Monday, April 19, 2010

NATO F-16 fighters damaged by volcanic ash

A senior Western diplomat says several NATO F-16 fighters suffered engine damage after flying through the volcanic ash cloud covering large parts of Europe.

The official declined to provide more details on the military flights, except to say that glass-like deposits were found inside the planes' engines after they patrolled over European airspace.

Last week, two Finnish Air Force F-18 fighter-bombers suffered similar damage while flying through the ash plume that has paralyzed air traffic over much of Europe. Both landed safely, but their jet engines will require expensive overhauls.

Volcanic ash tends to stick to a jet engine's interior parts, such as the turbines, where it melts to form a glassy coating. This restricts air flow and heats up the engine, leading to engine failure.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Aero Union freight plane crashed in Monterrey, Mexico

Six people died, including a motorist on the ground, when a freight plane crashed as it was about to land in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, local authorities said on Wednesday.

The private Airbus A300-B4 crashed shortly before midnight on Tuesday, and pieces of the plane fell on airport land and a nearby road, said Jorge Camacho, director of the local civil protection.

Five people travelling on the plane were killed, as well as a car driver hit by debris, Camacho said, adding that the cause of the crash was as yet unknown.

The airport was functioning normally, he said.

The plane had taken off from Mexico City and was operated by Aero Union, Airbus said in a statement.

Aero Union freight plane crashed

Cathay Pacific pilot steer crippled Airbus A330 to safety

The Australian pilots of a Cathay Pacific flight who managed to steer an Airbus A330 to safety at Hong Kong's airport after both its engines malfunctioned, have been hailed as heroes by colleagues.

Cathay Pacific said in a statement the plane's left engine had shut down as the aircraft made its landing approach at Hong Kong's international airport yesterday with 309 passengers on a flight from Surabaya in Indonesia.

The right engine also began to "cut out inexplicably, leaving the [pilots] to cope with dips and surges in power and the prospect of the plane plunging into the sea short of [the airport]," the South China Morning Post reported.

The emergency landing caused all four tyres on the left side of the plane to deflate, while two on the right side also deflated, the airline said. Passengers were evacuated on emergency inflatable slides. There were eight injuries.

"It was an amazing piece of piloting in extremely testing circumstances," one colleague of the two Australian pilots was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying.

"One engine was shut down completely and the other was going on and of. They effectively landed the plane on half an engine."

The paper quoted another Cathay Pacific staff member as saying: "Their stories will come out in due course when the investigation is complete but what they did was nothing short of heroic. It's a miracle they managed to get the plane down safely."

Hong Kong's Civil Aviation department said it would investigate the "serious aircraft incident" and release a report in a month's time.

Recommended reading:
* Merpati airline Boeing 737 crashes

Monday, April 12, 2010

Merpati airline Boeing 737 crashes

A passenger jet carrying about 100 people has skidded off a runway and plunged into a river after landing in heavy rain in Indonesia.

Officials say at least 20 people are injured.

The Merpati airline Boeing 737 broke into pieces this morning as it bounced off the tarmac at Rendani domestic airport in Manokwari, West Papua, director general of civil aviation Herry Bhakti Singayuda said.

Passenger plane skids off runway in Indonesia

A jet carrying about 100 passengers skidded off the runway into a shallow river as it landed in Indonesia today, injuring about 20 people, officials said.

The Merpati airline Boeing 737 broke into pieces as it bounced off the tarmac at Rendani domestic airport in Manokwari, West Papua, director general of civil aviation Herry Bhakti Singayuda said.

"It skidded off the runway and part of its body landed in a river," he said, referring to a shallow waterway about 200 metres from the runway.

"All 103 passengers and six crew members are safe. Some are injured. They have been rushed to hospital."

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed that there were no Australians on board.

Bad weather including heavy rain and fog were suspected of playing a part in the crash although expert investigators had yet to arrive at the scene, he said.

Manokwari Hospital emergency unit nurse Benget Hutagalung said "about 20" people had been brought in with shattered limbs and head injuries.

Witnesses said the left wing broke off as the plane hurtled into trees at the end of the runway.

The body of the plane came to rest with the tail section in the river and the cockpit almost sheared off.

The plane was flying on a domestic route from Sorong, also in West Papua province, to Manokwari, a distance of about 340 kilometres.

Transport Ministry experts from the capital, Jakarta, were on their way to the rugged province in the far east of the country to investigate the crash, an official said.

The vast archipelago of Indonesia relies heavily on air transport but has one of Asia's worst air safety records.

Indonesian airlines have been attempting to recover from a poor safety record in recent years.

In August last year a Merpati aircraft disappeared in remote Papua. Its wreckage was found two days later and all 16 passengers and crew aboard were killed.

Three years ago 21 people, including five Australians, were killed when a Garuda plane crashed on the runway at Yogyakarta airport.

Last year 102 people were killed in two separate crashes involving Indonesian military aircraft.

Shortly after the Garuda crash, the European Union banned all Indonesia-registered aircraft from flying to Europe. The EU lifted the ban on Garuda in December last year, citing improvements in the airline's safety standards.

China to launch 2nd lunar probe

China will push ahead with its lunar exploration program despite the United States' decision to suspend its return to the moon, a senior space exploration scientist has said.

"China should not slow down its pace of lunar exploration even if other countries change their plans," said Ye Peijian, chief designer of the nation's first lunar probe, Chang'e-1.

The country plans to launch its second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, in the latter half of this year as well as send a lunar lander and rover by 2013, Ye said.

The latest signal of China's resolve in lunar exploration follows U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement in February that his administration was axing the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Constellation program, which former president George W. Bush started in 2004 to return Americans to the moon by 2020.

Instead, NASA was asked to focus on technologies to prepare for human missions to other destinations in the solar system.

Billions of dollars will be spent on new commercial spacecraft that could carry U.S. astronauts into low Earth orbit, on technology development, and extending the life of the International Space Station, media have reported.

The U.S. investment in new technology is expected to lay the foundation to support effective and affordable journeys to the moon and eventually to Mars.

Ye conceded the refocused efforts of the U.S. on Mars and Earth observation do represent a future trend.

The U.S. could postpone moon-landing plans because "they made it to the moon some 40 years ago and still hold the technological advantage", he said.

China stands a better chance of joining more international projects in the field with a smaller technological gap, he said.

The country should also explore Mars independently, Ye said.

Monday, April 5, 2010

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle set for launch April 19

After a decade of development, the Air Force this month plans to launch a robotic spacecraft resembling a small space shuttle to conduct technology tests in orbit and then glide home to a California runway.

The ultimate purpose of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and details about the craft, which has been passed between several government agencies, however, remain a mystery as it is prepared for launch April 19 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

"As long as you're confused you're in good shape," said defense analyst John Pike, director of "I looked into this a couple of years ago – the entire sort of hypersonic, suborbital, scramjet nest of programs – of which there are upwards of a dozen. The more I studied it the less I understood it."

The quietly scheduled launch culminates the project's long and expensive journey from NASA to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the X-37 program, but the current total has not been released.

The launch date, landing sites and a fact sheet were released by Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Angie I. Blair. She said more information would be released soon, but questions on cost and other matters submitted by e-mail weren't answered by Friday.

While the massive space shuttles have been likened to cargo-hauling trucks, the X-37B is more like a sports car, with the equivalent trunk capacity.

Built by Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works, the 11,000-pound craft is 9 1/2 feet tall and just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan of less than 15 feet. It has two angled tail fins rather than a single vertical stabilizer.

Unlike the shuttle, it will be launched like a satellite, housed in a fairing atop an expendable Atlas V rocket, and deploy solar panels to provide electrical power in orbit.