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This is going to be a bit of a different aviation-related diary. While much of the writing at Kossak Air Force deals with classic aircraft and/or flying experiences, this one is going to discuss some of the elements that result in real-world aircraft, and one fantasy flying machine that anticipated a number of developments we’re seeing today.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon

Aircraft design is as much an art as a science. Any design is a balancing act, a series of trade-offs against often incompatible objectives, an attempt to exploit available technology and expertise, to push them to the limits and beyond. Get it right, and the result can be a classic, where form not only follows function, it's beautiful. Get it wrong, and the result can be a machine that doesn’t do anything well.

Boeing’s problems with the Dreamliner show that even in the relatively simple world of designing airliners - carry enough paying passengers and luggage point to point with operating costs that allow a profit - can be harder than it looks. Military aviation is even more challenging.

It all starts with an idea. Sometimes it builds on earlier work - other times a design may start as a blank sheet of paper. Sometimes it's the answer to a shopping list of requirements. Sometimes it's a gamble on new technology making the previously unattainable within reach.

Often, the key factor is someone with real talent and a strong vision of what the  aircraft should be, able to resist the temptation to add on irrelevancies or incompatible features. There are few aircraft that fare well from a “design by committee” approach, or the “All things to all users” approach. The F-111 comes to mind. Neither quite successful as a fighter or a bomber, tweaked to serve the Air Force and the Navy in different editions, neither of which worked out that well in practice. One reason the F-35 Lightning II is having development troubles is that they’re trying to make one basic design serve three different roles. Doing any one of them well is tough enough - but three?

Other times, there’s some particular requirement that shapes a design. The advantage of designing around a specific task is that decisions about what trade-offs to make are a lot simpler. The Lockheed U-2 is an example - fly high and far while taking pictures. (And a lot more now.)  The A-10 is another - provide close air support in a tough, maneuverable package that can get ‘down and dirty’ while deploying massive firepower in a hostile environment.

Some aircraft persist simply because nothing else comes close to doing what they can do, or the design is just 'right'. The DC-3 / C-47 is the classic example. Then there’s the C-130 Hercules. In continuous production for decades, it just keeps getting better.  The last B-52 off the assembly line just had its 50th birthday not long ago - and the Air Force expects it and its siblings to be operational for some time to come.

Death by bean counters is a not uncommon problem. It’s expensive to design, build, maintain, and replace/refurbish a fleet of operational aircraft. It’s even more so when that fleet includes different types of aircraft optimized for different roles. The temptation for people wielding the budget knife is to convince themselves that some new technology can replace several different aircraft with a super-duper Swiss Army Knife type that can do it all. Or you get a demand for certain requirements that pretty effectively constrains other capabilities if they don't outright cripple the design. (Example from shortfinals here, discussing the Stirling.)

How well this works in practice is - usually not. Consider walking into a car dealership for example and saying you want something that handles like a Mazda Miata with the cargo capacity of a Ford F-100. Or even more fun, imagine trying to build something like that. Every time someone develops a new technology, or comes up with a new way of applying an old one, hope springs eternal as visionaries play with possibilities.

Flight of Fantasy

So, just for fun, let’s look back at a fantasy aircraft dating back to when the jet age was just getting into full swing, and the space age was still taking baby steps. Amazing things were in the news all the time from the world of aerospace. Maybe something like the vehicle about to be discussed is still impossible - but oh what a wish list! There is some dispute about the exact specifications; the list is compiled from several sources and from the missions it flew. (Some may be able to identify it from these alone.)

• length 27 feet, 3.5 inches
• width (wings extended) 18 feet, 9 inches (wings retracted) 11 feet 6.5 inches
• height 5 feet 7 inches
• weight with fuel 6945 pounds
• maximum speed 3,000 mph* (Several flights specifically state 4,500 mph)
• full vertical take off and landing capabilities; full hover, including with a 70 ton payload secured externally via magnetic grapple attached to belly hard points.
• routine cruise at supersonic speeds, with hypersonic dash capability - 4,500 mph+
• economy cruise: 2,500 mph at 50,000 feet
• operational ceiling 101,000+ feet; capable of reaching LEO with special fuel additive
• runway requirements: none - and can maneuver at ground level on air cushion like a hovercraft.
• retractable wings for ground clearance on take off/landing.
• transition from flight to water operations, submerged: dive from altitude to submerge and launch from underwater directly into flight.
• dive to 25,000+ feet submerged
• range without refueling: global. No mid-air refueling capacity
• armament: optional missiles mounted in external fairing, optional ultrasonic cannon for underwater use.
• hull and cockpit canopy: bulletproof
• powerplant: hybrid experimental design including combination of air-breathing turbines and rockets, plus turbo drive for underwater propulsion.
• fuel: avgas, but type not specified.
• avionics: advanced electro-optical system capable of seeing through weather (Clear-Vu), moving course plot on map display, radio with global range w/o satellite links. No autopilot capability or radar. Telemetry links to base of operations.
• stealth capabilities: sound suppression system to reduce engine noise; hull completely transparent at visible wavelengths with special coating applied
• capable of full remote control operation, with or without crew on board, with video link via Clear-Vu
• single pilot operation (yoke, not stick), with provision for co-pilot, side by side seating. Rear bench seating for 2 passengers. Optional ejection seat for pilot; descent by rockets
• Shirt sleeve environment in cockpit throughout operational range; cosmic radiation protection suggested for near space operations
• Limited internal cargo capacity, maintained at cabin environment
         All of the above refers to Supercar, “the Marvel of the Age”. It was the center of a show aimed at a young audience by Gerry Anderson, better known for later shows like Thunderbirds. Here's the opening titles that show off Supercar's abilities. (Who says fly by wire is all that new - Supercar did it with strings!)

39 Episodes were produced from 1961 to 1962 at a studio in England - although the Supercar base was set in America, at Black Rock, Nevada. The episodes were all filmed in black and white; but photographs and illustrations show it would have been very colorful. The distinctive look of Supercar may have its roots in this automotive fantasy by some theories - but it still has an incredible coolness factor today, especially with that paint job.

The cast was all marionettes; strings are visible in a number of shots. Chief pilot was Mike Mercury; Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker were the technical wizards behind Supercar. (Dr. Beaker in particular is a kind of alpha-boffin; and like another Doctor from England, he has a taste for Jelly Babies) The Supercar team is filled out by young Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous simian companion Mitch. (Mitch alternates between causing disasters and saving the day.)

Despite the relatively short run of Supercar, it still has a dedicated following. There's an extensive fan site here that has cast bios, detailed schematics and graphics, and much more. There's a Supercar model for Flight Simulator, and you can have your own if you spend any time in Second Life. The complete series is now available on DVD (AAE 70834, at Amazon and elsewhere) For those of a certain age, hearing the distinctive sound of Supercar's engines is enough to bring on chills!

Life Imitating Art, and Vice Versa

Supercar stories were written with an eye to what was happening in the world of aviation and elsewhere. Dr. Beaker's provenance reflects the early lead England had in the development of jet engines and electronics. (According to his bio at the fan site, he once worked for Vickers Aviation.) The story written around the highjacking of a Boeing 707 is a reflection of when that aircraft was becoming synonymous with luxury air travel. (It was being stolen for a petty dictator who wanted to trade up from a Fokker Triplane!) Mitch the Monkey had a misadventure with an experimental space capsule out of jealousy over Ham the Space Chimp. Supercar's deepest ocean dive was to rescue a bathyscaphe very much like Trieste.

Several of the stories anticipate contemporary events. One episode had Supercar making an emergency run to a research base near the North Pole in the middle of winter to pick up a researcher for a medical emergency; Seventy-b-lo. The challenges were not all that different from this story from real life, although the Herk crew didn't have to deal with a mercenary at gun point. Another tale revolved around the Supercar team investigating how a small un-named country was trying to smuggle atomic bombs into the U.S. for a sneak attack - an early look at terrorism? The episode where Supercar was forced down over the Amazon at a Lost City by a mad scientist working from an underground base staffed by robots from which he was planning to launch a nuclear-armed missile at New York City is still fantasy fortunately - although one wonders if it inspired this cinematic effort.

It's the technology depicted in Supercar that still fascinates as much as anything. The ability to take off and land vertically and then transition to forward flight has found a number of solutions over the years, such as the Kestrel, the Harrier, the Osprey, and the F-35B variant of the Lightning II. Then there's this perennially promising project which has yet to deliver let alone fly a working model.

Speaking of stealth, in one episode Dr. Beaker developed an engine modification that reduced the noise of Supercar's engines by roughly half; noise reduction is still very much on the minds of aircraft designers today. In another he accidentally developed a special paint that rendered Supercar completely invisible rather like Wonder Woman's invisible jet. Modern aircraft are more concerned with being radar invisible, and manage it by a combination of special materials and attention to shape.

Supercar's ability to resist gunfire is certainly convenient. In the course of the show it proved impervious to handguns wielded by spies and tommy guns in the hands of gangsters. In real life, aircraft are not so sturdy. There's a trade off between protecting the pilot and critical systems, while still keeping the aircraft light enough to fly! The A-10 is notable for putting the pilot in a titanium bathtub for protection.

If there is one area where Supercar technology has been surpassed, it's in the avionics. We can now operate drone aircraft remotely via satellite links around the world, and receive imagery in real time. Nova's Rise of the Drones spells it out in detail; the Argus system is mind-boggling. Night vision goggles and new radar technology make peering through darkness and cloud routine. As for moving map displays in the cockpit for navigation - well that is now becoming a standard feature even in general aviation thanks to computers and the Glass Cockpit.

Supercar's underwater capabilities still remain largely unmatched. The Tomahawk cruise missile can be launched from underwater from a submarine - but it's a one-time deal. Drones launched from subs for surveillance are also being developed. Beyond that, a far more ambitious project is being contemplated for a large drone that can be launched from underwater and eventually retrieved by the parent sub. A full-blown man-carrying flying sub is still probably not in the cards - although DARPA can dream.

Supercar's engines still remain fantasy. It's a bit much to picture what kind of engines could provide enough thrust for VTOL and hypersonic flight without running the tanks dry in minutes, not to mention being able transition to underwater operation and back into flight. As for reaching LEO, well a rocket that could breathe air at least part of the way to orbit would offer some real advantages - and as it turns out there just might be one under development in England, the Sabre engine for the Skylon aerospace plane.

With the Sabre engine in jet mode, the air has to be compressed before being injected into the engine's combustion chambers. Without pre-cooling, the heat generated by compression would make the air hot enough to melt the engine.

The challenge for the engineers was to find a way to cool the air quickly without frost forming on the heat exchanger, which would clog it up and stop it working.

Using a nest of fine pipes that resemble a large wire coil, the engineers have managed to get round this fatal problem that would normally follow from such rapid cooling of the moisture in atmospheric air.

They are tight-lipped on exactly how they managed to do it.

"We are not going to tell you how this works," said the company's chief designer Richard Varvill, who started his career at the military engine division of Rolls-Royce. "It is our most closely guarded secret."

The company has deliberately avoided filing patents on its heat exchanger technology to avoid details of how it works - particularly the method for preventing the build-up of frost - becoming public.

The Sabre engine could take a plane to five times the speed of sound and an altitude of 25 km, about 20 percent of the speed and altitude needed to reach orbit. For space access, the engines would then switch to rocket mode to do the remaining 80 percent.

emphasis added

Hmmm - that's starting to look like Supercar level performance, if they can pull it off. Dr. Beaker would be proud!

Gerry Anderson and the people he brought together to make Supercar and the later shows that followed came up with a lot of fantastic vehicle designs. For the day they looked pretty exotic, but who's to say if they may not have inspired some aircraft that could yet take to the skies? The blended wing concept looks like something Derek Meddings might have cranked out for an episode of an Anderson show. The BBC has a whole flock of concepts that are being considered for future aircraft.

Inspiration works in other ways as well. The DVD Supercar collection has a feature where Peter Jackson talks about being inspired to become a filmmaker in part by growing up seeing the world Derek Meddings built for Thunderbirds. That show looks like it may be headed for a revival - Thunderbirds Are Go Again!

Will there be a Supercar reboot? Probably not, although you never know. It's tempting to imagine what the show would be like today with the technology that's available for special effects. In a way, the basic concept of the show - an exotic, high-performance aircraft used by a group of idealists to do rescues and other good deeds - was recycled in the 1980s by  the show Airwolf. Still, all-in-all, it's hard to imagine the charm of the original show being recaptured. It was made in a very different era, and our flights of fantasy these days are colored by very different concerns.

Originally posted to Aviation & Pilots on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 08:26 PM PST.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force and Community Spotlight.

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The Marvel of the Age!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (19+ / 0-)

    Roof doors open! Full boost vertical!

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 07:33:58 PM PST

    •  THIS one really took me back... (6+ / 0-)

      ....to Supermarionation, and the sad, recent, loss of Gerry Anderson. Of course, I went back to review the OTHER favourites of my youth, which included 'Fireball XL5' (I didn't see 'Four Feather Falls'), and, of course. 'Stingray' (a sort of underwater Supercar) which solved several problems, in that the 'boss' character was confined to a motorized wheelchair, and could provide the 'movement' in a scene, and the 'love interest' - a mermaid, could not speak, so there were no difficult moving mouth parts!

      A genius...or TWO I should say, as he and his wife, Slyvia showed in their excellent sci-fi series for adults 'U.F.O.'

      Please note - for absolute aviation buffs - the Handley Page Jetstream prototype which they were trying to sell to the USAF as the C-10A ! (Production started, ordered cancelled, none delivered)

      Great job, Xaxnar!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 10:41:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks! Great Diary. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Pilotshark

      I loved this series "back in the day." Your diary brought back some fond memories.

      Can I get a Grey Goose on the rocks over here?!

      by G Contractor on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 10:42:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Never saw it (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Bisbonian, xaxnar

    But good diary. Nice links.

  •  Great Nostalgia Material (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    Talk about a Flashback. I haven't thought about that
    program since I watched it back in the Day.

    Yeah, it was kinda SILLY watching a Bunch of Marionettes
    and noticing the wires, but it was still FUN to watch.

    Thanks for the Great Diary.

    On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

    by Brian76239 on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 08:33:18 AM PST

  •  I was always intriqued by Alfred C. Loedding's (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    work at Wright Field on low aspect ratio aircraft. He flew his models there on the open fields. He was doing jets in the early 1930s. He was the first Director of the JPL. He also designed the first program to investigate UFOs during his tenure at T-2 Intelligence at Wright Field. He was way ahead of his time and was pretty much lost to history for awhile. Mike Hall and I wrote a biography of Loedding, but it has been out of print for well over a decade. If you can find a copy, you will be surprised at how this man changed aviation.

    He also put the wings on the refueling boom to stabilize it.

    Poverty and Income Inequality isn't Democratic, Justice or American. It is Tyranny.

    by Wendys Wink on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 09:32:00 AM PST

  •  Mike Mercury looks like Martin Landau. ;-) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Major Kong

    Father Time remains undefeated.

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 10:07:17 AM PST

  •  Brings back memories (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    I can remember watching all these shows when I was growing up.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 11:11:18 AM PST

  •  The "mighty" F/A-18 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Pilotshark, Simplify

    when it first hit the fleet as a replacement for the A-6, A-7 and F-14 had serious issues, IIRC, including the fact that it could not be loaded with missiles on it's wings when it was "stored" on deck, the wings had to be unfolded, armed and refolded; the original F/A-18s could not take off with ordnance AND fuel, if they went with a "combat load" off the catapult, they had to immediately hit a tanker overhead or -splash- went the jet, and then they needed multiple tanking into and out of their missions.  

    John Lehman, who was Ronnie Raygun's SECNAV really, really wanted the F/A-18 brought into the fleet, and made sure that the all the other aircraft (A-6/A-7/F-14) would end their service lives no matter what by ending their contracts.  The A-6, which was one of the best strike aircraft ever built had a wing spar issue that was deemed "irreparable" and so ended up being taken out fleet service after the first Gulf War; notice that the EA-6B "Prowler" is still in fleet service despite sharing a common wing design.  Neither the A-6 nor A-7 were sexy enough for Lehman, a wanna-be Naval Aviator (he was an A-6 Bombardier/Navigator (Naval Flight Officer) who pretended to be a pilot); the F-14 was also a great aircraft and could easily have been extended as a "state of the art" fighter if not for the love of the F/A-18.  Look how long the Phantom lasted in carrier aviation: until 1986 when the last Phantoms of VF-151 and VF-161 flew off the USS Midway when she went into the yards (I have the stick grip of one of those birds).

    One of the things that happened by removing the F-14 and A-6 was that a lot of billets for flight crew went away, since the early F/A-18s were single-seat aircraft, the role of the NFO community was reduced significantly in Naval Aviation.  The loss of the S-3 exacerbated that as well, since that was really an NFO's aircraft as a fleet ASW asset.  

    A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. -Carl Sagan

    by jo fish on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 12:16:56 PM PST

  •  update on the Moller (0+ / 0-)

    Moller does indeed have a working, flying prototype of his aircar. It has flown several tethered flights, but no untethered ones due to insurance constraints among other things.

    At least one of these videos shows the prototype on a tethered flight.

    http://moller.com/...

    Less "WAAAAH!", more progress.

    by IndyGlenn on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 01:12:28 PM PST

    •  Interesting - but not convincing (0+ / 0-)

      Until it can demonstrate it can fly while not on a tether, it remains an unproven concept. It's not enough to get into the air while still in ground effect. Can it climb farther and then transition to horizontal flight? Does engine thrust and fuel consumption come anywhere near expectations? Reliability?

      There's just too many questions that can't be answered without putting some flying hours on a prototype. Given the technology now being demonstrated with drones, building a scaled down version flown remotely to validate the design concepts would seem like a reasonable goal - and there might be a market for that kind of vehicle as a drone too.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 02:01:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ground effect (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Simplify

        The ground effect for vehicles like the Moller prototype would be a matter of a foot or two, maybe as much as three feet. If you look at the video, you can see altitudes of 15 to 20 feet, well out of ground effect for this type of vehicle.

        It flew.

        Less "WAAAAH!", more progress.

        by IndyGlenn on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 07:22:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Which still begs the question (0+ / 0-)

          Why they haven't gone further. They've demonstrated they can hover - but nothing else in the flight envelope they're claiming. I'd love to see this design succeed, but at some point they have to stop making excuses and prove it.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 08:03:30 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'll beg to differ with you... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Simplify

    On the success of the F-111's...

    While Sec of Defense McNamara's design by committee and expecting the F-111 to wear too many hats resulted in an aircraft that did not end up getting made for the Navy the F-111 did go on to become a very successful aircraft in both the USAF and RAAF.

    There was one hat that the F-111 wore better than any other and that was it's role as a medium-range interdictor and tactical strike aircraft that also filled the roles of strategic bomber, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare.

    I'm proud to say that my TAC Unit won "The Best Bombing Unit" at the 1975 SAC Bomb Comp "Operation High Noon" flying against the best crews SAC and the RAF had to offer. There went the neighborhood!

    The F-111's were used in every conflict from Viet Nam through their retirement performing quite well and putting large numbers of bombs on target. With the possible exception of that CBU that fell off the aircraft while avoiding heavy ground fire in Libya striking the French Embassy after France refused to allow our aircraft to overfly their airspace for the strike... < snark, unofficial position it was an accurate strike on the embassy...

    The vast majority of those precision bomb strikes you saw on TV during Gulf War were in fact delivered by f-111's. 110 f-111's flew nearly 5,000 sorties and delivered 80% of all precision laser guided bombs used in the war! They excelled at tank plinking and destroyed 1,500 Iraqi tanks using the FLIR to pick them up against the desert at night.

    True the F-111 was never used as a fighter and it's one kill came from outflying an Iraqi fighter crashing him into the ground.

    The F-111's retirement came with the advent of phased array radar in fighters where they lost their invisibility from flying low to the ground invisible in the ground clutter and instead stuck out like a sore thumb.

    For many years the "Aardvark" enjoyed being called whispering death as it zoomed in at low level 200' off the ground on Terrain Following Radar runs at night invisible and unheard until after it went by.

    "Do you realize the responsibility I carry?
    I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House."
    ~John F. Kennedy~

    -7.5,-5.8

    by Oldestsonofasailor on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 05:47:37 PM PST

    •  Good points (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oldestsonofasailor

      I'm not saying the F-111 didn't find a useful role eventually, but there were so many tasks pinned on it originally, it would have taken 4 or 5 different aircraft to do them all well.

      It certainly had impressive TFR capabilities that advanced the state of the art, and the B-1 seems to be soldiering on quite nicely with the swing wing concept. They have an F-111 on display at Abilene AFB right near the main gate, possibly for that very reason.

      On the other hand, I recall John Boyd's evaluation of the F-111. His suggestion was to cut the wings off it, paint it bright yellow, and use it for a flight line taxi...

      Always the diplomat, Boyd.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 06:41:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's no secret (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, Simplify

        The lightweight fighter mafia chieftain disliked any plane that wasn't a dogfighter...

        But that is only a fraction of the air war...

        Once air superiority is established what's left other than delivering the load?

        In Iraq how many fighters came up to great us?

        Photobucket

        I've often told people the F-111 was the prototype for the B-1...

        "Do you realize the responsibility I carry?
        I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House."
        ~John F. Kennedy~

        -7.5,-5.8

        by Oldestsonofasailor on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 08:38:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  When I was but a lad... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    I actually owned the Supercar - the toy version, at least.  'Bout a foot long, with wheels underneath and interchangeable cams that would program the thing to trundle off in different patterns across the dining-room floor.  First time I saw Luke's landspeeder in Star Wars I flashed on that orange-and-gold racer flashing amongst the chair legs.  Unfortunately despite all warnings I couldn't resist taking it into the bathtub with me to reenact those undersea adventures, and it was never quite right after that.  Thanx for the memories!

    It ain't free speech if it takes cash money.

    by Uncle Igor on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 10:57:35 PM PST

    •  I remember seeing that (0+ / 0-)

      Never owned one, but it looked like a cool toy. I think I saw one on eBay once.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:11:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Multi-dimensional optimization (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    You can throw a bunch of parameters (wingspan, body diameter, etc.) into a bunch of performance and design equations and have a computer program run through the possibilities. It'll spit out the optimum design for whichever performance criteria you prioritize (fuel burn etc.).

    Things like configuration design are hard to automate. That said, in the research McDonnell-Douglas, Boeing, and NASA did on the blended wing-body, they found that if you optimized cylindrical pressure vessel configurations, it spat out to a conventional tube-and-wings design, but if you took away the cylindrical assumption, it ended up with the BWB. In that design the structure that carries the pressure load also carries the wing bending load.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 11:03:17 AM PST

  •  Also, engines (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar

    Half the work is in the engines. Materials, aerodynamics... Even the Wright Brothers had to build their own engine for the Flyer. Heck, it was their engine business that carried their name the furthest in industry.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 11:07:03 AM PST

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