Footage of a MiG-31 downing a cruise missile

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Airshow review: RIAT 2017

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The Air Tattoo, at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, is one of the best places to find emotionally immature dads and angry men with huge zoom lenses. Our Man at RIAT reports on this year’s most exciting air show. 

Best thing? 

Knackered looking U-2. Good F-22 display obvs.

Best swag? 

Leonardo die cast T-346 model.

Worst swag? 

Israeli Pokemon-style stickers for kids.

Best cocktails? 

Discovery Air Defence

Worst display?

Thunderbores (USAF Thunderbird team).

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Best thing you bought? 

Belgian Mirage 5 coffee table book.

Best static display? 

French Alpha Jet with special tail markings to commemorate Eugene Bullard (first African-American military pilot). 

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Best vintage flying item? 

Hangar 11’s P-51D. You can keep your Spitfires. Special mention to Austrian Air Force Saab 105s- almost as old!

Best example of UK-US cooperation in field of air warfare?

Use of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ to accompany F-22 display.

Most missed display item? 

B-1 or B-52 as part of the USAF 70th celebration. B-2 is fairly ‘meh’ in comparison.

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Was the commentator like Alan Partridge? 

No, Ben’s (Ben Dunnell) commentary was very good, as ever.

Worst item of clothing? 

Take your pick from almost any of the journos in the chalets on Sunday.

 

Best entrepreneurs? 

Ukrainian Air Force selling hollowed out grenades as salt and pepper shakers.

Worst haircut? 

Obviously the Flygvapnet Gripen pilot’s man bun – although it could find limited uptake in Dalston this Summer.

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Gripen (model?) at RIAT 1997.

Gone AWOL award? 

Discovery Air Defence A-4. Big shame it didn’t make it to the static.

Worst use of social media? 

Carol Vorderman. Reinforcing her profile as a societal menace.

(That better be sarcasm, she reads Hush-Kit and is lovely.)

Fashion must-have?

Saab complementary Panama hat. Better build quality than the Marshall Aerospace equivalent.

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Worst static display item?

Pakistan Air Force C-130 (look at that tail!). But bonus points for mattresses below the ramp so kids could do ‘para jumps’.

 

Coolest sounding plane?

Italian Air Force Tornado. Been too long since these were doing solo displays.

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Hottest pilots? 

Axel and Pastif from Couteau Delta. Although U-2 pilot Kevin gets recognition for use of his RayBans.

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SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons at the top and bottom of this page. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

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The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 incredible facts they don’t want you to know about aviation

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It would be beyond the wildest imagination of our parents to believe that one day every journey would take place in an actual flying machine, but today this fact has become mundane. From the helicopter that takes you to work, to the hypersonic airliner that takes us away for our weekend city-break, the aircraft is universal. Yet much remains unknown about these majestic ‘sky boats’. Here are 10 facts they didn’t want you to know: 

10. The world’s first aeroplane original.jpg

In 1986 Russian hunters discovered these preserved remains on Russia’s Arctic coast. The aircraft is dated as having lived around 30,000BC, making it the oldest ever found. The aircraft, dubbed ‘Thora’, is the common ancestor of all extant variable geometry types from the Su-17s to the mighty Tu-160.

9. Why was the B-25 bomber called the ‘Sixer’? 

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Due to a design flaw, the B-25 Mitchell had six shadows.

8. The modern Airport 

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Air travel is more popular than ever. Passengers must arrive at the airport two hours before departure to ensure they have time to spray perfume on their arms, and marvel at how ugly modern watches are. Despite the automation of modern airports, it is impossible for airlines to know which gate your aircraft will be at in advance. No one knows why this is.

 

7. Airport security 10-Tips-for-Getting-Through-Airport-Security-Fast-and-Efficiently.jpg

Terrorists are everywhere. Despite it being more likely you’ll win the lottery than be killed by terrorists, it’s important that you take your shoes and belt off to humble yourself to the god of safety.

6. Defensive systems 

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Tinfoil not only protects your mind from CIA intervention, it also protects military aircraft from radar-guided missiles. ‘Chaff’ are strips of tinfoil dispensed from paranoid aircraft. When the seeker-head of the missiles sees the chaff it realises its target is a troubled soul, so leaves it alone.

5. Light aircraft 

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When not cheating on their wives, middle-aged right-wing men collect in fields to complain about how expensive their unnecessary light aircraft is.

4. Helicopters 

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It is a popular misconception that all helicopters feed on human blood; in reality it is only the females, and they only do it to feed their offspring.

3. Bombers

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Bombers are large multi-engined aeroplanes that carry high explosive or nuclear weapons to drop on cities. Cities are the natural habitat of many humans, so an unfortunate byproduct of this hands-on town-planning is the killing of people. Fortunately, the only nations with bombers are very powerful.

2. Ejection seats 

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When the aeroplane embryo is ready to leave the aircraft’s pouch it has yet to have wings of its own, so it is projected into the sky on a rocket-powered chair. As an encouragement to carry out such a stressful and perilous endeavour, the embryo is given a tie following a successful ejection.

  1. The Wright Brothers brothers

As can be seen by their clothes, the Wright Brothers were cocktails waiters from 2009. They built the very first aircraft as a way to publicise their new bar ‘The Kitty Hawk’.

_______

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Flying & fighting in the MiG-21: In conversation with Air Marshal Matheswaran

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Small, fast and wickedly agile, the Soviet-designed MiG-21 was an extremely potent warplane. For two decades it formed the backbone of the Indian fighter force. We spoke to Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd) about what it was like to fly and fight in the MiG-21. 

 

When did you first fly a MiG-21 and what were your first impressions? 

I began flying the MiG-21s in 1976. At that time it was the prime aircraft in the Air Force. Quite obviously it was great to be selected to go into a MiG-21 squadron. First impressions – fascinating, sleek, and fast.

What were the greatest limitations of the MiG-21? 

None really. Particularly in performance, considering that period and environment. However, since it was truly light it carried limited fuel. Hence, range and endurance was low, as we entered the mid 80s and 90s.

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What were the best qualities of the MiG-21? 

Small, low visual and radar signature, agile, excellent acceleration, and good thrust-to-weight ratio.

How would you rate the MiG-21 in terms of: 

Acceleration? Excellent

Sustained turning? Good

Instantaneous turning? Excellent.

High altitude performance? Good

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Which aircraft have you ‘fought’ in training exercises? Of these which were the most formidable fighters? Mirage 2000, MiG-29, MiG-23 MF, Gnat, Jaguar, and a few others. MiG-29 and M2000 were the tough ones.

It could go supersonic at low level, out-accelerate the Mirage 2000 (hence F-16) at low level. It had a very powerful engine with a second reheat, a good sighting system and a good radar” 

What tips would you offer for ‘fighting’ these types?   In air-to-air combat performance the MiG-21Bis can hold itself. The Mirage 2000 and the F-16 would outlast due to longer endurance, better radar and also in strike role. 

Mirage 2000 pilot interview: Cutting it in the ‘Electric Cakeslice’ 

Do you believe the MiG-21 was the right choice for the IAF, what alternative fighters could have been procured at the time? The MiG-21 was chosen in 1963. The US did not offer any, and its best at that time – the Phantom – was not available. However, the Phantom would have been better suited to the strike role. The F-104 was not a patch on the MiG-21. India had French and British aircraft for strike role. The MiG 21 was very good, particularly in air defence, and high altitude interception. Given the production and TOT advantages as well, the decision to go for MiG-21 was excellent.

Find out what it was like to fly and fight in the Lightning here.

 What equipment would you have like to have seen integrated onto the MiG-21? 

The question is too generic. You need to specify time and environment. Anyway, in the 90s we felt acutely the need to have HUD, a digital navattack system, and a new radar. This we did achieve by 2003-04, although 3 years late and some teething problems. Finally it was an excellent solution. The aircraft was called MiG-21 Bison. The ‘Fishbed’s major limitation was its lack of gyro-sight.

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Did you fly the MiG-21 into combat? Would you have been confident flying it into combat? I had mobilised for war at least three times. I did active ORP duties for many years in early career.

By 1999 Kargil war, I was too senior, and hence in senior operational management role.

What is the greatest myth or misunderstanding of the MiG-21? 

I suppose myth and misunderstanding were more about reliability . That was a fallacy, that Russian technology was unreliable. Russian technology was very robust and reliable, provided you ensured your inventory management and logistics well. In performance much of the myths came from Israelis victories against the Arabs. This was primarily due to poor pilot skills and training. India evolved its own training methodologies and tactics development. Americans knew the aircraft well from their Vietnam experience. So finally any aircraft is only as good as the man behind the machine. The MiG-21, in its time, was an exceptional aircraft in good hands.

MiG 21 Indian Air Force [IAF]

Which variant of the MiG-21 did you fly? What were the various merits of the different Indian variants? All variants, starting from the Fishbed. The Fishbed (we called it Type 74) was very light, highly agile, and the most beautiful to handle, even in extreme low speeds. The subsequent versions became heavier, as they increased their internal fuel, more equipment etc. The MiG-21M was heavier but had the same engine (R-11), as the Fishbed, and so became less efficient at low speeds. MiG-21MF had an improved radar and a more powerful engine (R-13), and so had similar performance as the Fishbed. The MiG-21Bis was the best of them, it was upgraded for multi-role operations. With wing tanks it had a good range. It could go supersonic at low level, out accelerate the M2000 (hence F-16) at low level. It had a very powerful engine (R-33) with a second reheat, a good sighting system and a good radar (Almaz). The Bis’s nose was heavier, and so its slow speed handling was slightly inferior to the Fishbed, but its other strengths made it a truly classy aircraft. The Bis was later upgraded to Bison, which was excellent.

Find out what it was like to be an RAF interceptor pilot here

How did the MiG-21 compare to the Mirage 2000? how would it compare with an F-16? In air-to-air combat performance the MiG-21Bis can hold itself. The M2000 and the F-16 would outlast due to longer endurance, better radar and are also superior in the strike role.

Everything you always wanted to know about Indian air power, but were afraid to ask: In conversation with Shiv Aroor

What advice would you give to pilots converting to the MiG-21? 

 It’s now too late. The MiG21 has been phased out. In any case, for a young pilot, off the training academy, the MiG21 is not an easy aircraft. It required the best of guys to be selected, those with above average skills.

Did the MiG-21 have an eccentric handling characteristics? 

No

What was your most memorable mission or flight and why?  

Many. However, I will name one. Quite early in the operational conversion syllabus one had to do the flight at highest operational envelope height. So here, I put on the supersonic suit, its pretty much the same outfit worn by Yuri Gagarin, and do the supersonic profile. You climb to 16 km in a quick profile, accelerate to 2.1 Mach, and then zoom to 21km, and fly an interception profile accelerating from 1.8M to 2.1M. This part was dropped in later years (after the mid eighties). Quite obviously, later generation never got to wear the supersonic suit, except for those select few who flew the MiG-25.

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What was the MiG-21 cockpit like? Quite fine for a design of its times. Compared to the F-16’s bubble cockpit, its rear visibility was limited, as was the visibility below the nose. The cockpit was old instrumentation and cannot be compared to today’s glass cockpit. Air-conditioning came on after take-off. On ground it was air ventilated. For Indian climates, it would be fairly warm on ground. However, did not matter for hardcore, passionate fighter boys.

Did you have confidence in the Russian armament and avionics? 

Yes.

What was it like to fly the Mirage 2000? Find out here

How much variation was there in within the MiG-21 fleet, were certain aircraft better than others? 

Basic aircraft aerodynamics was the same. But differences included weight, thrust, and systems. Bis was the most different. For example it had Boundary Layer Control, which made a major difference in its approach/landing profile.

Which three words best describe the MiG-21? 

Light, agile, and excellent.

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Special thanks to Angad Singh.

If this interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent. 

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to WarplanesFlying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated?

SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons above or below. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

 

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Videos reveal dramatic F-35 incidents

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Aviation journalist Stephen Trimble found a fascinating video from Flight Test Safety Committee’s conference early last May detailing several dramatic incidents in the F-35’s testing. We spoke to Stephen to find out more. 

What were the films and what do they reveal?

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“The videos in question are embedded in a presentation by an officer in VX-23 — the US Navy’s test and evaluation squadron — at the Flight Test Safety Workshop in May. The workshop is an annual event hosted jointly by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Society of Flight Test Engineers and the AIAA. Two videos within the presentation seem to have attracted the most attention. The first video shows an air to air refuelling flight test on 3 August with an F-35C hooked to a refuelling drogue attached to the centreline boom on a US Air Force KC-135R. The video captures the dramatic moment when the boom operator jettisons the drogue after the risk of the boom knuckle colliding with the F-35C canopy becomes too great. The second video of interest reveals a night landing test in mid-November with an F-35B on an amphibious carrier. The pilot was having some extreme trouble with the night vision system embedded in his helmet mounted display. Rather than aborting the test on safety grounds, the pilot and the control room decide tacitly proceed. As the pilot approaches the carrier, the video reveals that decision to be a mistake. The helmet’s night vision system in low light mode is barely able to make out the island superstructure and provides no meaningful visual cue of the area of the deck where the F-35B is supposed to land. In a clever but desperate move, the test pilot uses the heat signature of two power generators on the deck as a guide, along with the landing signal officer’s station on the island superstructure. He manages to land the aircraft without damaging himself, the aircraft or the carrier, but the VX officer acknowledges they were ‘very lucky’.”

Which F-35 problems are not well publicised?

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“As the most expensive and scrutinised weapons program in world history, very few, if any, of the F-35’s problems qualify as not well publicised. As those problems relate to the VX officer’s presentation, I don’t think a lack of exposure is an issue. The HMD’s problems have been well-known for probably a decade, although the extent of the issues took several years to fully emerge. It does not appear to me that the refuelling test revealed a new “problem”. It seemed to merely reveal one limit in the flight envelope of the F-35C refuelling system, which is the point of flight testing. Whenever the initial operational test and evaluation period for the F-35A begins, we’ll find out how many deficiencies in Block 3F software were resolved. We’ll also learn how far ALIS has come to being able maintain and sustain the US F-35 fleet in an operational context.”

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Is it dangerous to be helmet-dependent?

“Dangerous might not be the right word, but it adds quite a bit of complexity, cost and risk to the F-35 cockpit. As we’ve seen, the original design of the F-35 helmet was inadequate, requiring three generations of improvements to raise the technology to a level that could be used in operations. If it works, the helmet mounted display must surely enhance performance, but getting there has been more difficult than anyone imagined when Lockheed Martin won the overall F-35 development contract in October 2001.”

Should we believe reports of how well the F-35 is doing in exercises?

“You’re asking a journalist, so my answer to that question is no. They don’t pay me to believe everything that contractors and government programme managers tell me. If the F-35 achieved a 20:1 kill ratio at Red Flag, the pilots dramatically exceeded the design intent for an aircraft capable of a 6:1 kill ratio. I’d like to see exactly how each kill was achieved, but, of course, that’s a level of disclosure that would be rare for even the F-35.”

How did you find these new f-35 stories/films?

“On Sunday afternoon, a friend sent me the link with the date and location for the 2018 Flight Test Safety Workshop. So I simply clicked on the link for the proceedings of the 2017 event. I must admit I was surprised to find a presentation about the F-35 flight test programme, as the workshop tends to be about a bit drier — but no less fascinating to me — stuff. At the same time, I took the F-35 flight test videos with a grain of salt, as I happen to be reading the autobiography of the great Eric “Winkle” Brown. When you compare his flight test exploits to the level of risk you see exposed in the F-35 videos, it certainly provides some perspective at how far flight test safety has come since the 1940s and ’50s.”

Gifs and reference material from this fascinating article on The Drive. 

You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to WarplanesFlying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated?

SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons above or below. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

 

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Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Guide to surviving aviation forums here

10 amazing things you didn’t know about the Supermarine Spitfire

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The Supermarine Spitfire was a masterpiece of engineering, and more importantly a vital weapon in the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Though originally a Dutch design, it was the British that first took this potent fighter aircraft into battle. Think you know the Spitfire? Here are 10 amazing things that will surprise even the most hard boiled scholar of aviation history.

  1. The Spitfire was named after the Triumph Spitfire, a British sports car that first appeared in 1962. Zastava_Yugo_311.jpg

2. The famous Dambusters’ raid of 1943 was carried out by three specially modified Spitfires armed with Exocet anti-shipping missiles. Of the three aircraft sent, four returned.

3. Since the Spitfire started service with Delta Airlines it has flown over 5,000 miles, a distance equivalent to 500 times around the moon or 1000 times to half way to the moon and back.

4. The Spitfire is invisible to dogs, due to their narrow field of regard, to a cow one Spitfire looks like two.

5. The Spitfire’s nemesis, the German VFW-Fokker VFW-614 was faster than the Spitfire, but had ‘intimacy issues’.

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The unmistakable Supermarine Spitfire.

6. Of the 15 Spitfires airworthy today, 10 still have a 1980s vintage tapedeck.

7. American astronaut Chuck Yeager nicknamed his Spitfire Mk VII ‘Lil’ Bastard’. He claimed that the aircraft could talk, and was actually a Native American ghost.

8. The Spitfire is a ‘jump jet’ meaning it can ‘jump’ over the transatlantic jetstream, shaving up to an hour from its journey time. Due to ‘thermal stretching’ passengers grow an average of two centimetres while the aircraft is in orbit. On landing they return to their regular heights and partners.

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Top scoring Spitfire pilot Dr. Ray Mears. Mears shot down 32 helicopters during the 1987 Pentonville Prison riots.

9. The Spitfire’s original name was Shirley Crabtree Jr.

10. Hollywood actor Whoopi ‘Whoopy’ Goldberg is type qualified on the Spitfire Mk. I and claims she can dive inverted without stalling. She was in the 1990 motion picture ‘Ghost’

Fact checking by The Daily M**l editorial team.

SAVE HUSH-KIT. Hush-Kit needs donations to continue, sadly we’re well behind our targets, please donate using the buttons above or below. Many thanks. I really hope Hush-Kit can continue as it’s been a fascinating experience to research and write this ridiculously labour-intensive blog.

 

The more you give the more we can give you 🙂

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

 

If this interests you, support Hush-Kit.net with a donation (buttons above and below). If this goes well we’ll be able to give you much more! Recommended donation £15. Many thanks for helping to keep us impartial and independent.

You may also enjoy A B-52 pilot’s guide to modern fighters, Flying and fighting in the Lightning: a pilot’s guideInterview with a Super Hornet pilot, Trump’s Air Force Plan, 11 Worst Soviet Aircraft, 10 worst US aircraft, and 10 worst British aircraftMiG-21s, MC-21s and the overrated Typhoon: In conversation with FlightGlobal’s Stephen TrimbleThe F-35 will fail, until the US learns to shareAn air force of my own #1Top 8 Mach 3 fighters

Techno zombies: 6 aerospace technologies that came back from the dead

 

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Not the result of an ill-advised Christmas party hook-up between a Typhoon and Concorde, but a North American Aviation concept for a supersonic airliner. The supersonic airliner is a dead technology that may one day return.

If you’ve ever bumped into that ex at a party or been disheartened by the fifth rebirth of Rave music, you’ll know some things refuse to disappear. Likewise the corpse of many a ‘dead’ aerospace technology has tiptoed out of the grave to dance with the Michael Jackson of progress. Here are six examples of good ideas that have come back to the sky. 

Former USMC pilot Carleton Forsling is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose. Read about his fascinating experiences flying the CH-46 and MV-22 Osprey. 

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Lighter than air

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An ideal location for a climatic punch-up between a hero and a nazi super villain.

Most people believe that the popularity of lighter-than-air (LTA) craft crashed with the Zeppelin, R101 and Akron.  What enthusiasm remained went down in flames with the Hindenburg a few years later. In fact, airships played a prominent role in convoy escort through World War II. That same conflict also saw unmanned barrage balloons, tethered blimps, defending London from attack. Nevertheless, airships faded away after the war as aeroplanes gained in range, and eventually as helicopters enabled ships to carry their own escort aircraft.

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Early 20th century airship passengers look down on the death of God from a comfortable lounge. Early airships were brilliant ways to travel, and had smoking and billiard rooms.

LTA is back, with a vengeance. Veterans of the American campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq will remember the omnipresent aerostats*, packed with sensors. Residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania may remember an aerostat breaking free and wreaking havoc like a Portuguese Man O’ War across their states. The errant sky sausage wandered for 160 miles, ripping power-lines to pieces and causing mass blackouts.

*’Aerostat’ is an umbrella term for a lighter than air craft that includes airships and balloons. 

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London 2025.

 Wing warping

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 Jonathan Livingston Seagull II: Rise of the Machines

When not impersonating Herge’s Thomson and Thompson or gracing page four of every aviation history book (following Icarus is on page one, Chinese kites on two, and the Montgolfier brothers on three) the Wright brothers did something with aeroplanes. Flapless and fancy-free, Orville and Wilbur Wright controlled their Wright Flyer not by ailerons, but by actually twisting their wings to change the shape of the airfoil itself, much like a bird. In Orville and Wilbur’s day, it was just done by pulling on cables which pulled on the trailing edges of wings, changing the shape of the airfoil, altering the amount of lift in order to initiate an angle of bank. As aircraft moved beyond men lying prone upon a few layers of canvas (a stage hammocks never progressed from), wing warping fell out of favour.

Today, its modern incarnation is called ‘wing morphing’. Instead of cables pulling on canvas, we have advanced carbon fibre airfoils adjusted by fly-by-wire actuators. This allows for more efficient airfoils and a reduction in mechanical complexity (though lacks the simple poetry of the Wright’s machines). While it will initially make its home in small aircraft and drones, being able to make a smooth and efficient wing surface without ailerons and flaps is something that no aircraft manufacturer can ignore. Sometimes nature had the best idea all along (and other times she didn’t, just ask the male marsupial mice that are killed by the act of mating).

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La Petite Mort

Gliders

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Emirates asks for £117 for each 5kgs on top of your luggage allowance. Military gliders of the 1940s didn’t even charge you if you brought a Sten gun

In World War II, glider-borne forces were essential to the D-Day landings. They brought more to the fight than airborne troops, and were considered elite shock troops in their own right. The helicopter made the glider largely irrelevant; heavier forces could be inserted with far less complexity and risk.

Aerial delivery has come back in a big way in recent years, especially in Afghanistan, where forces operate in small outposts far from major bases, aerial delivery of supplies via parachute has become commonplace. GPS guided supply drops have improved the accuracy of those drops. It’s always bad when supplies land outside the wire: troops don’t want to have to fight their way out just to get to their food. Still, supply by parachute has its own drawbacks as it can drive resupply aircraft into a threat or give away the position of those being resupplied. Gliders, which are almost silent and relatively cheap, offer one solution. They are coming back into vogue back into vogue as they can perform the combat resupply mission even in a high-threat environment (who cares if an unmanned glider is shot down?).

Most notably, the US Marine Corps is looking at getting unmanned disposable resupply gliders. They travel further than parachutes, and are also far less expensive than self-propelled unmanned systems. Teams in the field don’t have to worry about bringing a plywood glider back with them after a mission.

The glider is also extremely survivable in one unique way:  Modern ‘heat-seeking’ anti-aircraft missiles are extremely effective, the glider is the only type of aircraft that can boast extremely low observability in the infra-red spectrum.

Variable speed propellers

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Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 (with V-22).

When aeroplanes first debuted, the speed of an aeroplane’s propeller changed with the speed of the engine. While more commonly called ‘fixed pitch* propellers’, they could conversely be described as ‘variable speed propellers’.  The technology did not yet exist to change the pitch of the propeller, so getting more thrust just came down to making the propeller spin faster.

*The pitch of the propeller is the angle it presents to the air it chops through. Angles of pitch – like different bicycle gears- are appropriate for different phases.

Unfortunately, aircraft engines work most efficiently over a narrow range of speeds. If changing the speed of the prop is the only way to change the speed of the aircraft, then the engine has to work over a broad range of speeds, and thus has to work much harder.

If instead of just turning faster, one could change the pitch of the propeller, one could then keep the engine turning at a consistent speed. Over time, variable pitch and eventually constant speed propellers did just that. The majority of modern aircraft, including helicopters, have some kind of mechanism to keep rpm constant.

But aeroplanes and helicopters have different optimal blade speeds. Tiltrotor aircraft, like the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, have to deal with both regimes, and thus have to turn their blades at different speeds in different modes of flight. The Osprey has selectable rotor speeds–roughly 84 or 100 percent in aeroplane mode, and 100 or 104 percent in conversion or VTOL mode. That lets the aircraft use the most efficient rotor speed for the flight regime, and make the best use of blades with different sections optimised for aeroplane and vertical flight.

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You can’t even see the propeller in this photo. Insert Fokker/Fucker joke here.

Varying the speed of the proprotors will become more common as tiltrotors proliferate. Even more traditional appearing rotorcraft designs will start to employ some type of mechanism to select rotor rpm in order to improve aerodynamic and mechanical efficiency. Boeing’s (formerly Frontier’s) A160 Hummingbird UAS demonstrator used a two-geared transmission, switching between high and low gears, to improve efficiency, and thus endurance. While still without a prototype, Karem Aerospace claims it will someday be able to put similar technology to work in a tiltrotor aircraft, allowing the engine to work at its optimum speed regardless of the mode of flight.

Whatever the mechanism, eventually future aircraft will have the ability to change their rotor rpm as needed throughout their flight envelopes, which in conjunction with varying pitch will get the most out of their drive systems.

Space Capsules

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“Our apparatniks will continue making
    the usual squalid mess called History:
        all we can pray for is that artists,
        chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.” — W.H. Auden

 

A space capsule is a wingless spacecraft.

When the shuttle Columbia took flight in 1981, it seemed to end the reign of the space capsule. That had been the vehicle of manned spaceflight since Yuri Gargarin first orbited the earth in 1961. Why wouldn’t it? It was reusable, and came back like an aeroplane, under control, not hanging under parachutes to land wherever the winds blow.

The Space Shuttles never lived up to their original billing as a cheap way to lift cargo into space. Costs remained high–$1.3 billion per sortie and $10,400 per kilogram taken to space, by some estimates (this makes an Etihad flight from New York to Abu Dhabi look pretty good value). Sortie rates remained much lower than originally projected (think F-22s maintained by manic depressives).

The Russians and Chinese continued using capsules to lift cosmonauts and taikonauts ( Chinese space dudes and dudettes) into space. After the Shuttles’ retirement, the US was even forced into the embarrassing position of having to hitch rides on Russian capsules to the International Space Station.

While commercial operators are proceeding with several winged designs, the next generation of NASA spacecraft is going to be a capsule model. The Orion spacecraft will be reusable, but its mission profile would look very familiar to astronauts of the 1960s.

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A female mime attempts to sabotage the most important totem of the patriarchy.

Hush-Kit notes

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People from the past were idiots.

My money, in the long run, is on the return of the ornithopter, a flying machine that uses flapping wings for propulsion and control. As Carl notes above, nature often gets things right: the future ornithopter would include wing morphing with complete variable geometry wings for optimum efficiency. Flapping winged machines have been attempted for centuries, but with today’s lightweight materials and engines it has become viable. Only very recently has this method of flying been reliably demonstrated. Remarkably, human ornithopter was demonstrated in 2010:

Former USMC pilot Carleton Forsling is the Senior Columnist for Task and Purpose. Read about his fascinating experiences flying the CH-46 and MV-22 Osprey. 

 

Hey- why didn’t you mention supersonic airliners (like the very cool Convair concept at the bottom)? Because I’m not convinced they are set to return just yet. There’s 10 incredible cancelled airliners here (something to consider as you sit in your snoozy 737). Ten most boring aircraft can be endured here.

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