“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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Later this month, Silverstone Auctions will play host to the sale of not one, but two, fighter jets. Both of them are ex-Royal Air Force aircraft, and both of them are becoming increasingly rare. For anyone contemplating staring their own mini air force, now’s your chance to snap up a couple of potentially rather dangerous flying machines.
Even better, both aircraft are being sold with no reserve!
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The PZL-230F Skorpion was a prototype jet aircraft which very nearly saw production. The project was started in the late 1980s by PZL. PZL was the Polish State Aviation Works and was controlled by the Polish communist government of the time. However in 1989, after the fall of communism in the country, it became a separate corporation with the same name. Throughout this transition the Skorpion project continued.
The PZL-230F Skorpion was a compact aircraft – just 32 feet (10 m) long. It had a single pilot, twin jet engines, and was designed to accept both Warsaw Pact and NATO munitions. It was an advanced aircraft which was to use lightweight composite materials and fly-by-wire electronics. Yet at the same time the Skorpion was designed to be affordable, easy to build, well armoured for good survivability, and easy to adapt to a variety of roles. It was also designed to be able to take-off and land on comparably short runways.
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The vast majority of unusual and prototype aircraft arise because of bizarre requests by military strategists who want something which will completely out-class their enemy and give them the edge. However another great fermenter of technology is the far less destructive arena of sporting competition. The Chyeranovskii BICh-21 is one such aircraft.
Designed and built by the celebrated Soviet aircraft designer Boris Cheranovsky, the BICh-21 was an extremely compact racing plane which used an innovative tail-less layout. Cheranovsky was famous for his radical designs, and is credited with creating the first airworthy flying wing aircraft – as well as several other tail-less designs.
The initial plans for the BICh-21 were drawn up in 1938, it was a development of his earlier prototype design, the BICh-20 Pionyer. The aircraft was completed by 1940, however it wasn’t until 1941 that the aircraft was first flown.
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In the 1950s, military aircraft designers were becoming increasingly interested in developing VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. In these early stages there were many unusual designs – perhaps most notable were the “tail-sitter” aircraft like the Convair XFY-1 “Pogo” and the Lockheed XFV-1 “Salmon”. In the mid ’50s the first jet-powered tail-sitter arrived in the form of the Ryan X-13 Vertijet. Then in the late ’50s the French unveiled the mother of all weird tail-sitters, the SNECMA C.450-01 Coleoptere.
SNECMA, or the Societe nationale d’etudes et de construction de moteurs d’aviation – which in English translates as the “National Company for the Design and Construction of Aviation Engines” – developed the aircraft based on experiences learnt from a previous VTOL aircraft, the SNECMA Atar Volant.
The SNECMA Coleoptere was a completley unorthodox aircraft from top to bottom. Whereas the Convair and Lockheed prototypes had more or less conventional wings and enlarged vertical stabilizers, the Coleoptere had an annular wing which wrapped around the aircraft’s fuselage like a giant barrel. Four small stabilizers at the rear of the wing provided directional control.
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The Sikorsky S-56 was a large heavy-lift helicopter developed in the early 1950s for the US military. Specifically a USMC request for a heavy-lift / troop transport helicopter. The first prototypes flew in 1953. Upon its arrival, it was the largest helicopter outside of the Soviet Union. It was also the first twin-engined helicopter built by Sikorsky. Those twin engines also helped give the S-56 its distinctive appearance, as they were mounted externally in pods either side of the fuselage. The Sikorsky S-56 remains the largest piston-engined helicopter ever built.
The unconventional exterior location of the engines meant that the interior of the helicopter was more spacious and versatile. It could carry 26 fully equipped troops, 24 stretchers or up to 3 lightweight Jeeps. Access to the cargo area was through a pair of clamshell doors at the front of the helicopter just below the cockpit. There were additional doors towards the rear of the fuselage, while the pilot and co-pilot accessed the cockpit via a fold-away ladder. The helicopter also featured 2,000 lb capacity electric winch which was mounted on a rail system along the top of the cargo bay. A viewing window in the floor of the helicopter allowed external loads to be viewed by the loadmaster.
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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 Aero-X hoverbike is the product of a California-based company called Aerofex. The company have been developing the Aero-X for a few years now, and just recently they’ve announced that the vehicle could go on sale to the general public as early as 2017. Aerofex is led by Mark DeRoche, an experienced aerospace engineer who has made it his mission to make flying cheaper, safer and easier.
The Aerofex Aero-X hoverbike is capable of carrying two people at speeds of up to 45 mph, while skimming along at a maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 metres). But like any new type of vehicle, that’s just the start. It would be shortsighted to imagine that’s the maximum performance achievable by a hoverbike. After a few years of testing the performance potential could increase dramatically.
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Ejector seats are an integral part of almost every modern military aircraft. They have save thousands of lives over the last seven decades of use. It might not be the most comfortable thing to do – 15 Gs crushing your spine never feels good – but if you find yourself in a damaged or out of control aircraft plummeting to the ground, it suddenly seems like a very good idea indeed.
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Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has just unveiled a super luxurious service which it will offer on its Airbus A380 aircraft. First class is always a nice way to travel, or at least so I’m told. But now even first class passengers will be jealous of Etihad’s latest offering.
Called “The Residence” it’s basically a three room suite. Complete with bedroom, shower room and small living room. Accommodating single or double occupancy, Etihad’s Residence suite is located on the upper deck of the double-decker A380. Each aircraft will only have one Residence suite.
The interior of the rooms has been created with the help of leading interior designers and hospitality experts. The sort of people who are clued up on what the super rich - and more than likely super picky – expect to see.
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