Technology Development – Turning Seawater into Jet Fuel

Converting the carbon dioxide and hydrogen into hydrocarbons that can then be used to develop JP-5 fuel stock. The technology has an economically viable widespread applicability.

This article first published in the New Energy & Fuel on September 25, 2012

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are developing a process to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce hydrogen gas (H2) from seawater.  Then they catalytically convert the CO2 and H2 into jet fuel by a gas-to-liquids process.

The NRL effort has successfully developed and demonstrated technologies for the recovery of the CO2 and the production of the H2 from seawater using an electrochemical acidification cell, and the conversion of the CO2 and H2 to hydrocarbons that can be used to produce jet fuel.

Electrochemical Acidification Carbon Capture Skid. Click image for more info.

NRL research chemist Dr. Heather Willauer said, “The potential payoff is the ability to produce JP-5 jet fuel stock at sea reducing the logistics tail on fuel delivery with no environmental burden and increasing the Navy’s energy security and independence.”  JP-5 is very close chemically to kerosene and diesel.

Willauer continues, “The reduction and hydrogenation of CO2 to form hydrocarbons is accomplished using a catalyst that is similar to those used for Fischer-Tropsch reduction and hydrogenation of carbon monoxide. By modifying the surface composition of iron catalysts in fixed-bed reactors, NRL has successfully improved CO2 conversion efficiencies up to 60%.”

Technically, the NRL has developed a two-step laboratory process to convert the CO2 and H2 gathered from the seawater to liquid hydrocarbons. In the first step, an iron-based catalyst can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60% and decrease unwanted methane production from 97% to 25% in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). Then in step two the olefins can be oligomerized (a chemical process that converts monomers, molecules of low molecular weight, to a compound of higher molecular weight by a finite degree of polymerization) into a liquid containing hydrocarbon molecules in the carbon C9-C16 range, suitable for conversion to jet fuel by a nickel-supported catalyst reaction.

The raw materials are abundant.  CO2 is an abundant carbon source in seawater, with the concentration in the ocean about 140 times greater than that in air. Two to three percent of the CO2 in seawater is dissolved CO2 gas in the form of carbonic acid, one percent is carbonate, and the remaining 96 to 97% is bound in bicarbonate. When processes are developed to take advantage of the higher weight per volume concentration of CO2 in seawater, coupled with more efficient catalysts for the heterogeneous catalysis of CO2 and H2, a viable sea-based synthetic fuel process could be developed.

The NRL effort made significant advances developing carbon capture technologies in the laboratory. In the summer of 2009 a standard commercially available chlorine dioxide cell and an electro-deionization cell were modified to function as electrochemical acidification cells. Using the novel modified cells both dissolved and bound CO2 were recovered from seawater by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 gas at a seawater pH below 6. In addition to CO2, the cells produced H2 at the cathode as a by-product.

Note that the oceans offer a huge reserve of raw materials for fuel production.

The completed studies of 2009 assessed the effects of the acidification cell configuration, seawater composition, flow rate, and current on seawater pH levels. The data were used to determine the feasibility of this approach for efficiently extracting large quantities of CO2 from seawater. From these feasibility studies NRL successfully scaled-up and integrated the carbon capture technology into an independent skid, or “lab on a pallet’ so to speak, called a “carbon capture skid” to process larger volumes of seawater and evaluate the overall system design and efficiencies.

The carbon capture skid’s major component is a three-chambered electrochemical acidification cell. The cell uses small quantities of electricity to exchange hydrogen ions produced at the anode with sodium ions in the seawater stream. As a result, the seawater is acidified. At the cathode, water is reduced to H2 gas and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is formed. This basic solution may be re-combined with the acidified seawater to return the seawater to its original pH with no additional chemicals. Current and continuing research using the carbon capture skid demonstrates the continuous efficient production of H2 and the recovery of up to 92% of the CO2 from seawater.

The carbon capture skid has been tested using seawater from the Gulf of Mexico to simulate conditions that will be encountered in actual open ocean processing.

The NRL group is working now on process optimization and scale-up.  Initial studies predict that jet fuel from seawater would cost in the range of $3 to $6 per gallon to produce.

Willauer points out, “With such a process, the Navy could avoid the uncertainties inherent in procuring fuel from foreign sources and/or maintaining long supply lines.”  During the government’s fiscal year 2011, the U.S. Navy Military Sea Lift Command, the primary supplier of fuel and oil to the U.S. Navy fleet, delivered nearly 600 million gallons of fuel to Navy vessels underway, operating 15 fleet replenishment ships around the globe.

The Navy’s fuel supply system works at sea, while underway and is a costly endeavor in terms of logistics, time, fiscal constraints and threats to national security and the sailors at sea.

It’s a brilliantly insightful use of the environment.  Moreover the technology will help clean the seawater of an overcharge of CO2 and that is actually a recycling of fossil fuel additions to the environment.

Entrepreneurs are going to realize the Navy’s work could be an industrial boon to fuel production as well as shorten the carbon cycle.  While the Navy thinks $3 to $6 for production cost, the private sector would very likely drive that cost far further down.

It’s not hard to imagine that in a few years most of the oil business might simply be at sea, harvesting CO2 and H2, making petroleum products from a recycling of the CO2 from the past use of fossil fuels.

Many may complain that the military is a waste, poor policy, or other notions that fly in the face of human nature.  But in the past few decades the U.S. military, filled with volunteers, can make significant contributions, and now perhaps solve what has been thought to be an intractable problem.

3-D Tools & Avionics Manufacturing

By Graham Warwick
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Virtual reality has become a commonplace engineering tool for major aerospace manufacturers, where three-dimensional visualization systems are routinely used to aid design reviews.

But further down the supply chain, simulation environments into which designers can immerse themselves to navigate a structure or walk a cabin are too expensive—and unnecessary if what the company produces fits on a desktop, or in the hand of an engineer.

Avionics manufacturer Rockwell Collins decided to develop its own low-cost 3-D visualization system, initially to perform virtually what previously was done physically: to visually inspect new hardware designs to assess their manufacturability.

The company’s goal in developing the Virtual Product Model (VPM) was to find manufacturing problems earlier in the design cycle, when new avionics boxes are still on the computer screen and before expensive prototypes have been produced.

“3-D virtual reality has been used at the prime level for over a decade, and we recognize its power for communicating and understanding designs and the impact of designs,” says Jim Lorenz, manager of advanced industrial engineering. “Large-scale fully immersive systems are appropriate at the platform level, but at the box level, on a tabletop, their expense is outside what we could deal with.”

Rockwell Collins’s solution was to find commercial software that could be tailored to provide a low-cost way to take product data from its computer-aided design (CAD) system, convert it to 3-D and put it into a virtual environment “without specialist skills or vast expense,” says Kevin Fischer, manager of manufacturing technology pursuits.

Using 3-D glasses and a motion-capture system, an engineer can manipulate the virtual model of an avionics box, inspecting it from all angles to make sure it can be manufactured in the factory or repaired in the field. Several people can view the 3-D model collaboratively during a design review, or it can be sent to individual engineers and viewed in 2-D format on desktop workstations.

“We take the CAD model into the VPM and put it in a format that does not need the software to run. We send an executable file, the engineers open it, inspect the model and determine what its manufacturability is by looking at it,” Fischer says.

The basic requirement is to perform virtually—via 3-D models–the manufacturability assessments previously conducted manually using physical prototypes. And “there are some unique things the system can do,” he says. These include an “augmented reality” mode that allows the user to change the 3-D model’s scale “and go between the circuit cards to see things we can’t catch physically.”

In augmented reality, the user’s hand as represented in the virtual environment, its motion captured by cameras, can be varied in size from that of a large man to that of a small woman to help uncover potential accessibility problems.

The VPM system is now in day-to-day use with new designs. A “couple of hundred” designs have gone through the process and Rockwell Collins puts the return on its investment at 800% in terms of the number of hours required to fix manufacturability issues discovered virtually in the 3-D model versus physically in a hardware prototype.

Although the CAD data is reduced in resolution when it is converted to a 3-D model for visualization, “we have yet to run into a [manufacturability] problem [in the model] and there not turn out to be a correspondingly real problem [in the hardware],” says Lorenz.

Expanding the capability is next on the agenda. One direction is to take the now-manual assessment process and automate it by bringing in rules-based analysis software. “We are starting to think about how to take the capability to visually inspect a design and apply appropriate rules to get a level of automation where we find things we don’t catch by manual inspection,” says Fischer.

Another direction is to pull more data into the visualization environment for use during design reviews, “information such as cost at the piece-part level, so we can see the implications of design decisions,” says Lorenz. “We are also doing some work at the conceptual design level. We would like to use VPM two or three times during the design cycle, but we are not there yet.”

The company also is looking at using VPM as a basis for developing 3-D work instructions for use on the factory floor, and for the technical documents used by field service representatives to troubleshoot problems. “Their key interest is getting down to the circuit-card level, while [in manufacturing] we work with boxes,” says Fischer.

Rockwell Collins also would like to expand the VPM beyond mechanical CAD data. “We want to do electrical, et cetera, in the same environment by pulling together various types of models,” says Fischer. “Anything you can do in PowerPoint, this can do better. But we need to beef up the electrical CAD side of the equation.”

Next Generation Jammer

By Graham Warwick
Source: AWIN First
July 08, 2013                       Credit: Boeing

Raytheon has been selected to develop the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) pod to replace the ALQ-99 tactical jamming system now carried by U.S Navy Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft.

The company has been awarded a $279.4 million contract for the 22-month technology development phase of the program. NGJ is planned to become operational in 2020, providing increased jamming agility and precision and expanded broadband capability for greater threat coverage.

Raytheon was one of four contractors involved in the 33-month technology maturation phase of the NGJ program. The others were BAE Systems, ITT Exelis and Northrop Grumman, but the Defense Department contract announcement says only three bids were received.

Under the TD phase, Raytheon will “design and build critical technologies that will be the foundational blocks of NGJ,” says Naval Air Systems Command. The complete system will be flight tested on the EA-18G in the follow-on, 54-month engineering and manufacturing development phase.

Raytheon confirms receipt of the award and says it offered “an innovative, next-generation solution that meets current customer requirements and potential future needs.” All the competitors based their designs for the NGJ pod on active, electronically scanned array jammer antennas.

Remotely Controlling Robots

Astronaut aboard the ISS successfully controls a robot on earth for the first time

By Nathan Ingraham  on July   3, 2013 04:35 pm  |  Email@NateIngraham

international space station

NASA has completed the first successful test in which an astronaut aboard the International Space Station was able to control a robot more than 400 miles away back on the surface of the Earth. According to, the June 17th test marks the first time astronauts were able to control a robot on Earth, an advancement that will hopefully pave the way for similar control over robots deployed on Mars or the moon. The simulated test consisted of astronaut Chris Cassidy controlling a K10 rover at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA; Cassidy successfully deployed a polymide-film antenna while dealing with simulated terrain via a real-time video feed.

“It was a great success… and the team was thrilled with how smoothly everything went,” said Jack Burns, director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research. The trial was a test for a potential deployment of radio antennas on the far side of the moon, a mission that would utilize the same sort of technology used in last month’s trial. But more test are needed before such a deployment — NASA says it’ll conduct follow-up test communications between the rover and the ISS in late July and early August.

Analyzing Drone Footage

Military turns to ESPN to help analyze drone footage

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY | 11:54p.m. EST December 19, 2012

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Can SportsCenter teach the military something about combating terrorists?

After rapidly expanding the number of drones around the world, the Air Force is now reaching out to ESPN and other experts in video analysis to keep up with the flood of footage the unmanned aircraft are transmitting.

“They’re looking at anything and everything they can right now,” said Air Force Col. Mike Shortsleeve, commander of a unit here that monitors drone videos.

The remote-controlled aircraft are mounted with cameras that transmit real-time video of terrorism suspects to military analysts in the USA.

The amount of video streaming into this base, one of a number of sites that monitors and analyzes the images, is immense. Drone video transmissions rose to 327,384 hours last year, up from 4,806 in 2001.

Given the huge amount of feeds, the Air Force has launched an aggressive effort to seek out technology or techniques that will help them process video without adding more people to stare at monitors.

“We need to be careful we don’t drown in the data,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and a senior military scholar at the Air Force Academy.

Air Force officials have met with the sports cable network ESPN to discuss how it handles large amounts of video that stream in. The visit resulted in no technological breakthroughs, but helped in developing training and expertise, the Air Force said.

Here at Langley, Air Force analysts sit for hours at a stretch in a vast room that is illuminated only by bank after bank of monitors. The drones are piloted elsewhere, often at a base in Nevada, but the video arrives here. The video is analyzed and fused with other types of intelligence, such as still photos or communications intercepts.

Much of what drones do now are called “pattern of life” missions which involve staring down at a compound for days. That information can help avoid civilian casualties, for example, by determining when children leave for school every day before a raid is launched.

It can also tell military analysts when something seems amiss, perhaps signaling the arrival of a terrorist leader. It’s time consuming work that could be made more efficient if there were technology that could automate the monitoring of videos, looking for signs that seem out of the ordinary.

“The real value added would be if I could have that tool go back and say, ‘How many times has this vehicle appeared in this geographic area over the last 30 days?’ and it automatically searches volumes of full-motion video,” said Col. Jeffrey Kruse, commander of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.

The importance of video analysis is apparent in the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It took 6,000 hours of surveillance video to pinpoint the location of the al-Qaeda leader who oversaw a bloody insurrection in Iraq as drones followed the movements of his known associates. On June 7, 2006, two U.S. Air Force jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on the building in which he was located in Iraq.

“You can’t catch bad guys unless you know where they are and what they’re doing,” Deptula said.

Nothing can replace human analysis but due to high operational traffic tons of data is available and neither analysts neither time is enough to review. An obvious solution is automating the gathering and analysis of data which can further isolate the areas for human perusal.

Text, object and facial recognition tolls are already available and DARPA’s programs like Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT) and Persistent Stare Exploitation and Analysis System (PerSEAS) wil enable the analysis of the data gathered from multiple sources.

Flying Blind

Business | 12/13/2012 @ 11:40AM | 577 views | Forbes

Flying Blind No Longer

Dale SmithDale Smith, BusinessAviation

It’s 1.30 a.m. as the large-cabin business jet begins its circling approach to an unfamiliar airport located in mountainous terrain. The latest weather observation tells the crew there’s light rain/snow and, yes, fog in the area. Not long ago the flight would have been forced to divert to an alternate airport hundreds of miles away. Not tonight.

Even though the Captain can’t see outside his windscreen, his aircraft’s synthetic vision system (SVS) is giving him a “daylight view” of the airport and surrounding terrain.

Synthetic Vision Is Real

Synthetic vision systems were created by NASA and the U.S. Air Force back in the late 1970s to improve cockpit situational awareness, especially when operating in reduced visibility at low altitudes. Today it’s found in practically every new commercial, business and private aircraft. If your airplane doesn’t have it, there are plenty of companies, including Aspen Avionics, Garmin, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Universal Avionics, that offer retrofit SVS solutions.

Using a combination of GPS accuracy, high-speed processors and high-resolution digital terrain maps, including data from the Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) — another reason why we should have never scrapped the Shuttles — SVS or Syn-Viz creates a realistic, 3D illustration of what you’d see outside the aircraft. Known obstacles, buildings, mountains, etc. are all rendered on the pilot’s primary flight display (PFD). Colors are added to signify the height of surrounding obstacles and terrain. If the ground turns red, you’re dead. More sophisticated systems up the information by adding traffic and navigation symbology. But I’ll save those for another time.

Enhanced Vision: Real Views In Real Time

While Syn-Viz uses stored databases and GPS location information to create its “synthetic” views, Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS) use active infrared cameras (sensors) or even millimeter-wave radar to show a real-time view of what’s directly in front of the aircraft. This gives EVS the capability to display transient obstacles like vehicles, animals, construction cranes — things that probably weren’t there 10 minutes ago, let alone years ago when the Syn-Viz database was developed.

And because EVS is real-time, it’s extremely beneficial for improving safety and awareness during ground operations. Too many runway incursion incidents each year are caused when crews become confused in low-visibility conditions and taxi onto the wrong runway. EVS cuts though fog, smoke and light rain so pilots can easily see taxi and runway markers, signs, ground vehicles and animals, which may have found their way through an airport fence. Astronics‘ subsidiary Max-Viz produces new enhanced vision systems and aftermarket kits for large and small aircraft, including emergency use helicopters.

Best Of Both Worlds

Many aircraft owner/operators are installing both display technologies in their aircraft to give their flight crews the best situational awareness possible. The next short step forward will be a combined SVS/EVS system that will present richly detailed images not only on the instrument panel but also on the Heads Up Display, where they can be overlaid on the real-world view through the windscreen. These new enhancements are making commercial and business aviation safer, and they are allowing unhindered access to airports in conditions that pilots would otherwise consider unreasonable or impractical. That means increased aircraft utility, fewer delays, peace of mind for passengers and crew alike, plus unprecedented enhancements to safety.

In future articles, I will continue exploring these new flight deck and cabin technologies as well as the companies that produce them.

Biz Jet

Business | 12/10/2012 @ 1:56PM | 472 views | Forbes

Biz Jet Perspective: Embraer Phenom 300 — A Truly Phenomenal Light Jet

Kevin O’Leary, BusinessAviation

Just over a decade ago, Brazilian firm Embraer entered the business jet market with phenomenal success. Since then, Embraer has made equally significant inroads as a designer and manufacturer of regional jets.

In the past, commercial airframers have attempted to take their airliners to the corporate market with sometimes disastrous results. Embraer vaulted the trend. It initially translated its experience developing highly efficient airliners to the corporate jet market using airliner adaptations. For example, the company’s first business aircraft was the Legacy, an executive-configured version of one of Embraer’s most popular airliners, the ERJ135. Originally designed for the thin-margin regional airline market, this large-cabin jet had built-in operational efficiencies that allowed it to compete head-to-head with significantly smaller regional jets.

As a business aircraft, those airliner qualities proved particularly beneficial: The Legacy offered a huge cabin, midsize jet price tag, reliability, maintainability and excellent operating economy. Its success led to a commitment to develop an entire family of corporate jets specifically designed for the business aircraft market. The first was the Phenom 100, closely followed by the slightly larger and more capable Phenom 300. With the new models, Embraer entered a highly competitive light jet market. Even though its competitors have 30 or more years of history behind them, Embraer is not only succeeding, it is thriving.

I compared the Phenom 300 with new jets priced between $7 million to $10 million dollars.


The list price for the 2012 Phenom 300 is $8.76 million.  Entering a new design in an entrenched market is difficult because of the allocation of research and development costs.  The long-term competition has already paid for their R&D, providing them the opportunity to discount and still maintain target margins.  Embraer, however, has the advantage of lower labor costs, which allows it to be price competitive.

Cabin & Baggage

When I sat in the Phenom 300 for the first time, I was impressed. The height, width and length combine to achieve the best overall cabin volume, but it also felt roomier – more like a midsize-cabin jet. The ramp presence was similar to that of a midsize-cabin aircraft with its substantial airstair and higher-than-typical height above the ground.

The baggage is the best in its class. There is enough space to fit 22 standard carry-on bags in the belly, plus additional storage inside the cabin. The flexibility of the baggage door allows for efficient use of the space.


The Phenom 300 stands out with excellent performance departing or arriving at difficult mountainous airports. The one in Aspen, Colorado, for example, has long been one of the trickiest airports to negotiate. Most lights jets don’t have the range to reach the East Coast from Denver, so they are even less likely to meet Aspen’s challenges. The Phenom 300 has that special capability to fly from Aspen with four passengers nonstop to New York. Additionally, the aircraft is quick. On a typical 700-statute-mile business trip, the Phenom 300 lands just three minutes behind the fastest jet in its category, and it will use 13% less fuel than its top competitor.

With speed, economy and performance like that, it is no wonder that two major fractional providers have decided to add this aircraft to their fleets. Flight Options, which currently operates more than 17 Phenom 300s, ordered 100 with options for 50 more; and NetJets, which will place Phenom 300s in operation in 2013, ordered 50 with options for 75 more.

Embraer delivered 24 Phenom 300s this year, and as the Embraer name becomes more familiar to corporate buyers, this aircraft will likely become the best seller in its category.  The Phenom 300’s outstanding performance will undoubtedly ensure its success in the years to come.

Future Air Travel

In Depth| 7 November 2012 | BBC Future

Radical planes take shape

Steven Ashley – is a freelance science/technology writer and editor. Currently a contributing editor at both Scientific American and SAE Automotive Engineering International magazines, he also contributes frequently to The New York Times, and

Engineers and designers are giving commercial aircraft a makeover, in a bid to make them faster, greener and more efficient. 


Look up into the skies today at a passing aeroplane and the view is not that much different to the one you would have seen 60 years ago. Then and now, most airliners have two wings, a cigar-shaped fuselage and a trio of vertical and horizontal stabilizers at the tail. If it isn’t broke, the mantra has been, why fix it, particularly when your design needs to travel through the air at several hundred miles an hour packed with people.

But that conservative view could soon change. Rising fuel prices, increasingly stringent pollution limits, as well as a surge in demand for air travel, mean plane designers are going back to their drawing boards. And, now, radical new shapes and engine technologies are beginning to emerge, promising the biggest shake-up in air travel since de Haviland introduced the first commercial jet airliner in 1952.

Of course, it would be wrong to say nothing has changed in the last few decades, says Rich Wahls, an aerodynamicist at Nasa’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.  “New model airliners don’t come out every year like cars, but it’s not as if they haven’t been evolving under the skin the whole time. There’s so much more technology in there nowadays.”

Earlier improvements went mostly unnoticed because they focused on building better and quieter turbine engines with higher performance and improved fuel consumption. There have also been huge strides in computer controls and fly-by-wire systems, which make a big difference to the pilot, but not to the passengers. And in recent years, the biggest development has been the use of strong, but lightweight plastics and composite materials rather than metals, reducing the weight of planes and the amount of fuel they need to burn. This has also allowed the development of “radical” new planes like the giant Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner.

But despite these advances, aviation engineers know there is still much to be done. Take fuel prices, for instance, which have soared in recent years. Despite modern planes being 60% to 70% more efficient than those built 60 years ago, aviation fuel expenditures now account for a quarter of an airlines operating expenses, placing them on a par with labor costs. In 2011, large US air carriers paid half again as much for fuel as what they paid in 2000. Add the fact that global airline travel is expected to grow to 3.3 billion annually by 2014 (up one third from 2009), and it’s clear why engineers are searching for new ways to boost performance.

Shock test

One of the biggest efforts to rethink the airplane is being conducted by Nasa’s Subsonic Fixed-Wing program, a collaboration between the US aerospace agency and industrial partners including Boeing, GE, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney, as well as academic institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’re looking to see if we can develop technologies that can get us yet another 60 to 70% improvement in fuel efficiency,” says Wahls. In addition, the project wants to engineer new designs with a 71-decibel decrease in noise emissions and a four-fifths fall in nitrogen oxide pollutants from current standards. And, if these kinds of goals weren’t already aggressive enough, the team wants any new technology to enter service between 2030 and 2035 – a mere blink of an eye in an industry in which commercial aircraft can have multi-decade life spans.

“We are trying to determine which technologies are worth pursuing; those that might get us anywhere near our goals,” says Wahls’ boss, Ruben Del Rosario, subsonic fixed-wing program manager.

Planes under investigation by Nasa range from the extreme to the slightly more conventional. For example, Boeing’s Sugar Volt is a design that came about as part of the manufacturers Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (Sugar) project. The design – like many new concepts – is based around the idea of maximizing the plane’s lift. This reduces the amount of power needed to keep the plane in the air, as well as the amount of fuel it must burn.

The Sugar Volt does this by using very long, narrow, flexible wings. They are so long that engineers needed to brace them with under-wing truss support struts, making the aircraft resemble the Piper Cub and other light, high-winged planes. The SugarVolt’s wings are extended in order to increase lift, allowing shorter take-off distances and requiring less power in flight. They are so long, in fact, that the Boeing designers may have to fit them with hinges so that they could fit in existing airports and boarding gates.

Burning up

There are, however, are other ways to improve performance than just making longer wings. A team from MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, put forward the D8 for consideration by Nasa. This “double-bubble” aircraft design, features a double-wide fuselage composed of two standard body cylinders melded together side-by-side, as well as low-swept wings that cut drag and weight. The idea of the wider body shape is to increase lift generated by the fuselage, rather than it being mostly dead weight slung between two wings. The extra lift and reduced drag cuts back on the quantity of fuel that the engines must burn. If the jet were built today from standard aluminum alloys it could provide a 50% reduction in fuel use, according to the MIT designers; a low-mass polymer-composite version could give 70% efficiency gains. In addition, because the D8’s turbine engines sit on top of the fuselage in a box-shaped tail, they would cut the amount of engine noise broadcast to the ground.

The D8’s idea for generating greater lift is taken to an extreme in another design called the N3-X hybrid wing-body airplane, which Nasa developed in-house. At first glance, the N3-X looks a lot like a so-called flying wing design, used by planes such as the US Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber. These comprise a single, thick triangular wing that enclose all of the plane’s contents – cockpit, stores, engines, fuel tanks and flight surfaces. But, unlike the B-2 flying wing, the N3-X hybrid wing-body also features two thin, rather conventional wings attached to the sides of its ultra-wide fuselage.

The primary advantage of the hybrid, or blended, wing-body design is better fuel efficiency, Del Rosario says. Like a flying wing, the hybrid aircraft produces lift with its entire aerodynamic airframe, thus ridding itself of the drag associated with the cylindrical fuselage and the tail surfaces of a conventional plane. As with the D8, the more lift that can be produced overall, the less effort is needed from the engines, which in turn means less fuel must be burned. Fuel efficiency could be raised further by building the airframe from lightweight polymer composite materials instead of metals, Del Rosario says.

Cool running

Engineers are aware, however, that new airframe shapes will only get them part of the way to their goals. To really make a difference, particularly to fuel consumption and engine noise, planes will also need radically new propulsion systems mounted or integrated into the airframe in novel ways. And, like car designers, aircraft manufacturers makers are beginning to explore the possibilities of electric and hybrid engines.

Boeing’s Sugar Volt concept, for example, would use a hybrid-electric propulsion system that combines fuel-burning (turbine) engines, electric motors and electrochemical storage batteries—a propulsion concept not totally unlike that inside a Toyota Prius. The hybrid system would let the operators choose to draw engine power from the turbines or the batteries, whichever provides the most benefit for the specific segment of the flight—takeoff, landing, cruise, and so forth. “You can envision a 737-class airliner using the combination of turbine and electric power for take off and then, depending on the situation, switching over to cruise on one or the other,” says Marty Bradley, principal investigator for subsonic ultra-green aircraft research at Boeing Research and Technology in Bellevue, Washington.

Nasa’s N3-X is also designed around a completely new engine concept, called turboelectric distributed propulsion. It splits the main functions of a standard turbine engine in two – generating power by burning fuel and creating thrust by blowing air rearward with a large fan.

The idea is to use two large turbine engines to drive electric generators that would produce electricity to power 15 electric motor-driven, thrust-producing fans that would be embedded across the top rear of the broad fuselage. Such a configuration could be very efficient, Del Rosario says. The array of small electric propulsion fans at the stern of N3-X enables the designers to cut drag significantly by accelerating the flow of drag-causing air moving over the upper surface of the fuselage, keeping efficiency-sapping air friction at a minimum. Like the D8, the top-mounted propulsor fans would also effectively lower noise emissions because the body would come between them and the ground below.

The airliner concept may have an Achilles’ heel, though. For such a system to reach maximum fuel-efficiency targets, the electronics, generators and motors may need to be built from superconducting (zero-resistance) materials, meaning the jet’s electrics would have to be super-cooled by liquid hydrogen at −253C (−423F) or liquid nitrogen at -196C (321F) to make them work. This cryogenic technology is not yet fully practical and could take decades to prove out. Recent studies indicate, however, that substantial fuel-consumption gains could still be obtained by using existing electrical technology running at ambient temperatures, according to Del Rosario.

If that scheme sounds far out, other manufacturers are looking at developing fully electric systems for the 2050 time-frame. Aircraft engineers and designers at Eads, the parent firm of Airbus, for instance, have proposed a rather extreme concept called the Voltaire. The bulbous, 50-seat fuselage with two, long slender wings and a giant propeller on the tail, make it resemble a submarine. The concept, first put forward in 2011, would use next-generation batteries to power high-efficiency superconducting electric motors that would in turn drive the giant counter-rotating propellers mounted in a cylindrical shroud at the tail. Unlike any of the Nasa concepts, it is designed to be zero-emission.

Sling shot

However, anyone thinking that the electric Voltaire airliner may fly any time soon, needs to think again, says Johannes Stuhlberger, head of the global innovation network, power and flight propulsion at Eads. “The development of electric aircraft not only depends on the speed at which battery technology improves, but also how fast electrical equipment – the motors – get better.” Electric motors would need efficiencies of around 95%, he adds, noting that for any new system to become a reality will require “tremendous improvements in the power-to-mass ratio of the entire propulsion system, while still keeping it affordable.

In the shorter term, engineers at the Airbus group are trying to reduce fuel-consumption emissions by developing novel launch systems, similar to those found on naval aircraft carriers. In one radical concept, a low-slung carriage vehicle with an airliner mounted on its back would accelerate down the tarmac and loft the plane into the air. Such a device would substantially reduce the initial power required for a passenger plane to take off. Airbus envisages the eco-climb system moving into position automatically and assisting airliners to climb steeper and reach cruising altitude faster and from shorter runways.

Of course, all of these developments will undoubtedly lead to changes in the passengers’ in-flight experience. Catapult take-offs will likely mean passengers will be thrust back into their seats more firmly than happens now. Ultra-wide bodied planes will likely mean fewer window per seat for the occupants and their larger seat capacities could also lead to slower passenger-deplaning procedures both at the airport and in emergency landing situations. But there will also be benefits from these new wider spaces, which could, for example, accommodate large communal social spaces for kids more commonly found on cruise ships, whilst quiet electric engines could mean a good night’s sleep for travelers normally disturbed by the drone of turbine engines.

“Are the extra carrots in the new designs worth the extra effort and costs they entail?” asks Nasa’s Wahls. Only time will tell. Many of these concepts are just that: concepts that are destined never to become a reality. However, like concept cars that push what is technologically possible on the road, these craft will probably inform the design of future airliners.

So, when you gaze up at the skies in twenty years time, perhaps the airplane passing by will look different from those you grew up with after all.



Code Red| 19 December 2012 | IN ASSOCIATION WITH

X-47B stealth drone targets new frontiers

Sharon Weinberger (Sharon is a 2012/13 fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC, where she is working on a history of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.)

The US Navy’s cutting-edge robot fighter plane aims to be the first unmanned aerial vehicle to take-off and land at sea.

As a fighter plane prepares to take off from a naval carrier at sea, the pilot and deck crew go through a tightly choreographed series of hand signals to tell each other they are ready to launch. It ends with a final “salute” from the pilot to indicate that the aircraft is ready to be catapulted off the deck.

But when the X-47B, the US Navy’s newest prototype combat aircraft, prepares for its first carrier launch early next year, there will be no salute.  That’s because there will also be no pilot. Instead, the X-47B will blink its wingtip navigation lights, a robotic nod to the human salute (and mimicking what the Navy does for night launches), before the catapult officer presses the launch button, and the robotic aircraft is flung off the front of the ship

After years of development, and recent land-based tests, the highly anticipated carrier flight for this stealthy, tailless, unmanned drone is imminent. “It should be in early in 2013,” says Carl Johnson, vice president and program manager at defence firm Northrop Grumman, which builds the X-47B. “We have to coordinate ship schedules as well as all the other airspace issues.”

The X-47B is a strike fighter-sized prototype drone developed as part of the United States Navy’s UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration) programme, which aims to develop technologies necessary to field a combat drone on carriers. As a result, it has folding wings and is built for the rigors of sea life, including salt water, deck handling and of course take-off and landing from an aircraft carrier.

Although the X-47B is a prototype, the Navy hopes to actually field operational unmanned combat aircraft on carriers by the end of the decade.

The unmanned “flying wing” aircraft, which takes some of its design cues from Northrop Grumman’s B-2 stealth bomber, is supposed to demonstrate reconnaissance and strike capabilities—it has a full-sized weapons bay, although the prototype will not fly with weapons.  And, unlike existing drones, which are usually remotely “flown” by pilots once in the air, the X-47B is designed to fly autonomously, with just the occasional click of a mouse from an operator to send it instructions.

“It’s a big deal, but it’s an extension of something that was already happening,” says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution in Washington, DC, and the author of Wired for War, a book on the military’s robotics revolution.

Forward fire

The craft was revealed in 2008 but is only now undergoing sea tests aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, including moving around on the carrier. Whilst this kind of trial may not sound remarkable, in some ways it’s one of the more challenging steps toward proving that the X-47B, which weighs in at 20,000 kg (44,000 lb) and has a 20m (62 ft) wing span, is ready for flight.

Getting around on a crowded flight deck is difficult, says Johnson, because the aircraft must maneuver very close the edge of the carrier, sometimes pivoting so that it appears that half the airplane is hanging off the ship. “The precision involved in doing that is very difficult with a pilot following directions from a person on the deck,” says Johnson. “It’s very difficult to do that as well with an unmanned system.”

As a result, the engineers have built a wireless remote control device that can be used to move the aircraft around the deck.

The X-47B has already been tested on land in conditions meant to mimic operations on a carrier deck, including a catapult launch, but operating on a real carrier crowded with people and equipment presents fresh challenges.  For example, the X-47B must be tested for electromagnetic interference, in other words, making sure that the aircraft’s electronic systems don’t clash with the myriad radar and emitters that are on a ship.

“While we go through a rigorous test program, you really learn a lot when you’re at sea and you’re validating your system against the true environment of the carrier,” says Johnson.

If all goes well with these tests, the Navy will then be ready for its first at-sea flight. This will likely be a short affair, according to Johnson, and will start with a catapult launch and end with the aircraft landing not on the carrier, but on firm ground. Later that year, the X-47B will also perform an “arrested landing,” meaning it will land back on the aircraft carrier.

Another key flight test will take place in 2014, when the X-47 demonstrates that it can perform autonomous aerial refueling. Currently, the craft has a range of around 3,200km (2,000 miles) and can stay aloft for six hours. But for effective operations, the Navy would like it to stay aloft for longer.


Even if all those tests go smoothly, that doesn’t mean the X-47B will actually be deployed. The stealthy, aircraft is still merely a prototype. The Navy soon plans to launch a new program to develop an operational unmanned combat aircraft, which will involve fielding up to half a dozen armed drones on carriers by the end of the decade as part of what’s called the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

Early next year, the Navy will hold a competition to build the new drone. That means Northrop, the incumbent, will have to compete against other companies, including Lockheed Martin, which built the stealthy RQ-170 (famously captured by Iran), and General Atomics, which makes the familiar Reaper and Predator drones, and Boeing, which developed the X-45, a one-time competitor to Northrop’s drone.

Even as a prototype, however, the X-47B’s upcoming launch from an aircraft carrier, the “heart of US naval aviation”, marks a significant watershed for drones, says Singer.

“It’s one of the places where we haven’t seen them yet.”

Ultimately, the X-47B’s upcoming flight is not about proving that drones can work—that’s already been done—but expanding how and where they are used. “The Wright Brothers moment already happened,” says Singer. “Now we’re in the equivalent of 1920s and 1930s.”


Economics of Military

The involvement of armed forces in the security of London Olympics 2012 proved that shrinking military is not an option. Involvement of military in the largest peacetime operation ever in the history of UK went down splendidly.


The Guardian home

Army warns Olympic Games recovery will take two years

Military faces big task to get back to normal, says planning chief, after deploying 18,000 troops to London 2012 duties

, defence and security correspondent | The Guardian, Monday 13 August 2012 20.30 BST

The armed forces will take two years to recover from their involvement in the Olympic Games because so many personnel have been deployed at short notice and taken away from normal duties, the military‘s chief planner for the Games has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, Wing Commander Peter Daulby also warned that critics who wanted a smaller military put the country at risk of not being able to cope with these kind of civil emergencies, or a “national strategic shock”.

Daulby, who was put in charge of the military’s Olympic planning 18 months ago, said the need to send thousands of extra troops to the Games at the last minute after the G4S debacle showed “the country needs a military for more than war fighting”.

Describing the Olympics as the largest peacetime operation ever performed by the armed forces, he said: “It just shows you the dangers of pulling the military down. I am sure that there are some people who think that if we are a smaller military power we will be less likely to get involved in international operations.

“If we shrink the military, do we really understand what we are losing? Look at the speed with which we pushed up the throttle. It proves the military offers the country a huge amount of resilience.”

Daulby, 45, was one of several senior officers who spoke to the Guardian about the military’s contribution to the Olympics, which increased more than threefold from May last year.

Then, only 5,000 personnel were expected to be deployed, but that increased to 18,000 when the Olympic organisers Locog admitted they had significantly underestimated the number of security guards needed at the venues – and G4S conceded it had over-estimated its ability to recruit and train the extra staff.

“We were originally planning to provide niche capabilities,” said Daulby. “When the requirement for venue security was doubled, that was a bit of a game changer. We had to generate 18,000 people. That does not mean that there are 18,000 spare people. It means that the government has prioritised [the Olympics].

“It will take two years to recover from this, to get back to normal, to get everything back into kilter. You can’t expect them to go back to normal routine very easily.”

He said the UK’s commitment to Afghanistan had not been affected by the Olympics, but the military had exceeded by 6,000 the maximum number of people he thought the Ministry of Defence could supply.

“Anything above 18,000 and you start to shut down elements of defence,” he said.

“We put a bucket of men up and that was taken. We put another bucket of men up and that was taken. We have proved we can do it … most people think they have done something really special here. I think there is a great sense that the UK has nailed this.”

The rush to train and get everyone ready meant “we were building the plane at the same time as flying the plane”, he said.

“We did not think that it would be healthy for the Olympic Games to be too militarised. Our fears were not well founded. It has been an enhancing experience.”

Brigadier Richard Smith said the scale and difficulty of the military’s role in London 2012 was comparable to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In terms of threat it is not comparable, but in terms of scale it is more than comparable. The complexity of the basing and the training to get them to task … it’s been a massive operation in a short space of time.

“In Iraq and in Helmand, we could build up over time and establish ourselves. For this we had a short space of time and we had to get it right first time.”

Smith said the armed forces had realised the need to reconnect with the British people after years of operations abroad, and admitted there was anxiety how the public would react to so many people in uniform at a sporting event.

With the UK withdrawing from Afghanistan, and British bases in Germany being closed, too, the public will need to get used to seeing more of the military, he said. “It is a really important point. We recognised we have an opportunity to set conditions for us when we are predominantly UK-based armed forces. We want to easily connect with the people from whom we are drawn. This has given us the opportunity to show us as professional and approachable human beings.”

Smith said the military had tried to be flexible when presented with concerns, including those from some competitors. “In the equestrian community, they were worried that the helicopters from HMS Ocean would scare the competitors in the dressage at Greenwich Park. We adjusted the flight paths so they did not. We didn’t want to blunder in as a blunt tool.”

Asked if the military could mount a similar operation in five years’ time – when defence cuts will have stripped 20,000 posts from the army – he said: “I am not going to answer that. Give us a challenge and we will rise to it.”

Among the most difficult tasks in the days before the Games was finding enough portable toilets and showers to equip Tobacco Dock, east London, where 2,500 personnel were stationed for the Games. The military works on the basis of one toilet for 10 people, and one shower for every 20.


“It has been a mammoth task,” said Major Austin Lillywhite. “We had to go to Ireland for the portable toilets. We couldn’t find them anywhere else at such short notice.”

The MoD hired 192 coaches to ferry troops to and from the Olympic venues, and spent £300,000 on equipment such as TVs for entertainment at the temporary bases.

It also signed a laundry contract so that military uniform for everyone on duty had been cleaned and ironed.

“We want the men and women to look a good standard. If they all turned their irons on at the same time in the morning, the power would go down.”

None of these contracts are coming out of the military budget. The Treasury and G4S will be paying for the military’s extra contributions.

G4S announced on Sunday that it was giving £2.5m to the armed forces as a goodwill gesture. The donation will go towards welfare amenities, including sports equipment, and to sports associations which have backed serving athletes, including rowing gold medallists Heather Stanning and Pete Reed.

Provisions supplied to feed the Olympics troops

Eggs: 205,800

Vanilla ice cream: 21,056 litres

Potatoes: 38,999 kilograms

Sausages: 7,756 kilograms

Apples: 33,376

Beef: 7,252 kilograms

Chicken: 5,240 kilograms