The aviation industry continues to strive to be in the forefront of industries with regard to managing carbon emissions. To this end the industry aims to attain carbon-neutral growth by the year 2020 as laid out in a resolution dubbed “CNG2020″, as well as working toward cutting emission by up to 50% by 2050 in comparison with 2005. Biofuels are expected to play a significant role in meeting these goals as research and development continues to turn up new biofuel options, and Boeing recently announced that it is partnering with South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG to produce biofuel for aviation from the seeds of a new tobacco plant hybrid.
The new hybrid, named Solaris, is virtually nicotine-free and has a high seed yield. At this time the biofuel will be made from the seed only, but it is anticipated that with the development of new manufacturing processes, at a future date the entire plant may be used to produce biofuel. In a press release from SAA’s Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, Ian Cruickshank, it was noted that using hybrid tobacco allows the project to draw on the knowledge of South Africa‘s tobacco farmers, while giving them the alternative of growing a product the doesn’t encourage smoking. It is anticipated that the new biofuel will be in use in the next few years.
While it’s been proven that biofuels are workable, many onlookers have noted that price is likely to be an issue in implementing them on a large scale. Nobody is likely to take issue with existing tobacco fields being turned into biofuel producing areas, as is the case with food crops, but the question remains whether tobacco farms will be as economically viable producing biofuel crops. Also, various regions will need to find the biofuel crop that works best for them, for example Saudi Arabia is experimenting with a plant that can be grown in the desert and watered with sea water, while other options are algae-based biofuel, or biofuel generated from discarded cooking oil and other waste. Nevertheless, the focus on biofuel is encouraging as it raises awareness of the need to find viable alternatives to fossil fuels.
One of the highlights of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, is the historic “Spruce Goose” – the one and only Hughes H-4 Hercules ever manufactured. With a wingspan of 320 feet and measuring 219 feet long, the H-4 is the largest flying boat ever to be constructed, and although it only ever made one flight on November 2, 1947, it proved that an airplane of that magnitude is able to fly. Due to restrictions on the use of aluminum and other metals during World War II, the H-4 was built almost entirely from birch wood and was designed to transport troops and goods across the Atlantic, but due to delays in its manufacture, the war was over before it could be put into service.
With Allied shipping across the Atlantic Ocean coming under attack by German U-boats, in 1942 the US War Department started investigating other methods of bulk transport between Britain and the United States. The concept of the flying boat was initially the idea of shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser, who collaborated with aviator Howard Hughes to design what was then known as the HK-1 – an aircraft with the cargo capacity of 150,000 pounds. Critics and the media dubbed the proposed aircraft the “Spruce Goose” (a nickname Hughes reportedly detested) and the “Flying Lumberyard”, being a reference to the fact that it was primarily constructed from wood.
A contract for the development of the HK-1 was issued in 1942 with a deadline of under two years for the manufacture of three aircraft. The first (and only) aircraft was produced in 16 months, but Kaiser withdrew from the project and Hughes continued with the project, renaming the aircraft the H-4 Hercules and entering into a new contract with the government for a single prototype. Built at the Hughes Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, the H-4 was shipped in sections to Pier E in Long Beach, California, where it was assembled with a hangar being erected around it.
The “Spruce Goose” never did make it into military service as it was completed after WWII was over. Nonetheless, it remains as testimony to the innovative composite technology and other revolutionary inventions of the time, and is a fascinating centerpiece at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.