Statistics reveal that in 2013, airplanes spewed up to 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, and it is estimated that, if left unchecked, this is likely to more than triple by the year 2050. Although many countries make efforts to regulate the emissions of cars and trucks, efforts at regulating the aviation industry have been largely unsuccessful. This is a contentious issue for parties who are monitoring the effect of carbon emissions on climate change, particularly in light of the fact that more people than ever are using airline travel and airfreighting goods around the world becomes more commonplace.
The United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is tasked with drawing up a plan to regulate the global aviation industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, but reportedly does not anticipate having this finalized before 2020. The European Union’s attempts to impose CO2 emission taxes on airlines flying through European Union airspace was met with a flood of opposition, halting the proposal in its tracks. Recently the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will be “moving forward with a rulemaking process to propose endangerment and cause or contribute findings regarding aircraft GHG emissions”. ¹
Some airlines are experimenting with biofuels with a measure of success, and this is a potential solution worth pursuing, but airlines need to find ways of burning less of the conventional fuel currently being used. Lighter components in aircraft manufacture, streamlining aircraft designs and developing more efficient engines are ways the aircraft manufacturing industry continues to contribute toward fuel efficiency. By improving routes and timetables, individual airlines can ensure flights are fully utilized and thereby contribute toward fuel efficiency, which from a financial perspective is in their best interests, while at the same time helps in cutting carbon emissions by eliminating under-utilized flights. Surveys of US airlines have shown that the majority are not functioning as efficiently as they could in this regard. It is hoped that the proposed US EPA rules will push airlines to conform to best practices with regard to limiting carbon emissions.
Ever since man first took to the skies in powered aircraft, pilots and aviation engineers have sought to overcome challenges and push perceived boundaries as technology developed. One of the much debated challenges back in the early 1940s was whether it was possible for an aircraft to travel fast enough to break the sound barrier. On October 14, 1947, legendary pilot Chuck Yeager proved it was indeed possible when he pushed the Bell X-1 he was flying to Mach 1.06 (1,100 km/h; 700 mph) going down in history as the first pilot to break the sound barrier.
Nicknamed Glamorous Glennis in honor of Yeager’s wife, the Bell X-1 was built by the Bell Aircraft Company under the direction of a joint supersonic research project run by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the US Army Forces and the US Air Force. The concept for the airplane was developed in 1944 and it was built the following year. The fuselage of the X-1 was shaped like a 0.5-calibre machine gun bullet for stability and the thin wings were designed to reduce drag. As it was only later discovered that the swept-wing design is more efficient for speed, the X-1’s wings were at a 90 degree angle to the fuselage. The pilot was seated inside a confined cockpit in the nose, behind a sloped, framed window, and the airplane was powered by a single XLR-11 engine running on liquid oxygen, alcohol and water.
On the historic sound barrier breaking flight, the supersonic Bell X-1 was drop-launched from a B-29 Superfortress bomber airplane at an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), where it quickly climbed to its test altitude of 43,000 feet (13,000 meters) and proceeded to break the sound barrier before landing on a dry lake bed. In recognition of their achievement, the 1948 Collier Trophy was awarded jointly to Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft, Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, and John Stack of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
As the first in the so-called X-planes, the X-1 set the pattern for future projects, with data collected during its test flights providing essential information for later aircraft designs.
Located in Rexburg, Idaho, the Legacy Flight Museum opened to the public in 2006 offering visitors the opportunity to examine up close some of the historical aircraft that were built to protect the country’s freedom. Started by local aircraft enthusiast John Bagley, the museum collection grew to include a dozen aircraft, all of which are maintained in pristine condition and are airworthy. Every second year the museum hosts an air show with many of the museum’s aircraft taking to the skies, along with aerobatic pilots and their own airplanes. But these classic aircraft are not only dusted off and flown every two years, they are a familiar sight in the skies above Rexburg throughout the year.
The Beechcraft Staggerwing D17S was considered in the 1930s to be a top-of-the-range airplane designed with business executives in mind. With its upper wing further back than the lower wing, each Staggerwing was built by hand and powered by a 450 HP Pratt and Whitney radial engine. When the airplane first hit the market, it was during the depression and considered to be pricy at between US$14,000 and US$17,000, but by the time World War II came around Beechcraft had sold 424 Staggerwing aircraft. The airplanes speed and durability also made it popular in the new sport of air racing. It won the 1933 Texaco Trophy Race, and in 1937 Jackie Cochran set a women’s speed record of 203.9 mph, reaching an altitude of more than 30,000 feet and finishing third in the 1937 Bendix Trophy Race. British diplomat Capt. H.L. Farquhar flew around the world in a Beechcraft Staggerwing Model B17R in 1935, covering a distance of 21,332 miles. Visitors can get a close look at this fantastic airplane that made its way into the record books a number of times.
Another legendary airplane on display is a P-51D Mustang fondly dubbed ‘Ole Yeller’, previously flown by legendary pilot Bob Hoover. Widely considered to be one of the founders of modern aerobatics, Hoover has numerous military medals, and is listed as the third greatest aviator in history in the Centennial of Flight edition of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Other airplanes on display at the Legacy Flight Museum include a Grumman TBM-3 Avenger, a North American T-6 Texan, a Howard DGA-15, an L-52 Grasshopper, a P-63 King Cobra and an O-1 Bird Dog. The Legacy Flight Museum is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm and From Labor Day to Memorial Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 9am to 5pm weather permitting.
To mark a century of training the Navy’s top pilots, and more than 50 years since the opening of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Pensacola Naval Air Station held a gala on September 20, 2014, attended by a host of dignitaries, some of whom were once trainees at the legendary institution. The event featured a slide presentation paying tribute to the first naval aviators, as well as a speech by Jeb Bush Jr., grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, during which he read a letter from his grandfather. Also present was former US Navy Blue Angels pilot, now Aviation Museum director, retired Navy Captain Bob Rasmussen, who expressed his hope that the museum will continue to expand, as it has since it opened in 1962.
Located just southwest of the Pensacola city limits the Naval Air Station Pensacola is often referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation”. It is the home base of the Blue Angels, and the initial training base for Navy, Marine and Coast Guard pilots, as well as Naval Flight Officers. It is also home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, offering visitors the opportunity to discover the history of naval aviation through exhibits, multimedia displays, an IMAX theater and more.
The entrance hall of the museum features a static display of an F14 Tomcat, with bronze statues of support personnel preparing the iconic aircraft for takeoff. Upon entering the museum itself, visitors will see superbly restored vintage aircraft suspended overhead. There are more than 150 aircraft at the museum, ranging from early World War I through to modern day. Large-scale models of aircraft carriers, complete with aircraft on their flat decks, give visitors an idea of the immense size of these craft.
On most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, between March and November, the Blue Angels can be seen practicing in the skies above the museum. Practice starts at 11:30 am and continues for about an hour. There is a viewing area with bleachers and visitors may bring lawn chairs, although it should be noted that for security reasons, no backpacks, daypacks etc. are permitted in the area during practice.
Entrance to the museum and to watch the Blue Angels practice sessions is free of charge. For a fee, visitors can watch an aviation themed movie in the IMAX theater, or experience what it’s like to be a jet plane pilot in the Flight Simulator. Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum website for more information and to plan your visit.
Conservationists are sure to give the thumbs-up to a new plan being implemented by Dayton International Airport in Montgomery County, Ohio, to plant prairie grass at airports in an effort to prevent birds colliding with airplanes. The reasoning behind the strategy is that large birds, such as geese, which can cause significant damage in a bird strike, tend to steer clear of tall grasses which may conceal predators, so planting prairie grasses in strategic places, such as takeoff and landing paths may keep the birds away from these areas.
Similar measures have met with some success at Dresden International Airport in Saxony, Germany, where grass has been left to grow long for most of the year. As they are unable to detect their prey in the longer grass, raptors no longer see the area as viable hunting grounds. Records reveal that there has been a notable and continuous decline in the number of bird species involved in bird strikes at Dresden International Airport.
In an effort to minimize noise pollution and for safety reasons, airports generally have large areas of unused land around their runways. Add to this the fact that airports are most often placed on the outskirts of urban centers, and it’s easy to see why they are attractive to birds, many of which may have been displaced by urban encroachment. Airport management teams around the world continue to investigate the best ways to prevent birds and airplanes colliding. Deterrent measures include recorded predator calls, sonic cannons or similar noise generating equipment to scare birds off, as well as trained falcons and dogs to take on the role of predator. Habitat modifying methods include using insecticides to kill off food sources that attract insect-eating birds (with obvious risks to the wellbeing of the birds), covering nearby ponds and wetlands with nets to discourage waterfowl, removing shrubs and trees that may provide nesting sites, and removing seed-bearing plants.
The Dayton International Airport plans to plant prairie grasses on up to 300 acres of its 2,200 acres of open space by the end of the year. Additional advantages of the prairie grass is its capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide, its ability to prevent water runoff and the fact that it only needs to be mowed every three years. Hopefully, these measures will achieve the desired results in preventing bird strikes.
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.
As drone technology advances, the call for regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) by various parties is becoming more urgent. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been given a deadline of September 2015 to compile rules and protocols to regulate the use of UAVs in American airspace, but recent reports suggest this deadline will not be met as the regulatory body attempts to address all issues related to the use of drones. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, and are designed for a variety of uses, making it impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all set of rules to their use. The FAA anticipates that there will be as many as 7,500 active UAVs in US skies within five year’s time, with tens of billions of dollars being invested in drone technology worldwide.
For the FAA to regulate drones to the extent that aircraft are regulated, they would need to set standards and certification for drone designs and manufacture; mandate and approve technology to avert collisions between UAVs and airplanes; set standards for air-to-ground communication; establish criteria for training drone controllers; and a host of other complex factors.
Many are concerned that unregulated civilian, industry and commercial drones pose serious safety and privacy issues. Currently, commercial use of drones in the US is prohibited by the FAA, but when it comes to hobbyists the rules are not clear. In early July two drones came perilously close to colliding with a New York Police Department helicopter near the George Washington Bridge. The incident took place after midnight and had it had not been for the quick thinking of the helicopter pilot, could have turned out badly. As it was, the pilot followed the drones along the Hudson River to where they landed and NYPD arrested the operators of the drones, charging them with first degree reckless endangerment. Their lawyer compared their actions as being similar to flying a kite, as the UAVs apparently do not have the ability to fly above 300 feet, a claim that onlookers dispute as an unnamed source noted the drones in question can reach heights of 5,000 feet. Nonetheless, the owners of the UAVs appeared unaware of the risks involved in their newfound hobby – and therein lies one of the challenges the FAA will need to consider as they draft regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States.
With the aim of simplifying air traffic management and making the airport more efficient, Australia’s Sydney Airport recently unveiled its ground-based augmentation system (GBAS) manufactured and marketed by Honeywell as the SmartPath® Precision Landing System. As a joint project of Qantas and Airservices, the GBAS has been tested on more than 750 Airbus A380 and Boeing 737-800 approaches since December 2012, leading up to the launch of the system which was attended by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Airservices acting CEO Mark Rodwell, Quantas chief financial officer Gareth Evans, Honeywell Aerospace representative Brian Davis and Sydney Airport CEO Kerrie Mather.
Evans noted that the system would be beneficial to Quantas, which was the first airline to take delivery of a GBAS-enabled aircraft in 2005. With Sydney Airport receiving international and domestic Quantas flights around the clock, it is anticipated that, over time, the fuel savings to the carrier will be significant. As the system is installed in other airports around Australia, these savings will become even more meaningful.
Using a ground-based transmitter, the GBAS provides GPS positioning data to the GBAS-enabled flight management system of approaching aircraft, allowing for precision approach and landing, within a meter of the runway center line. One GBAS has the capability of facilitating up to 26 instrument approaches simultaneously within a radius of 42 km. Also, the GBAS is not prone to noise signal interference, with maintenance being less expensive than the current instrument landing system (ILS). The use of this state-of-the-art technology promises increased airport capacity, a reduction in weather-related delays and a decrease in air traffic noise, all of which translates into reducing costs for the aviation industry.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is working with the International GBAS Working Group (IGWG), as are numerous other countries, in standardizing certification and procedures for the use of GBAS around the world.
Constructed in early-1942, and delivered to the 91st Bomb Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine, in September of that year, the legendary Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, Memphis Belle has a long and fascinating history. The aircraft was second B-17 to carry out twenty-five combat missions in World War II with her crew intact. After her missions in France, Brittany, Netherlands and Germany, Memphis Belle returned across the Atlantic to carry out a war bonds promotion in the United States. Today, Memphis Belle is undergoing an extensive ‘face-lift’ at the National Museum of the USAF situated at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
The B-17’s name Memphis Belle was accompanied by artwork of a woman originally drawn by pinup artist George Petty and reproduced by 91st Bomb Group artist Tony Starcer. The name was in honor of pilot Robert K. Morgan’s girlfriend from Memphis, and inspired by the name of a riverboat in the film Lady for a Night. The aircraft’s nose art would eventually include an image of a bomb for each mission, along with eight swastikas representing the number of German aircraft downed by the Memphis Belle crew. Moreover, the names of the crew were stenciled on the aircraft at the end of her tour of duty.
After the war had ended, the Mayor of Memphis, Walter Chandler, arranged for the purchase of Memphis Belle where in 1949 she was put on display at the National Guard armory. Left outdoors for the next three decades, the B-17 was vandalized by souvenir hunters and battered by the elements. Various restoration and preservation efforts in the years following the 1980s were largely unsuccessful and in October 2005 the historical aircraft was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force for restoration – a process which reportedly may take up to ten years to complete.