chain.