Saturday, September 26, 2015

New Age of Space Exploration

Space exploration have changed. And it changed for good. The era of strict government expeditions have come to an end. Now, private companies that are brainchild of billionaires are changing how exploration is done.

With the end of space shuttle program by NASA (1981 - 2011); an entire spectrum of possibilities have been open to the world. 

Tech billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos & Paul Allen are defining new methods of new frontiers in aerospace technology. Of course, then we have Richard Branson with space travel $200,000 a piece.

These billionaires are the beginning the final frontier - The Universe.

Elon Musk with Space X. 

Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin.

Paul Allen with Stratolaunch.

Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic.

The era were government agencies burning billions of dollars for space exploration is coming to an end. The new age of privatized space exploration begin here. Exciting times ahead.

Thank You for reading.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Legacy of Space Shuttle Columbia

Space exploration changed the world. The sheer curiosity of human nature caused illumination in the minds of last century. The knowledge we gained from space made us to be humble and enlightened. 

The legendary space organization, NASA, had this idea of a re-usable transportation system to space very early in 1966. After successfully putting man in the moon and ending cold-war in 1969; NASA soon turned to the idea of Space Transportation System. 

The idea was to build a "space truck" which could be used to transport various components for both military and US Space station (later evolved into International Space Station). After years of struggle and hard work from the brightest minds; Space Shuttle Columbia took its first flight to space in 1981.

Space shuttles are the pinnacle of engineering craftsmanship. They are designed to sustain flight speeds of more than Mach 25 (More than 8 km/s). At such higher speeds, the air is heated to become an ionized plasma of gas. The space shuttle has thermal protection and other advanced system stopping it from melting away. With the additional fittings come additional weight and yet, the same shuttle has to glide when coming back to earth.

4 space ships took its wing to space: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis.Whether awaiting liftoff from Kennedy Space Center's launch pods or under going space-age upgrades, NASA's space shuttle orbiters were majestic in  appearance, intricate in design, and advanced in the possibilities they offered mankind in the exploration of our universe.

Space shuttle Columbia became one of the most iconic spacecraft in the world after its first flight. It was designed to operate for 10 years with 100 flights. Although, the delay in ISS assembly caused it fly for another decade until it met its doom.

 In 2003, Columbia and its 7 crew members met an unfortunate death when the shuttle was re-entering atmosphere. A thermal foam factor peeled of during launch, penetrating the leading edge of the wing. While re-entering the plasma gas gushed inside the wing, compromising the entire structure. The space shuttle was exploded into 84,000 pieces. It took many days to collect the debris of both the spacecraft and members. 

Columbia disaster remains one of the deadly tragedies in aviation history and will never be forgotten.

I take this opportunity to pay my respects to the deceased astronauts who left a mark in our world and hearts. 

This image of the STS-107 shuttle Columbia crew in orbit was recovered from wreckage inside an undeveloped film canister. The shirt colors indicate their mission shifts. From left (bottom row): Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Rick Husband, commander; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. From left (top row) are astronauts David Brown, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Michael Anderson, payload commander. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency.
Credit: NASA/JSC

Remember that our life has a definite ending. When you face challenges in life, remember that you have what it takes to win. People have sacrificed their lives to make this world a better place. Respect that fact everyday. Let's believe in ourselves and push-on; because we are the mankind.

Thank You for reading. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dawn of Laser Weapons in Air Force

You know Star Wars. You know Lightsabers. 

Lightsabers are the fictional energy weapons used in Star Wars universe. Those laser swords are insanely awesome. I am hoping to hold one in this technology-marvel era. 

With that being said, US Air Force is funding for a laser weapons system that is to be mounted on the AC-130 "GhostRider" that can neutralize threats using energy beams by 2020. Hell Ya Air Force! 

The tender is being initiated by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The requirement is to have a system that weigh less than 2,286 kg (5,000 lbs) and occupy a space no greater than one gun position on the latest AC-130J "Ghostrider" gunship. (Ref: Flightglobal)

The surprising fact is that the development for this project began in 1970's - by Soviet / Russian Air Force.

An Ilyushin Il-76MD aircraft was modified to develop airborne laser technology with small success.The program was re-activated in 2009, and is currently under development. 

In American soil, the origins began  from  Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. It was basically a low powered laser laboratory to explore the potential of laser weapons. It made very less impact.

The real change came with a retired Air India 747-200 aircraft. This aircraft was acquired by US Air Force for the development of airborne laser system in 1996. By 2001, it was re-named to Boeing YAL-1. 

This project was being handled by major weapons developer; together. Boeing Defense, Space & Security provides the aircraft, the management team and the systems integration processes. Northrop Grumman was supplying the chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), and Lockheed Martin was supplying the nose turret and the fire control system. (Ref: Wikipedia).

It was basically a flying laser. It was very primitive. After $5 billion dollars and a decade later, the Air Force cancelled the project. They concluded that it was too costly to operate and inefficient. 

It may be costly with airliner aircraft operating at 40,000ft. But with the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles, the operating cost can be brought down.

One of the major expense was with the COIL itself which used chemicals which needed physical reloading of oxygen iodine. Now the systems are electric based where energy is derived from fuel. 

When unmanned aerial vehicle system and electric laser technology is integrated, a new frontier for laser based weapons become possible. 

With Boeing Yal- 1, the weapons developers -  having gathered a ton of data and learning a lot along the way -  began to develop systems of their own. 

Lockheed Martin developed ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset).

Boeing Developed range of Laser systems under Directed Energy. Here is a video from Boeing:

This technology has its fair share of history. Like every great technological advancement, it took time, talent and sweat to make it happen.

Air Force always were the pioneers at great technologies. Military funding has done many improvements even in our daily life. 

Titanium is a material being used in aviation industry. It's quite common now. SR-71 Blackbird made it happen.

Composite Materials play a great role in making aircraft efficient. They are quite common now. B-2 Spirit made it happen.

In 20 years we will be saying, " Lightsabers are common now. Boeing Yal-1 made it happen".

Thank You for reading guys.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Airbus inaugurates its First U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Albama

"Earth bound people very often say, sky is the limit. We in the aerospace community do not attire to that notion. Sky is not the limit. Our job  is to break new grounds; to explore new frontiers." -Tom Enders, the Airbus Group CEO said in the inaugural function of the new Airbus manufacturing facility conducted on September 14, 2015 in Albama, U.S.

This is a new chapter for Airbus. The new facility cost $600 million to construct. The facility will produce 40-50 aircraft per year by 2018. 

The aircraft that will be produced are A319, A320 & A321 - the best selling single aisle family. 

The demand for the 100 - 160 passenger aircraft have been growing in the recent years. To meet the global requirements and to reduce cost, this move was essential for Airbus.

Since US Airways is the largest operator of A320 with 274 aircraft, it is only logical that Airbus construct manufacturing facility. 

Even though this manufacturing facility is the first one in US, various Airbus engineering offices and spare parts dealers were already flourishing in US.  It was only a matter of time that something like this show up. 

This is not direct attack to Boeing. These companies compete in a global level and a single manufacturing facility in competitor's home country does not have an impact. 

The best thing about this facility is that- now Airbus can have aircraft labelled with - "Made in U.S.".

Thank You for reading guys.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Aspect Ratio in Aviaiton

Aspect ratio is the ratio of wing span to its aerodynamic breadth or chord. For most wings the length of the chord is not a constant but varies along the wing, so the aspect ratio AR is defined as the square of the wingspan divided by the area of the wing planform. (Ref: Wikipedia)

I can go on with formulas and other technical details. But let's not get caught up in various representation. What exactly is aspect ratio? What does it do?

Aspect ratio tells you how the wings perform aerodynamically. 

By looking at the value of aspect ratio, you can tell if the wings produce more lift or not. 

Simply put, if the value of aspect ratio is high then the wings produce more lift. 

If the value of aspect ratio is low, then those wings produce less lift. 

Why is it like that?

Check out the picture below:

Aspect Ratio of A = 4
Aspect Ratio of B = 25

And both have same wing area. 

Still the shape is different. Why?

Again, look at the picture below:

It's the Solar Impulse 2 and an A330. Both have different aspect ratios. Solar impulse has high aspect ratio while A330 has lower aspect ratio. Why?

It is to get higher lift to drag ratio. 

Simply put, the lift should be higher than drag. Of course all the aircraft have a positive lift to drag ratio otherwise they won't fly. But we can increase the value of lift while keeping drag value at bay, so that at higher lift to drag ratio, the aircraft produces tremendous lift force.

But if we increase lift the drag also increases. After all their parameters are same. 

How do we increase lift but not drag?  

That is where aspect ratio kicks in. 

With keeping the surface area same, they can reduce drag by extending the wing. As the wing is extended, the amount of air spillage(due to pressure difference) is less from bottom of the wing to top of the wing. 

These so called wingtip vortices try to pull back the aircraft because its a drag force (called induced drag) acting opposite to thrust. 

When you have a reduced wing tip area, then the amount of spill is less and thus drag is reduced.

Still why do we need to extend the wing? Can't we just make the wing tips short? 

Well, surface area directly effects lift force. It's one of the parameters. So when you cut short a wing's tip, the surface area decreases. That does not help gaining lift. We need a way to keep the surface area constant and then make the wing tips short. And the solution is the design of "Aspect Ratios". 

If high aspect ratios provide high lift to drag ratio, then why in the world we need low aspect ratio wings?

Because having high lift to drag ratio is sometimes not the priority. 

Speed is. Maneuverability is. Fuel storage space is. 

What do you think is the aspect ratio of this F-102 Starfighter:

It's 2.35. 

It's not efficient. It has a poor lift to drag ratio than a Cessna 172. 

Then why are they designed like this? 

They are designed for the speed. 

You see, velocity is one another parameter of lift. (Read more about lift)

So, to compensate decreased surface area; velocity is increased. 

F-102 was the first aircraft to break Mach 2. 

So is the Bell X-1 which broke the sound barrier in October, 1947  for the first time in history. Did it have a high aspect ratio? 

Nope. Aspect ratio of Bell X-1 was " 4 ". 

SR-71 Blackbird flew at Mach 3 with an aspect ratio of 1.7.

As you know, SR-71 is a legend. It was from the legendary Skunk Works where everything fly fast and high.

There is another aircraft from Skunk Works that fly high (above 70,000ft) with an aspect ratio of 14. 

That's right - 14. 

That is 9 times more than the aspect ratio of SR-71, and it still flies above 70,000ft.

And that aircraft is the private jet of NSA & CIA. :)

The one and only Lockheed U-2. 

U-2 is a subsonic surveillance aircraft. And when operating at high altitudes, the density of air is less and they don't have the luxury of high speed. The requirement to produce tremendous lift is the highest priority. So in order to compensate, Lockheed engineers gave an high aspect ratio wing to U-2; thereby increasing the surface area and reducing drag. 

Most of the surveillance aircraft that operates at high altitude, where air is scarce, uses high aspect ratio wing. 

Commercial airliners need speed as well as lifting capability. So they settle to have an aspect ratio somewhere between 6 and 10.

Boeing 747 has an aspect ratio of 6.96.

The new Boeing 777-9X has an aspect ratio of 9. I have an article about the new Boeing 777 9X

Finally, here is a chart plotted between Mach No. and Aspect Ratio. 

You can see from here that aircraft that has a high aspect ratio has speeds below mach 1.

Aspect ratios are great. By looking at just it's value, we can tell lot about the planes that have them. 

Thank You for reading guys.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Why Boeing 777 9X transform its wings?

You've seen the videos. The new Boeing 777 9X has wings that transform. I'm not exaggerating, but it looks damn cool. Period.

But why did Boeing make something like this? Why does the wing transforms? Why does it fold?

The answer lies in just one word : "Efficiency". 

Let me tell you, wings are marvelous piece of engineering. And we don't see wings like this everyday. 

The world today need designs that are effective and efficient. Effective is doing right things while efficiency is doing things right. As you know, fuel is not a luxury anymore. The effective thing to do is design something that uses less fuel to fly. And do it with a particular design tactic that does its job brilliantly. 

Boeing 777 is designed for long haul flight. They are designed to fly between international cities. From Dubai to London. Or from Paris to New York. 

With long haul flights, cruising in high altitudes for a long time requires wings to work more. If they can produce more lift, the engines can relax a bit. In fact with Boeing 777 9X, the airliners save up to 12% fuel per seat. 

If wings are to provide more lift - one of the thing they should have is high aspect ratios. (I will write an article about aspect ratios tomorrow). 

And who do we look to when you want high aspect ratio designs? 


Gliders have long wings. And they fly high without an engine. 

Long Wings provides less drag and high lift.Boeing took this concept and brilliantly integrated into its wing design. And so, final wing span is so big that it is almost same as that of an A380. 

Still, that explains only the length of the wing. Why does it need to "fold"?

Its for ground handling. 

Wings only are used when flying. But they also have to compatible in ground. 

I once worked with Honeywell's Advanced Virtual Docking Guidance system. This system had all commercial aircraft types specification in its database. It has the specification of Boeing 777 also.The old series have wing span 7 Meters shorter than new one.

Now with introduction of 777 9X, do you think that all these ground specs will change? Do they have to update the wing span length so as to dock the aircraft properly and connect the air bridge? Do they have to update this info in all international airports around the globe?

Of course not. 

The new wing folds the extra 7 meters. They fold it so that the new Boeing 777 9X is welcomed to all airports without having to go through any painful system updates. This is how Boeing want its aircraft to be. Easy, effective and efficient. 

So there you go. The reason behind transforming wings. 

Thank You for reading guys. 

Let me know if you have any doubts.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Folding Wings

Short Brothers, the first company to manufacture aircraft, was also the first one to patent fold-able wings in 1913. Folding wings was kind of a necessity because of the constraints in the space and to be frank, we hadn't achieved reliable building techniques to create large hangers. 

Aircraft design is agreement of compromise. You can have a faster aircraft but it won't be efficient. Each aircraft are designed based on very basic purpose. The designers will know what they want before even they start to design it. (It is also a life principal. Know what you want from your life and then do it. Stuff that aviation teach us :D ).

So in the pursuit of fulfilling the purpose, the aircraft gets big. Maybe it is the wing, or its tail. In an environment where space isn't a luxury, designers has to improvise. They cannot reduce the length of wing because it will effect the aerodynamics of the aircraft. But what they can do is to fold the wings.

Folding wings are quite complex in mechanics. It effects the electrical, fuel,mechanical, aerodynamic and structural systems. (Ref: Wikipedia)

Folding wings are quite common with carrier based aircraft. It is because of the carrier operations. The free vertical space is used by folding the horizontal wing as shown below. Even F-35 has folding wings.

Many world war aircraft that was carrier based  had this technology implemented in them. 

This technology is rare with land aircraft. One notable example is B-50 Superfortress. This aircraft had huge rudders and tails to stabilize the whooping 30.18 meters fuselage. The tails were fold-able with this Boeing aircraft to fit in hangers.

The latest Boeing 777 9X also uses this technology. Liebherr-Aerospace is the company that is building and integrating this technology deep into the new 777's wing. The requirement from Boeing was to make it flawless,  shouldn't make any cranky sound, reliable, safe and fast. 

Liebherr-Aerospace designed this in such a way that it takes just 20 seconds to fold the wing from taxiway to runaway and vice versa. The operational requirement of having a sizable wing starts from taxiway. Check out my article about the new 777 9X here.

Although we aviators strive to make everything streamline, there are indeed times where we step into raw mechanical elements. 

Aviation is about finding the right spot where efficiency and effective is intertwined. 

Thank You for reading guys.


Boeing 777 9X - Transforming Wings

Boeing 777 is one awesome plane. It is the first aircraft to be designed completely in computer. Boeing 777 also was manufactured at a crucial time in Boeing history. It was the first aircraft to be manufactured after a decade of commercial aviation industry changes.

Today at a time of fuel efficiency and passenger experience; 777 9X introduces wider cabinet, innovative seat arrangements and of course a fold-able wing. You can read about my article on folding wings here.

Boeing 777 9X is in the lime light now. With an enormous wing , they stand very close to Airbus A380. 

BOEING 777 9X WING LENGTH  = 71.3 Meters / 238 ft 7 in

AIRBUS A380 WING LENGTH     = 72.3 Meters / 234 ft
BOEING 737 WING LENGTH        = 35 Meters/ 114.8 ft  

The wings have to be folded due to airport operation constraints. 7 Meters of the wing will be folded. This will help the aircraft to be handled like the old generation 777 - 300. 

The wings will fold in 20 seconds and the "transformation" take place when the aircraft enters the taxiway from runway and vice versa.

Boeing 777 9X also set a record with 224 orders for any wide-body aircraft upon it launch. The orders are from middle eastern airliners like Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways.

The comfort level in Boeing 777 9X is also stunning. It portrays the current heading of aviation industry where efficiency and passenger experience are the main area of focus. 

One thing is for sure, passengers in the window seat of Boeing 777 9X will have a unique flying experience.

Check out the video from Boeing: 

Thanks for reading guys.