I’m perusing a story on CNN about a vehicle that can fly at Mach 6, or more than 4,500 miles/hr. While that seems like a crazy speed, my response is, what took so long?
I think about that almost every time I board a plane these days. It took the same six or so hours to fly across the US 20 years ago that it does now. I know that the cockpits have changed significantly, and other improvements have been made, but flight times haven’t budged. And yes, I’m aware of the whole Concorde thing, and it’s really a shame that the program had to be cancelled.
Back to the story on CNN. Does it mean that we’re actually going to see faster commercial airplanes? Not likely, or at least not anytime soon. The Pentagon’s X-51A Waverider hypersonic flight test vehicle is just that -- a test vehicle.
Later today, the 25-foot-long vehicle will be dropped off of the wing of a converted B-52 bomber off the California coast. It will attempt to fly for five minutes at Mach 6. Remember, Orville and Wilbur’s first flight only last a few seconds. According to the story, “The technology could eventually bring missiles or airplanes to the other side of the planet in minutes instead of hours.”
If successful, the test plane will simply fade into the Pacific Ocean and not be recovered. The Air Force claims that it’s prohibitively expensive to try to recover the planes. The cost of the program was not disclosed.
Rich, this is an interesting development. You may not recall, but the X-15 rocket plane had a maximum speed of Mach 6.72, or 4,520MPH(7,274km.h). These planes flew from 1959 to 1970. They were piloted, dropped from a B-52 and landed like a plane. One interesting fact I found was that the ejection seat, which was never used, could be deployed up to Mach 4. That would be a wild ride.
So, why can these planes not be recovered or landed. I wonder. The space shuttle was basically landed automatically. The pilot was just there to take over in case of a problem.
I'm not an aerospace engineer but I did have the privilege of being on a design team that developed diagnostics for hypersonic tests conducted at the fabled Hanger 18 of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base -- the one that houses the Alien Technology that we keep copying...
The difficulty with hypersonic speeds is that fuel/oxygen mixing and combustion at those speeds have more in common with cement mixing than the traditional jet engine problem of trying to keep a candle burning within a tornado. If the aircraft is not bringing along its own fuel and oxidant, as is the case with rocket propulsion, then the oxygen must be scooped up, mixed with fuel, and compressed before it is burned to create propulsive thrust. RAM Jets skip the traditional compression blades and use the velocity of the incoming air for compression, but ultimately slow some of the the air down to subsonic speed to mix with fuel efficiently. SCRAM jets are pushing the mixing technology so that fuel and air can be mixed at supersonic speeds. The X-51A Waverider is testing this technology.
It's not a regulation, management, licencing, cost thing. It's a lack of technology thing. Very similar to the reason why we don't have efficient solar-cell shingles on every roof --- great idea, but we are not there yet.
The airlines are in the business of flying planes, much like the railroads were in the business of driving trains. The airlines don't care whether you make a flight or what happens to your bags, they just want to get your money. There's no incentive for them to get people on or off planes quickly because they have assigned takeoff and landing slots and cannot just get everyone on board quickly and take off the way a taxi could. Likewise, the airlines have no incentive to get luggage out to fliers in a timely way. The pilots landed the plane and got it to an assigned gate, end of story.
I recently learned the airline's PROFIT on a flight amounts to the cost of one economy ticket. So if you're on a flight with 150 people and they each pay $300 for the flight, the airline makes a profit of $300. The rest goes to expenses. Because the airlines run a low-margin business, fliers can expect poor service.
An unmanned experimental aircraft failed during an attempt to fly at six times the speed of sound in the latest setback for hypersonic flight.
The X-51A Waverider was designed to reach Mach 6, or 3,600 mph, after being dropped by a B-52 bomber off the Southern California coast on Tuesday. Engineers hoped it would sustain its top speed for five minutes, twice as long as an X-51A has gone before.
But the Air Force said Wednesday that a faulty control fin prevented it from starting its exotic scramjet engine and it was lost.
"It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine," Charlie Brink of the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, said in a statement.
We still have a ways to go before we start to see comercial applications...
naperlou... If you take a look at the dimensions and the image accompanying the Wikipedia article on the X-51A Waverider, you will notice it is tiny. Even a predator drone is longer by 2-ft and has a nearly 50-ft wingspan
X-51 Length: 25 ft, Empty Weight: 4,000 lb, Wingless (but for small control fins)
By the time you fill it with fuel and basic remote control electronics and communication equipment, there is not much room for exotic auto-navigation, landing, and recovery systems.
I'm not sure of our newest Naval equipment, but locating and retreiving what amounts to a 25' metal pipe at the bottom of the ocean does appear to be money well spent on design and development. I'm also going to assume that each test article has an automatic destruct just in case other nations are interested in diving for lost treasure...
I didn't realize the margins for airlines were so slim, Jon. But I'm not surprised. For most flights I take, the cost if roughly that same as it was in the early 1970s. Needless to say, the flight experience was much better back then.
It's interesting to see how fast aircraft technology advanced between the early years of flight and the commercial jet era. But Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier over Edwards Air Force Base in 1947. And what has happened since? Commercial jets have been flying at top speeds of about 500-600 mph for a half-century.
The speed hasn't improved but there have been improvements elsewhere. Navigation, weather prediction, safety and on time performance have improved greatly. The cost of travel has remained about the same, so the cost corrected for inflation is actually less.
As mentioned in another post, the time on the ground has really climbed. Long security lines and long times to board and deplane because there is way too much carry on luggage and everyone is trying to squeeze their three bags in ahead of the next guy. The last few trips I've flown myself in my 40 year old 172, which is much slower than a 737 but without all the time on the ground the total trip is about the same. The total cost is actually cheaper because I'm able to bring my wife for the same cost of fuel.
Hi Chuck... As you know, the Bell X-1 was propelled by a rocket engine. The air-breathing supersonic engines of the Concord were "turbojet" engines, rather than the more traditional "turbofan" jet engines. The turbojet still required afterburners during takeoff and transonic transition and the combustors still needed to slow the intake air down to sub-sonic speeds. The Pratt & Whitney F119 engines used by the F-22 program provide supersonic flight without afterburner (supercruise), but only by using very expensive technology such as burn-resistant titanium alloy, integrally bladed rotors (disks and blades sculpted from a single block of alloy), and a highly-complex Full-Authority Digital Electronic Engine Control (FADEC) system. A 2009 estimate of F-22 per-copy cost is around $350 Million per plane. With a single pilot, that is $350 Million per Passenger. A Boeing 747-400 costs around $250 Million per copy and carries a maximum of 660 passengers (a paltry $380 Thousand per passenger - a 10^3 efficiency)
Until SCRAM Jet technology becomes more affordable from developments like the X-51, it looks like we will have plenty of time to appreciate the in-flight movie...
There is no commercial application for this technology. The lessons from Concorde and the 747, whoch both entered service in the same period, is that there is more proft in carrying more passangers for a minimal cost than providing a high priced high speed alternative to a privileged few. So there is no way a commercial aircraft manufacturer can expect to recover R&D costs and break even. (Concorde was partly government funded). We have the technology to build mach 2 airliners, but not the incentive - so what prospect for a mach 5 version? You may also have noticed that this test vehicle can neither take off nor land - two basic pre-requisites for commercial flight.
Are they robots or androids? We're not exactly sure. Each talking, gesturing Geminoid looks exactly like a real individual, starting with their creator, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University in Japan.
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.