Historic Aircraft: Bell X-1 Breaking the Sound Barrier

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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.

Sherman Mills Fairchild: Aviation Inventor and Entrepreneur

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Born in Oneonta, New York, on April 7, 1896, Sherman Mills Fairchild made a major contribution to the development of the aviation industry with his many inventions. An astute businessman, Fairchild founded more than seventy companies, including the Fairchild Aviation Corporation, the parent company for many of his aviation-related firms. In addition to designing and building aircraft, Fairchild developed aerial photography for commercial and military use, with his inventions for aerial photography being used on NASA Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17.

Some of Sherman’s earliest airplane designs were inspired by the need for an aircraft that could accommodate the aerial photography he was working on. At the time he had been using a World War I Fokker D.VII biplane, with which he undertook his first aerial mapping of a major city – Newark, New Jersey. This proved to be such a success that he was appointed by the Laurentide Paper Company to perform aerial mapping of Canada in 1923. This was followed by an aerial map of Manhattan Island, which led to other cities using aerial mapping as a less expensive, and quicker, alternative to ground surveying. Frustrated by the fact that existing planes lacked the maneuverability that aerial photography required, Fairchild formed the Fairchild Aviation Corporation, based in Long Island, and designed and built the FC-1. The company built and delivered 300 FC-2, the production model of the FC-1, between 1927 and 1930 and during this time, and in subsequent years, Fairchild dominated the aviation industry.

While Fairchild formed, merged, split, sold and rebought his companies over the years, he continued to make significant contributions to the rapidly advancing technology of aviation. His PR-19 was the aircraft of choice for training military pilots prior to World War II, while the aptly nick-named “Flying Boxcar”, the C-82, was used for military transport. Other notable aircraft included the C-119 Flying Boxcar, of which more than 1,100 were produced, the C-123 Provider, and the A-10 Thunderbolt – nicknamed the “Warthog”.

Sherman Mills Fairchild was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979. He had also been awarded fellowships in the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, and received recognition for his accomplishments from the Smithsonian Institution.

Harnessing Landing Power to Cut Noise and Emissions

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Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a team of engineers from the University of Lincoln have confirmed that future aircraft could harness and store energy produced by landing gear, which could then be used to taxi the aircraft – a necessary, but very fuel-wasting, function of air travel. In addition to the fuel-inefficiency of taxiing aircraft, leader of the research, Professor Paul Stewart, noted that emissions and noise pollution caused by jet engines is a huge problem with airports worldwide. Little wonder then that the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) has made engine-less taxiing one of its key objectives for the aviation industry in Europe beyond 2020.

Stewart added that if aircraft produced in the next fifteen to twenty years could incorporate the technology currently being investigated it would be enormously beneficial, particularly for people living in the vicinity of airports. The University of Lincoln’s research is assessing a number of methods of capturing the power generated by a landing airplane. In an interview, Professor Stewart, explained than when an Airbus 320 lands, the combination of its speed and weight produces around three megawatts peak available power. The team of researchers has explored different ways of harnessing that available power, including the interaction between magnets attached to the airplane and copper coils implanted in the runway. To date, many of the ideas have not proven to be feasible, either from a technical point of view or financially, or both. Nonetheless, the study has shown that it’s possible to capture energy in this manner, especially in light of advances being made in developing more-electric, or even all-electric, airplanes.

This collaborative effort between the University of Lincoln and the University of Loughborough is being carried out under the direction of the Airport Energy Technologies Network (AETN) which was established in 2008 by the UK-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to facilitate low-carbon research in the field of aviation.

Sikorsky Aircraft Wins Collier Award

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The National Aeronautics Association states that the Collier Trophy is awarded to the person or organization that has shown “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” The award was named in honor of Robert J. Collier, who was not only the publisher of the Collier’s Weekly Magazine but also president of the Aero Club of America, assisting in forging a future for air sports.

In the year 1911 Collier commissioned an award he named the Aero Club of America Trophy. Sadly Collier passed away in 1918. The Aero Club of America dissolved in 1922, and the National Aeronautics Association took over the award and renamed it. In 1944, the name of the trophy became official and the original trophy has been put on display in the U.S. National Air and Space Museum.

This prestigious award is handed out annually by the president of the NAA, and this year’s winner was Sikorsky Aircraft. It is also the hundredth time the award has been handed out. The Sikorsky X2 helicopter is most definitely a worthy winner.

The Sikorsky X2 is a twin rotor helicopter that is able to reach speeds of up to two hundred and eighty-eight miles per hour, or two hundred and fifty knots. There were four significant features that the engineering and design team wanted to achieve with the Sikorsky X2, namely low vibration, speed, a low work load for the pilot and a low auditory signature. Many shortcomings of high speed helicopters were minimized with the technology used for the Sikorsky X2 by using main rotors that counter rotate. At present the X2 is being designed for the Armed Aerial Scout program run by the army as a light attack aircraft, which will be known as the X2 Raider. The possibilities for the new helicopter are endless, as it could also be looked at for air rescue missions or an aircraft to respond to accident sites.

Vice President of the Sikorsky Research and Engineering division commend that receiving the Collier Trophy was a great honor and that “As the X2 Technology program transitions to its first application, we are confident that the X2™ design has a tremendous future and is scalable for a variety of rotorcraft sizes and applications. This recognition is warm acknowledgement of the great things that can be achieved when the spirit of innovation and dedication to the task are the foundation.”

MIT-Designed Planes Aim for 70% Fuel Reduction

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With possible fuel shortages in the future being a very real cause for concern, coupled with dire observations on the damage fossil fuels are doing to our environment on a world-wide scale right now, much emphasis is being placed on developing alternative, ‘green’ energy sources, as well as finding ways to use the fuel we have in the most efficient way possible. In a project that forms part of a $2.1 million NASA grant, a team led by researchers from MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics have come up with designs for commercial aircraft that will use up to 70 percent less fuel than airliners are currently using, while at the same time reducing noise and nitrogen oxide emissions. Referred to as an ‘N+3’ airplane, denoting three generations from now, its design will incorporate new technologies, such as advanced propulsion systems and innovative airframe configurations, in order to cut back drastically on fuel consumption.

Two designs have been developed by the MIT team: Model D 180-passenger series, which would replace the current Boeing 737 class of aircraft aimed at domestic flights; and the Model H 350-passenger series to replace the Boeing 777 class of aircraft used for international flights. Referred to as the ‘double bubble’ series, the Model D could burn around 50 percent less fuel than the current 737, however, using advanced technology and materials, fuel savings could be as high as 70 percent. Further beneficial features will be the use of bio-fuels as opposed to fossil-fuels, and a slimmer wing design along with a smaller tail resulting in reduced drag.

As the larger of the two models, the Model H makes use of a triangular-shaped hybrid wing body, creating a forward lift and eliminating the need for a tail to balance the airliner, thereby reducing drag. It is calculated that the Model H will also meet the 70 percent fuel reduction target set by NASA, with a reduction of 75 percent in nitrogen oxide emissions. Upon NASA’s approval of the project thus far, researchers will move ahead with the goal of having the new designs in commercial service by 2035, in an effort to meet increasing air travel demands.

Supersonic Aircraft Get Quieter

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One of the many reasons the concord was grounded was because of the massive amount of noise pollution generated as the aircraft continually broke the sound-barrier. But recent research and development efforts seem to be targeted towards getting supersonic aircraft back in the air on a commercial level. What has changed?

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AIRTEC 2008 : Showcasing Aviation Innovation

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If you’re looking for the next big aircraft event to be held in Germany, you’ll want to know more about Airtec. This international aerospace supply fair has been running since 2006 and has already enjoyed massive support, with the fair growing steadily in size each year. The 2007 Airtec fair had scarcely ended before plans began for the 2008 show and now its here!

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Wings Over Houston Air Show

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If you’re looking for some great airplane action in the weeks to come, why not think about attending the Wings Over Houston Air Show? This year marks the 24th annual Ron Carter Wings Over Houston Air Show and, as usual, there will be more than one interesting flight display to see.

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The Cradle of Aviation Museum

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Located in Garden City on New York’s Long Island, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is a great treat for the whole family. Lovers of aviation and aeronautics do well to schedule a trip to this great museum the next time they are in the area. The museum is designed to commemorate Long Island’s long involvement in aviation through the ages and families will find that it is filled with fun and interactive exhibits that appeal to both young and old.

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Book Your Ticket to the Dayton Air Show

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Every year the Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio, is flooded with thousands of people as they attend the Dayton Air Show. A more appropriate venue could not have been chosen. The city was home to the Wright Brothers and so it was in this very area that the first successful flight in a powered plane by Orville and Wilbur Wright took place. This exciting historical aspect of the city’s history is often detailed in a flight exhibition that is provided by the Wright Company.

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