Monday, November 17, 2008

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 finally withdrawn

Who knew Windows 3.11 was still available and used? Well obviously the people who used it did, including Virgin and Qantas who use it for some of their inflight entertainment systems and it is also used on some other embedded systems like cash tills. But now Microsoft have finally withdrawn it from service and stopped issuing licences though support was withdrawn as way back as 2001. Oddly enough Windows 3.11 has outlived it's direct successor Windows 95 by some margin.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Virtual affair leads to real divorce

A British couple are divorcing after the wife discovered her husband with another woman. Nothing that unusual there of course but the discovery of this illicit liaison was in Second Life. The wife found her husband's online virtual alter-ego "a goatee-bearded, medallion-wearing hombre called Dave Barmy" with a similarly virtual woman. The wife said her husband's affair might be in a virtual world but it was a real affair.

The blurring of the line between the virtual and real-life world is always something that has interested me and i can appreciate her point of view. It might be a situation generated by zeroes and ones but are the thoughts and intentions still the same.

As more of us spend more of our lives in virtual worlds then we need to start considering what laws apply and how. For example (and this is just something that interests me not a query about a possible career change) if i was to become a prostitute in a virtual world like Second Life and sell sex to other users would that be illegal? Especially in virtual worlds where the virtual currency can be exchanged for real loot. Would it stand up in court? (Sorry couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And on a lighter note...

With all this news of doom, gloom and economic boom we need a bit of satire.


I have been scathing about Twitter in the past on other blogs, wondering exactly what it was for. It's continued popularity however has led me to give it another try, however this time i am coming armed with... a Firefox plug-in. I wondered if there was a plug-in to allow me to write to my Twitter account directly from FF without having to go to the site, login and all that jazz. Of course there are several. The one i am giving a go to is Twitbin.

It works quite nicely, adding a collapsible sidebar to Firefox and easily allowing you to post to your Twitter feed and see what else is happening on your feed. It actually makes updating your Twitter account quite painless and fast so maybe i will finally use it...

I have also added a Twitter badge to my static homepage (which is basically a portal into my blogs) but the ridiculous caching on the ISP server means i can't actually see if it works (it did work offline so i assume it is OK).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Real-time ship tracker

Now this is rather cool, a real time tracker of civilian ships using Automatic Identification System (AIS). Unfortunately not all areas of the globe are covered but those that are are very interesting, especially choke points like the Strait of Gilbraltar where you can see a real traffic jam of ships.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

D9 50th Anniversary running day at the Aston Manor Transport Museum

One of my favourite places to visit is the Aston Manor Transport Museum as old buses are one of my interests, well old buses from the late 1960s to late 1980s anyway. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BMMO D9 bus as used by Midland Red they held a special running day with some D9s and also Routemasters plus some other buses. I took a trip on a Routemaster and a D9. Bus travel is always a joy in times like this, maybe its because there arn't any awful kids on board who wish you to enjoy their music collection.

The full set of pictures are here, i'm impressed all 62 photos turned out reasonably well even though the camera's battery was in the red.

Friday, October 17, 2008


An interesting article on how some of computing's high priests like Richard Stallman and Donald Knuth actively avoid being online as much as they can, which Kevin Kelly has called "Neo-Amish". I can understand their point of view, being always online seems to breed an anxiety and paranoia especially if you get no messages. And many newer methods of communication like Twitter seem to just exist for the sake of it not for any real perceived benefit.

Thats why i stopped using Twitter anyway, i could no longer see the point. Recently i have also changed how i blog a bit, in the past i used to try and post to all of my blogs at least once a day but no longer. However i do get anxious if a blog hasn't been added to for a few days, but now i am trying to ignore it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I bought a new watch

After about 6 years and 4 straps i decided it was finally time to replace my venerable Casio F-91W watch... with the very different F105W (not quite the same as the illustration but close enough). Really to me this is the best watch of all, it does everything you want, keeps the time, lasts for years and is very cheap. Why would anyone get any other kind of watch?

Apparently analogue watches are the vogue now, i can never understand that to be honest. I need to know it is 14:22 and 24 seconds. Maybe i am quite strange? Some say cheap Casio watches like this are not very stylish or elegant but i firmly believe form should follow function and thus the F-91W is a design classic.

Friday, October 10, 2008

US Navy hires kite-assisted ship

Earlier in the year i wrote an article on alternative propulsion methods for ships including kite-assisted propulsion where wind is used to pull a ship along using a computer optimised kite. Now MV Beluga SkySails has been hired by a rather notable customer, the US Navy's Military Sealift Command. The ship will carry military equipment from Europe to the USA. Considering the USN use a lot of ships and shift a lot of freight if the SkySails concept can reduce fuel costs by 20 to 30% as they claim then it could be a considerable fuel saving.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Google Navy

Google are thinking of moving some of their data centres off-shore, literally. Barges up to 11km off the coast could house these data centres taking advantage of the ocean to cool the computers, use wave power to power them and take advantage of tax loopholes which is probably the real slam dunk. There are a few concerns with this, such as the safety of the barges in storms like hurricanes. I suspect they haven't thought about Baidu or Yahoo hiring submarines and sending torpedoes into their data centres though.

They arn't the only company looking into "greener" solutions, Microsoft are looking into building a data centre in Siberia. Thats where you'll get transferred too for introducing too many bugs into Word 2010.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Russia to centralise production of amphibious aircraft / flying boats

I have a weakness for flying boats i admit, the fact Russia is setting up a single centre for the development and production of flying boats and amphibious aircraft made me smile. The centre will include Beriev of course and the Tavia production plant with a testing base at Gelenzhik on the Black Sea. Production initially will be of the A-42 Albatros, Be103 and Be-200 and newer designs. As well as new aircraft the facility will maintain, repair and modernise existing aircraft. This is all part of the re-organisation of Russian aircraft production as the United Aircraft Corporation.

A-40 "Mermaid"

Be-200 Altair


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Google aim to digitize newspaper archives

Google are aiming to digitize every amount of information out there and make it searchable it seems (maybe one day even the notebooks my Mum has kept from the 1970s detailing how much food cost then). The latest step is to digitize the archives of newspapers which is truly going to be a massive task. There are already some of these archives available such as the Times Digital Archive which i find very fascinating. Though i'd really love to see some local newspapers such as the (Birmingham) Evening Mail and Sutton Coldfield News archives, i suspect these might not be in the Google search for a few years...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Google Chrome

Google Chrome is the new web browser from Yahoo... no just kidding, Google of course. I installed it at work and had a little play. The new interface with it's take on tab browsing takes a little getting used to and of course everything renders correctly as its using the same rendering engine as Safari. I found a flaw with Google Chrome rather early, it supports scrolling down a page with the mouse scroll wheel but not back up! It also did not open right-click-searches in a new tab though that has been fixed now.

Does the world need another web browser, well with Google behind it its no doubt going to be a success. Their aim is to take market share from Internet Explorer but that remains to be seen as i suspect a lot of IE users are locked in for various reasons or don't care. The danger is Chrome will attract users from non-IE browsers and further Balkanise the "alternative".

Tracking the container

The BBC have an interesting new project, they are going to track a container for a year with a GPS tracker and update a live website. This will show, hopefully, how globalised world trade is as the container goes around the world. Its first journey (according to a TV news report this morning) will be to take whisky to China. I hope it doesn't end up like the container that was marooned on the sports field near my office for 2 years! Track the container here, its currently still in Southampton.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Picasa to offer image recognition

Personally i am a Flickr user but Picasa is also a highly useful image upload and storage site, and as it is a Google site you can be reasonably assured it will still be around in a few years and being part of the Google network ties you into their searches, maps and other toys. Picasa is about to be improved however and one of the new toys looks very impressive : image recognition. The Guardian writer uploaded some images and Picasa apparently used image recognition to group photos of the same person together. Personally most of my photos are of plants but i'm sure it will be able to do plant recognition too.

Something to keep an eye on (literally) for sure. Best watch for news on the Picasa blog.

Going where no virus has gone before

A computer virus has infected computers on the International Space Station. The virus, Gammima.AG, however hasn't infected the main life support systems or ejected the crew into space but rather 2 laptops belonging to the crew. NASA are investigating how it got aboard but the thinking it may have been on a USB drive taken up by one of the astronauts. Computers on the ISS are not directly connected to the internet so the virus, a password swiper, won't be able to send any captured passwords back to it's master's den. Yet anyway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dead Media isn't dead!

The Dead Media Project was a site i always enjoyed but for years it was not updated and i feared it was dead itself, but now it finally shows signs of life! Though they are looking for a new maintainer, i admit i am tempted. What is the site? Well its a collection of notes from a mailing list dedicated to "the deceased, the slowly-rotting, the undead, and the never-lived media".

GTF flight testing completes phase 1

Phase 1 of Pratt & Whitney's Geared Turbofan (GTF)'s flight testing has been completed. Over the course of 12 flights the engine, on a 747 testbed, amassed 43.5 hours in a number of altitudes "exploring the full flight regime". Phase 2 will take place next month on an Airbus A340-600 to continue tests and also to explore acoustic performance. GTF engines are intended for the future Mitusbishi Regional Jet and Bombardier CSeries regional airliners. Airbus and Boeing have not, as yet, announced if they will use the GTF though if it indeed does offer 10%+ improved fuel burn compared to existing engines then it is only a matter of time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (8) : Fairchild-Dornier 728

The Fairchild-Dornier 728 was a good design scuppered by a failing company and only 1 was ever built and never flew. Fairchild bought Dornier in 1996 and publicly announced the 728 soon afterwards to supplement the 328JET. It was intended as a family of regional jets with a design similar to the A320 and 737 able to carry between 55 and 100 passengers.

The first prototype was completed at the end of 2001 and rolled out early the next year. By then 8 customers had placed orders for 125 aircraft with options for over 150 more. The plan was to begin delivered in 2003. However in April 2002 Fairchild-Dornier collapsed and filed for insolvency, even before the neat little 728 could take to the air. Major orders were cancelled soon afterwards.

A Chinese company has shown interest in buying the project but its unlikely now the project will ever come to anything. Especially as the only completed 728 has had it's wings cut off so it could be transported to the German aerospace centre DLR. Two other fuselages were also built.

Return of the barrage balloons?

One of the blogs i read regularly is Eagle Speak, especially the weekly "Sunday Ship History" which is a historical retrospective. Earlier in the world it was on the use of barrage balloons for anti-aircraft defence.

A good read as always but at the end i noticed with interest in the late 1980s it was suggested by the USAF to use barrage balloons to stop enemy aircraft from flying too low to evade anti-aircraft defences.

That was something i didn't realise about barrage balloons, they were not really intended to trap aircraft with their wires (though it was a bonus if they did) but it was to force the enemy aircraft to fly higher to make them more vulnerable to AA fire and compromise their ability to carry out their attacks.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orbital Spaceplane test flight

Boeing and the USAF are preparing for the first test flight of an unmanned military space plane. The X-37B should lift off atop an Atlas V in November from Cape Canaveral and hopefully land in one piece a little later in a runway landing at Edwards AFB in California. The flight will test the operational concept of this type of reusable multi-mission space vehicle which has been in development for a long time though the X-37B is just a test plane and an operational type could be quite different.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (7) : Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747 is of course the iconic Jumbo Jet and the mainstay of the world's long-haul passenger fleets (though to be honest i fly on Airbus A340s to Asia most often these days) and over 1400 have been built to date. However only 45 of these have been the 747SP Special Performance, a heavily modified version for longer range flights.

The 747SP was developed as a shorter-bodied version of the 747-100, this was partly to try and compete in the market with the smaller wide-bodies of the time, the Tristar and DC-10 (and indeed Boeing did explore a 3 engined version of the 747 that looked like someone had cut the tail off a Tristar and stuck it onto the end of a 747) and also for the new market need growing in the late 1970s for ultra-long range routes.

The 747SP looks quite different to a "normal" 747 in having a fuselage around 14m shorter to give it a stubby look but also a taller tail fin (the shorter fuselage caused increased yaw movement) and simpler flaps. The 747SP can carry around 300 passengers in a mixed class layout and has a typical range of 6650nm compared to 5300nm for a fully loaded standard 747-100 (it was the longest range airliner available until the arrival of the 747-400 in the late 1980s). The SP is also faster being able to cruise at Mach 0.88 compared to Mach 0.82 for a -100.

However despite the "special performance" only 45 SPs were built due to the increased oil price in the 1970s and reduced capacity of the type compared to normal 747s. Less than 20 are still in service, many serving as VIP aircraft with Middle Eastern governments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BA & RR on alternative air fuels

British Airways and Rolls Royce are working together on alternative fuels for air use (like everyone seems to be these days) and interestingly RR are rather down on non-sustainable biofuels. They want a fuel made from biomass that doesn't compete with food production and say that current biofuels don't cut it yetas they only work down to -5C. Testing of up to 4 alternative fuels will be carried out on a ground rigged RB211.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leap-X latest next generation airliner powerplant

We have already mentioned the geared turbofan or GTF from Pratt & Whitney which is one of the contenders to power airliners in the next decade with lower fuel and environmental costs compared to current technology. CFM have now entered the fray too with their Leap-X technology which they say can power the next generation of single-aisle airliners.

CFM, which is a GE & Snecma joint venture, say the Leap-X has no commonality with the mega-selling CFM 56 family and will feature 16% lower fuel consumption than it also with significantly less noise and emissions. Leap-X's new technology includes 3-D woven composite fan blades and a new combuster and will be much lighter than current engines. A demonstrator is planned for later this year with a full rig test in 2010. As far as today's suffering airlines are concerned it can't come quick enough!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Watchkeeper 450 progress

Derived from the Elbit Hermes 450 and developed by Thales, the British Army's future UAV the Watchkeeper WK450 made it's first flight a few weeks ago and has made a good impression already. The WK450 was said to be a robust and stable aircraft. It differs from the Hermes 450 in having an automated take-off and landing system (as yet not tested), a de-icing system for it's new wing, and a better engine from a UK supplier.

Payload (caution acronym overload!)

For it's ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) role WK450 will be fitted with a Thales I-Master SAR (synthetic aperture radar) / GMTI (ground moving target indication) sensor and a Elop Compass IV EO (electro-optical) / IR (infrared sensor) with laser target designator. I-Master is said to already give very good resolution with the SAR said to be world-leading but there is still some fine tuning that can be done. Development is being carried out by these systems on other manned and unmanned test aircraft.

Thales are looking into providing WK450 with the ability to process imagary and only sending back revelent imagery via the datalink to reduce the work load on ground controller and image analysts. There are also attempts to fuse the SAR/GMTI and EO/IR data.

Production WK450 airframes will be built in the UK by Lola with production expected to begin in 2009. Elbit will produce their own version called the Hermes 450B. Future growth could see a twin-engined version in the future.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Airship coming soon in shape of neutrally buoyant rotorcraft

Boeing are to build for Skyhook the JHL-40 (Jess Heavy Lifter) termed a neutrally buoyant rotorcraft which must be the politically correct term for an airship with big engines. The JHL-40 does not carry a lot of gas though, just enough for countering the craft's weight. The JHL-40 is a helium filled airship anyway and will be able to lift 40 tons and transport it 200 miles.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Enabling armchair strategic analysis via Google Earth

Google Earth is a wonderful tool, i have used it in the past to roam the vast expanses of Siberia, finding the odd strange "thing" here and there. The IMINT and Analysis blog has taken Google Earth analysis to a whole new level and is a blog dedicated to "Open source military analysis, strategic thinking, and Google Earth imagery interpretation" it says.

Something i found last year deep in Siberia, perhaps a forest ranger observation tower or radio antenna.

A few months ago the blog owner went into Syrian air defences in depth, no doubt something professional military planners also do, maybe even with similar imagery (though one assumes the military have better quality). To take a look at the SSBN base article however and you wonder how much better the "professionals" could be!

Open source intelligence tools are being used by people around the world tired of the biased and trivia obsessed media and want to find out whats really happening, of course these things can also let the powerless "play" at being General and target the enemy for destruction. Only without any ICBMs to launch!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Northrop QM-74 Chukar series

Like the Ryan Firebee the Northrop Chukar is a long-serving UAV which entered service in the 1960s and continues in service and development to the current day. The Chukar is a target drone but saw combat service as a decoy drone later in it's career.

BQM-74F launch (c) Northrop Grumman

The Chukar is a small (just over 3.5m long and with a wingspan of 1.69m) zero-length launched UAV sent into the air using JATO rockets from a ground or ship based launcher and can also, with the Chukar III, be launched from an aircraft such as a Hercules if fitted with an air launch kit. At the end of it's mission or if there is a loss of contact the Chukar deploys a parachute for recovery. A floatation kit can also be fitted. The Chukar is intended to provide for a realistic target for gunnery or missile training.

There have several major versions of the Chukar :

MQM-74A Chukar I
Development began of the Chukar in the early 1960s for the US Navy and it went into production in 1968. Powered by a Williams WR24-6 turbojet and launchable with the assistance of JATO rockets from ship or ground the Chukar I entered service with the US Navy, Royal Navy and Italian Navy.

2300 Chukar Is were built by 1973 when production switched to the Chukar II. The Chukar I platform was also developed into the NV-128 surveillance drone but did not enter service and XBQM-108A experimental UAV (using the engine and guidance system from a Harpoon missile) to research "tailsitter" VTOL.

The Chukar I had a maximum level speed of 489mph / 787km/h and a service ceiling of 40,000ft / 12, 200m. Range (at 20,000ft was 273 miles / 439 km).

The Chukar was guided by radio control with automatic stabilisation using gyros and altitude sensors when the target was out of range. The Chukar was fitted with equipment to augment it's radar reflection and also had infrared flares and visual aids such as flashes to aid visual identification.

MQM-74A being prepared for launch

MQM-74C Chukar II
Fitted with a more powerful Williams WR24-7 turbojet the Chukar II had a higher performance. Speed was increased to 593mph / 954 km/h. Range was also increased. The Chukar II was fitted with an autopilot system for guidance. It replaced the Chukar I in production in the early 1970s.

MQM-74C Chukar II launch

BQM-74C Chukar III
The Chukar III was a further developed target drone from 1978 with a computerised A/A37G-13 flight control system to allow more complicated pre-programmed flight operations, including the ability to be air launched, and powered by a Williams WR24-7A. Over 1,600 Chukar IIIs have been built to date.

In the mid 1980s the engine was changed to a more powerful J400-WR-404 and has improved guidance and flight control systems to allow it to simulate an anti-ship cruise missile. Using a radar altimeter it can fly as low as 3m. The target augmentation equipment has also been upgraded.

This is the latest version now in development by Northrop Grumman. Guidance will be GPS/IMU with speed further increased to Mach 0.92 at sea level. The target will also be capable of 8G turns. The BQM-74F can have 6 missions with up to 70 waypoints pre-programmed and the mission can be selected either before or after launch. Northrop say this makes the BQM-74F "the foremost cruise missile replicator available".

The Chukar goes to war

In the 1991 Gulf War Chukar IIIs were used as decoy drones in the second wave of attacks. 37 were launched and began to orbit Baghdad. As the Iraqi radar stations illuminated the Chukars this allowed anti-radiar missiles to strike the radar stations. The decoys were operated by a special team of specialists set up purely for this operation, the team was disbanded after the war. The Chukars were fitted with radar reflectors to mimic the signature of strike fighters. The decoys helped reduce allied aircraft losses from the high number feared to the low number that was suffered in the end.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

History & development of Chinese UAVs

At the November 2006 air show in Zhuhai the Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute unveiled an interesting UCAV concept called Anjian or Dark Sword. The impressive looking model raised eyebrows when it was declared to be for the air-to-air role. A2A is considered to be decades away for UCAVs so it is likely the model is just to show off current thinking in Chinese design and aerodynamics. Given the secrecy that usually surrounds new aviation projects it is unlikely that the real next generation UCAVs are too much like Anjian but it certainly shows that they have come some way like the rest of their aerospace industry.

Dark Sword

China is putting a lot of effort into indigenous UAV development with UAVs being seen as key to the development of tactical C4I and airborne ISR. One problem the army is having is integrating data from UAVs into their operations, it is only recently that Chinese UAVs have been able to relay information back in real-time.

Air force reconnaissance

The first operational reconnaissance UAV with the Chinese air force was the WZ-5 which was based on the Ryan Firebee and entered service in 1981. It is thought the WZ-5 was reverse engineered from captured Firebees downed during missions over Vietnam and China in the 1960s but using Chinese designed surveillance and support equipment. The WZ-5 has been used operationally but has a number of drawbacks such as the lack of real-time datalinking and control. It can only fly a pre-programmed flight profile and has to be retrieved in order to get the imagery taken. Recent WZ-5s are said to be able to carry TV and infrared cameras but still lack real-time datalinks.

A much more advanced UAV is the GAIC WZ-2000 (or WZ-9) which was unveiled for the first time in 2000. The WZ-2000 has a similar configuration to the US RQ-4 Global Hawk. The WZ-2000 has a thermal imaging camera and synthetic aperture radar to give it a full all-weather capability (the WZ-5 was only usable in daylight) and sends data back to base in real time via satellite. The WZ-2000 first flew in the early 2000s.


Army UAVs

A number of UAVs have been developed by Xi'an ASN Technology Group and are in PLA service. The ASN-104/5 was the first indigenously designed UAV for army service and entered service with the PLA in the late 1980s. Piston engined, it can carry a variety of sensors and could be controlled from the base station or fly along a pre-planned route. The ASN-105B can relay information back in real-time.

The ASN-15 is a battlefield surveillance and intelligence UAV that is in service with the reconnaissance battalions of Chinese army divisions. The 1.8m long UAV is hand-launched by a soldier and can fly for up top an hour returning imagery back to the base station in real time.


The ASN-206 is one of China's most advanced UAVs and as well as surveillance and reconnaissance can also be used for electronic warfare and radiation sampling. The ASN-206 employs a twin-boom pusher propeller design and has a real-time datalink back to it's operators. It was one of the first Chinese UAVs to offer real-time datalinks as earlier UAVs in PLA service like the ASN-104 needed to be recovered to get the data back. The ASN-206 was developed in the mid-1990s, reportedly with the assistance of the Israeli company Tadiran Spectralink.

Target drones

A major type of drone used by the PLAAF is the ChangKong-1, a reverse-engineered copy of the Soviet era Lavochkin La-17C. The CK-1 is a subsonic radio controlled target powered by a turbojet. The CK-1 entered service in the 1970s and has also been used for atmosphere sampling after nuclear tests. Later versions of the CK-1 were optimised for low-level and high-agility to enable a variety of training scenarios.


Xi'an ASN Technology Group have also produced a number of propeller driven target drones such as the ASN-7, a simple propeller and straight winged radio controlled aeroplane. Some of these are China's earliest UAVs being developed from the late 1960s onwards.

A more recent development has been the TianJian-1 which is intended to simulate cruise missiles. The TJ-1 entered service in 2005 and can be guided by remote control or by GPS.

The next generation?

Chinese UAV development started off reverse-engineering or copying US and Soviet types and along the way there has been some help from Israel but now China has a thriving UAV industry. Many new types of UAVs now in development in China from a number of companies. Beijing Black Buzzard Aviation Technology unveiled a couple of new types to be powered by micro-turbines. The 3.2m long rail-launched HFT-60A is said to be capable of 600km/h with an endurance of 3 hours on a pre-programmed flight, the similar HFT-40A is slower. It is intriguing that the company have gone for high-speed yet low-endurance UAV which is the opposite of most other manufacturers!

The company also demonstrated another UAV that is able to take off from unprepared strips (and presumably land again) and has a joined wing and pusher propeller configuration.

Joined wing UAV

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Autosub6000, Britain's new robot submarine

Undersea volcanoes 6km below the Caribbean will be searched for and explored by Britain's new robot submarine the Autosub6000. The Cayman Trough between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands is the world's deepest volcanic ridge and unexplored. Autosub6000 can dive to more than 6000 metres and operate without control from the surface. First of all it will try and find the volcanic vents, once found the sediments, gas and life living there will be catalogued.

Autosub6000 is an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that can be equipped with a variety of sensors such as cameras, sonars and samplers. It is guided using "an Ixsea PHINS Fiber Optic Gyro (FOG) based Inertial Navigation System".

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (6) : Shanghai Y-10

The Y-10 was the first attempt by China to produce it's own jet airliner and until the ARJ21 takes off later this year the only attempt. The Y-10 was developed by the Shanghai Aviation Industrial Company in the 1970s as a four engined passenger transport to free China from dependence on foreign suppliers. The Y-10 looks very much like a Boeing 707, which China did have a small number of at the time, though it has been denied that it was an example of reverse engineering.

The programme was also started to give the Chinese aviation industry experience with large jet powered transports and for national pride. Politics in fact were heavily tied up in the project which was spearheaded by Wang Hongwen. As he, and the Mao era, fell out of favour so did enthusiasm for the Y-10 which was increasingly seen as a throwback to the days of isolationism.

In 1980 the Y-10 made it's first flight but the only flyable Y-10 (another airframe was used for static testing) made 130 flights before being retired in 1983. The project was cancelled for cost and technical reasons though politics is likely to have been the main reason. No high-up party officials attended the Y-10's maiden flight because it was tainted with Wang Hongwen. Instead China began to licence produce the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.

As the 707 is my favourite jet airliner of all its a shame the Y-10 never took off (so to speak). There was some development work on a possible AWACS version however in the end China used the Il-76.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (5) : Dassault Mercure 100

This series is about jet airliners which failed, either technically or in most cases commercially. With only 12 examples built and 11 sold the French Dassault Mercure 100 was probably the least successful jet airliner of all time. Work began on the Mercure in the late 1960s to produce a competitor to the Boeing 737. The design was similar to the 737 though at 140 passengers capacity was a larger aircraft (the 737-200 being able to carry less than 120).

The Mercure was the first French jet airliner since the successful Caravelle and was designed using Dassault's experience with jet fighters like the Mirage so that it had good high-speed characteristics, indeed was faster than the 737, and had good low-speed lift with it's advanced (for the time) wing. The first Mercure took to the air in 1971.

Unfortunately Dassault could not sell it to anyone, the only order coming from French airline Air Inter. The main reason is thought to have been the poor range of the Mercure compared to it's competitors like the 737 and DC-9. The Mercure was designed for European air routes with a maximum loaded range of 400 miles whereas it's competitors typically had longer range which added to the operational flexibility.

Just 10 production aircraft and 2 prototypes were made, far less than the hundreds originally envisaged. One of the prototypes was later sold to Air Inter. All 11 examples served their airline well, though Air Inter did receive a government subsidy. The Mercure was finally retired in 1995 after 20 years of trouble free service.

Dassault tried to revive the design with versions that had more range, capacity and improved engines but these designs came to naught.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Geared turbofans

The next big thing in aircraft propulsion is the geared turbofan which should begin to enter service early in the next decade on the new Mitsubishi Regional Jet and Bombardier C Series, but what is it? Flight International explain it well :

A conventional turbofan is divided into high and low pressure spools, each consisting of a compressor and turbine. The low-pressure spool drives the fan and provides most of the propulsive power. The fan works best at slower speeds, while the rest of the spool - the compressors and turbines - are more efficient running at high speeds.
A geared turbofan introduces a reduction gearbox (as you might have guessed) between the fan and the turbine so they both operate at optimum speed.

GTF ground test

Pratt & Whitney's GTF is currently in development and it is hoped to deliver fuel savings of between 10 and 10% as well as cutting noise. The GTF is still ground testing but already has impressed some potential customers and has gained the attention of many airlines around the world.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Californian smog to be studied by UAVs

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are going to use unmanned aircraft to study Southern Californian air pollution and the region's potential for climate change. The California AUAV Air Pollution Profiling Study (CAPPS) began last month and will gather meteorological data from clouds and the atmosphere over the region until next January. It is thought the region's climate such as it's tendency to trap smog could make the region prone to climate change consequences such as dimming at low levels. Monthly UAV flights will provide data to help evaluate the long-term effects of pollution.

Flights are taking place from Edwards Air Force Base and have to use military airspace because of rules governing the operation of UAVs in civilian airspace.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A growing market for efficiency in air travel

The news that Boeing have over 130 orders for an upgrade pack to older versions of their 777 airliner that offers fuel savings of 1% is no surprise given the increases in the price of oil over the last few years and greater competition between carriers. 1% may not seem much but it could save $300,000 per year per aircraft.

Its part of a growing effort to push for greater fuel efficiency of new airliners and improving existing airliners, especially the older aircraft in airline's fleets. American Airlines for example are fitting new tail cones to their McDonnell Douglas MD-80 to reduce fuel use via less drag (and happily thus CO2 emissions). Many efforts to save weight are ongoing, even down to lighter cutlery for the inflight meals.

Its not just the hardware. How airliners fly, and especially land, is also being looked at. ECO-Descend for example allows a pilot to slow down if they are ahead of schedule. Aircraft may also be able to choose their own flight path, a system to allow this is to introduced in Sweden this year.

As oil continues it's rise airlines and airliner manufacturers no doubt will continue their efforts to save fuel. In the next decade we should see the arrival of geared turbofans for example (which i will look at in more detail later).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Look what turned up on the beach

Last December the USAF 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron finally phased out the evergreen BQM-34P Firebee target drone, on December the 12th in fact. The Firebee was replaced by the much more advanced BQM-167A Skeeter however things haven't all gone to plan. Last month (yeah i know, come to this blog for the latest news) two Skeeters washed up on the shore near Fort Morgan, Alabama by "spring break revelers". The target drones had been launched in late March and shot down but were not able to be recovered due to the rough sea conditions at the time. They sank and drifted until ending up on the beach, maybe they just wanted to join the party.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lavochkin La-17 / CAF Chang Kong 1

The Lavochkin La-17 began flight tests in the 1950s and was one of the first Soviet UAVs to enter service. It was a small radio-controlled target drone used for training surface-to-air missile battery crews and interceptor aircraft pilots. The La-17 had a pretty simple configuration with a slim fuselage straight wings and tail surfaces and a ramjet under the fuselage. The drone was air launched and landed belly first. The ramjet was considered expendable.

The La-17 was rather crude however and also expensive to operate because of the need for a carrier aircraft and was soon supplemented by the ground launched La-17M which was turbojet powered and launched from a trolley using rocket assistance. Later improvements added an autopilot, the ability to operate at low-level and a landing skid to avoid damage to the engine when it landed.

The Soviet Union explored using the La-17 as a reconnaissance drone, the La-17R appeared in the early 1960s with a longer nose able to carry a variety of reconnaissance sensors including cameras, TV cameras and radiation monitoring equipment. The last version of the drone was the La-17K which had a different engine based on the engine used in the MiG-21. Some may still be in Russian Air Force use today.

The Chang Kong 1

China received a number of La-17s in the late 1950s but when relations between the USSR and China cooled and stocks of the drone ran low the Chinese reverse-engineered the drone and started to produce their own. The Shenyang B-5 or Chang Kong 1 is their version of the La-17 and continues in production to this day at the Changzhou Aircraft Factory (CK-1G).

The Chinese have continued to improve the CK-1 as it is known with the high manoeuvrability CK-1C appearing in the mid-1980s able to make bank turns of up to 77 degrees and the CK-1E for extra low level missions. A radiation sampling version, CK-1A, was also built for sampling air in the aftermath of Chinese nuclear tests.

Technical details

The CK-1 autopilot stabilises the drone in response to radio commands from the control station though the first 85 seconds of flight are pre-programmed. Up to 24 different command signals can be sent to the autopilot and in return there is a 52 channel telemetry downlink allowing the controller to keep tabs on altitude, speed, engine rpm et cetera. An onboard radar transponder allows the drone to be identified and tracked.

For aerial target use the CK-1 has a miss-distance indicator, infra-red augmentation pods, radar reflectors and smoke generators to aid visual tracking. The CK-1E has flares instead of smoke. The CK-1s these days are powered by WP6 turbojets taken from retired J-6 fighters. The CK-1 has a speed of around 900km/h with a flight endurance between 45 and 60 minutes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

McDonnell GAM-72 / ADM-20 Quail

As the Cold War began to develop in the 1950s the US Air Force began to look for new ways to protect their bombers as they overflew the Soviet Union. Height was no longer a defence against the new generation of interceptors and missiles (both ground and air launched). The USAF began to develop decoy missiles that would confuse the enemy air defences. McDonnell pitched a design for a decoy missile that could be carried in a bomber's bomb bay with it's wings folded and then launched when needed. The idea being bombers would carry these decoys along with their weapon load and launch the decoys to confuse enemy air defences. Given more targets it was then hoped that more bombers would be able to penetrate the air defences. In 1956 they were awarded a contract to develop Weapon System 122A of which the GAM-72 Green Quail decoy was a part.

ADM-20 Quail as preserved at the USAF Museum

The GAM-72 Green Quail (later ADM-20 Quail) was a small (for a Cold War aircraft anyway being 3.88m long and having a wingspan of 1.65m) fibre-glass UAV powered by a J85 turbojet. It had a range of 716km and could fly at Mach 0.9.

Pretending to be a B-52

How then could a small drone pretend to be a huge manned bomber? To be effective the Quail had to appear exactly the same as a B-52 would on the enemy's radar. A combination of radar reflectors, chaff, infra-red emitters and electronic repeaters was used to give the Quail as close a signature as possible to the B-52. The design of the Quail with it's slab sides and multiple vertical flying surfaces also contributed to it's radar cross section. (Its kind of ironic that in the days of stealth aircraft here is one that was designed to be exactly the opposite!)

But the Quail not only had to look like a B-52, it had to act like one too. It's performance had to be close or identical to the bomber. The GAM-72 was programmed on the ground before a mission and could fly for up to nearly an hour, changing direction twice in that time and speed also. Later on the GAM-72 was modified to operate at lower altitudes, a barometric altimeter being used to avoid it slamming into the ground. The GAM-72 is an early example of a cruise missile though it never carried a weapon payload.

Service life

In the early 60s the ADM-20 (as it was re designated in 1963) was built in the hundreds. It went fully operational in 1962 and stayed in service until 1978 (it did remain on the USAF books until 1989) though by the early 1970s it was considered obsolete. Improvements in radar technology meant the Quail was no longer considered effective as a decoy. In an exercise in the early 1970s radar operators were able to tell the difference between the Quail and a real target 21 times out of 23. The Commander of Strategic Air Command is said to have written that the Quail was at least better than nothing!

A major reason for the Quail's obsolescence though was the fact that nuclear bombers no longer needed to overfly their targets but could fire "stand off" missiles from some way off. The Quail was, however, the most successful decoy missile fielded by the USAF in the Cold War.

Quail with a B-52 (from Boeing Multimedia Library)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Not Classic Jetliners (4) : Hawker Siddeley Trident

A competitor to the much more successful Boeing 727, the Hawker Siddeley Trident was designed during the 1950s as a short & medium range jet airliner able to carry about 110 passengers. The design, at the time a de Havilland project (the DH 121), was the first airliner with 3 jet engines and the first tri-jet design with the engines all at the rear of the plane, this configuration was was also taken up by the 727 and Russian Tu-154.

The Trident 1, designed to a BEA (British European Airlines) requirement, first flew in early 1962. BEA had insisted on a smaller aircraft than originally envisaged (it could carry 98 passengers) unfortunately other potential customers like American Airlines wanted a bigger aircraft. American Airlines bought the 727 instead which ironically was much closer to the original DH 121 design than the Trident 1. The Trident entered service with BEA in 1964 and was the first civil aircraft fitted with a flight recorder and be equipped for automatic blind landings for use in adverse weather conditions such as fog. In 1966 the Trident was the first airliner to land in fog.

Throughout the 1960s there were continuous improvements to the design including the Trident 1E which was close to the original DH 121 size carrying 140 passengers and the 2E which had further capacity and extra range. The latter achieved a notable sale when 33 were ordered the Chinese national airline CAAC and Chinese air force. One Chinese Trident was lost in mysterious circumstances over Mongolia when Lin Biao was using it to try and defect to the USSR. The official story is that the Trident ran out of fuel. A Trident has also been left marooned at Nicosia International Airport which has been abandoned since 1974 due to the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus.

The final version, the Trident 3 had a 5m fuselage plug and was able to carry up to 180 passengers. The Trident 3 was actually a 4 engined aircraft as it had a small RB162 turbojet which could be used for take-offs, the Tridents had a reputation for needing plenty of runway to get airborne so the extra boost was especially welcome in the larger Trident 3! The reason for the problems with take-off was that the wing was optimised for high speed (the Trident was one of the fastest subsonic jet airliners) and not lift at low speeds.

Trident development ceased in the early 1970s and small sales continued but total production of the Trident was just 117 when the last example was delivered in 1978. Although technically advanced the Trident was an expensive airliner to operate and had a rival with Boeing's marketing muscle and name behind it. The rival 727 had sales of 1832.

No Tridents are thought to be active today, British Airways who inherited the BEA fleet withdrew them in the 1980s though they remained in service in China until the 1990s. A number of Tridents have been preserved or are in use in various locations for fire training.