Textron AirLand Scorpion – “Affordable” Military Jet


Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet

“Affordable” and “military jet” are not two phrases which are usually used in conjunction. But Textron AirLand Enterprises have just rewritten the rule book when it comes to military jets.

Firstly, as you may or may not know, the US military is still waiting for the Lockheed-Martin F-35  joint strike fighter to be delivered. It has been in development since the early 1990s, and to date is the most expensive military jet program the world has ever seen – currently estimated at $1.0165 trillion overall, and with a unit cost of between $124 million and $156 million depending on specification. The F-35 has been plagued with delays, engineering problems and disgraceful budget increases over the years. And just before it was due to make its international debut this week at the Farborough Airshow in the UK, the entire fleet was grounded while engineers try and figure out what caused one to set alight while sat on the runway.

The other US fighter jet which made its world debut at the Farnborough Show was this, the Textron AirLand Enterprises Scorpion Jet. It has taken less than two years to go from paper to prototype, and has a unit cost of just $20 million. The two aircraft offer very different things, the F-35 is the most advanced jet the world has ever seen is yet to see, and it employs the very latest and most expensive technology available. On the other hand, the Scorpion Jet uses already existing, tried and tested off-the-shelf components from a number of manufacturers.
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ISX Enterprise – what a real warp-drive spacecraft might look like


ISX Enterprise warp-drive spacecraft

Even if you hate Star Trek, you still know the flagship spacecraft of the Federation is the Enterprise, you also probably know it can travel at warp-speed. That’s faster than light in case you’re wondering. What you might not know, is that despite its sci-fi storyline, much of the technology used in the show was based, albeit very loosely, on scientific hypothesis, theory and fact.

Using the best available information from NASA, and adding a healthy dose of artistic license, designer Mark Rademaker has created a series of images showing what the very first warp-capable spacecraft built by humans might look like. He’s called it the ISX Enterprise.

Believe it or not there are in fact some very clever people working at NASA right now on trying to figure out, in theory, how you could build a warp drive. Just to be clear, we’re a long, long way away from something actually being built. But Dr Harold White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been working hard to prove that it could one day be possible. His research is based on an earlier theory put forward by Miguel Alcubierre in 1994.
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ZiL-2906 Cosmonaut Recovery Vehicle


ZilL-2906 screw-propelled vehicle

Back in the 1980s, when returning cosmonauts were sat in their Soyuz capsule awaiting collection, there was a possibility that the first person they saw would be driving one of these things. The ZiL-2906 was a screw-propelled vehicle designed specifically to retrieve cosmonauts who had landed in extremely inaccessible areas. Possibly a swamp or a bog, or even in water. Areas a helicopter couldn’t land, and a regular truck couldn’t drive.

The vehicle was transported to the general area of the returned space capsule by a six-wheeled amphibious leviathan called the ZiL-4906 or “Bluebird” – a version of which is still used to collect returning Soyuz crew. If the Bluebird was unable to get to the capsule, then the ZiL-2906 would be deployed to go and retrieve the cosmonauts. Continue reading ‘ZiL-2906 Cosmonaut Recovery Vehicle’ »

DFS 346 – German designed, Soviet trialed rocket plane


DFS 346 rocket-powered aircraft

The DFS 346 was a rocket-powered reconnaissance aircraft prototype developed by the Germans in the later stages of the Second World War. It was designed by Felix Kracht who at the time was working for DFS (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug) – or in English, the German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight. The DFS 346 was developed alongside the DFS 228 project which was a high-altitude low-speed reconnaissance sailplane. In sharp contrast however, the DFS 346 was envisaged as a super high-speed rocket powered aircraft with swept wings and a streamlined fuselage. Interestingly the aircraft also featured an unusual prone-pilot cockpit, not dissimilar to the one used in the later Gloster Meteor “Prone Pilot” experimental aircraft.

The idea behind the DFS 346 project was to create an aircraft which could take reconnaissance photos of England before returning to base in either northern France or Germany. The mission would involve the aircraft being transported close to its intended surveillance target by a carrier aircraft – in this case the Dornier Do 217. After release, the pilot would fire up the rocket motor and accelerate to an estimated top speed of Mach 2.6 while climbing to an altitude of 100,000 ft (30,500 metres). The pilot would then glide over his target while descending, using the rocket motor in bursts to maintain speed. After taking photos the pilot would then head for home, gliding his aircraft back to base. Well that was the idea anyway. The war ended before the aircraft was finished.
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The remarkable story of Afghanistan’s first astronaut


Abdul Ahad Momand Afghan astronaut

Most stories involving Afghanistan at the moment are fairly grim. But back in 1988 the country had something to cheer about. The first Afghan spaceman had just returned to earth.

Abdul Ahad Momand was a 29-year-old Afghan Air Force Colonel and a member of the three-man crew on a Russian mission to the Mir space station. He spent 8 days 20 hours and 26 minutes in space.

During his time in space Momand took photographs of the earth, in particular his homeland, and assisted with astrophysical, medical and biological experiments aboard Mir. He also brewed traditional Afghan tea for the crew, and during a telephone conversation with the Afghan president and his mother he made Pashto the fourth language to be spoken in space.
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Bachem Ba 349 “Natter” – vertical takeoff, rocket-powered interceptor death trap


Bachem Ba 349 Natter rocket powered fighter aircraft

The Bachem Ba 349 “Natter” was a radical prototype aircraft produced by Nazi germany during the final years of the war when the allies were starting to push ever closer to Berlin. The aircraft was essentially a very early version of a homing missile, and it was just one of several similar projects to be under development in Germany at the time. The primary target of the Bachem Ba 349 was to be the allied bombers which were slowly bringing the German war machine to a halt.

The Bachmen Ba 349 was designed by Dr Eric Bachem, an engineer who until 1944 worked for aircraft manufacturer Fieseler. In fact the Ba 349 was a development of one of his Fieseler designs. The aircraft was built from wood, glued and nailed together. The pilot was afforded some protection in the form of a bulletproof windshield and an armour plated seat.

Powering the Bachem Ba 349, nicknamed “Natter” (adder in English), were five rockets. Four Schmidding SG34 solid fuel rocket boosters provided the thrust to fire the aircraft up its 20-metre high vertical launch ramp and into the air. After 10 seconds these burnt out and were jettisoned. A larger bi-fuel rocket motor inside the fuselage provided the thrust for the remainder of the flight.
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U-2 Spyplane pilot talks about what it takes to fly at over 70,000 ft


U-2 spyplane cockpit view

It’s safe to say that Colonel Lars Hoffman, Commander of the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, is probably one of the most experienced and skilled pilots in the world. He’s flown many of the world’s most advanced aircraft, but one of them, the Lockheed U-2 is among his personal favorites.

And that’s strange, because in an interview with Richard Hollingham of the BBC, his accounts of flying the U-2 make it sound like a complete pig.

For starters, its nickname is “Dragon Lady” – because it’s a dragon at low altitude, and a lady at high altitude. I’m guessing dragon is polite Air Force slang for “doesn’t fly very well”. It requires chase cars to help with the landing because getting it down on the ground safely is so difficult. Even when it’s at its 70,000 ft (13 miles) cruising altitude it’s not all plain sailing. Amazingly Hoffman reveals there’s just a 10 knot window between the maximum speed that the aircraft can fly before it breaks up, and the stall speed! Because of this ludicrously small margin for error, at altitude the U-2 always flies on autopilot.
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World’s first supersonic private jet to have windowless cabin


Spike Aerospace S-512 supersonic jet

Spike Aerospace, a Boston-based company currently developing the world’s first supersonic private jet, have just announced that in the interests of performance and safety, their S-512 jet won’t have any windows in the passenger cabin. Instead the passengers will view the world outside on massive ultra-high definition displays that run the length of the cabin.

Spike Aerospace say there are several reasons for removing the windows from the cabin. Firstly, windows cause significant challenges in designing and constructing a strong, safe, aerodynamic aircraft fuselage. They require addition structural support, which in turn adds to the overall weight of the aircraft, reducing performance and efficiency.
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Strange Vehicles: Payen Pa 49 Katy


Payen PA 49 Katy

The Payen Pa 49 Katy was a pocket-sized prototype aircraft developed in France during the 1950s. It was remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly it was small, very small. In fact it was the smallest jet-powered aircraft of its day. Secondly it had a delta-wing configuration – which wasn’t ground-breaking by the mid-fifties, but it was still unusual. And thirdly it was a truly tailless aircraft, having no separate horizontal stabilizer.

The aircraft was designed by Roland Payen, who was a pioneer of delta wing and tailess aircraft. Before the second world war he had built two previous aircraft, but the Payen Pa 49 Katy was his first post-war design.
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Strange Vehicles: Dornier Do 31 VTOL jet transport


Dornier Do 31 VTOL aircraft

The Dornier Do 31 was a West German experimental VTOL aircraft built in the late 1960s. To this day it is the only VTOL jet transport aircraft ever built. The aircraft was designed to meet a NATO requirement for a tactical support aircraft to work in conjunction with the EWR VJ 101 VTOL strike aircraft.

The origins of the Dornier Do 31 project began in the early 1960s when German air force top brass started to realise that their airfields were vulnerable to attack from Eastern Bloc forces and the Soviet Union. In an effort to counteract this weakness the Luftwaffe started looking at VTOL and STOVL options. The Dornier Do 31 was one of the results.
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