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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.

Innovations That Led to Navigational Certainty

Posted July 21, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The flying public owes a debt to Lawrence Sperry. He was an early aviator who invented the autopilot, which allowed "hands-off" flying while maintaining aircraft stability. This retrospective article summarizes the development of navigation technology — from using sun and compass, to inertial navigation with gyroscopes and accelerometers, to the global positioning systems (GPS) of today.

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7 comments; last comment on 07/25/2016
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Myths of Flying

Posted June 29, 2016 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

I’m a huge fan of podcasts and Freakonomics tops my lists of favorites. I always learn something new about a topic I wouldn’t otherwise think about. But the episode on June 1st covered a topic I think about often – flying.

Freakonomics Radio’s episode “Why Does Everyone Hate Flying? And Other Questions Only a Pilot Can Answer” covered many of the questions we all wonder about in the air.

I’ll summarize the answers to some of the topics and questions asked during the episode, but I encourage you to check out the full podcast in the link above.

Turbulence & Bank Angle

Even in pretty rough turbulence, an airplane is displaced only slightly from its position in space due to positive stability. This describes the phenomenon where when airplanes are moved from their position in space they, by their nature, want to return back there. So, in run-of-the-mill, moderate turbulence, there’s almost no displacement and in severe turbulence an airplane does actually move hundreds of feet up or down. In those cases, people are injured when they aren’t wearing their seatbelt, and there’s damage inside the cabin. That’s very rare.

Very rarely does an airplane turn or bank more than about 20 or 25 degrees. A very steep climb on takeoff is seldom more than 20 degrees, at the most, and a descent is usually no more than five degrees.

Flying Faster

Pilots can sometimes fly faster but there are constraints with Air Traffic Control and fuel. Flying across the ocean, for example, you have to hit target fuel values at various waypoints as you go along, and falling behind those target values could cause a problem that may lead to diverting. Speeding up is usually more effective on long-haul flights such as crossing an ocean than on short-hauls. Usually though, it’s less about flying faster than it is about getting shortcuts from Air Traffic Control.

The average jet today actually flies a little more slowly than it did in 1965. But it flies more efficiently. There are all kinds of aerodynamic complications that come into play, so planes aren’t faster. But they are more efficient, much safer than they used to be, cleaner, and much more sophisticated.


Cockpit automation — what it is capable and not capable of — is maybe the most misunderstood thing in all of commercial aviation. The autopilot is not flying the airplane. The crew is flying the airplane through the automation. They still have to tell it what to do, where to do it, when to do it, and how to do it. “And when I say how, I mean for example, just one example of a thousand, setting up and programming, if you will, an automatic climb or descent; there are six, seven different ways you can do that depending on what you need and the circumstances.”

It’s true that there’s less hand-flying — that is hands on the control wheel— than there was in the 1940s or so. But more than 99 percent of all landings are made manually by hand by either the captain or the first officer.

Check out the full the interview – including answers to questions like “Have you ever seen anything you couldn’t explain in the sky?”, “How effective are aviation security measures?”, and the truth about cellphone on flights.

10 comments; last comment on 07/24/2016
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System Detects and Disables Unauthorized UAVs

Posted June 25, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Each month, the FAA receives more than 100 reports from pilots and others who spot what appear to be unmanned aircraft flying too close to an airport or manned airplane. An Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), to be tested by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), promises to detect a drone six miles away using electronic scanning radar. In addition, AUDS will track the drone using precision infrared and daylight cameras as well as specialist video-tracking software. Finally, it will disrupt the unauthorized UAV's flight by blocking the radio signals that control it.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Aerospace Technology eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox

15 comments; last comment on 06/29/2016
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Gourmet Space Food

Posted June 22, 2016 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Space food is something most people think is sold at the museum gift shop. But for astronauts in the International Space Station, space food is all they get.

Luckily, red pepper risotto is now available on the menu, thanks to teenagers at the Passasic County Technical Institute in Wayne, NJ. Three students won the High School Students United with NASA culinary challenge.

The fire roasted pepper puree, edamame, asiago cheese and risotto dish had to be between 300 and 500 calories (less than 30% of those from fat), 300 mg or less of sodium, 8 grams or less of sugar, and 3 grams or more of fiber. It also needed to be something that can be processed well for flight and for use in microgravity...a tall order for the young chefs.

The high school teams had to submit a video and paper detailing how their dish would translate to be rehydrated on the space station. The dishes were judged on taste, texture and odor by a former astronaut, the ISS deputy program director, the directory of Johnson Space Center's Food Lab, HUNCH representatives, and food lab scientists.

The winning dish will be sent up in November after the Food Lab processes it for flight. Most food on the ISS is preserved through freeze-drying or thermostabilization, or preservation by heat.

And if you want to try it for yourself…here's the recipe.

Red pepper risotto

  • ½ cup Arborio rice
  • 2 teaspoons chili confit
  • 2 cups house made vegetable stock
  • 2 ounces shelled edamame
  • 2 teaspoons pignoli nuts
  • 10 basil leaves
  • ½ ounce Asiago cheese
  • ½ ounce red pepper puree

In a saucepan, warm the vegetable broth over low heat.• Warm 2 teaspoons chili confit in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.• Add rice, stirring to coat with oil for about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, add ½ cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth has been absorbed.• Continue adding broth ½ cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.• Remove from heat, and stir in edamame, pignoli nuts, basil leaves, Asiago cheese and red pepper puree.• Place the risotto in the bowl and garnish with edamame, pignoli and Asiago.

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Will Bag Tracking Tech Meet Today's Travel Needs?

Posted June 19, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Delta Airlines is betting $50 million that it will. The airline plans to replace barcode hand scanning with digital, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage-tracking technology. Users hope RFID scanners, coupled with the Fly Delta mobile app, will bring more transparent, interactive tracking. Bag check agents look forward to speeding up the inventory process and lowering lost luggage rates.
In a related development, Samsonite has unveiled its own "Track&Go" technology based on Bluetooth technology.

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1 comments; last comment on 06/20/2016
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