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Amazing New Technology in Aircraft Construction

Planes in and off themselves are amazing feats of technology, but today I saw a couple of different articles about some of the new technology going into the planes at Boeing and Airbus.

The new technology that Boeing is supporting is a new super-light metal that is also super strong.  Just look at the video below and tell me it is not awesome.

This metal is so light it can balance on top of a dandelion.

Posted by The Boeing Store on Friday, September 4, 2015

 

Airbus is continuing to innovate off of their A350 XWB in building their new A330neo.  They are utilizing materials technology from the innovative A350 XWB along with titanium to build lighter and stronger wing boxes and engine pylons.

It is pretty incredible all of the advancements that continue to be made in aviation.  What will be really fun to see is what the next majorly disruptive technology will be.  What do you think we may see in the near future? distant future?

September 7, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Airbus A350: MinutePhysics Shows How it’s Made in 5 Minutes

If you are not familiar with MinutePhysics then I highly suggest you set aside an hour or two to enjoy some simplified science at its finest.  He does a great job of taking incredibly complex things and simplifying them for those people who want to be a little more educated, but not Sheldon from The Big Band Theory.

In this edition, Henry Reich takes a look at the brand spanking new Airbus A350 which had its first delivery today.  While five minutes is not near enough time to show everything I think he does a pretty fantastic job of describing the overall process.  Personally I am just incredibly jealous of the tours that he got.  I think most of us Avgeeks would give body parts to get the access he did.

Until that day comes enjoy the physics lesson.  The second video was released by Airbus and shows more of the tours themselves.

 

 

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December 22, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

How Can Bionics Research Improve Aircraft Design?

When I was younger I was sure I would become an engineer just like my grandpa and my older brother.  I loved science and math, and did quite well which seemed like a perfect fit.  However, it just wasn’t meant to be, and the more stories I read like this one from Airbus just reaffirms to me that I made a wise choice in leaving the engineering to other people.

The article itself is about how Airbus has created a company wide network for their bionic projects to ensure that repetitive work isn’t being done and that the greatest minds are working together to create the best results.  Good for them.

The really cool part of the article is when they talk about some of the incredible technology they have already developed.  One project is working to copy the structure of a lily to make stronger support structures for aircraft parts.  I don’t think most of us look to plants for inspiration on building aircraft parts, but maybe that is why we aren’t engineers.

The other huge technology that is making news not only in the aviation industry but in all kinds of industries is the use of 3-D printing to save weight and reduce costs in manufacturing.  This technology makes it possible to manufacture parts in ways that simply were not possible in the past.  We truly are in an exciting period for aircraft design and manufacturing.

All of these technologies are really starting to come together and complement each other in the development of safer and more efficient aircraft.  As sad as it is to see aircraft like the 747 start to fall in favor, it is pretty exciting to think about what the future may hold.  In reality, most of us probably have no idea what the not to distant future may hold when it comes to new aircraft development.

November 22, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Airbus’ Fly Your Ideas Competition Inspiring Young Minds

Fly your ideasThis is not the first time that I have written about the Fly Your Ideas competition put on by Airbus, but I feel that it bears repeating as many times as they put forward such an inspiring competition.

We live in a world where innovation is happening at all times, and some of the greatest innovators are young people.  With any luck, one of these ideas may be the next disruptive technology in aviation.

In Round 1, during which teams submit their ideas, Airbus will continue accepting registrations until 1 December.

You can take a look at previous entries in some of my previous posts, including a winner or two.  Suffice it to say that I am a huge supporter of any innovation, especially ones that are inspired by young minds that will carry us into the future.

Fly Your Ideas Competition Finalists

Airbus Changing the Future of Aviation

Full contest information can be found at: www.airbus-fyi.com

Here are images of the finalists from the last competition:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

November 13, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Is Free Inflight Wifi a Real Possibility?

We live in an increasingly connected world, which has both good and bad associated with it.  Whether we like it or not that connectivity is only going to increase in coming years, and that includes internet access when we are flying.

In-flight wifi is becoming increasingly more common on airlines around the world with various levels of accessibility and cost across the industry.  For basic travelers they are likely only interested in accessing their email or maybe playing around with social media which can be done relatively inexpensively by purchasing an hour or even a day’s worth of access for those with connecting flights.

Business travelers would likely be interested in greater access which naturally comes with a greater cost.  However, their company is probably going to cover the cost so it likely makes little difference to them how much it costs.

A quick search of a few airline sites revealed that lower end access, which should be sufficient for most people, will cost anywhere from about $5-20.  That isn’t unreasonable, but when you consider many people will have just paid $25 or more just to get their bag on the plane, and may be hungry on the flight which will cost them another $5-10, paying another $20 just may not be worth it to check their email.

On the other hand, if it was free, I think most everyone would use it, if only sparingly.  But how realistic is it to expect widespread free wifi?

It probably isn’t too far-fetched considering some foreign airlines already offer it.  Norwegian offers free access on their domestic flights, and Emirates offers the first 10MB for free on their A380s and 777s.  After that they have a tiered model to pay for certain levels of access.

The reason this even came to mind for me is that Emirates is actively pursuing free wifi for all of their passengers.  Naturally there are some technological and cost restrictions that aren’t allowing that to happen yet, but it is noteworthy that airlines are actively pursuing it.

I personally don’t think many US airlines will provide free wifi access across their fleet, but it may become a feature that they attempt to utilize to distinguish themselves from other offerings. In this era of charging for every little aspect of a flight I just don’t see airlines offering a luxury free of charge.  However, we may see one or two that decide that will help them sell more tickets the way that Southwest has with their free checked bags.

It is not surprising that European and Middle Eastern airlines are leading the way in this area as they generally provide a much better service than US based airlines.  I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the US airlines are forced to start offering better service because the foreign airlines start taking away the market share.  Regulation will likely prevent that from happening, but with any luck we will see improvements like free wifi becoming more common and maybe even the standard by which all airlines are judged.

What do you think?  Will free wifi ever come to US airlines, or will we have to fly foreign to receive that benefit?

November 6, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

American Airlines’ New IFE is an Avgeek’s Paradise

I have loved the new livery from day one, but this was my first chance to actually fly in it on this brand new A321S.

I have loved the new livery from day one, but this was my first chance to actually fly in it on this brand new A321S.

There are lots of great sites out there that talk about passenger experience way better than I ever will.  Sites like AirlineReporter, NYCAviation, and APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association) will all provide much more in-depth and extensive analysis than I will because they get on amazing planes and experience those amazing trips, and most of my flying is done on a C-130 that is 40+ years old.  Definitely no flight attendants on there.

With that being said I just had to share the most amazing In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) I have ever seen.  I had to drop off a plane for testing purposes (more on that later in the week), and so we had to fly back home commercial.  I got to fly on my favorite airline (American) coming home, and this experience just deepened my love.

The great trip started with using TSA PreCheck for the first time.  It reminded me of what it was like to go through security before TSA, long long ago.  It was smooth and fast.  Don’t worry I still am not a fan of TSA.

The real joy started when I got to the gate and saw that we would be on a brand spanking new Airbus A321S that had the new American livery.  I know it has been out forever, and that a ton of the planes have it, but like I said I don’t fly commercial often, and this was my first time.  You never forget your first.

Final approach into DFW looks pretty cool digitally as it is actually flown.

Final approach into DFW looks pretty cool digitally as it is actually flown.

The experience got even better when I got on the plane and saw what was on every seat-back in the plane.  I honestly don’t know the name of the system, who provides it, or any of the system specs even after looking through American’s site to try to find it, but I can tell you that it was awesome.

Everything was handled on the touch screen to include turning on the overhead light, and even ordering your drinks and such which could be used on other flights, though it wasn’t on ours.  There were tons of entertainment options to include music, movies, and TV shows with several different packages to choose from depending on what you are looking for.  I’ll be honest, I’m a cheap skate so I didn’t buy any of it, but there was a free feature that kept me thoroughly entertained when I wasn’t enjoying the company next to me.

For as long as I can remember flying commercial I have always loved watching the digital portrayal of where my flight was headed.  Even though the numbers really don’t change much in cruise I still love to see the altitude, airspeed, time to destination, and other aspects of the flight.  I know all of you amazing Avgeeks get it.

While even a rudimentary map can keep me occupied for hours, this thing is a moving map on steroids.  There were about ten different views that you could switch between including a cockpit view that was accentuated by a heads up display with the associated flight parameters displayed.  You also have the ability to zoom in and out, rotate the map, and tilt the map in any number of ways to get the view you are looking for.  It did take a minute to figure out how to do all of those things, but it was really similar to a lot of tablets.

The plane always looks huge no matter how tight you zoom, but at an airport this big it is fun to watch it taxi.

The plane always looks huge no matter how tight you zoom, but at an airport this big it is fun to watch it taxi.

As you can see from a couple of the pictures that I took it can make for a pretty entertaining experience, especially in the terminal area around the airport.  It was really fun watching a virtual simulation of our approach as it was actually happening.  Even with the slight delay it was a lot of fun.  My friend (a pilot) did point out that we landed a little long based on the moving map, but on those giant runways it really doesn’t matter much.  It was also fun to switch to the overhead view and watch as we taxied to the terminal, though it wasn’t totally precise and it looked like we were taxiing in between taxiways at times.

I know this is far from your typical passenger experience article, but if you love planes and other avgeek stuff as much as I do I really hope that you get a chance to see this system.  I really can’t convey how cool it was through words or pictures.  You really need to get your hands on it and have some fun.  If you have gotten the chance to see it I would love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.

October 28, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Isn’t it funny how you can talk about a certain principle or idea and then shortly thereafter you get bitten by that very same principle?

There has been much discussion of late about automation in flying and how it may be creating pilots that are less capable with their actual “stick and rudder” skills.  Tools like autopilot have done wonders to reduce the workload on pilots, and in some ways have made certain missions possible when it comes to duty days and other similar restrictions.  These systems can be great assets to those who use them, but they have their limitations.

In most cases these systems require input from a person at some point in the process.  This may be in the form of inputting waypoints, changing elevations, or various other data needed to accomplish the mission.  In some cases there are even inputs from the plane itself that can affect mission performance, which is what happened to me this week.

On this particular sortie I noticed that we had been having issues with the GPS.  In short, it was randomly going in and out throughout the duration of our flight.  It’s really not the end of the world, because that is why I am there as the navigator.  It’s also called a visual low level for a reason.  The route itself provided nothing unusual, but as I am sure you will come to realize as I continue to write these posts, the airdrop is where this became a little more of an issue.

Me at the only desk I enjoy working behind,

Me at the only desk I enjoy working behind,

Before I explain what happened I must first admit that it never should have been an issue, but I was being a little complacent that day and that is what led to a poor drop score on my part.  Other members of the crew could have “saved” me, but I was the one that didn’t perform and thus have to settle for the crappy score I got.

As we were going in the for the run-in the GPS was completely gone so the computer was utilizing our INS to determine where it thought we were.  I will spare you the boring description of how all of that works, and honestly I don’t even understand all of it as I am no engineer.  Short version is that an INS drifts over time.  There are a lot of variables involved as well as the occasional gremlin that randomly makes it drift a lot farther than normal.  I had also noticed that the winds had come from literally every direction during the flight which could just be swirly winds, or a problem with the computer in the plane that generates those numbers.

As we came across the dropzone the pilot was flying right down the black line, according to the computer.  Apparently he was being as complacent as I was because we both followed that black line down the opposite side of the dropzone that we had briefed and that the numbers had supported.  The drop went out right on time (about the only thing I did right when it came to the drops) and we awaited our score.  The dropzone called back that they were measuring which is rarely a good sign since a good drop is close to the middle and is quickly measured.

Sure enough my drop was 250 yards off.

Once we were back at ground speed zero and I was replaying the drop in my mind the whole thing made complete sense.  I had briefed that we would drop on the left side of the dropzone but the plane tracked across the right side which was easily seen by the desired point of impact being visible out the left window of the cockpit.

Once again there are two lessons to be learned from this.  The first is to not be complacent and rely on a computer to do your job.  They can provide valuable insights and guidance but it is your responsibility to ensure that you are utilizing them as a backup and support rather than a crutch to be lazy on.

The reason this is important is the second lesson: garbage in results in garbage out.  A computer is only as good as the data that is input.  Whether that data is input by a human, or derived from its own sensors, if the data is inaccurate, you will get inaccurate results.  In my case it was an INS that thought we were a half a mile away from where we actually were, but it could be entering a wrong frequency for a navaid or incorrect latitude and longitude.

Regardless of where the bad data comes from there is really no replacement for the good old Mk1 eyeball and the brain behind it to ensure that you are taking your aircraft where it needs to be.

Automation and technology are valuable resources and we would be stupid not to utilize them, but we must ensure that we never forget how to use our brains and other resources to ensure that we fly as precisely and safely as possible.  In this case my complacency got me a bad drop score, but there are countless examples of complacency being a killer.

Where have you seen technology be a crutch that actually did more harm than good?

October 26, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Improving Aeronautical Charts Will Improve Safety

As a Navigator, most people really have no idea what I do when I fly.  I can’t say I blame them since there are almost no commercial aircraft that fly with a navigator, or engineer, anymore.  With the growth of GPS use there honestly isn’t much need for us most of the time.  Even the plane I currently fly on is being replaced by one that doesn’t need a navigator, or an engineer.

With that being said, a lot of the work I do outside of flying is important to the missions that all kinds of different aircraft do.  The vast majority of work that I have done for the last year or so is building charts for us to fly with.  I won’t bore you with the details of what that entails, but suffice it to say that it is essential to keeping our crews safe so they can effectively accomplish their missions.  As a navigator, utilizing my chart effectively is vital to getting us where we need to be and when we need to be there to drop off our cargo.

The rugged terrain of Alaska’s Mystic Pass, looking north. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The rugged terrain of Alaska’s Mystic Pass, looking north. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Chart reading is a diminishing skill in this modern era of GPS, which is really a shame, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter how well you can read a chart if the chart is inaccurate.  The crazy thing is that many of the charts we use today were made as many as 50 years ago.  I’m sure it is not much of stretch to convince you that quite a bit has changed in the landscape in 50 years or so.

What’s awesome is that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), who is responsible for keeping those charts updated, is actively working to do just that.  The Washington Post has a great article about the details of that program and how it is slowly working to improve safety in the greatest frontier in the US, Alaska.  They wrote about how awesome this program can be better than I could, but there is one aspect of the story that I want to focus on.

These updated charts will drastically improve safety in all parts of the US, but most of all in Alaska where, according to the article, you are 36 times more likely to die than the average US worker.  That is just unacceptable when the ability exists to drastically improve safety.  Improved technologies like airborne lasers (lidar) and radar (ifsar) are capable of creating not just better paper maps, but collecting the data necessary to improve GPS and other new devices that can save these courageous pilots’ lives.

Unfortunately, the government’s inability to pass actual budgets has stalled the project and delayed the benefits that it can bring.  There is so much benefit to be realized that some of the contractors have continued working in the hope that the funding will ultimately materialize.  It is incredibly irresponsible of those in a position to make a difference to stand idly by while they could take action that will save lives.

The aforementioned article gets into some of the specific numbers but it is a relative pittance that would be needed to have significant financial improvements to go along with the safety benefits.  At this point we can only hope that those in a position to make this happen will get past the politics and take action so that they can make the money they so anxiously pursue, but more importantly save the lives of people who deserve the best information we can give them.

October 20, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Want a Flying Motorcycle? You can get one in a couple years.

The three wheel design, along with a carbon fiber body, allows you to lean into turns.

The three wheel design, along with a carbon fiber body, allows you to lean into turns.

For as long as people have tried to develop a flying car, I am a little surprised that no one has succeeded yet.  There have been some models that had short lives, but nothing that has really entered the market and stayed there for awhile.

That being said, modern technology is helping companies to get closer and closer.  I believe it was just last year that there was quite the buzz around Terrafugia and there flying car that is in development.  It looks pretty promising, but they haven’t had much to say since last year when they announced their plans to develop an electric VTOL (vertical take off and landing) version.

Maybe that has been the problem to this point.  These companies are looking so far into the future that they don’t create anything of real value to the customer right now.

On the other hand, PAL-V (personal air and land vehicle) out of The Netherlands has a pretty cool gyrocopter/motorcycle that is probably the most realistic option I have seen.  The PAL-V One is not only multi-functional, but it looks pretty cool too.

 

After a short 10 minute transition you can fly off into the sunset.

After a short 10 minute transition you can fly off into the sunset.

You can find more of the specific details about the PAL-V One in this BBC article, or on the company website, including lots of cool pictures and videos.

Oh yeah, just in case you thought you could save your lunch money to buy one, they are going for just under $400,000.  For that much you could buy a decent little plane, and a nice car, but what would be the fun in that?  You’ll also have to wait until some time in 2016 to have it delivered, but it is probably worth the wait.

July 16, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Boeing Phantom Eye Promoted to Experimental Status by US Air Force

The Phantom Eye could change the future of ISR forever.

The Phantom Eye could change the future of ISR forever.

I’m sure I sound like a broken record with how much I talk about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) being one of the most exciting and interesting topics of discussion in aviation, but they are.  Right now the focus is really on their value as an ISR asset, and I think that is largely where the focus will stay for quite a while.  One of the most intriguing stories is the development of the Boeing Phantom Eye.

I have written about the Phantom Eye in the past and all of the incredible goals they have set.  It is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) airframe that is designed to cruise at 60,000 feet for anywhere from 7 to 10 days at a time.  Yes you read that right, over a week which is made possible by the liquid-hydrogen powered engines.

The platform has only performed six flight tests, but was just promoted from unproven to experimental status by the US Air Force 412th Operations Group.  That upgrade was based on the recommendation of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

This promotion allows the Phantom Eye development team to expand testing by flying to a nearby test range instead of strictly flying in the protected airspace over Edwards Air Force Base.  The team will now be able to really push the altitude and endurance limits that they are shooting for.

Military use is often the first thing people think of when they talk about UAVs, but there are so many other uses for a platform like this.  What other uses can you think of for the Phantom Eye, or other similar platforms?  Please share in the comments below.

February 12, 2014 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.