“Reasonable argument is impossible when authority becomes the arbiter.” Orson Scott Card
McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo
was a long-range, twinjet fighter aircraft with swept wings designed for the United States Air Force. Although it never entered production, its design was adapted for the subsequent supersonic F-101 Voodoo. The XF-88 originated from a 1946 United States Army Air Forces requirement for a long-range ‘penetration fighter’ to escort bombers to their targets. It was to be essentially a jet-powered replacement for the wartime North American P-51 Mustang that had escorted Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany. It was to have a combat radius of 900 miles (1,450 km) and high performance. McDonnell began work on the aircraft, dubbed Model 36, on 1 April 1946. On 20 June the company was given a contract for two prototypes designated XP-88. Dave Lewis was Chief of Aerodynamics on this project.
The Voodoo had a low / mid-mounted wing, swept to 35°. The two engines, specified as Westinghouse J34 turbojets were in the lower fuselage, fed by air intakes in the wing roots and jet pipes beneath the rear fuselage. This made room in the long fuselage for the fuel tanks required for the required long range. The Voodoo’s short nose had no radar, being intended to house an armament of six 20 mm (.79 in) M39 cannon, while the fighter’s single pilot sat in a pressurised cockpit and was provided with an ejection seat.
The first XF-88 made its maiden flight from Muroc Field on 20 October 1948, piloted by McDonnell Chief Test Pilot Robert Edholm. It was unarmed and powered by non-afterburning J34-13 engines that gave 3,000 lbf (13.37 kN) thrust. While testing demonstrated adequate handling and the required endurance, the XF-88 proved to be underpowered. This resulted in inadequate performance, with its maximum speed of 641 mph being less than the F-86A then in production. In order to improve performance, it was decided to fit the second prototype’s engines with McDonnell-designed afterburners. As modified, the engines became J34-22s, giving 3,600 lbf (16.05 kN) thrust. The second prototype, XF-88A, made its maiden flight on 26 April 1949, with the first prototype later modified to the same standard.
The afterburners improved the Voodoo’s performance, with the XF-88A reaching 700 mph (1,126 km/h) but at the expense of decreased range owing to increased fuel consumption. Despite this, the XF-88 was chosen against the Lockheed XF-90 and North American YF-93 for the USAF’s Penetration Fighter requirement, with planned production versions to use more powerful Westinghouse J46 engines. (A 1948 order for 118 F-93s had been cancelled in 1949.) Changes in Air Force priorities, together with a shortage of money, led the penetration fighter to be cancelled in August 1950.
The first prototype was modified to XF-88B standard as a propeller-research vehicle. The model propeller was driven by a nose-mounted Allison T38 turboprop which was used to assist in the climb as well as to reach the test conditions. The aircraft was used to test three propellers through 1956, to speeds slightly exceeding Mach 1.0, the first propeller-equipped aircraft to do so. The propeller was tested in level flight to about M 0.9 with the help of the turbojet afterburners and to just over M 1.0 in a dive. McDonnell also proposed a naval version of the XF-88, a two-seat operational trainer and a reconnaissance variant but none were built. Both prototypes were scrapped by 1958.
Experience of the Korean War led the USAF to reconsider its plans for penetration fighters and led to a new specification for a long-range fighter, General Operational Requirement (GOR) 101 being issued in February 1951. A considerably enlarged version of the design was chosen to meet this requirement later that year, the revised design becoming the F-101 Voodoo, the first production version of which flew on 29 September 1954.
(Information from Wikipedia)
Those persons who correctly identified this week’s mystery aircraft: Carl von Ludwig, Adrian Maree, Righardt du Plessis, Pierre Brittz, P. Rossouw, Andre Visser, Dr Piet Steyn, Christiaan Haak, Jan Sime, Jaco van Jaarsveld, Colin Austen, Danie Viljoen, Reiner van Zyl, Ari Levien, Jeffery Knickelbein, Hilton Carroll, Steve Dewsbery, Selwyn Kimber, Andrew Peace, Howard Long, Ahmed Bassa, Charlie Hugo, Robyn Badenhorst, Simon Tladi, Brian Melmoth, Barry Eatwell, Brian Spurr, Rex Tweedie, Lance Williams, Keith Chiazzari, Kevin Farr, John Moen, Clinton Futter, Rahul Vala, Wouter van der Waal, Herman Nel, Johan Venter, Peter Gilbert, Greg Pullin, Dave Lloyd, Gregory Yatt, (41).
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The July edition of African Pilot with Paul Ludick’s excellent cover picture featuring Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), amateur built aircraft and South African built aircraft was published on 02 July 2023. This 264-page edition has 18 embedded videos and 17 picture galleries. African Pilot is also easy to read on all digital devices and is substantially larger by page number that any other South African aviation magazine. For advertisers, inevitability in real terms just one sale will be a great return on investment and African Pilot’s track record certainly shows that ALL advertisers within the monthly magazine continue to achieve excellent results from direct inquiries as well as significant direct hyperlinked exposure to their e-mail addresses and websites.
There were many aviation events scheduled for the month of June including the amazing Maputo airshow (exclusive), CAASA AGM (exclusive), Cosford airshow England (exclusive), interview with the winners of the PTAR 2023 (exclusive), EAA’s annual convention (exclusive), Parys airshow, the Children’s Flight Zambia and many more features. I always find it concerning when the other South African aviation magazines that do not personally attend aviation events and they simply troll social media to steal pictures and information to place second-hand reports within their own publications. This situation has happened within at least two of the local media aviation publications in the past year. There is no doubt that African Pilot strives to report personally on as many of the local and international events as possible.
Within this edition African Pilot will feature the AERO South Africa exhibition, avionics and instrumentation as well as headsets as features. However, once again African Pilot will be filled with exciting features, reports from the world as well as from within South Africa.
We completed the tenth June 2023 edition of Future Flight on Wednesday 14 June and the magazine was released to the world on the same day. This 120-page edition has six picture galleries and eight embedded videos. Due to the nature of the subject material, compiling this exciting new publication has been most rewarding, whilst at the same time, the magazine allows many of African Pilot’s advertisers to have their adverts placed in the second monthly magazine FREE of charge. When I started Future Flight on my return to South Africa from AirVenture, Oshkosh 2022, the objective was to reduce the overall size of African Pilot to a more reasonable page count and this has been achieved. The next milestone will be to attract advertisers to make this publication sustainable and I have given myself a year to reach this goal. I would love to receive your feedback about this new digital publication:
EAA Taildraggers at Warmbaths 2023
SACAA industry award nominations
The regulator wishes aviation to nominate people and companies according to the criteria documented in this section of the SACAA website for recognition to be acknowledged at their civil aviation awards.
Please find the link below and should you wish to make nominations please read the various categories and criteria and follow the documented process on how to nominate.
Here is the link: https://www.caa.co.za/caia/
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No news to report in this edition.
Citation crash kills six in California
The NTSB is investigating after a 1979 Cessna Citation II crashed on approach to French Valley Airport in Murrieta, California, (F70) early on Saturday morning, killing all aboard. The aircraft crashed 500 feet short of 6,000-foot Runway 18 at 04h15 local time while flying a second non-precision RNAV (GPS) instrument approach with vertical guidance into the nontowered airport in conditions described by local law enforcement as ‘heavy fog.’
According to the National Weather Service, F70 weather at the time of the accident was half-mile visibility in fog and 300-foot overcast. The LPV decision altitude for the RNAV (GPS) approach is 300 feet, with minimum 7/8-mile visibility. Until 03h35 when mist, 3/4-mile visibility and 300-foot overcast were reported, the weather was clear with 10-mile visibility.
The wreckage was consumed by a post-crash fire that ignited a brush fire that took an hour to extinguish. The flight originated at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas at 03h16 local time. The aircraft was registered to Prestige Worldwide Flights of Imperial, California and it had arrived in Las Vegas from F70 Friday night at 20h04. According to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which identified the pilots flying and FAA records, both pilots held commercial certificates and were type-rated in the Citation with a second-in-command pilot required.
Nepal helicopter crash claims six lives near Mt Everest
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has confirmed that an Airbus H125 helicopter, operated by Manang Air, crashed near Lamjura Pass in the Mount Everest region on 11 July. According to local authorities, all six people on board the sightseeing flight were killed, including the pilot and five tourists from Mexico. The single-engine aircraft departed from Surke Airport in the Solukhumbu district at 10h04 local time bound for the capital Kathmandu, but lost contact at an altitude above 12,000 feet at 10h13. The aircraft, registered as 9N-AMV was delivered to the Nepalese charter operator in February 2018.
Two search and rescue helicopters operated by Altitude Air were immediately dispatched but had to land at Bhakanje village due to severe weather conditions. A third helicopter operated by Simrik Air is also involved in the recovery operation.
Meanwhile, emergency personnel and police have reached the crash site near Lamjura in Ward No. 5 of Solukhumbu and have recovered the bodies of those killed in the accident. “Efforts are being made to transport the bodies by ground to the helicopter landing area and then to Kathmandu,” CAAN said in a statement. The crash marks the second fatal air accident in Nepal this year after a twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft operated by Yeti Airlines crashed in Pokhara, claiming the lives of all 72 people on board.
Airbus inaugurates its new Toulouse A320 Family final assembly line
On 10 July 2023 Airbus inaugurated its new A320 Family final assembly line (FAL) in Toulouse during a ceremony attended by French Minister of Economy & Finance Bruno Le Maire, French Transport Minister Clément Beaune, Minister of State for Industry Roland Lescure and Minister of State for Territorial Collectivities and Rural Affairs Dominique Faure, as well as hundreds of Airbus employees.
“The inauguration of this new A321-capable final assembly line in Toulouse represents another milestone in the ongoing modernisation of our global industrial system. This FAL will contribute to the ongoing production rate ramp-up to 75 A320 Family aircraft per month in 2026, while meeting the increased demand for A321s which currently represents around 60 percent of the total A320 Family backlog,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury. “We are pleased to see this new facility join our worldwide network of final assembly sites which will comprise four FALs in Hamburg, Germany; two in Toulouse, France; two in Mobile, United States and two in Tianjin, China, all them capable of assembling the A321.”
A variety of innovations feature prominently in this latest A320 Family final assembly line, with the aim of maximising product quality, efficiency, as well as establishing new standards for health, safety and sustainability. These innovations include digital production control using tablets and smartphones to reduce paper consumption, automated logistics for parts distribution and light-weight robots for joining sections. Installed in the former A380 assembly building, the new FAL started initial operations at the end of 2022 with the delivery of the first fuselage sections. The roll-out of the first aircraft fully assembled in this facility (A321) is expected to take place by the end of this year. The industrial site will progressively ramp up operations between now and 2025, directly employing around 700 workers.
Dutch court clears the way to cut flights in Amsterdam
Business aviation could find itself squeezed out of one of Europe’s major hub airports after a Dutch appeals court ruled the government can force the management of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to reduce the number of flights each year from 500,000 to 460,000. The ruling publicised late on 7 July overturned an early legal challenge by flag carrier KLM, which had persuaded a lower court that the Dutch government had not followed the correct process.
Earlier this year, the management at Schiphol announced plans to ban private jets and small business aircraft starting in 2025 as part of a wider strategy to introduce a system that focuses on the structural reduction of noise and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement. According to the Dutch airport operator, business aviation flights cause a ‘disproportionate amount of noise nuisance and CO2 emissions per passenger.’ The airport has also signalled an intention to cut airliner movements at night and has cancelled plans to build an additional runway.
KLM and other aviation groups could decide to mount a further legal appeal to the supreme court of the Netherlands. The European Business Aviation Association has not issued a direct response to the latest court ruling but has opposed earlier moves to ban its members from Amsterdam Schiphol.
Airbus Racer moves to final assembly
The Airbus Racer (rapid and cost-effective rotorcraft) compound helicopter technology demonstrator entered the paint shop earlier this month on its way to final assembly. Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even tweeted that the aircraft was on track for ground testing and first flight before year’s end. The Racer is funded by the European Union’s Clean Sky 2 programme and features extensive use of composites in the airframe; a box wing that houses drive shafts to two pusher propellers; low drag hub, pylon and nacelles; a 3D-optimised rotor blade design and an engine installation that includes a new main gear box, propeller gearboxes and supercritical shafts.
The aircraft will be powered by twin Safran Aneto-1X engines which also can be flown in ‘eco mode,’ cruising on one engine while the other idles. The Racer is categorised as a ‘more electric aircraft,’ with plans to eventually install a 270 VDC network, combining higher voltage with a lower-weight electrical system. The aircrafts’ target maximum forward speed is 216 knots.
Collapsed rail bridge causes logistical nightmare to maintain 737 MAX production
Boeing has been forced to look for a solution to continue receiving 737 MAX and P-8 Poseidon fuselages at its factories in Washington after a rail bridge collapsed. The fuselages are transported via rail between Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures the ‘pickles’, in Wichita, Kansas and Renton, Washington. However, on 24 June a key rail bridge over the Yellowstone River collapsed when a train carrying asphalt fell into the river.
According to a report by The Air Current, Boeing is now lifting the unpainted and unfinished 737 fuselages, which do not include parts such as wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, onto trucks near the crash site. Once the heavy goods vehicles (HGV) cross the Yellowstone River, the fuselages can be transferred onto a train and transported to Renton, Washington to be fully assembled.
Boeing currently produces the 737 MAX and the P-8 Poseidon, a military derivative of the 737 NextGeneration family, which is the predecessor of the 737 MAX family. Locally based outlet KTVQ reported that The Unified Command, made up of officials from several US federal and state government agencies, believes that the rail bridge will be repaired in ‘weeks’ rather than months. It is not immediately clear how or if this will impact on the production rate of the 737 MAX.
New technology hub to accelerate next generation Airbus wings
Airbus is investing further in its UK innovation capabilities, with the opening of a new Wing Technology Development Centre (WTDC) at its Filton site. The facility, which will be used to build and test demonstrators for a range of programmes and research projects, was opened by Nusrat Ghani, UK Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade. The new facility will help Airbus accelerate the design, build and testing of wings for next generation aircraft, by using the latest technology and world-leading demonstrators to further improve the performance of its wings. Alongside engine optimisation, making wings longer, leaner and lighter is one of the biggest opportunities to improve fuel efficiency, reduce CO2 and ultimately work towards the aviation industry’s ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Airbus Head of Filton site and Wing of Tomorrow Programme Sue Partridge explains, “The new Wing Technology Development Centre will help us to ground our research in practicality. A key element of how we deliver technology for next generation aircraft wings is through Wing of Tomorrow (WoT), our largest research and technology programme led by the team in the UK. Last week, we achieved a critical milestone in the programme when our second wing demonstrator was completed by the team in Broughton, Wales and delivered to the WTDC. Here it will be prepared for structural testing in our Aerospace Integrated Research and Technology Centre (AIRTeC).”
The WoT programme allows Airbus to explore new manufacturing and assembly technologies so future generations can continue to benefit from flying. “It is about preparing our people, technology, industrial system, supply chain and digital and physical capabilities for next generation aircraft. We are leveraging industry partners and the very best digital tools and automation to identify potential technology bottlenecks that may slow us down in the future. The foundations we lay now will help us build better and faster when the time comes.”
The WTDC adds to Airbus’ existing research and technology footprint in the UK, including the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Broughton and both the ZEROe Development Centre and Aerospace Integrated Research & Test Centre (AIRTeC) at its Filton site. Since 2014, Airbus has been awarded £117 million by the Aerospace Technology Institute for Wing of Tomorrow related research.
Many US military aircraft are scheduled to attend AirVenture 2023
The upcoming 70th anniversary iteration of the EAA’s aviation extravaganza will burst to life on Monday, 24 July at Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Wittman Regional Airport and sustain a swift and spectacular cadence of aviation-themed attractions through the annual event’s Sunday, 30 July 2023 conclusion.
Military representation at AirVenture 2023 will be highlighted by the US Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which brings a broad and impressive array of combat, cargo, utility and support aircraft to east-central Wisconsin.
Established in January 1942 and stationed at Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base, the Air Education and Training Command is the oldest of the USAF’s nine major commands. By virtue of its training-centric mission, AETC is the first command to touch the lives of the majority of the US Air Force’s members. Since its inception, upwards of 25-million students have graduated from AETC training and educational programmes.
EAA vice-president of communities and member programmes Rick Larsen said “The US military has a vast array of aircraft, as every mission is unique. That variety will be on full display at AirVenture, as every branch brings something unique to the event.” Larsen’s duties include coordinating AirVenture features and attractions. For 2023, he and the leadership of the US Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Wisconsin Air National Guard have arranged to grace Oshkosh with specimens of the following aircraft and helicopters: Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress, F/A-18 Super Hornet, KC-135R Stratotanker, CH-47 and MH-47 Chinook, AH-6 Little Bird and AH-64 Apache; Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor, F-35A/B/C Lightning II, P-3 Orion and C-130J Hercules as well as Sikorsky’s storied UH-60 Black Hawk.
Sonex high wing will not debut at AirVenture 2023
On 9 July Sonex confirmed that a prototype of its high wing model will not be ready for 2023’s EAA’s AirVenture. Sonex’s ownership and staff remain resolutely about the business of managing supply-chain bottlenecks, while the company’s R&D and Quick Build Kit production departments are occupied with fulfilling contracts germane to the Uncrewed Aircraft Systems facet of Sonex’s business and keeping Quick Build Kit production proceeding apace.
Notwithstanding the challenges with which the company is currently faced, Sonex personnel have worked steadily to finalize key components of the high wing’s structural architectures. Acutely cognisant of the degree to which the high wing departs from Sonex’s design orthodoxy, engineers are undertaking comprehensive analysis of the model’s fuselage for purpose of ensuring it will meet or exceed designers’ goals while remaining a lightweight, efficient structure. Engineers’ analyses will be confirmed by additional structural testing ahead of ASTM certification.
The new high wing is slated to weigh 720-pounds empty but offer a generous Maximum Gross Take-off Weight (MGTOW) of 1,320 lbs. However, it should be noted that aerobatic flight in the model will only be approved in such instances as the aircraft is flown solo at a gross weight under 1,050-pounds. Within the antecedent parameters, the airplane’s design G-limits are advertised as +6 and -3. Similar to Sonex’s Xenos motor-glider, the High Wing will offer easily interchangeable aerobatic wing tips, which contemporaneously reduce the aircraft’s wingspan, increase its roll-rate and maximize its top-speed.
The new Sonex Aircraft high wing will be offered in both conventional and Y-tail, as well as taildragger and tricycle undercarriage configurations. The aircraft’s design will be compatible with engines of one-hundred-horsepower or greater, with a maximum firewall-forward installation weight of two-hundred-pounds. After the fashion of Sonex’s current B-Model aircraft, the high wing will be compatible with AeroVee, Jabiru, UL Power and Rotax engines.
Textron sells King Airs for Saudi cloud seeding programme
On Tuesday Textron Aviation announced that the company has won a contract from Fargo, North Dakota-based AvMet International for one Beechcraft King Air 360CHW (cargo door, heavy weight) and four Beechcraft King Air 260 aircraft. The Beechcraft King Air fleet will support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Meteorology programme for cloud seeding. AvMet and its partners Weather Modification International (WMI) and Fargo Jet Center (FJC) will work collaboratively to equip the four King Air 260s with a cloud water inertial probe, data logger with aircraft tracking and cloud seeding equipment. They will fit the King Air 360CHW with cloud-seeding equipment, a research laboratory and an instrument package for studying cloud physics and aerosols.
The aircraft will undergo modification at WMI’s headquarters in Fargo with sister company FJC. As an authorised service facility for the family of Beechcraft King Air aircraft, FJC’s Part 145 repair station teamed with WMI to obtain the FAA-approved supplemental type certificate modifications for cloud seeding and atmospheric research equipment. Textron says its aircraft provide the high performance and flight characteristics required to address the unique challenges of special mission operations, including air ambulance, ISR, utility transport, aerial survey, flight inspection and training.
Construction begins on first US commercial e-SAF plant
On Wednesday renewable fuels producer Twelve broke ground on the start of construction of its first sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) facility. Located in Moses Lake, Washington, it will be the first commercial plant to utilise an ASTM-approved power-to-liquid (e-fuel) pathway for the production of SAF. It will use CO2 and water as its feedstock, converted through the use of renewable electricity.
Scheduled to begin operations by mid-2024, the refinery, which will be built on a repurposed 14-acre site that formerly housed a sugar processing plant will initially start off with a targeted production of 40,000 gallons of SAF a year, working up to an output of one million gallons of SAF annually.
Neste signs agreement with Wizz Air to supply sustainable aviation fuel
Neste has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with European carrier Wizz Air, for the supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from 2025. The MoU gives Wizz Air the opportunity to purchase 36,000 tonnes of SAF from Neste per annum for the supply across the airline’s route network in Europe and the UK. This co-operation ensures that Wizz Air can progress in accordance with its plan for the reduction of CO2 intensity per passenger kilometre.
This announcement is a key part of the airline’s environmental strategy to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 25% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. In 2022, Wizz Air achieved its lowest ever annual carbon intensity, which amounted to 55.2 grams per passenger / km. The airline has been continuously adding new Airbus A321neo aircraft to its fleet and replacing older aircraft, with the share of new ‘neo’ technology aircraft within Wizz Air’s fleet planned to surpass 50% by the end of the 2023 financial year. The new Airbus A321neo aircraft incorporates the latest technology, offering significant environmental benefits and can currently fly with up to 50% SAF blend.
Air Maestro, Spidertracks merge to upgrade safety, operations and fleet management
Arcadea Group, a growth-oriented, long-hold investor in vertical SaaS businesses, is thrilled to announce the strategic merger of Air Maestro and Spidertracks. Air Maestro, a leading SaaS provider of critical safety management systems, flight operations and training solutions, has been supporting aviation operators since 2005. Its comprehensive Operational and Safety Management System is trusted by the globe’s most dynamic aviation operators. Spidertracks empowers the aviation industry with real-time aircraft management and proactive safety decisions. Committed to enhancing aviation safety, Spidertracks assists thousands of aviators worldwide to ensure their teams return home safely every day.
This decision marks a significant milestone in the journey of these two businesses, uniting their already complementary efforts towards a common goal and addressing critical, unserved needs in the global aviation industry. The merger amplifies the strengths of the two businesses, creating a unified front in enhancing safety and operational efficiency in the aviation industry. The merged businesses will deliver a unified software platform that leverages the strengths of each company’s offerings and expands the suite of services available to customers, while allowing for a rapidly accelerated, shared product roadmap that will deliver unparalleled value to the market.
As part of the merger, Aleks Banas, CEO of Air Maestro, will take over the CEO role of the combined business, with Steve Whitaker, Spidertracks’ CPO and COO, transitioning to COO. Banas remarked, “the aviation industry is poorly served by a fragmented collection of sub-scale, legacy businesses. Most at some degree of scale are owned by short-term-oriented, financially focused private equity or venture capital firms that have no long-term vision for or staying power in this market. By combining Air Maestro and Spidertracks, we will immediately be one of the largest global players in the space, offering the most comprehensive and capable suite of solutions to the commercial aviation market.”
North Korea warns of consequences for US spy planes violating its airspace
A spokesperson for the North Korean Ministry of National Defence said the country is prepared to react against any US spy planes violating its airspace. In a statement shared on 10 July 2023, by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea accused the US of having “intensified espionage activities beyond the wartime level” with a US spy aircraft conducting ‘provocative’ flights for eight consecutive days in July 2023. “The US will surely have to pay a dear price for its provocative air espionage, frantically staged even invading the opposite side’s air space without previous notice,” the unnamed military official said.
North Korea cautioned the US to remember past incidents such as the downing of its spy plane EC-121 in 1969, the intrusion of a reconnaissance helicopter along the Military Demarcation Line in 1994 and a perilous situation in March 2003, when four armed North Korean MiGs jets approached a US RC-135 and flew alongside the US jet for a duration of 20 minutes, occasionally closing in at a distance of just 50 feet. The North Korean government has also expressed disapproval of Washington’s plans to deploy a nuclear missile submarine close to the Korean peninsula. This warning comes as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol prepares to encourage NATO countries to display their readiness to prevent nuclear aggression from Pyongyang at the annual NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Despite United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions prohibiting such actions, North Korea has continued more than 100 ballistic missile tests since the beginning of 2022 and is suspected to be preparing for the seventh nuclear test.
Hill Helicopters order book tops 800 units
Hill Helicopters’ order book stands at 830 as the company finished its first complete fuselage and tail boom assembly for the HX50, nearly completed the design of its GT50 turbine engine and manufactured a variety of components such as turbine fans, gears and bearings. Separately, the company said it plans to publicly unveil its first completed helicopter on 7 December 2023 during an event at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, UK.
“When you come to the event, you will be able to experience HX50 for the very first time. You will be able to sit in the seats, you will be able to see the lines of the aircraft, use the digital cockpit and experience what it’s going to be like to own one of these for yourself,” said Hill CEO and founder Jason Hill during his monthly webcast. “You will also get to experience the GT50 engine for the first time and we will be rolling out the drivetrain and the rotor systems.”
According to Hill, the order book is split between 673 HX50 kit helicopters and 157 to-be-certified HC50 variants from customers in 59 countries. He also provided additional details regarding standard equipment on board the helicopter that includes leather seats, climate control, digital cockpit, two-axis autopilot, retractable landing gear and a choice of colours.
NASA unveils X-59 Supersonic test plane at skunk works flight test facility
NASA has announced its X-59 supersonic research aircraft has emerged from its construction facility and now sits on the flightline at Lockheed-Martin’s ‘skunk works’ in Palmdale, California. The transition occurred in late June, leading up to ongoing ground tests to ensure a safe first flight. The X-59 is expected to help demonstrate that modern technology can reduce sonic booms to much less intrusive ‘sonic thumps.’ The technology involves using atmospheric data to identify areas that are more or less conducive to sonic boom sound waves reaching the ground. Temperature, humidity and other environmental factors affect the transmission of sound waves and part of the research into mitigating the surface impact of supersonic flight involves locating and, if necessary, circumventing the vulnerable areas, or changing altitude to avoid the atmospheric conditions.
NASA plans to operate the X-59 above several select communities in the Southwest US to gather data from inhabitants on the effects of the reduced-intensity sonic booms. The data will be presented to US and international regulators to help determine if supersonic flight over land (currently prohibited) can ultimately be permitted. The goal is to use the data to help formulate and implement next-generation regulations based on acoustic science pertaining to supersonic flight over land. The X-59 is the center piece of NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) initiative, described as a collaborative pioneering initiative between government and industry.
Blue Origin rocket engine explodes during testing
During a 30 June test firing a Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine exploded at the company’s West-Texas facility. The detonation destroyed the engine and substantially damaged test-stand infrastructure. Moreover, the setback’s ramifications are at once consequential to the extraterrestrial aspirations of Blue Origin and its customers. The eradicated BE-4 was to have concluded testing in July prior to being handed over to United Launch Alliance (ULA), which was to have plied the engine to the attempted second launch of its Vulcan Centaur rocket.
In an 11 July statement, a Blue Origin spokesperson confirmed the company ‘ran into an issue while testing Vulcan’s Flight Engine 3.’ The spokesperson added: ‘No personnel were injured and we are currently assessing root cause. We already have proximate cause and are working on remedial actions.’ The Blue Origin spokesperson further asserted ULA had been made ‘immediately’ aware of the incident.
A joint-venture of Lockheed-Martin Space and Boeing Defence, Space and Security, ULA competes primarily with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for the lion’s share of lucrative NASA and US military space-launch contracts. Blue Origin made clear it will ‘continue testing’ rocket engines at its West-Texas facility as the company had perspicaciously built two test-stands. “We will be able to meet our engine delivery commitments this year and stay ahead of our customer’s launch needs,” Beezos’s boffins averred.
The destruction of the BE-4 engine further stays the already extensively delayed inaugural spaceflight of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, a two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle powered by a pair of BE-4 engines and intended to meet the launch demands of the US government’s National Security Space Launch (NSSL) programme, an initiative by which the United States Space Force and select US intelligence agencies will be afforded broader license to conduct space-launches.
On 07 June 2023, ULA conducted a successful Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) of its Vulcan-Centaur core stage, thereby marking an important milestone along the tortuous and ongoing road to the Cert-1 mission, the first launch of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. The undertaking was closely monitored by ULA teams at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 of Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Flight Readiness Firing demonstrated day-of-launch timelines and procedures, propellant loading competency and a full countdown protocol. The exercise culminated in a six-second ignition, ramp-up, stable period of thrust and controlled shutdown of two Blue Origin BE-4 engines.
Speaking to the subject of the BE-4 engine’s destruction, a ULA spokesperson said, “The BE-4 testing issue is not expected to impact our plans for the Vulcan Cert-1 mission.” The spokesperson noted the engines by which the Cert-1 mission is to be powered had previously “successfully passed acceptance testing” and are approved to launch. As the Cert-1 mission appellation implies, completion of the US Space Force’s certification protocol is contingent upon two successful launches of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. As ULA is set to retire its legacy Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy platforms, the timely certification of the Vulcan launch vehicle is a matter of paramount importance to ULA, its employees and shareholders. In June 2023, the US Space Force tasked SpaceX and ULA with six missions apiece under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase-two programme. The entirety of ULA’s half-dozen NSSL missions are predicated upon the nominal function and timely certification of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine.
Joby and ANA selected to operate eVTOL flights at Expo 2025 Osaka
Visitors to the World Expo 2025 Osaka may be among the first people in the world to experience real-life applications of ‘flying taxis’, as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft have come to be popularly known. Joby Aviation and its partner in Japan, ANA Holdings (the parent company of All Nippon Airways) have been selected by the exhibition’s organisers, the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition to operate demonstration aerial air taxi flights using Joby’s all-electric four-seater eVTOLs. Japan has long held a prominent place in Joby’s growth plans. The Californian startup was the first foreign eVTOL developer to start the certification process in the country and, through its partnership with ANA Holdings, it has already been working on a future Japanese rollout for at least a year. 28 million people are expected to visit the Expo 2025 Osaka, which, the companies involved in this project expect, will provide an interesting platform to showcase the nascent eVTOL technology.
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Small drones can fly ahead of military units to detect CBRN hazards
Small drones for military use are being leveraged beyond short-range reconnaissance. Draper develops detection capabilities for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) elements, so that military units can send sUAVs ahead to scout locations and identify hazards without risking personnel. Previously, detection of CBRN elements may be performed using handheld or vehicle-mounted sensors, explains Draper.
The Joint Programme Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence (JPEO-CBRND) has funded the Draper programme, called CSIRP: CBRN Sensor Integration on Robotics Platform. “The team investigated the customer needs through field observations, noting requirements such as sensor efficiency and resolution, flight speed, height, duration, autonomous operation, sensor-driven mapping, networked command and enhanced situational awareness through shared interactive digital maps,” says the press release.
In addition to search, detection and mapping of CBRN hazards, soldiers also need totally autonomous flight including obstacle avoidance, potentially in GPS-deprived environments. “Soldiers dispersed across an area also want a way to share information that is secure, networked and mapped to the environment,” the release points out. The new capabilities Draper developed for CSIRP take advantage of multiple environmental inputs, along with a sensor fusion algorithm that can synthesise data from instruments including GPS, LiDAR, inertial measurement units, magnetometers and cameras. All that fused information is designed to achieve robust and autonomous operation through the use of new algorithms developed for CSIRP that make the sUAV capable of obstacle detection and avoidance.
US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper crash in eastern Europe
On 14 July 2022, a US Air Force MQ-9A Reaper drone cannoned into a remote patch of land on the outskirts of the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii, Romania. The five-month investigation released last week by Air Combat Command blamed the accident on the ‘channelised attention’ and poor adherence to ‘basic airmanship’ of the Launch Recovery Element controlling the unmanned aircraft system. ACC officials say the aircraft, assigned to the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, began experiencing ‘malfunctions with control systems’ shortly after taking off for a training mission at an ‘undisclosed location’ in Europe.
The LRE mishap pilot and sensor operator, tasked with guiding the troubled drone back to base, elected to perform an ‘emergency engine-out landing’ cutting power to the engine in hopes of safely gliding the aircraft back to the airstrip. The team, misguided by the Reaper’s misfiring warning systems, misdiagnosed the drone’s issue as ‘stuck engine torque.’ The LRE shut down the engine, but the haywire indicators suggested it was still operational. Unaware they had successfully powered down the aircraft, the crew attempted to abort the landing and circle back around for another attempt, according to the report. The unresponsive Reaper pummelled into the ground.
The only injury caused by the crash was budgetary: The destroyed drone cost US$14.6 million. Flight safety analysts have documented 68 MQ-9 Reaper accidents since the model first took to the skies in 2001. A Russian jet collided with a Reaper over the Black Sea in March. The US Air Force began flying MQ-9 missions from Romania in February 2021. Directed by the 25th Attack Group and overseen by the 432nd, the operations are designed to support Romania and NATO allies’ defence capabilities and security objectives in Eastern Europe.
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