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The Pentagon has approved the requirement for an “endurance upgrade” to the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, with a larger air vehicle to provide increased payload and range to support special operations forces.
After also evaluating the Boeing A160T Hummingbird and Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopters, the program office has recommended using the Bell 407 airframe, Capt. Patrick Smith, the Navy’s Fire Scout program manager, said Aug. 17 at the AUVSI International show in Washington.
The program office’s recommendation has yet to be endorsed by Navy leadership, but Northrop and Bell are already jointly developing an unmanned version of the civil Bell 407 light turbine helicopter, called the Fire-X, which first flew in December.
“The MQ-8C endurance upgrade package started as a joint urgent operational need statement from Special Operations Command. The requirement was validated [on Aug. 16] by the office of the secretary of defense,” Smith says.
“Our recommendation is to go with the 407 airframe, based on the time frame limitations,” he says. The requirement is to develop the larger MQ-8C within 24 months, for deployment in 2014, with plans to acquire 28 air vehicles over three years.
Plans to arm the basic MQ-8B Fire Scout, which is based on a Schweizer 333 helicopter, also have been approved. The rapid deployment capability program calls for fielding within 18 months, possibly on the Littoral Combat Ship, Smith says.
The Navy has selected a laser-guided 70 mm rocket, BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), as the initial weapon because it has existing safety approval for deployment on ships.
“Northrop Grumman will conduct a demonstration of Raytheon’s Griffin later this month, and we would like to become weapon-agnostic,” he says. Griffin is a 35-lb. tube-launched laser-guided mini-missile.
The Navy, meanwhile, has confirmed that an MQ-8B that went down over Libya on June 21 while operating from the USS Halyburton was “lost to enemy fire.” Communications and radar contact was lost while the aircraft was flying below cloud cover in an area where other allied aircraft had already come under heavy anti-aircraft fire.
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A piece of debris from NASA’s space shuttle Columbia has been discovered in Texas, eight years after the 2003 disaster that destroyed the spacecraft and killed its seven-astronaut crew during re-entry, NASA officials confirmed on Aug. 2.
The debris was discovered last week in eastern Texas. It is a round aluminum power reactant storage and distribution tank from Columbia, which disintegrated over Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere near the end of a 16-day science mission.
The tank was discovered in an exposed area of Lake Nacogdoches, in Nacogdoches, Texas, about 160 miles northeast of Houston.
“The only reason it’s exposed is because there’s a drought going on and the tank was under the lake,” Lisa Malone, a NASA spokeswoman at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, told SPACE.com. “The tank itself is full of mud.”
Nacogdoches police informed NASA of the find and sent pictures for identification. NASA engineers who work on the shuttle’s power reactant storage and distribution systems were able to confirm the piece belonged to Columbia.
“One of the guys had been here more than 30 years and recognized it, and said, ‘That’s one of the tanks,’” Malone said.
The piece was one of 16 tanks on the shuttle that stored supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The spherical tank, about 40 inches (1 meter) in diameter, will eventually be shipped back to Kennedy Space Center, where NASA stores all the collected debris from Columbia in a climate controlled area in the giant Vehicle Assembly Building.
“We’re working the plans and details out right now as to how we would get it shipped back here,” Malone said. “We do want to collect the debris items and keep them in one place.”
To date, about 38-40 percent of the Columbia orbiter‘s wreckage has been recovered. The remainder was either burned up during reentry or is still where it landed in Texas and Louisiana.
“From time to time throughout the year we do get phone calls and emails from people about items they think are debris,” Malone said.
The 2003 disaster was traced back to a hole that was punched into one of Columbia‘s wings by a piece of debris from its fuel tank during launch, according to the findings of a review board that investigated the accident. The hole rendered the orbiter unable to withstand the intense heat of re-entry, causing the vehicle to disintegrate.
Discoveries of debris from the wreck can still serve to reopen old wounds.
“It always makes you think about the accident and Columbia and the crew of course,” Malone said. “It always does serve as a reminder.”
Columbia was carrying commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, and Laurel Clark, payload commander Michael Anderson, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, who was Israel’s first astronaut.
Following the catastrophe, NASA upgraded equipment and processes to protect against a similar failure. All post-Columbia shuttles flew with external tanks that had been redesigned to diminish the amount of debris from their insulating foam that fell off during liftoff.
As a further precaution, recent crews conducted thorough inspections of their orbiters’ heat shields once in orbit to make sure they hadn’t sustained any damage that would endanger them during landing.
The Columbia accident was the second disaster in the history of the 30-year space shuttle program. It followed the 1986 destruction of the shuttle Challenger and its crew. Exceptionally cold weather at Challenger’s Florida launch site that day caused a failure in an O-ring seal on one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters that ultimately pulled apart the vehicle.
Last month NASA retired its remaining three space shuttle orbiters. The shuttle Atlantis landed July 21 to finish the 135th and final mission of the shuttle program. Now Atlantis and its siblings Discovery and Endeavour will be retired to museums, while NASA embarks on a new program to build vehicles for deep space exploration.
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AirVenture — The first Zeppelin to fly in the U.S. skies since the Hindenburg crashed in flames 74 years ago is here to give joyrides.
But the two are worlds apart, in technology, time and safety.
The Hindenburg, the first regularly scheduled aerial passenger service between the U.S. and Europe, was a an 803 ft long behemoth with a gas capacity of 706 million cu ft, and sleeping berths for 72 passengers. It was operated by a crew of 40 officers and men, and up to 12 stewards and kitchen staff. It was kept aloft by hydrogen, which was ultimately its downfall.
The Farmers Insurance Zeppelin NT here this week, built by the revived ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik company in Friedrichschafen, Germany, is just over a quarter the length of the Hindenburg, at 246 ft, and carries up to 12 passengers and two crew. Most importantly, it is filled with 290,000 cu ft of non-flammable hydrogen. It is powered by three 200-hp variable pitch, vectoring Lycoming piston engines, two on the hull and the third at the rear.
Unlike the well-known Goodyear airships, which are inflated bags known as blimps, the Zeppelin NT is a semi-dirigible with a structure of graphite reinforced plastic and three longitudinal aluminum girders that carry the motors and passenger gondola.
In that respect the new Zeppelins also differ from those of the past, which had a rigid skeleton covered in fabric that enclosed the decks and lounges and accommodated the huge gasbags.
Earlier this year, Goodyear committed to replace its famous blimps with three of the new Zeppelins, which will be assembled near Akron, Ohio. Each will cost about $21 million each, with technical support, and the first is slated for delivery in 2014. Interestingly, Goodyear worked with Zeppelin 90 years ago to introduce the rigid airships U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron to the U.S. Navy.
The Farmers Zeppelin, which is usually based in San Francisco and operated by Airship Adventures of California, will be giving rides at AirVenture through July 31.
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Two Chinese Su-27 fighters penetrated Taiwan’s airspace June 29 and were turned back by Taiwan Air Force fighters. The incident is believed to be the first serious Chinese fighter incursion into Taiwan airspace since 1999.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed the incursion in a news release on Monday, but would not verify local Chinese-language media reports that the Su-27s were chasing a U.S. surveillance aircraft.
The U.S. Pacific Command did not respond to inquiries about the incident.
An MND source said it is not Taiwan’s duty to protect U.S. surveillance aircraft and the incident is not considered serious.
“There is a line between the two sides, and if any Chinese aircraft flies too close, we will respond,” he said. “If they cross the line, we treat it as a hostile act, but occasionally they fly close to the line, and to be honest, this happens all the time and is not a real problem.”
The June 29 incident was an “unintentional” and “inadvertent” incursion by Chinese fighter aircraft, he said. “The Chinese military has no intention of antagonizing Taiwan” because relations across the Strait are “calm” and there is “no reason for trouble.”
The news comes as Taipei pushes the U.S. to release 66 F-16C/D fighters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that Washington would make a final decision on the fighters by Oct. 1.
Local media reports said the Su-27s were trying to catch a U-2 spy plane conducting a surveillance mission out of Osan Air Base, South Korea. The reports said the U-2 diverted to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to avoid the Chinese fighters.
But surveillance aircraft specialist Chris Pocock was skeptical. There are only three U-2s based in East Asia, all at Osan, to watch North Korea, Pocock said.
“They may also fly southwards along the China coast as far as Taiwan, but not on a routine basis,” he said.
The aircraft might have been a Navy EP-3 Aries or Air Force RC-135, which operate at lower altitudes and have been harassed by Chinese fighters in the past.
In 2000, two Chinese J-8 fighters intercepted an Air Force RC-135 in international airspace above the East China Sea. A year later, a J-8 fighter collided with a Navy EP-3 Aries near Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
Despite Chinese complaints, the U.S. surveillance aircraft flies regular missions along China’s coastline. They stay in international airspace because straying into Chinese territory would make them easy targets for S-300PMU-1/2 and Hongqi-10 surface-to-air missiles.
During the Cold War, Taiwan’s Black Bat 34th Squadron flew similar missions with three P-3A Orion signals intelligence aircraft. As well, China shot down five U-2 spy planes operated by Taiwan’s Black Cat 35th Squadron over Chinese territory. Both programs were handled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Taiwan will soon take delivery of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for anti-submarine patrols. The aircraft will replace aging Grumman S-2T Tracker anti-submarine aircraft. Taiwan technically has two squadrons of the S-2T, but sources say that only a handful are still operational.
Taiwan has attempted to procure signals intelligence aircraft in the past from the U.S., but procurement problems and budget delays have hampered the acquisition. Taiwan has one EC-130 for surveillance operations, but it is limited in mission scope.
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Boeing’s decision to replace the engines of its popular 737 jetliner rather than replace it with an all-new airplane is a “dream scenario” for Spirit AeroSystems, a Spirit analyst said.
Spirit also will benefit from American Airlines’ record-setting order announced Wednesday for 450 narrowbody aircraft placed with Boeing and Airbus.
Spirit builds the 737 fuselage in Wichita.
It also builds parts of all Airbus aircraft at its plants in the United Kingdom.
“The American order is good news for us all the way around,” said Spirit spokeswoman Debbie Gann said.
Shares of Spirit jumped 7.3 percent Wednesday, gaining $1.50 to close at $22.07. Shares have traded between $17.93 and $26.49 in the past year.
The plan to replace the engines on the 737 with more fuel-efficient engines called the Leap X is subject to approval from Boeing’s board of directors. A Boeing official said Wednesday that the program is expected to be launched sometime this fall.
American’s order to Boeing includes 100 737 Next Generation aircraft with options for 40 more. It also committed to buy 100 of the planes with the new engines with an option for 60 more.
American’s order to Airbus is for 260 single-aisle aircraft, including 130 of A320 family of aircraft with new engines, called the A320neo, for new engine option.
Boeing’s decision to go with 737 engine replacement rather than replacing the 737 with an all-new design is good for Spirit, said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia.
A new airplane would present a major risk, he said.
Boeing would put work on the new plane out for bid, he said. And there are no guarantees whether or how much work Spirit would win.
The 737 program accounts for half of Spirit’s revenue and keeps thousands of its 10,400 Wichita employees busy.
Without the program, “the big risk is keeping people working,” he said.
In addition, Boeing officials have said that a replacement plane would likely be a composite aircraft. A composite fuselage would require fewer workers than the aluminum 737.
Aboulafia called the 737 a “relatively labor intensive fuselage” by comparison.
“Building the same tube you’ve built for decades is very different from having to collaborate the design work and new equipment needed to build something new,” Aboulafia said.
Adding new engines to the 737 is not a major change to the design.
“It’s a minor derivative,” he said.
The re-engining project will keep the 737 in production for many more years, Aboulafia said.
For its part, Spirit is digesting the news of Boeing’s decision, Gann said.
“We’ll be obviously working closely with Boeing to support the re-engine,” she said. “We’ve been talking with Boeing about all kinds of possibilities trying to stay in a position where we can support our customer whatever they decide.”
The decision came months earlier than expected.
Last month at the Paris Air Show, Boeing officials said they would not rush a decision, which would likely be made toward the end of the year.
Boeing has had separate teams studying the two options. Customers seemed to be leaning toward an all-new aircraft, officials have said.
Airbus outshined Boeing at the air show with announcements of hundreds of orders for the A320neo.
In addition, Boeing had to compete vigorously with Airbus for the American Airlines order.
In the end, the decision against launching an all-new plane came down to production worries, said Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s commercial aircraft division.
The challenges of producing a new composite airplane at the high production rates necessary to meet demand was a big stumbling block, he said.
“While the technology was there to do a new airplane, the production system is not understood how to build some 60 composite airplanes a month,” Albaugh said.
A new airplane would not be ready in the short time frame customers desired.
“They wanted more airplanes now,” Albaugh said.
In making the decision, Boeing was able to “stave off a disaster,” Aboulafia said.
“In 10 years, it (production) might be solvable,” he said. “I think they knew volume production of a composite tube is quite problematic given what we know about production today.”
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Boeing announced yesterday, July 19, that the first of three production 737-derived Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft that will be used in the U.S. Navy’s flight-test evaluations completed nearly 6 hr. of initial flight evaluations on July 7.
Besides putting the first production P-8A into the air, the flights also marked the first test of the CFM International CFM56-7BE engines on the P-8.
Three previous flight-test articles used standard CFM56-7Bs that do not have the lower fuel-burn improvements of the “evolved” engine series. The first 737 with these -7BE engines for a commercial customer is due for delivery shortly to China Southern Airlines. Combined with aerodynamic improvements, the engines should lower 737 fuel burn by 2%.
Called LRIP-1, the newest P-8A is the first of six low-rate initial production aircraft that Boeing is building under a $1.6 billion contract awarded in January.
Besides offering flight-test crews a chance to test the basic operating parameters of the aircraft and its engines, the second of the July 7 flights served to transfer the airplane from Boeing’s dedicated P-8 final assembly manufacturing line at its 737 factory in Renton, Washington, to the P-8 mission systems installation facility at Boeing Field in Seattle.
The LRIP contract calls for Boeing to produce three production-level aircraft for the P-8A flight-test program at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.
The flight-test aircraft already are at work. But they do not have the full mission systems suites of production aircraft.
LRIP-1 is to reach Patuxent River next year. After a year of flight testing it is slated to join the fleet in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2013.
The first day’s flight took off at 11:03 a.m. PDT and landed at 2:21 p.m. The aircraft was brought back to Renton for evaluation before a second flight at 5:11 p.m. and touching down at Boeing Field at 7:50 p.m.
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About 30 NASA engineers from across the agency will work with counterparts from United Launch Alliance (ULA) under a new agreement to begin qualifying the Atlas V rocket as a human-rated launch vehicle for private spacecraft being developed under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) effort.
Under a space act agreement (SAA), NASA and ULA will spend 6-9 months going though the Atlas V “part by part” to ensure it meets the human-rating requirements NASA has released in draft form. ULA also will continue work on the Emergency Detection System (EDS) it started developing with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding under last year’s CCDev-1 program. Each party will pay for its own work under the unfunded SAA.
“The modifications required for Atlas V are pretty minimal,” George Sowers, ULA vice president for business development, said in a press teleconference July 18. “Probably the major one from the launch vehicle standpoint is the addition of this Emergency Detection System.”
Under development for both Atlas V and Delta IV, which is in the running to launch the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the EDS is a vehicle health-monitoring system designed to detect an imminent launch-vehicle failure and alert the crew riding atop it of the need to abort.
Companies developing two of the four CCDev-2 human spacecraft — the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane and the Blue Origins capsule — have selected Atlas V as their preferred launcher, and Boeing is considering it for its CST-100 capsule. All three designs include launch-abort systems. In combination with the EDS and pad-escape systems also in development, the Atlas V should meet NASA’s human-certification requirements, Sowers says.
“I personally don’t foresee any additional redundancy requirements,” he says. “The Atlas V is currently single-fault tolerant in most of the active failure modes, but a detailed assessment of that down through all the different parts and failure modes is part of what we’re trying to accomplish during this SAA.”
Sowers says ULA already is working with Sierra Nevada and Blue Origins, using those companies’ CCDev-2 funding as well as its own, to adapt the EDS to their vehicles. Under the SAA with NASA, the company will develop hazard analyses to fly humans on the Atlas V, develop a probabilistic risk assessment of the vehicle’s safety and conduct a systems requirement review.
Full-scale certification of the vehicle as safe for flight will be conducted at the system level of launch and crew vehicles, according to Ed Mango, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. Mango says the agency hopes to have at least one commercial crew vehicle ready to fly — either on an Atlas V or the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 — by “mid-decade.”
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Two planes collided on a taxiway at Boston’s Logan Airport on Thursday night, causing one to be injured.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that a Delta 767 collided with an Atlantic Southeast jet on a taxiway around 7:30pm local time.
“While taxiing out for departure, the wing from Flight 266 from Boston to Amsterdam made contact with the vertical stabilizer of ASA Flight 4904, also on departure from Boston to Raleigh-Durham,” a statement from Delta Air Lines said.
“Both aircraft have been removed from service for inspections and passengers are currently being reacommodated on other aircraft.”
Boston Logan International Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said one person was complaining of neck pain after the crash, but that no one else had been injured, myFOXboston.com reported.
A passenger aboard the larger Amsterdam-bound jet, 30-year-old Jacob Crane, of Atlanta, told the Boston Herald that he had watched his plane’s wing run into the other plane’s tail.
“I saw it coming. We were taxiing pretty quick. I saw the wing and I said we’re not going to clear that. It was like ‘oh, they hit,’ and that was that.
“It was generally pretty calm but there were some people … a Russian guy was grabbing for the emergency exit,” Crane said. “But it was like no big deal. Nobody was hurt. There was a girl next to me that started crying and bawling but everybody else was pretty calm.”
The collision caused the tail of the commuter jet to bend over completely, according to myFOXboston.com.
The crash came three months after a Comair plane was involved in a dramatic smash with an Air France A380 on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport — an incident which made headlines globally after being caught on film.