Tag Archives: Aerospace/Aviation

Can Cargo-Carrying Drones Jump Over Air Freight’s Logistical Logjams?

Post Syndicated from Ed De Reyes original https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/can-cargocarrying-drones-jump-over-air-freights-logistical-logjams

It’s 4 a.m. on 23 December, and an MD-11 freighter has just landed at the logistics base near San Bernardino, Calif. It landed late because of heavy fog; many of the aircraft in San Bernardino won’t be able to depart because the other airports in the Los Angeles Basin are fogbound as well.

Ground crews remove cargo from the MD-11 and get the many packages into delivery trucks and small planes as quickly as possible before the start of the morning rush of cargo from Amazon, Walmart, and other online retailers scrambling to deliver Christmas gifts. Meanwhile, construction is snarling traffic on the I-10 freeway into Los Angeles, and because of the fog, the I-15 is no better. Similar messes are often seen at choke points throughout the world, where the package-delivery business faces a raft of problems.

Now imagine that the MD-11 landing in San Bernardino meets up with a number of small aircraft, each fully fueled for a day of flying, with no pilots on board and no weather restrictions. The ground crew slides four fully loaded LD-2 containers with 2,400 kilograms of cargo through the nose of each craft, closes them up, and poof, they’re cleared for takeoff, despite the thickening fog. The aircraft all take off, arriving 30 minutes later at various nearby airports, like the one in Oxnard, Calif., where they taxi to the ramps of the relevant package-delivery companies. There the ground crew removes the cargo, sorts it, and loads the small aircraft with new cargo, bound for the Beverly Hills package-sorting facility.

After being cleared for takeoff, the first of these aircraft rises like a helicopter before heading to the Beverly Hills site, which is just a parking lot with two ground handlers. As this odd-looking uncrewed aircraft comes in, the wings fold to help the plane clear any branches or power lines. Just then, a truck pulls right into the intended landing spot, but the aircraft perceives the obstruction and rises to a holding position until the ground crew can clear the area. Only then does it land, give up its cargo, accept new cargo, and get cleared again for takeoff.

And so it goes, right down the supply chain. Weather conditions that today would paralyze operations are shrugged off—fog, freezing rain, even failures of ground vehicles at improvised landing areas. Say a forklift can’t cross a muddy field to unload the cargo container. No problem; one of the ground crew simply tilts the aircraft’s nose up and unlatches the hooks and the cargo container slides right out with the help of a cargo winch. Throughout the day, the process of sorting, loading, and takeoff is repeated 15 more times at Oxnard and other airports in Southern California before a final 4,500 kg of payload is loaded into the aircraft and it returns to San Bernardino. Refueling takes place just once, at the end of the day.

This vision of urban air mobility, built on the promise of electric propulsion and on autonomous flight, is no sci-fi dream but a practical project, one that a number of companies are pursuing. Airbus has finished testing its Vahana, a concept electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that is meant to fly passengers at low altitudes within and between cities and towns. There is also the Cora, a creation of Google impresarios; it, too, is meant only for short distances and low altitudes. Neither of those two aircraft can carry much cargo, though, particularly in bad weather.

Consider how much easier it would be to use such methods to move cargo instead of people. If there are no passengers on board, you can lose the heavy, bulky gear that assures passenger safety. Replace pilots and you can also dispense with the instruments that help them see where they’re going, as well as the equipment that soundproofs the cabin and supports the windows, floor beams, bulkheads, and so forth. In some cases, an aircraft can weigh 25 percent more with human-factor equipment than without it.

My company, Sabrewing Aircraft, in Camarillo, Calif., was founded to exploit these advantages. By starting with a clean-sheet concept that was never meant to fly people, only cargo, and thus with no one on board to be put at risk, the aircraft can go to and from places no crewed rival can safely reach.

We call it the Rhaegal. If need be, it can lift almost 2,500 kg (5,500 pounds) of cargo straight up from the ground, like a helicopter; if a short runway is available, it can take off in the standard way, then fly straight ahead carrying as much as 4,500 kg (10,000 pounds). That’s more than the new Cessna 408 SkyCourier can manage, and the Rhaegal flies much faster and higher. Also, it is designed to load and unload without the help of forklifts, pallet jacks, or other specialized equipment.

The Rhaegal sits low to the ground, whether on tarmac or even a sand dune, then tilts its nose upward so that either containerized or bulk cargo can be quickly loaded and secured. The aircraft’s high-flotation “tundra tires” and four-post landing-gear arrangement allow it to land in mud, snow, sand, marsh, or deep puddles, and an integral loading ramp with rollers can be used to ease loading of pallets or containers.

Because the Rhaegal has a maximum gross weight above 600 kg (1,320 pounds) it falls under U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Regulation Part 23, which requires that it be remotely monitored and controlled and that it remain in contact with air traffic control at all times. Its operator, who can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away, controls the aircraft via a satellite link. In this way, the local air traffic control authority speaks to the operator through the aircraft, just as if the operator were sitting in the cockpit itself.

Prior to takeoff, the operator loads into the computer an exact flight plan, provided by the air traffic control authorities, that includes procedures for departing in any weather and also establishes the frequencies, routes, and a clearance to the aircraft’s final destination. That way it can find its way home even if it loses communication with the operator or air traffic control.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that a human pilot of a conventional aircraft must see and avoid any air traffic that may be following an intersecting flight path. The same rule applies to the Rhaegal: It must do this job by itself, without operator input. This system, known as the Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, uses a mix of sensors, among them an anticollision radar (made by Garmin), a camera-based system that can spot conflicting air traffic and provide autopilot commands to avoid it (made by Iris Automation), and a lidar, or laser-ranging system, to detect power lines and other small obstructions at close range (made by Attollo Engineering). The DAA system also uses what is called automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B), a satellite-navigation system now mandated by the FAA for virtually all aircraft of any size operating in controlled airspace. This system tracks all flights no matter what paths they take, allowing for far more flexible routing than the older, ground-based radars could manage.

Not all traffic problems are in the air; some are on the ground. Cars or trucks may be moving around or even parked, for instance, when a parking lot itself serves as the landing zone. The Rhaegal uses an artificial-intelligence landing system to spot obstacles from above, including vehicles, people, rocks, and uneven surfaces. This landing system can recognize many types of obstacles and clearings, including landing pads aboard ships at sea.

Data fed from all the sensors are fused into a single picture of the plane’s surroundings by a sensor-interface computer, which monitors nearby air traffic and computes how to keep a safe distance away. When that happens, the computer sends a message to the operator on the ground that a possible conflict is approaching; the operator then makes the decision to change the flight path. If the operator does nothing, the computer will take the necessary steps on its own. Wherever the aircraft goes, the computer can detect bad weather up ahead and provide the data to the operator, who together with air traffic controllers can make changes to avoid storms, in some cases by flying well above them.

What’s more, the Rhaegal is semiautonomous, meaning that it can complete its mission even if it loses communication with the operator and with air traffic control in general. It simply follows a preplanned flight route, detecting and avoiding traffic on the way and then landing at a remote location.

The Rhaegal’s all-composite airframe is built in sections that can be quickly and easily repaired or even replaced in the field, with a minimum of hand tools. This modular design means that inspections that used to ground aircraft for weeks or even months can now be accomplished in hours. The Rhaegal is well suited for military applications: It can fly high and fast enough to avoid ground fire or fly low to avoid radar, enabling it to bring vital supplies to isolated units. It’s even versatile enough to whisk four casualties and two medics to a mobile hospital within the “golden hour” after an injury occurs, greatly increasing the patient’s chances of survival. In addition, the Rhaegal has a proprietary system that allows it to land safely if its propulsion system is damaged: It can either glide to a safe landing spot or, if the craft is hovering, it can land even if it loses the thrust of an entire duct unit.

Rhaegal gets its power from a turboshaft engine, which is basically a gas turbine designed specifically to turn a rotor rather than generate thrust, as a jet engine would do. This engine drives a generator that sends power to electric motors, which turn rotor blades. These are like propellers, but they are shrouded to provide more thrust than an open rotor would and to protect both people on the ground and the blades themselves when landing near bushes or trees. The point of this turboelectric drivetrain is to provide high efficiency in cruise flight and also high power during takeoff and landing. That heightened efficiency allows it to emit an estimated 70 percent less carbon than the Cessna 408 SkyCourier while carrying twice the load four times farther. And because of its turbo design, it can be made “greener” still by using biofuel.

The airframe of the first Rhaegal was completed in March 2020, and we expect flight testing will have begun by the time this article appears. Sabrewing has been in discussions with the FAA since 2017, and permission to start type certification—which assures the safety of a new type of aircraft—could come shortly.

Certification is no small administrative matter: Type certification for even a small private airplane can easily cost US $50 million to $100 million, but a cargo UAV should cost just a fraction as much to certify. And the Rhaegal stands first in line for such certification, ahead of all other electric cargo carriers using vertical takeoff and landing.

So don’t be surprised if you look up sometime soon and see a Rhaegal cruising above your head. And some December in the not-too-distant future it might be playing Santa Claus to kids in both remote villages and large industrial centers throughout the world.

This article appears in the June 2020 print issue as “Can Cargo Drones Solve Air Freight’s Logjams.”

About the Author

Ed De Reyes, a retired Air Force test pilot, is CEO of Sabrewing Aircraft Co., in Camarillo, Calif.

Plasma Jets May One Day Propel Aircraft

Post Syndicated from Charles Q. Choi original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/plasma-jet

Jet planes may one day fly without fossil fuels by using plasma jets, new research from scientists in China suggests.

A variety of spacecraft, such as NASA’s Dawn space probe, generate plasma from gases such as Xenon for propulsion. However, such thrusters only exert tiny propulsive forces, and so can only find use in outer space in the absence of air friction.

Now researchers have created a prototype thruster capable of generating plasma jets with propulsive forces comparable to those from conventional jet engines, using only air and electricity.

New Antenna Will Boost UAV Communication with Satellites

Post Syndicated from Michelle Hampson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/aerospace/aviation/new-antenna-will-boost-uav-communication-with-satellites

A group of Chinese researchers has developed a compact, sabre-like antenna for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can switch between two radiation patterns for better communication coverage. They describe their work in a study published 26 February in IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation.

For UAVs cruising at high speeds, it’s desirable to have small, aerodynamic antennas that limit drag but can still yield sufficient bandwidth and coverage. Zhijun Zhang, a researcher at Tsinghua University, notes that sabre-shaped antennas are beneficial in the sense that they are very aerodynamic—but there is a major limitation that comes with this design.

“Conventional sabre-like antennas generate a donut-shape radiation pattern, which provides an omnidirectional coverage and is ideal for air-to-ground communication. However, a donut-shape pattern has a null at its zenith,” Zhang explains.

While this donut-shaped radiation pattern may be sufficient to help the UAV exchange signals with ground communication systems, the “blind spot” of coverage directly above the UAV is problematic when trying to establish communication with satellites (aka “hemisphere coverage”). Therefore Zhang and his team created a novel sabre-like antenna design that can provide a signal directly above the antenna as well.  

To accomplish this, the researchers incorporated two metal radiators into the design. The first is a monopole, which is perpendicular to the ground with an omnidirectional pattern. The second is a dipole, which is parallel to the ground with broadside pattern – creating a signal that fills the blind spot of conventional antennas. “The two radiators not only generate two working modes and desired radiation patterns, but also provide a bonus capacitor loading effect, which shrinks the antenna size,” says Zhang. “The antenna can switch between two modes on the fly, and thus provides top hemisphere coverage.”

Simulations and tests suggest that the design can achieve roughly 20 percent bandwidth, which surprised even the researchers behind the design. Zhang says this efficiency happens because both radiators are used in both modes. 

“As far as we know, it’s the first effort to realize such a compact aircraft antenna with upper hemispherical coverage and acceptable gain for onboard satellite communication. Next, we intend to design a simpler aircraft antenna with only one mode,” says Zhang, noting that this may involve sacrificing some bandwidth.  

Flight of the GermFalcon: How a Potential Coronavirus-Killing Airplane Sterilizer Was Born

Post Syndicated from Samuel K. Moore original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/aerospace/aviation/germfalcon-coronavirus-airplane-ultraviolet-sterilizer-news

Dr. Arthur Kreitenberg and his son Elliot got some strange looks when they began the design work for the GermFalcon, a new machine that uses ultraviolet light to wipe out coronavirus and other germs inside an airplane. The father-son founders of Dimer UVC took tape measures with them on flights to unobtrusively record the distances that would form the key design constraints for their system.

“We definitely got lots of looks from passengers and lots of inquiries from flight attendants,” Dr. Kreitenberg recalls. “You can imagine that would cause some attention: taking out a tape measure midflight and measuring armrests. The truth is that when we explained to the flight attendants what we were doing and what we were designing, they [were] really excited about it.”

Solving Today’s Obsolescence Challenges

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/4_approaches_to_solve_todays_obsolescence_challenges_in_aerospace_and_defense

Test engineers spend as much as 50 percent of their time (or even more in some cases) actively dealing with obsolescence in their test program sets. Read about different solutions in the marketplace to help you overcome the challenges you face today while reducing the risk of a complete technology refresh. 

Digital Transformation in Aerospace and Defense: Myth or Reality?

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/digital_transformation_in_aerospace_and_defense_myther_or_reality

Aerospace and defense companies are longtime innovators and technology leaders, so digital transformation should be easy, right? Wrong. Only three percent of these projects succeed. This infographic explains what’s really happening. 

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation Do-Over: How to Restart on the Right Foot

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/digital_transformation_leveraging_test_and_measurement_to_accelerate_success

Don’t give up on digital transformation projects that have not delivered as expected. The root cause of failure often lies in data preparation. This tech brief explains how to find out what went wrong and how to get it right the next time.

Unmanned Solar Aircraft Aims to Compete Commercially With Satellites and Drones

Post Syndicated from John Boyd original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/aerospace/aviation/new-type-of-unmanned-aircraft-aims-to-compete-commercially-with-satellites-and-drones

At 35 meters, the wingspan of the new BAE Systems aircraft equals that of a Boeing 737, yet the plane weighs in at just 150 kilograms, including a 15 kg payload. The unmanned plane, dubbed the PHASA-35 (Persistent High-Altitude Solar Aircraft), made its maiden voyage on 10 February  at the Royal Australian Air Force Woomera Test Range in South Australia.

“It flew for just under an hour—enough time to successfully test its aerodynamics, autopilot system, and maneuverability,” says Phil Varty, business development leader of emerging products at BAE Systems. “We’d previously tested other sub-systems such as the flight control system in smaller models of the plane in the U.K. and Australia, so we’d taken much of the risk out of the craft before the test flight.”

The prototype aircraft uses gallium arsenide–based triple-junction solar cell panels manufactured by MicroLink Devices in Niles, Ill. MicroLink claims an energy conversion efficiency of 31 percent for these specialist panels.

“For test purposes, the solar panels—which are as thin as paper—covered just part of the wingspan to generate 4 kilowatts of power,” says Varty. “For the production version, we’ll use all that space to produce 12 kilowatts.”

The energy is used to drive two brushless, direct-drive electric motors modified for the aircraft, and to charge a lithium-ion battery system comprising over 400 batteries that delivers the energy needed to fly the plane at night. They are supplied by Amprius Technologies in Fremont, Calif.

Varty says that unlike the solar panels, which have been chosen for their high efficiency, the batteries—similar to the kind powering smartphones—are not massively efficient. Instead, they are a proven, reliable technology that can easily be replaced when a more efficient version becomes available.

“Although the test flight took place in Australia’s summer, the aircraft is designed for flying during the worst time of the year—the winter solstice,” says Varty. “That’s why it has the potential to stay up for a whole year in the stratosphere, around 65,000 feet [20,000 meters], where there’s little wind and no clouds or turbulence.”

He describes the unmanned control flight system as a relatively simple design similar to that used in drones and model airplanes. A controller on the ground, known as the pilot, guides the plane, though the aircraft can also run on autopilot using a preprogrammed route. Other technicians may also be involved to control specialist applications such as cameras, surveillance, or communications equipment.

The aircraft was originally developed by Prismatic Ltd., a designer and manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles in Southwest England that was acquired last year by BAE.

Further test flights are planned for this year and engineers from Prismatic and BAE are using the results of the trial to improve the various subsystems.

“There were no surprises found during the test flight so perhaps the biggest challenge now is educating the market that what we are offering is different,” says Varty. “Different from satellites or drones.”

Its special feature is it can sit in the stratosphere over a particular point by flying into the wind or doing maneuvers like a figure eight and using cameras or surveillance equipment mounted on gimbals to provide constant monitoring. By comparison, Varty says, even the best military drones can stay airborne for a maximum of only three days; satellites are limited by virtue of the fact that they have to maintain a speed of 7 kilometers per second or more in order to stay in orbit.

“Satellites provide merely a date-time snapshot of what is going on below,” Varty points out. “Whereas we can monitor a spot for as long as necessary to draw conclusions about what is likely to happen next: where forest fires are going to spread, for instance, or where disaster relief is most needed.”

After reviewing the BAE announcement, Saburo Matsunaga, head of the Laboratory for Space Systems at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, sees both pros and cons with the aircraft.

Compared to satellites, its “lower altitude means it should realize higher resolution monitoring, low power communications, dedicated local area services, and so on. But performance, he adds, “will be strongly dependent on the equipment constraints such as mass, volume, and power budget” because the aircraft’s lightweight design limits its payload.

As for possible drawbacks, Matsunaga suspects long-duration operations—which assumes no maintenance and no failures—may be more difficult to achieve and more expensive to deal with that BAE expects. “The flights must always be controlled, and the available time for [issue-free] flights will be short. Communications with the plane’s tracking control and operation systems may also be a concern over long flights. And there’s the possibility that external disturbances may affect sensor resolution.”

BAE plans to offer several different services to customers based on the aircraft’s ability to constantly monitor a particular point or to provide it with communications via onboard transceiver equipment. “A customer could use it to monitor how crops are growing or how minute by minute, hour by hour changes to weather affect areas of interest on the ground,” says Varty. “Now we’re working out the pricing for such services. Direct sales of the aircraft are also possible.”

Commercialization will soon follow completion of the flight trials, which could mean the launch of services as early as next year.

U.S. Commercial Drone Deliveries Will Finally Be a Thing in 2020

Post Syndicated from David Schneider original https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/us-commercial-drone-deliveries-will-finally-be-a-thing-in-2020

graphic link to special report landing page

When Amazon made public its plans to deliver packages by drone six years ago, many skeptics scoffed—including some at this magazine. It just didn’t seem safe or practical to have tiny buzzing robotic aircraft crisscrossing the sky with Amazon orders. Today, views on the prospect of getting stuff swiftly whisked to you this way have shifted, in part because some packages are already being delivered by drone, including examples in Europe, Australia, and Africa, sometimes with life-saving consequences. In 2020, we should see such operations multiply, even in the strictly regulated skies over the United States.

There are several reasons to believe that package delivery by drone may soon be coming to a city near you. The most obvious one is that technical barriers standing in the way are crumbling.

The chief challenge, of course, is the worry that an autonomous package-delivery drone might collide with an aircraft carrying people. In 2020, however, it’s going to be easier to ensure that won’t happen, because as of 1 January, airplanes and helicopters are required to broadcast their positions by radio using what is known as automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast out (ADS-B Out) equipment carried on board. (There are exceptions to that requirement, such as for gliders and balloons, or for aircraft operating only in uncontrolled airspace.) This makes it relatively straightforward for the operator of a properly equipped drone to determine whether a conventional airplane or helicopter is close enough to be of concern.

Indeed, DJI, the world’s leading drone maker, has promised that from here on out it will equip any drone it sells weighing over 250 grams (9 ounces) with the ability to receive ADS-B signals and to inform the operator that a conventional airplane or helicopter is flying nearby. DJI calls this feature AirSense. “It works very well,” says Brendan Schulman, vice president for policy and legal affairs at DJI—noting, though, that it works only “in one direction.” That is, pilots don’t get the benefit of ADS-B signals from drones.

Drones will not carry ADS-B Out equipment, Schulman explains, because the vast number of small drones would overwhelm air-traffic controllers with mostly useless information about their whereabouts. But it will eventually be possible for pilots and others to determine whether there are any drones close enough to worry about; the key is a system for the remote identification of drones that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is now working to establish. The FAA took the first formal step in that direction yesterday, when the agency published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on remote ID for drones.

Before the new regulations go into effect, the FAA will have to receive and react to public comments on its proposed rules for drone ID. That will take many months. But some form of electronic license plates for drones is definitely coming, and we’ll likely see that happening even before the FAA mandates it. This identification system will pave the way for package delivery and other beyond-line-of-sight operations that fly over people. (Indeed, the FAA has stated that it does not intend to establish rules for drone flights over people until remote ID is in place.)

One of the few U.S. sites where drones are making commercial deliveries already is Wake County, N.C. Since March of last year, drones have been ferrying medical samples at WakeMed’s sprawling hospital campus on the east side of Raleigh. Last September, UPS Flight Forward, the subsidiary of United Parcel Service that is carrying out these drone flights, obtained formal certification from the FAA as an air carrier. The following month, Wing, a division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, launched the first residential drone-based delivery service to begin commercial operations in the United States, ferrying small packages from downtown Christiansburg, Va., to nearby neighborhoods. These projects in North Carolina and Virginia, two of a handful being carried out under the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, show that the idea of using drones to deliver packages is slowly but surely maturing.

“We’ve been operating this service five days a week, on the hour,” says Stuart Ginn, a former airline pilot who is now a head-and-neck surgeon at WakeMed. He was instrumental in bringing drone delivery to this hospital system in partnership with UPS and California-based Matternet.

Right now the drone flying at WakeMed doesn’t travel beyond the operators’ line of sight. But Ginn says that he and others behind the project should soon get FAA clearance to fly packages to the hospital by drone from a clinic located some 16 kilometers away. “I’d be surprised and disappointed if that doesn’t happen in 2020,” says Ginn. The ability to connect nearby medical facilities by drone, notes Ginn, will get used “in ways we don’t anticipate.”

This article appears in the January 2020 print issue as “The Delivery Drones Are Coming.”

Lithium-Sulfur Battery Project Aims to Double the Range of Electric Airplanes

Post Syndicated from Philip E. Ross original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/lithiumsulfur-battery-project-aims-to-double-the-range-of-electric-airplanes

When General Motors briefly first wowed the world with its EV-1 electric car, back in 1990, it relied on lead-acid batteries that packed a piddling 30 to 40 watt-hours per kilogram. The project eventually died, in part because that metric was so low (and the cost was so high).

It was the advent of new battery designs, above all the lithium-ion variant, that launched today’s electric-car wave. Today’s Tesla Model 3’s lithium-ion battery pack has an estimated 168 Wh/kg. And important as this energy-per-weight ratio is for electric cars, it’s more important still for electric aircraft.

Now comes Oxis Energy, of Abingdon, UK, with a battery based on lithium-sulfur chemistry that it says can greatly increase the ratio, and do so in a product that’s safe enough for use even in an electric airplane. Specifically, a plane built by Bye Aerospace, in Englewood, Colo., whose founder, George Bye, described the project in this 2017 article for IEEE Spectrum.

Cable Assemblies – Determining a Reliable and Cost-Effective Approach

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/cable-assemblies-determining-a-reliable-and-costeffective-approach


explains the process of specifying cable assemblies and will be ideal for Engineers wishing to learn the basics of the process, and as a refresher for the more experienced Engineer. Particular focus is given to sectors that require high-levels of reliability and details the criteria required to ensure a long operational


Could Airships Rise Again?

Post Syndicated from Payal Dhar original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/could-airships-rise-again

Transportation produces about one-fourth of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Of this, maritime shipping accounts for 3 percent, and this figure is expected to increase for the next three decades even though the shipping industry is actively seeking greener alternatives, and developing near-zero-emission vessels.

Researchers with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria recently explored another potential solution: the return of airships to the skies. Airships rely on jet stream winds to propel them forward to their destinations. They offer clear advantages over cargo ships in terms of both efficiency and avoided emissions. Returning to airships, says Julian Hunt, a researcher at the IIASA and lead author of the new study, could “ultimately [increase] the feasibility of a 100 percent renewable world.”

Today, world leaders are meeting in New York for the UN Climate Action Summit to present plans to address climate change. Already, average land and sea surface temperatures have risen to approximately 1 degree C above pre-industrial levels. If the current rate of emissions remains unchecked, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2052, temperatures could rise by up to 2 degrees C. At that point, as much as 30 percent of Earth’s flora and fauna could disappear, wheat production could fall by 16 percent, and water would become more scarce.

According to Hunt and his collaborators, airships could play a role in cutting future anthropogenic emissions from the shipping sector. Jet streams flow in a westerly direction with an average wind speed of 165 kilometers per hour (km/h). On these winds, a lighter-than-air vessel could travel around the world in about two weeks (while a ship would take 60 days) and require just 4 percent of the fuel consumed by the ship, Hunt says.

Rooftop Solar Refinery Produces Carbon-Neutral Fuels

Post Syndicated from Payal Dhar original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/rooftop-solar-refinery-produces-carbonneutral-fuels

Scientists in Switzerland have demonstrated a technology that can produce kerosene and methanol from solar energy and air

Scientists have searched for a sustainable aviation fuel for decades. Now, with emissions from air traffic increasing faster than carbon-offset technologies can mitigate them, environmentalists worry that even with new fuel-efficient technologies and operations, emissions from the aviation sector could double by 2050.

But what if, by 2050, all fossil-derived jet fuel could be replaced by a carbon-neutral one made from sunlight and air?

In June, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich demonstrated a new technology that creates liquid hydrocarbon fuels from thin air—literally. A solar mini-refinery—in this case, installed on the roof of ETH’s Machine Laboratory—concentrates sunlight to create a high-temperature (1,500 degrees C) environment inside the solar thermochemical reactor.

Order for First All-Electric Passenger Airplane Placed by Massachusetts Carrier

Post Syndicated from Mark Anderson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/order-for-first-allelectric-passenger-airplane-placed-by-massachusetts-carrier

Cape Air recently ordered the Eviation “Alice” battery-powered, 9-seat regional aircraft—pointing toward aviation’s e-future

Commercial electric aviation took its first steps forward last month when a Massachusetts-based regional airline announced the first order of the first all-electric passenger airplane. The “Alice,” a three-engine, battery powered airplane with a 1000-kilometer range on a single charge, is slated to be delivered to Cape Air airlines for passenger flights in 2022. 

The Alice, manufactured by Kadima, Israel-based startup company Eviation, has not yet been certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. However, the company’s e-airplane “could be certified right now to fly,” insists Lior Zivan, Eviation’s CTO. “It does not need a major rewrite of the rules to get this in the air,” he says.

Zivan says the company is “anticipating full certification by 2022.”

The Alice, Zivan says, will be powered by a 900-kilowatt-hour (kWH) lithium ion battery manufactured by South Korean battery maker Kokam Battery. (For comparison, the Tesla Model 3 electric car uses a 50- to 75-kWH battery pack, according to a 2017 investor call from company CEO Elon Musk.)

Cape Air is a Northeast regional airline that flies to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and numerous other vacation and regional destinations. According to Trish Lorino, Cape Air vice president of marketing and public relations, the company’s historic order of Eviation’s Alice aircraft “makes sense for us because we are a short-haul carrier.” Lorino notes that, “For 30 years, we have specialized in serving short-haul routes, particularly to niche and island destinations.”

According to Cape Air’s website, the carrier currently operates 88 Cessna 402s (which seat 6 to 10 passengers) and 4 Islander planes (9-seat capacity) made by the British company Britten-Norman. The 9-seater Alice e-aircraft thus fits within the Cape Air fleet’s general size and passenger capacity.

Lorino says that although the carrier has not yet decided which routes will feature the Alice, company officials currently anticipate that e-flights will cover routes that keep the plane close to the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. “Short-haul routes ‘in our backyard’ such as Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Provincetown would be the likely routes,” she says.

Eviation CEO Omar Bar-Ohay showcased the Alice at the Paris Air Show last month, featuring an informal tour and 30 minute talk.

Bar-Ohay’s remarks at the Show highlighted the differences inherent in designing and engineering an all-electric airplane and a conventional, petroleum-fueled plane. As he pointed out, the Alice has a maximum takeoff weight of 6,350 kilograms (14,000 pounds), but 3,700 kg of that is the battery. (And of course there is no fuel burned, so its takeoff weight is more or less its landing weight.)

Each of the Alice’s three motors, according to Zivan, has one moving part. “A similar [petroleum-fueled] reciprocating engine has about 10: six pistons, a crankshaft, oil pump, and a two-shaft gearbox,” Zivan says. “Obviously, electric propulsion has a major advantage in both reliability and maintenance.”

There are redundant systems in the Alice, Zivan says, in both the propulsion and the battery assembly. The e-aircraft’s three engines (two “pusher” motors mounted at the rear ends of the two wingtips and another “pusher” motor mounted at the rear of the plane) have, he says, “mostly dual and for some components triple [redundancy].”

As for the electrical system, Zivan says, “The battery assembly is redundant in many levels, starting at the parallelism of the cells and ending at the number of in-series cells branches. The battery is designed in such a way that any malfunction or failure will result in a minimal reduction in the capacity if any.”

Because Alice doesn’t burn any fuel in flight, and relies only on cheaper electric charge, the cost of operating the plane is expected to be lower than its petroleum-fueled counterparts. And the noise emitted by a plane with no internal combustion engines is also lower; this is especially true for Alice, given its ability (unique to e-aircraft) to vary its propeller speeds to compensate for crosswinds and to lower cabin noise.

As an early standard-bearer in electric passenger flight, Cape Air says its decision to purchase Alice (the number of electric aircraft that will join its fleet has not been finalized) was also partly motivated by the company’s “deep sense of social responsibility,” Lorino says. (The company’s headquarters is 100-percent solar powered, she says, and the company is now hoping to use sustainable energy sources for charging its fleet of e-airplanes.)

“Our hope is that electric-powered flight is a reality in the next decade and that there is adoption from the public to view this as a viable, natural form of transportation,” she says.

DJI Promises to Add “AirSense” to Its New Drones

Post Syndicated from David Schneider original https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/aerospace/aviation/dji-promises-to-add-airsense-to-its-new-drones

The company plans to include ADS-B receivers in next year’s drones weighing more than 250 grams

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about endowing drones with the ability to “sense and avoid” nearby aircraft—adding radar or optical sensors that would mimic what a pilot does when she peers out the window in all directions to be sure there are no other aircraft nearby on a collision course. But incorporating such sense-and-avoid capability is quite challenging technically, and would probably never be possible to add to small consumer drones.

Thankfully, the threat of mid-air collision can be reduced using a strategy that is much easier to implement: Have aircraft track their positions with GPS and then broadcast that information to one another, so that everybody knows where everybody else is flying. Drones could at least receive those broadcasts and alert their operators or automatically adjust their flying to steer well clear of planes and helicopters.

Indeed, DJI, the world’s leading drone manufacturer, has already outfitted some if its drones with just this ability, and today it announced that by 2020 it would include that feature, which it calls “AirSense,” in all new drones it releases that weigh more than 250 grams.

Can Electric Air Racing Add a Jolt to the Quest for Better E-Planes?

Post Syndicated from Mark Anderson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/aerospace/aviation/can-electric-air-racing-juice-the-quest-for-the-ultimate-eplane

Air Race E organizer looks to field inaugural race by late 2020

Although racing airplanes for sport has been a popular pastime around the world since the 1930s, its essential technology hasn’t changed much. Although computer design and engineering have greatly enhanced race planes’ thrust, economy, and maneuverability, the air racers still rely on petroleum-fueled propeller engines the way they did decades ago.

One entrepreneur is looking to fundamentally change the equation as soon as next year. He’s attempting to make air racing leapfrog past hybrid EVs and biofuels and go straight to all-electric propulsion.

“So, what we’re doing is taking the Formula One Air Racing rules,” says Jeff Zaltman, CEO of Dubai-headquartered Air Race Events, “and just changing the parts relevant to the propulsion system [so they run on electricity].” Zaltman adds that “We’re trying to change as little as possible as a starting point so the sport can transfer and migrate very easily.” 

Air Race Events is currently scouting out a location to host the first ever event for Air Race E, the moniker given to the new, all-electric air racing division. (Expect an announcement, Zaltman says, by the end of the year or the beginning of 2020.)