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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.

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.

8 comments; last comment on 07/19/2014
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Drone Technologies Advance Exponentially

Posted July 01, 2014 12:00 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Unmanned aerial vehicle technology is advancing on all fronts. This Engineering TV video from the 2014 AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) trade show highlights the innovation abounding in both military and civilian applications. The big gorilla in the room was the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency's eventual promulgation of regulations allowing drone operations in the country's airspace. Civilian law-enforcement and first-response agencies on tight budgets may be looking to adapt "hobby" type systems to save resources.

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2 comments; last comment on 07/02/2014
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3D Printing Takes Off

Posted May 27, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Design validation; lightweighting; just-in-time inventory… A recent report from Aerospace Engineering highlights three areas where 3D printing is changing the dynamics of aircraft design and manufacture. These applications, however, are just the beginning. Additive manufacturing processes will soon be used to optimize electrical components like antennas and interconnects. New capabilities with sintered metal will allow the onsite production of jigs, fixtures, and other tools. Learn why the Department of Defense is investing heavily in this rapidly evolving technology.

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3 comments; last comment on 05/30/2014
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Lasers Head for Space

Posted May 23, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Space-based laser applications seem to be popping up all over. They could redirect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, for example, say MIT and University of Alabama researchers. In the vacuum of space, femtosecond pulses from a laser aimed at the asteroid could transfer sufficient energy to slow the object so that it crosses the Earth's orbit after the planet has passed by. Elsewhere, NASA estimates that some 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm diameter currently orbit the earth, putting both satellites and manned spacecraft in increasing danger. Fear not; Australian researchers are developing a laser system to nudge space junk back into the Earth's atmosphere where it can burn up. Speaking of NASA, the agency just awarded a contract to ITT to validate the feasibility of laser communication from Earth to deep space.

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1 comments; last comment on 05/24/2014
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