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Aerospace Blog

The Aerospace Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about aeronautics, astronautics, fixed-wing aircraft, future space travel, satellites, NASA, and much more.

Guided Robots to Speed Fuselage Build

Posted September 15, 2014 9:06 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Boeing intends to improve workplace safety by automating the production of its 777 fuselage. Rather than relying on the manual installation of some 60,000 fasteners, the company wants guided robots to fasten fuselage panels together. The program, under development since 2012, uses a robotic system designed for Boeing by KUKA Systems. It joins other automated manufacturing systems now involved with 777 production, including the wing painting operation shown here.

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1 comments; last comment on 09/17/2014
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The Evolution of Aerspace Design Verification

Posted September 03, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

As aerospace systems become more complex, so do the validation and verification processes needed to ensure product integrity. Today's simulation tools plus hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) systems are required to verify code and replicate standard communication bus interfaces, such as ARINC 429 or 1394B. This ability to perform tests without real components keeps costs down. It also helps quality assurance engineers anticipate all potential problems. This report from SAE International explains why there are "no shortcuts for verifying, validating aerospace system designs."

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The Aircraft Manufacturing Revolution Continues

Posted August 26, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

The tools necessary for aircraft manufacture have changed rapidly over the past decade. Who could have predicted that the most critical pieces of equipment in the factory - enormous autoclaves for curing very large components - would evolve from their smaller counterparts in medicine and other applications. But, as this article points out, autoclave size, high cost, and power consumption has encouraged the search for alternatives. Microwave curing, for example, can reduce energy consumption 90% and accommodate curing in sections, impossible with an autoclave. The next step? Additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), at least for small, intricate parts.

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Projecting the Capabilities of Future Fighter Jets

Posted August 15, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Naturally, one would expect the latest and greatest technologies to be incorporated into the design of next-generation military fighter jets. It's just a testament of how far some technologies have advanced when the explorations include 3D printing and self-healing materials. The truth is that additive manufacturing has progressed so much that the "what might be" list includes on-board 3D printers so that drones could be built while the fighter is in flight. Also, since fighters sustain damage, why not components made from self-healing materials? Here are a few projections that BAE Systems makes for jets that won't fly until 2040.

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3 comments; last comment on 08/18/2014
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Spacesuit Design Takes Giant Leap Forward

Posted July 22, 2014 7:50 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Today's astronauts take spacewalks in suits designed three decades ago. But those who step onto the rough surface of Mars in 2030 will don suits being re-engineered now to take a giant leap forward in comfort and protection. The current Z-2 prototype uses advanced materials to help cut the weight of the suit in half, to withstand a full vacuum, and to offer better protection against radiation and micrometeorite strikes. Other design improvements include rotating bearings in shoulder and hip joints to improve astronaut mobility and better sealing and CO2 handling, eliminating the need for airlocks on the spacecraft.

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1 comments; last comment on 07/24/2014
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Is the F-35 Fighter a Failure?

Posted July 16, 2014 9:12 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: f-35 Fighter jet military

As a kid, my parents had certain rituals of summer to entertain my adolescent brain.

Monster trucks were always a highlight. Mechanical dirt monsters roared to life on a humid July night, in the midst of true rednecks (more than few dozen Confederate flags displayed; safety-always off). Days spent on paddle boats, at Belmont, or at a nearby water park were numerous.

But I always enjoyed the local airshow the most. A nearby airport would welcome antique planes and military warbirds, where spectators could see them up close and also perform low altitude fly-bys and demonstrations. I may have assembled one or two model fighters during these summer vacations. I was the only 10-year-old who had a favorite fighter jet. An A-10 Thunderbolt II strafing cardboard targets across an open field was truly mesmerizing.

Unfortunately that air show has been long discontinued, and it seems as though the A-10 will shortly follow that fate. The plane is designed solely for close support of ground troops, and the U.S. Air Force believes it can save $3.7 billion in the next four years by retiring the A-10 in favor of a multi-faceted fighter.

That fighter would be the F-35 Lightning II, currently under development as an air support, recon, and defense platform. But the F-35 is currently under considerable scrutiny; the plane is scheduled for full delivery in 2037 but has been in development for 30 years already, and the program has become another popular "defense program is excessively expensive" narrative. And right now, IHS Jane's reports all F-35 purchases are suspended until a presumed manufacturing defect is fixed.

Let me introduce some pros and cons of the F-35, and I'll let you make up your own mind about this plane's worth (in the comments, of course!).

First, the F-35 needs to have three combat roles, as well as three variants for different service branches. Operationally, the plane needs to provide close air support (CAS) to ground troops, it must be able to identify targets as a forward agent, and it must provide an air-to-ground strike capability. It needs to do this while meeting the needs of three branches: the Air Force; the Marines, who want vertical takeoff/landing capabilities; and the Navy, who need a carrier-based fighter. Simply put, there are too many compromises in the F-35 design for the plane to excel at any one aspect.

A lot of attention has also been paid to the plane's stealth designs. From materials selection to geometry cross sections, the F-35 is one of the stealthiest aircraft ever produced. However, this is only for radars that are positioned horizontally or a few degrees from horizontal. This also means that the F-35's weaponry and fuel tanks must be kept within the fuselage, which limits the capacity of both. While stealth is very important for reconnaissance and strike missions, it's virtually meaningless for CAS objectives, where the plane would typically be below radar detection and be fired upon visually. Finally, a leading USAF general noted that the F-35 is completely reliant on the F-22 Raptor to provide air cover in order to be used in contested airspace.

The F-35 will be the most technologically advanced plane built yet, but tying the best air-to-air radar ever, the best threat detection, incredible thrust-to-weight ratio, and many other developments together is going to take some trial-and-error. Integrating a remarkable number of new technologies into a sophisticated, but easy-to-use avionics operating system has ultimately impeded the F-35's development as well.

Lastly, there are the development costs. At current projections, the F-35 will cost $1.01 trillion when all is said and done. One of the leading arguments for scrapping the F-22 program was outlandish costs-but the F-22 is a considerably different plane, solely funded and operated by the U.S. Air Force. This $1.01 trillion is being shared by the U.S., Italy, the U.K, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey. And unlike the F-22, export sales are allowed, opening the possibility for revenue.

All in all, the F-35 will likely be one of the best planes ever built, but as with any defense project it's efficiency is never considered.

9 comments; last comment on 08/25/2014
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