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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.

Robot Flies Cessna Caravan

Posted December 05, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

In recent demos, a robot functions as a second pilot in a two-crew aircraft, enabling reduced crew operations. Aurora Flight Sciences' robot is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program (video).


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3 comments; last comment on 12/06/2016
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Hubble's History and Lessons Learned

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

As the Hubble Space Telescope nears the end of its life, and as NASA prepares to launch its successor — the James Webb Space Telescope — in 2018, Hubble's history offers a tale of what can happen when "big science" meets budget and bureaucratic reality. Engineering360 highlights the bad, the ugly, and (finally) the good.


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4 comments; last comment on 11/22/2016
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HUSH Loves Airships, Part 4

Posted November 02, 2016 10:48 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: aircraft airship blimp shipping

I’m still blogging on CR4 (Mad Magazine just isn’t accepting CVs these days) and I still love airships.

(HUSH Loves Airships Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Airships have been the darlings of aerospace innovation over the past five years and more because they offer immense potential for the aerospace industry leaders. Shipping cargo by air remains cost prohibitive for the vast majority of international trade—so 90% of all goods are exchanged via ocean tankers and container ships. These massive vessels are notorious polluters, with the 16 largest ships producing as much sulfur pollution as all the cars in the world (approx. 800 million) combined.

Additionally, ocean cargo ships are slow and expensive, subject to weather and customs delays, and must be offloaded at compatible ports, where trucks take over for last-mile wholesale delivery. Considering the immense volume of products such ships deliver, ultimately the carbon footprint and delivery costs on a per unit basis are low. Nonetheless, aerospace companies recognize the very real need for flexible and efficient large-scale shipping solutions and have repeatedly invested in airship research to fill this gap.

To be successful, airship logistics need to be faster than ships but much cheaper than planes. Static buoyancy means little energy is spent actually getting the load up and maintaining it in the air, unlike planes. However higher loads require more buoyancy and larger airships. Now the engineers must accelerate a massive airship to a reasonable, safe speed and also must make unladen return trips economically practical. These last two issues have been the primary challenges in recent years.

Lockheed Martin seems to have found the right permutation of size, load and speed, as Lockheed will begin delivering production models of the Hybrid Airship (LMH1) to customers in 2018 or 2019. StraightLine Aviation has already ordered 12, with plans to offer charter airship deliveries from bases in New York, Los Angeles and London.

It is called the Hybrid Airship because flying power is a mix of 80% buoyant lift from a helium ballast and 20% aerodynamic lift, which is created by the flow of air over the nose of the craft’s unusual tri-lobe shape. Four thrust vectoring engines power the LMH1 into the skies, and instead of conventional landing gear, the airship features an air cushion landing system. This system is essentially three hovercraft blowers that provide take-off thrust or suction to keep the craft on the ground.

Yet the LMH1 isn’t a true vertical take-off and landing aircraft, as it requires about 20 ft. to take off. This means the Hybrid Airship can land and take-off in remote locations without prepared landing zones, provided the terrain is relatively flat (this includes oceans). At 300 feet long, LMH1 has a payload capacity of 20 tons. With a top speed of 70 mph and range of 1,400-1,600 miles, an LMH1 could deliver 20 tons of quality pizza from New York to Dallas within 24 hours.

As part of the last phase of assembly, six self-propelled instruments for damage evaluation and repair (aka SPIDERs) crawl over the airship surface. Using light sensors, these robots crawl the surface of the LMH1 and find and repair holes and leaks. The SPIDER takes pictures so operators can check on a repair job and can cooperate with other SPIDERs for larger fixes. These helpful robots cut down on 80% of the labor of this tedious job.

The immediate applications of the LMH1 are cargo and lifting uses for construction, energy and transportation industries. Lockheed hopes to one day introduce these behemoths to tourist, search and rescue and disaster relief applications. They could be used for advertising too, seeing as Goodyear no longer sends its blimps to sporting events.

10 comments; last comment on 11/29/2016
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Counting on Carbon to Build Stronger Composites

Posted October 18, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Use of composite materials grows dramatically because of the potential to produce stronger, lighter components that outperform parts made from metals. But most composites have a glaring vulnerability that traditional and advanced metals don't — the potential for cracking with stress or impact. Two recent projects from MIT have found ways to increase the mechanical strength of composites. One is based on stacking layers of graphene and resin. The other is based on stitching composite layers together using carbon nanotubes as thread.


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1 comments; last comment on 10/19/2016
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EPA to Propose Emission Limits for Aircraft

Posted September 30, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a first step in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft. An endangerment finding issued in July 2016 activates a requirement, under the Clean Air Act, for the agency to develop emission standards for aircraft. The time frame for the final rule, which will cover carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, has yet to be set.


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11 comments; last comment on 10/05/2016
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