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Human-Powered Helicopter - The Gamera

A team of 52 graduate students of the University of Maryland has successfully flown their human-powered helicopter called the Gamera this week Thursday. The project was started in a bid to set an aviation 'first', a world record, and to win the $ 250 000 Sikorsky Challenge. Although the aircraft successfully lifted off in the air, it is still unofficial as the results still have to be analysed by the NAA and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in Switzerland.

The helicopter is made of light weight materials such as balsa wood, mylar, carbon fiber, and foam. The backbone of the helicopter is a massive X frame with each crossbar measuring 60 ft. (18 m). At the ends of the crossbars are four huge rotors 42 ft long (12.6 m). The pilot seats in the middle and will have to peddle furiously to fly the thing. Although the whole aircraft takes up about a third of a football field, it only weighs 210 pounds, plus the pilot.

The pilot for this Thursday's successful trial is Judy Wexler, a 24 year-old Graduate student of the University of Maryland. Being the pilot, she has to pedal furiously with both her hands and feet as pedaling at 120 rpm will cause the rotors to spin at only 18 rpm. Although the length of the entire flight and the height at which the helicopter reached is uncertain as of now, what is certain is that the aircraft did lift off the ground and that's all they need to beat the world record. Sadly, the Sikorsky Challenge requirements of at least 3 m of altitude and a 1 min flight duration was not met.

It's interesting to note that the Sikorsky Challenge was issued in 1980 and as of today, no one has been able to meet this challenge.

Aerial Intelligence - The LEMV Modern Blimp

The US military gave Northrop Grumman a $ 517 million contract to create an LEMV or Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle. The LEMV is basically a giant airship that will provide long term aerial reconnaissance and surveillance support for ground troops.

The LEMV is a 300 ft. long behemoth that, like many of the new aircraft being developed, will be unmanned. It can stay aloft in the air for up to three weeks at a time and has a low pressure helium hull. However, what's really incredible of the LEMV is that its aerodynamic hull accounts for 40% of its lift. As a result, the hull does not need a lot of helium to keep it in the airship in the air and so, when the fragile surface of the hull is somehow punctured or shot, the airship will not explode or fall out of the sky.

The LEMV will be powered by four diesel engines and will cost $15 000 per re-fuel for every three-week mission. This is amazingly one-tenth of the price of fuel used for a helicopter and one-quarter of the price of fuel used for an airplane per mission.

The LEMV is set to be finished and operational in the latter half of this year. It will be used for a demonstration mission in Afghanistan and upon success of the missile, five more will be built.

Boeing 787 DreamLiner Photo Gallery

Dreamliner in flight

State-of-the-Art Dreamliner cockpit

The Dreamliner at its unveiling

Stylish interior

Dreamliner in the factory

Airbus A380 Photo Gallery

A380 in flight

Crowd gathers around unveiling of A380

Singapore Airline's A380 in flight

Luxurious interior of A380

Spacious seats - What size can offer

'JetMan' Will Fly Through Grand Canyon On Jet Pack

Yves Rossy, nicknamed 'JetMan', is a Swiss engineer and aviator. Being the first man to achieve sustained human flight with a jet pack, Rossy has flown across the Geneva river, the Alps, the English Channel, and partway through the Strait of Gibraltar (he had to ditch in the ocean because of bad weather but was unharmed). He is planning another feat on Friday, May 6 this month. This time, he will be flying across the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Rossy's jet pack is designed by him and straps onto to him like a backpack. It is powered by 4 jet engines modified from model aircraft engines attached to the undersides of the semi-rigid carbon fibre wings. To steer himself, Rossy's body acts as a rudder. Although powerful, the engines are not strong enough for a takeoff on the ground. Therefore, Rossy has to go onboard a plane and then "takeoff" from there.

In his past flights, Rossy has reached speeds of up to 304 km/h (189 mph).

Assuming that I am able to count, this will be Rossy's 5th official flight to date. In my opinion, it takes a lot of guts to strap onto a jet pack and fly across rivers and mountains at unimaginable heights so let's wish wish Rossy good luck for Friday.

Naval-Aerial Power - Carrier Battle Groups

A carrier battle group is a group of ships centred around an aircraft carrier. These groups consist of destroyers, minesweepers, oil tankers, battleships, and other such crafts that are dedicated to protecting the aircraft carrier.

The carrier battle group first originated in WWII when Japan demonstrated the power of the carrier in the Battle of Pearl Harbour. Nowadays, the US Navy operates the largest number of carrier strike groups (US Navy term). Ten groups are based in the US and one is based in Japan.

As an example of the composition of a typical carrier battle group, here's what the French Charles de Gaulle carrier battle group usually consists of:
  • the carrier air wing - about 40 aircraft
  • a submarine
  • two anti-submarine destroyers
  • two anti-aircraft destroyers
  • one frigate in forward patrol
  • one supply ship

Phantom Ray - Future of UAV's?

The Phantom Ray is a stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicle developed by Boeing using company funds and is currently being used as a testbed for UAV technologies. It made its first flight in December last year and is currently being used in a series of 10 test flights over six months involving a myriad of battlefield duties such as surveillance, ground attack, and autonomous in-air refueling.

The Phantom Ray is derived from the X-45C aircraft. It is fairly large, being 36 feet long and having a wingspan of 50 feet (about 4 cars placed horizontally side-by-side). The aircraft weighs about 36 500 pounds and flies at a cruising speed of 614 mph, one-eight of the speed of sound.

The Phantom Ray will not go into service as a combat aircraft but will instead only be used as a testbed. Nevertheless, with its sleek form and white paint job, the Phantom Ray definitely looks like an aircraft of the future.

Submarines as Aircraft Carriers?

The details are not clear but what is for sure is that the US Navy is planning to equip their ageing nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet with aerial drones in the missile launch tubes. Since the end of the Cold War in the 80's, the nuclear threat is much diminished and nuclear ballistic missile submarines have lost much of their value. As a result, the US Navy is now trying to find new ways to utilize these underwater warships besides scraping them.

In September of 2009, the US Navy revealed quite a large extent of this program in an interview with Rear Admiral Mark Kenny. The Admiral stated that already 4 of the Cold War-era missile boats have been stripped of its nuclear missiles to make room for conventional weapons, SEAL deployment chambers, and aerial/aquatic drones. Among these that the Admiral mentioned are: a torpedo-sized drone used for eavesdropping, a 45 pound possibly armed aerial drone, and a 15 pound aerial reconnaissance drone that relays video and radio info back to the submarine.

Not much else has been released by the US Navy but it is very possible that the submarines are now a viable platform to launch these drones. This has much implications for the future of naval warfare. Maybe submarines will become the new aircraft carriers, being able to submerge thus giving more protection and stealth. This idea is not very far-fetched as the Japanese have experimented with underwater aircraft launching with their I-14 submarine during WWII.

SpaceX's New Rocket - Most Powerful Private Rocket Ever Built

As NASA is wrapping up its space shuttle program, private space corporations are beginning to take a stronghold in space exploration. Recently, SpaceX or Space Explorations Technologies Inc. announced a new rocket called the Falcon Heavy that is only second in size to the Apollo Era's Saturn V.

The Falcon Heavy is planned to have a payload of 117 000 pounds, twice that of the Space Shuttle and rival company United Launch Alliance LLC's Delta IV. The new rocket is also much cheaper per launch, costing $ 80 - 120 million. This is a lot less than the cost of Delta IV ($ 140 - 160 million).

The first demonstration flight of SpaceX's new rocket will be sometime between November and December of 2012 at California's Vandenburg Air Force Base.

The company already has successes with its operational rockets. NASA has given SpaceX a $ 1.6 billion contract to send supplies to the International Space Station through SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft on the Falcon 9, the predecessor of the Falcon Heavy.

The Secretive X-37 - Unmanned US Spacecraft

The Boeing X-37 OTV (Orbital Test Vehicle) is an unmanned spacecraft similar to the space shuttle in appearance that made its first flight on April 22 of last year. The flight lasted for 225 days and the OTV successfully landed on Vandenburg Air Force Base on December 3 of that year.

The OTV is powered by solar energy during its orbit. It features new thermal protection technology, avionics systems, and an autonomous guidance system.

The OTV has generated much controversy. Amateur astronomers have claimed that they have spotted the spacecraft in orbit and states that the course the spacecraft is on brings it over hotspots around the globe such as Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan. The China Daily newspaper picked up the story and stated that the X-37 is raising concerns of a space arms race.

Right now, the X-37 is already well on its way orbiting the planet on its second mission. It launched on March 5 this year in Cape Canaveral.

Hand-launched UAV - The RQ-11B Raven

Since production of the AeroVironment RQ-11B Raven began in 2004, more than 13 000 units have been built. These small hand-launched remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle or SUAV were originally developed for the US military but have now been adopted by several other countries.

The Raven is now widely used by the US military for reconnaissance, scouting, surveillance, and target acquisition purposes both day and night. It can fly for about 60-90 minutes in an operational radius of 10 km (6 miles). The Raven can either be remote-controlled from the ground or fly autonomous missions using GPS waypoint navigation. Its small 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds) airframe usually harnesses CCD color video cameras and infrared night vision camera. The aircraft is powered by a small propeller located at the back of the wings.

Landing for the RQ-11B is not a problem as it can automatically fly itself to a predetermined landing point and perform a near vertical (1 foot down, 1 foot forward) "Autoland" descent. If its wings snap or break off on landing, a new one can easily be attached.

Video: SmartBird flight further explained

Festo's Smartbird - An Ultra Realistic Seagull Robot

A new robotic seagull called the SmartBird designed by the German company Festo that also created the autonomous robotic jellyfish and the elephant-trunk-inspired robotic arm is one of the most realistic animal inspired flying machines ever. To be specific, the robot is modelled after the herring gull and its flight motions and appearance is extremely similar to the real bird. Besides its startling similarities to a real bird, another amazing feature of the robot is that it can take off and land autonomously without any additional drive systems.

To achieve flight, Festo designed the robot with wings that not only beat up and down, but bend at specific spots just like what the wings of a normal bird do in flight. When flying, a lever mechanism increases the degree of deflection from the torso to the wing. The wings can also twist in such a way that during the upwards stroke, the leading edge of the wing is slightly upwards. This is called a positive angle of attack.

Direction can be changed by the opposing motion of the head and torso of the bird. This movement is synchronised by cables and two electric motors. The tail's movements also help change directions. It can tilt left or right to initiate turns or move left to right to generate yaw. The tail also acts as stabilizer and a pitch elevator.

The robot has a wing span of about 2 m (6.5 feet), which is much larger than an actual herring gull, and has a weight of about 400 g (1 pound). To achieve this weight, the company used lightweight carbon fibre in the body of the bird.

All these design features result in a robot that is light and agile with excellent aerodynamic qualities. In developing the Smartbird, the company says it has successfully deciphered bird flight, "one of the oldest dreams of humankind". They also say that the development of this technology with its functional integration of coupled drive units yields significant ideas and insights that the company can then apply to hybrid drive technology.

A Flying Car?

Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute received $988 000 late last year to develop an autonomous flight system for DARPA's military flying car concept called the Transformer. If DARPA had its way, the Transformer will be a four-wheeled off road military vehicle that can also transform into a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. It will have a range of 250 nautical miles on a single full tank of fuel, seating for four, and a payload of 1 000 pounds.

The Transformer will greatly improve mobility for ground troops. The soldiers will not only move to and fro the battlefield faster, it will also allow them to fly over difficult terrain or terrain with possible enemy troops.

One of the many challenges of developing the Transformer is the flight system. The ordinary soldier will not be able to fly an aircraft and so the flight system of the vehicle will have to be largely automatic. That's where Carnegie Mellon comes in. Their robotics institute have already won DARPA's Urban Challenge, which is a race to create an automatic car, in 2007 and I would say they are well prepared.

The rest of the Transformer will be developed by AAI and Lockheed Martin, who are creating overall design concepts, and Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, who is developing the engines.

The Beast of Kandahar

This mysterious UAV dubbed "The Beast of Kandahar" has surfaced in many photos in recent years. It first appeared in the skies of Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009 and the US Air Force confirmed that they did indeed operate a stealth drone called the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel and that the drone is the product of Lockheed's Skunk Works, which is also responsible for the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II. However, that was about all that was revealed about this mysterious aircraft.

Pictures of the RQ-170 Sentinel right now show that it does not carry any weapons. So what is it used for? Reconnaissance is definitely part of its function but with so many other drones operating in Afghanistan, it certainly is unlikely that information collection is the only function of the drone. Well, according to Bill Sweetman, a blogger that maintains AviationWeek's Ares blog and the undisputed civilian expert of the RQ-170 at this point states that from looking at the belly shape of the Beast, it is most likely configured to carry "a high-powered microwave source" to fry electronic equipment such as radars and weapons computers or as an electronic jamming platform.

However, right now, the secret drone is more likely jamming radars than using a high-powered microwave weapon. Only four months ago, the US Air Force gave Lockheed Martin $230 000 to develop a microwave energy weapon concept and a month later gave BAE Systems $150 000 to test the effectiveness of microwaves on computers.

It is interesting to note that the RQ-170 Sentinel is similar in appearance to the US Navy's X-47B Stealth UAV drone.

Anti Gravity Helicopter?!

F-22 Photo Gallery

3 F-22's in flight

An F-22 firing a missile

An F-22 banking to the right with afterburners on

2 Raptors cruising the skies


The Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor (ARES) is a proposed project of NASA's Langley Research Centre that may very well launch the first plane that will fly on Mars. The plane will be rocket powered and once on Mars, will fly for about two hours at about 450 miles per hour.

The ARES plane will explore and provide detailed information of mountainous and rough regions on the Martian surface that is inaccessible by ground-based rovers. It would be flying at about a mile above the Martian surface collecting valuable data and measurements.

The aircraft will reach the Martian orbit via a carrier craft and it will be compacted in an aeroshell. This shell will prevent the fragile aircraft from burning up when entering the Martian atmosphere. It will also have a parachute that will decelerate the aeroshell as it blazes down the Martian skies.

After release from the carrier craft, the parachutes of the aeroshell will deploy and at an altitude of about 20 miles up, the ARES plane will leave its aeroshell and extend its wings and tail. After this is done, the rocket engines will fire.

After completing its 2 hour flight, the ARES plane will have covered more than 932 miles or unexplored Martian terrain and will have given us a much better understanding of the planet. Right now, the ARES team already has a half-scale prototype that have successfully completed tests and drills that prove that it can fly on the Martian surface. The team is hoping that the ARES plane will be selected for the next Mars Scout Mission in 2011.

Iran's Stealth Flying Boats

Iran unveiled a new weapon in its arsenal last year called the Bavar 2 or Confidence 2, a stealth flying boat that can be equipped with surveillance gears, machine guns, and even missiles. Since its unveiling, Bavar 2 has come under much criticism from the rest of the world.

Many of the criticism is directed at the supposed "stealth" of the flying boat. Iran claims that the specially designed hull of the aircraft is undetectable by radar but some say its just because the Bavar 2 flies so low that it is below the range of radar most of the time. Also, some have joked that the Bavar 2 looks like a watercraft that anyone can order online in kit-form and assemble.

Despite the criticisms, the Bavar 2 does make for a good surveillance aircraft. Its estimated top speed of 100 knots (115.2 miles per hour) and stealth help it patrol Iran's waters keeping out uninvited foreign vessels/aircraft. It could also use its on-board machine gun and even missiles to harass larger, slower vessels. Also, since the Bavar 2 is relatively small and does not employ a lot of high tech equipment, it can be produced in large numbers with relative ease.


Just a week ago, the Navy test-flew its new UAV, the X-47B. The test flight took place at Edwards AFB at 2 p.m. and lasted 29 minutes. The aircraft reached an altitude of 5 000 ft.

The X-47B is said to revolutionize robotic aerial warfare because of some of its one of a kind characteristics. Unlike other UAV's before it, such as the Predators and Reapers operating in the Middle East, the X-47B is powered by a jet engine so it can fly at much higher speeds. This new UAV also possesses stealth characteristics and will also be able to operate off carriers.

The X-47B's airframe looks like a combination between the B-2 and the F-117. It has a tailless design like the B-2 and the wing design of the F-117. The demonstration aircraft seen above is only a fraction of the size the X-47B will be. The X-47C, a proposed larger version, will have a wingspan of 172 ft, more than 4 times the length of the wingspan of the B variant (which is 38.2 ft).

The funding for this aircraft began in 2007 when the Navy awarded a $ 635.8 million contract to Northrop Grumman. It will be a few more years before the X-47B comes into service but it shows that more and more attention is being paid on unmanned aerial vehicles and that in the future, aerial warfare will probably be predominantly unmanned planes.

A Japanese Stealth Fighter?

Japan has recently announced that it will test fly its own stealth fighter, the Mitsubishi ATD-X, in 2014. This announcement was not a complete surprise as since 2009, it has provided $ 473 million dollars in funding to this program after it became apparent the US will not share its F-22 technology.

The design of the ATD-X is similar to other fourth and fifth generation fighters. It is a single-seater powered by two engines. Right now, there is a 1/3 model of the plane.

Some of the features of the ATD-X include a Fly-By-Optics system where, instead of using wires, the plane uses optical fibres to transfer information. These fibres transfer information at a much higher rate and are immune to electro magnetic disturbances.

The radar of the plane will be an actively electronically scanned array (AESA) radar called the "Multifunction RF Sensor" that is intended to have capabilities such as electronic countermeasures (ECM), electronic support measures (ESM), communications functions, and possibly even microwave weapon functions.

Another feature will be the "Self Repairing Flight Control Capability" that will allow the aircraft to detect failures or damages on its flight control surfaces so that it can use the remaining flight control surfaces to continue flying the plane.

It is interesting to note that just two months ago, China test flew its own stealth fighter, the J-20 and last year, Russia test flew its stealth fighter, the T-50. Currently, the US is the only country that has operational stealth fighters but with so many countries developing their own, this will certainly change in the near future.

China's New Stealth Jet

China's new Chengdu J-20 aircraft made its first flight on January 11, 2011. It's a fifth generation stealth fighter similar to the US F-22 and F-35 and Russia's T-50. According to a high-ranking official in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, it is expected this jet will become operational in 2017-2019.

The J-20 is a single-seater aircraft powered by two engines. Design features include low jet intakes, a delta wing, forward canard wings, a bubble canopy, a forward chine, and all-moving fins.

Like the F-22 and T-50, the J-20 can supercruise.

Through preliminary photos, it can be seen that the J-20 is certainly larger in size than both the F-22 and the T-50. This means that the J-20 is probably going to be less maneuverable but it will be able to carry more weapons and fuel. Also, according to an Australian defense analyst, Carlo Kopp that the J-20's stealth shape is "without doubt considerably better" than both those two planes.

It is disappointing to note that some people speculate that the Chinese used technology from the downed F-117 of the Kosovo War to develop the J-20. However, according to Xu YongLing, a Chinese test pilot, the aircraft is a "masterpiece" of homegrown innovation and that the F-117 was already "outdated" at the time it was shot down and would not be practical to apply this technology to a next-generation aircraft.