Tuesday, February 7, 2017

VC-10 Tip Tanks

Apparently, the Vickers VC-10 was initially intended to be equipped with tip tanks:

There seems to be very little information available about the initial tip tank design. A model aircraft forum, however, has featured photos of a model with tip tanks:

Otherwise, the only example I can find is a freighter concept with a swing-away nose:

Apparently, tip tanks aren't always the most beneficial means of extending an aircraft's range. Some Gulfstream IIs were so equipped, but rumor had it that the added drag actually resulted in a net decrease in range. And some sources report that, among fighter jets, approximately half of the fuel contained in external drop tanks is used to compensate for the added drag of the tanks themselves.

It's possible these factors combined with the likelihood of damage from ramp vehicles and equipment to kill the VC-10 tip tanks before it reached fruition. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tupolev Tu-144 Charger SST For Sale

It was a standard Tuesday night. Out of boredom, I was scouring eBay for bizarre aviation memorabilia. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I entered "crop duster" as a search term.

After sifting through the hits and finding nothing particularly noteworthy, my eyes drifted down to the "You might also be interested in" section, and there it was. A Tupolev Tu-144 Charger SST jet. It could be mine for only 7.5 million bucks. Provided I'm the only bidder, that is.

Other than the presence of a wing and categorization as an aircraft, it's anyone's guess how this aircraft is related to crop dusters. But I was glad to have happened upon it. Only sixteen Tu-144s were built, all between 1963 and 1983. It was essentially a very poor copy of the famous Concorde, with a vastly inferior wing and more primitive systems.

Considering the dismal state of today's used market for supersonic passenger jets...and let me tell you, it's truly dismal...beggars can't be choosers. And this particular aircraft is the only real option at the moment, even for the most discerning shoppers.

СССР-77107, as it is known, made its first flight on August 20, 1975. Not surprisingly, it flew for Aeroflot, primarily serving as a test aircraft. It's final flight occurred in 1985, when it was delivered to its present location - Kazan, Russia.

Despite it's dirty and poorly-maintained outward appearance, some creative Googling revealed more photos that began to make me feel better about the condition of the Tupolev. As you can see, snow is periodically shoveled off of the immense delta wing by local caretakers:

Source: http://orbicraft.livejournal.com/11268.html
Additionally, the aircraft actually has relatively little use. Over the course of ten years, it logged 180 flights and 357 flight hours. Of those flight hours, only 135 were spent in the supersonic flight regime. With numbers like this, it would almost be irresponsible not to purchase it. 

That said, Russia being Russia, I can only hope it wasn't operated into and out of fields of snow and mud with livestock, sacks of potatoes, and bales of straw crammed into the passenger cabin.

But still, you want to investigate a $7.5M purchase as thoroughly as possible. A closer look at the eBay listing reveals very little information and I noticed multiple red flags. And I'm not talking about the ones painted on the tail. The eBay shopper is provided with no engine times, no cockpit photos, no cabin photos, no maintenance logs, etc. If ever there was a textbook case of Caveat Emptor, this would be it.

In fact, the rest of the eBay listing raises more questions than answers:

The seller claims to be a successful broker of Russian space stations and satellites, which I suppose makes him more qualified than most to deal in obsolete, derelict Russian supersonic transport airliners. But other aspects of the ad raise even more red flags. The aircraft is not eligible for the eBay vehicle purchase protection programs, and despite having a bit of equity in my home and just a small amount of outstanding student loan debt, I was not able to secure "low monthly payments", as the listing promises. For me, this would have to be a cash-only transaction, likely involving several suitcases and multiple armed guards.

On the other hand, the listing states that the price "will include all costs for delivery, including a Russian team to come to America for complete assembly." I've never attempted to assemble or ship an obsolete Russian SST, but having some experience with Ikea and several plastic model aircraft, I'm sure that service is worth a half million or so all by itself.

Indeed, I was fully prepared to arrange a meeting with the esteemed Russian spacecraft broker. That is, until then I saw his eBay seller profile:

You're reading that correctly. OasisRob1945 has virtually no feedback whatsoever. The man wants to be a broker of supersonic airliners, and yet, he's only ever sold a single item on eBay...an 8' inboard hydroplane. 

And so, with that discovery, any and all credibly on the part of OasisRob1945 vanished into thin air more quickly than this beautiful supersonic steed did at max cruise speed back in it's day. And with it, any prospects I once had to become the world's newest SST owner and operator.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unearthed: Photo of the Cessna ATPTB, the Prototype Pusher Citation

For the longest time, drawings and artist's depictions were the only visual evidence remaining of a mysterious Cessna prototype known as the ATPTB (Advanced TurboProp TestBed). But thanks to a member of Airliners.net, an actual photograph has been unearthed:

The aircraft was reportedly based on the Citation II (550) fuselage and wing, with a Citation 650 empennage and two PT6-66/3 pusher powerplants. The aircraft used custom propellers, geared in a counterrotating configuration.

A NASA report from 1994 states that the aircraft was flown to altitudes of 41,000 feet and .60 Mach. As one would expect from an aircraft with a high thrust line, the aircraft would pitch up when power was reduced, and would pitch down when power was increased.

The aircraft was used to gather data to be used in flight simulation. Various pilots with differing levels of experience flew both the real aircraft and a simulator replicating it. Their feedback was analyzed, presumably to further the development of flight simulation technology.

In keeping with Cessna's frustrating habit of destroying their experimental aircraft, there seems to be no remaining physical evidence of the ATPTB. One one think that a company that touts their long and extensive aviation heritage would be proud of their history, but their continued destruction of innovative prototypes and testbeds certainly indicates otherwise.

Indeed, when one considers how many creative and forward-thinking designs were produced from Cessna's design and engineering teams over the years (the 620, the XMC, the NGP, and the 327, to name just a few), one begins to understand the magnitude of Cessna's practices.

Had Cessna had the foresight to compile these designs into a museum collection, or at the very least render them unairworthy and donate them to a museum (receiving a sizable tax writeoff in exchange), we could all stroll through and enjoy the collection. Children, pilots, non-pilots, and aviation industry veterans alike could marvel at the creativity and innovation generated by the people of Cessna over the decades. Perhaps some would have become inspired to pursue careers in the aviation industry as a result.

But apparently, Cessna would rather their history be dumped into the scrap bin and forgotten about.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NIFA Memorabilia in the Smithsonian

The National Intercollegiate Flying Association dates back to 1920. In all those years of intercollegiate flying competition, many awards have been presented, usually in the form of traditional trophies.

The organization has occasionally gotten creative in that respect, however. Back when it was known as the National Intercollegiate Flying Club, these wings were handed out:

It's unclear what specific purpose these wings served...whether they were a specific award, whether they were handed out to judges, or whether everyone received a set.

Whatever their purpose, these particular wings are now part of the Smithsonian's collection.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Associated Press Takes Sensationalism to a New Low

The Associated Press has stooped to a new low. 

On Friday, November 16th, a Cessna 172 was involved in a crash in Owl's Head, Maine that claimed the lives of three people. Tragic, to be sure. But to the associated press, perhaps not tragic enough.

This is a Cessna 172:

...and this is the photo the AP decided to run with the story:

See that twisted airliner carcass? Not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with Friday's Cessna crash in Maine...it has nothing to do with any crash whatsoever. It is an old airliner fuselage being cut up and used for scrap metal.

But, apparently, the AP needed to frame the Cessna accident in as bloody a manner possible. Here are some additional bits of unnecessary sensationalism from their story:

"spiraled out of control"

"immediately burst into flames"

"With flames shooting 10 to 20 feet in the air and smoke billowing into the sky, the first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage"

"The flames were hot enough to pop the airplane's tires"

Reporting can be accurate and factual without resorting to such blatant, obvious, and pathetic attempts to sensationalize such a tragic incident.

Perhaps it's time that the AP consider integrating taste and maturity into their reporting.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Love Warbirds? Contact Your Congressional Representative NOW!

It seems Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio wants to prevent people from flying vintage military aircraft. From the EAA:

EAA and the Warbirds of America are joining with the Commemorative Air Force, Collings Foundation, and other warbird groups in opposition of a proposed amendment to the House National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310) that could have a devastating effect on the fleet of civilian-operated historic military aircraft.

The amendment introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) would bar the Department of Defense from loaning or gifting any U.S. military aircraft or parts to any entity except those that would put the aircraft on static display, such as in a museum. The amendment would preclude the aircraft from being loaned to private individuals, associations, or museums where there is any intent of flying the historic vintage warbirds, even at air shows or demonstrations of support for veterans.

Military branches such as the U.S. Air Force often do not donate aircraft to private groups outright; they instead "loan" them under a Defense Department provision, Section 2572 of Title 10, to individuals and groups for indefinite periods. These private individuals and groups usually restore and operate the aircraft at their own expense to demonstrate these pieces of flying history to events such as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

full article

If you enjoy seeing vintage military aircraft fly, and if you appreciate the ability of private individuals to restore and fly them, you need to help. Do your part, and spend two minutes to voice your opinion.

Step One: Find your representative. You can easily find him/her here.

Step Two: Write a quick note. Here's my letter. Feel free to copy and paste part or all of it:


I am writing to you today to urge you to oppose Michael Turner's amendment to H.R.4310.

This amendment would bar the Department of Defense from loaning or gifting any U.S. military aircraft or parts to any entity except those that would put the aircraft on static display, such as in a museum.

As I'm sure you know, vintage aircraft inspire and educate adults and children alike. They provide a tangible connection to our aviation history. Experiencing an authentic WWII "warbird" flying past at an airshow enables us to see, hear, and feel a piece of history. 

These aircraft should be allowed to be restored, owned, and flown by dedicated private individuals. These people work hard to share their artifacts with the rest of the country, and I view them as stewards of U.S. history.

So when Rep. Turner's amendment is proposed, please voice your opposition and encourage others to follow suit. To ground vintage aircraft is to lock up and silence decorated war veterans, preventing them from sharing their stories and inspiring others. It is just wrong.

Thank you for your time.

And thank YOU for reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Private Underground Hangars?

I stumbled upon this very secluded private airport in rural Wisconsin today. The airport is called Leeward Farm, located near the town of Soldiers Grove. I saw a Cessna Caravan had filed a flight there from MSN, and went to Bing Maps to have a look:

My question - are those hangars underground?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NIFA Aircraft Recognition - How it Works Behind the Scenes

Many readers of this blog (I estimate there to be as many as 4 of you) know me through the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). I competed in three Regional SAFECONs, four National SAFECONs (1998-2002), and I've judged both for many years. I've also been known to write an Aircraft Recognition test or two, and I hope to stay involved for many years to come.

When I was a competitor, I had a lot of questions about how Rec tests are made, and what guidelines are followed by the test authors. For example, at what age is an aircraft model too old to be included in a test? Can WWI-era aircraft be included? Can unmanned aircraft be used? Are the aircraft types limited to production models? If so, how many examples must be produced for a given model to be considered "production"? In short, what guidelines are in place to control what aircraft types appear in a NIFA Rec test?

Having been involved in judging for several years now, I can tell you - there are none!

According to the rules, an author of a Rec test may include any and all flying contraptions. Technically, he or she may include autogyros, gliders, hot-air balloons, Zeppelins, ultralights, and spacecraft. Fortunately for competitors, such madness is reined in by two values held dear to the test authors - tradition and consistency.

NIFA is rooted in tradition (In more ways than one - browse this link when you have some free time). Those of us who write tests generally want to honor the past by continuing long-standing tradition. And we also want to be fair. If a change is determined to be prudent, we will do what we can to institute it in a gradual manner. This prevents confusion, and it enables teams to utilize the knowledge and experience gained from competition.

The latter point cannot be emphasized strongly enough. NIFA could quite easily introduce strict, detailed guidelines for test authors to follow. A thick, detailed volume resembling a Gleim study guide could be distributed so competitors would know precisely what can and cannot be included in a Rec test. While this would undoubtedly eliminate much uncertainty among the competitors, I am against the idea.

Here's why:

If we were to create and communicate specific guidelines for tests, a school could recruit a knowledgeable competitor off the street, bring them to the National SAFECON, and instantly produce solid results in a "turn-key" fashion.

I don't want to reward teams for doing this. And I don't want Aircraft Rec competitors to be able to excel by locking themselves in separate rooms and studying independently for months at a time.

Instead, I want to reward the teams that make the effort to A) learn knowledge and tradition from their senior members, and B) actively pass it down to new recruits. I want these new recruits to learn from books and online sources, but I also want them to learn from more senior team members who have been around the block a few times. This builds team spirit, cooperation, and cohesion. And it creates a much more fulfilling and memorable experience. In my opinion, this is the essence of what it means to be on a NIFA Flight Team.

Now, it should be stressed that this outlook is my own. Other test authors and judges will likely have varying opinions and different perspectives on the matter. But my approach seems to be appreciated by many, and I think it reflects values held dear to NIFA.

So in response to the questions at the beginning of this article, I would expect to see the same aircraft categories you're accustomed to seeing. If you and your senior team mates have never seen a spacecraft or a WWI-era aircraft on a Rec test, it's doubtful you will see any in future tests. If anything new is introduced, expect it to be introduced gradually. For example, if I decided to introduce gliders to Rec tests, I would start by including one or two on a test. Not by dumping 15 of them into a single test at once. And no, I have no plans to add gliders to any future test!

So that's a snapshot into the creation of Rec tests.

As a judge who is somewhat active on the social media scene, I also receive questions about the official model name and/or designation of certain aircraft. Whether "Dreamliner" the official name of the Boeing 787. Whether the manufacturer of certain ELINT types should be that of the original airframe manufacturer, or that of the modifying entity. What differentiates one type of GA single from another.

To this, I like to remind competitors that as much as I'd like to help, I am a judge and not a coach! I go by what is printed in the official NIFA source - Jane's All the World's Aircraft. To be specific, I interpret this as the Jane's "yearbook" series. One is published every year, and each edition lists two years on the cover, as such:

These books are heavy, fabric-bound, and can be very expensive. Generally, editions from the 1970s and 1980s are the least expensive, fetching $15-30 on Amazon (tip - create an Amazon "Wish List", add these books, and circulate the link among your family and friends). As they become newer or older, they also become more expensive. Editions from the 1940s or 1950s are often in the hundreds of dollars, and editions younger than ten years old can be several hundred dollars each. This reality forces those of us with limited funds to pry ourselves away from Google and visit *gasp* a physical library! Look at it as a team-building field trip and have fun perusing the pinnacle of aircraft knowledge together with your team mates. You will be amazed at what you discover, I assure you.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the inner workings of the NIFA Aircraft Recognition event. By all means, throw questions my way. Depending on the topic, I'll either refer you to the aforementioned Jane's, or I'll do my best to answer them.

Here's to the greatest NIFA event, and here's to the good times and good friends we encounter in the pursuit of it's mastery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mexico's Air Force to Replace Pilatus PC-7 Fleet with Beechcraft T-6C+

As reported by Jane's earlier today, the Mexican Air Force has announced the purchase of six Beechcraft T-6C+ aircraft to be used as military trainers. The aircraft will come equipped with hard points, enabling them to carry external stores and weapons, though the latter are claimed to be intended for delivering practice rounds only.

(Image: Hawker-Beechcraft)

What is unclear at this time is how the role of the new T-6 fleet will compare with that of the relatively new Pilatus PC-9M fleet (photo). Considering that the PC-9 and (soon to be retired) PC-7 fleets are both reportedly utilized for combat and counter-insurgency, it would be surprising to see the wholly capable T-6C+ fleet limited to training duties. Time will tell.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Ultimate Aircraft Recognition Hobby Shop

The sleepy, rural town of Tecumseh Michigan has long enjoyed the distinction of being the self-proclaimed "Refrigeration Capital of the World". But as I discovered last week, 2011 may be the year where that exalted status has finally been overtaken by something even more grandiose.

I hereby nominate Tecumseh as the "Obscure Plastic Aircraft Model Capital of the World".

While I was back in Michigan for Christmas, I decided to visit a couple of the small airports in Tecumseh to see if there were any interesting aircraft types lurking about. It is, after all, where I discovered the Andrew Smith AJ-2. That search ultimately proved to be fruitless. But my appetite for unusual aircraft would soon be whet in an entirely different manner.

Drive down the main street of Tecumseh, and you'll find J-Bar Hobbies:

A quick glance at the unassuming exterior provides no clues to what treasures lay hidden within. One might expect to find models of B-17s, P-51s, and F-15s. Maybe even a Mig or two. But even the most seasoned and jaded aviation geek (particularly of the NIFA variety) will be stupefied upon discovering the bounty of such names as Myasischev, Culver, Temco, and Sud-Ouest:

So if you're ever heading into or out of Michigan on US-23 just north of Toledo, consider a 20-minute detour. Or head over to J-Bar's website and do some browsing online.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

USAF to Purchase 20 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano Aircraft

As reported by Embraer earlier today, the USAF (in partnership with the Sierra Nevada Corporation) will be acquiring 20 Super Tucanos. The aircraft are said to provide "advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations".

Photo: Embraer

It won't be the first time Super Tucanos have operated in the US. XE Aviation (formerly Blackwater) has flown N314TG (photo) and displayed it at the 2011 Reno Air Races in Nevada. XE Aviation also has a Pilatus PC-6 registered under N181DA (photo).

Super Tucanos have also been photographed under military registrations, although nobody seems certain whether these are different airframes, or simply N314TG with different markings. Indeed, a thread on Scramble points out that the military registration seems to be a re-purposed MH-53E registration, perhaps to keep the aircraft (and possibly the "Imminent Fury" program) under wraps:

Another photo on Flickr shows the same airframe equipped with what appear to be guns or rocket pods underwing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Andrew Smith AJ-2 - N9AJ

Spend enough time snooping around small rural airports, and before long, you'll unearth some interesting finds. On a sunny summer day in 2008, I unexpectedly happened upon one of only two or three airworthy Percival EP-9s in the world. I felt fortunate to document that aircraft for the world to see. This year, I was able to further document it with a full photo shoot. I even got to fly it for a bit. All as a result of sticking my nose in forgotten corners of sleepy little airports.

A similar discovery occurred back in 1999. I was flying out of Ann Arbor and decided to pop into Al Meyers airport down in Tecumseh, just for fun. Not a whole lot was going on that day, so I decided to have a look around. Peeking into the main hangar, I discovered one of the nicest-looking airplanes I'd ever seen - what I would later learn was the one and only Andrew Smith AJ-2, manufactured in 1981.

Fortunately, I had a camera. Unfortunately, it was a very cheap camera unaccompanied by any sort of knowledge or talent. These are the photos I was able to shoot in the hangar:

Lacking the foresight to examine the dataplate, I left the airport not knowing what aircraft type I had just photographed. I wouldn't learn much more about it for nearly ten years.

A few years ago, a friend found some great info about it in the October 1981 issue of Sport Aviation. Jack Cox interviewed A.J. himself and shot these photos of the beautiful airplane:

The interview revealed that the aircraft was designed as a cross-country touring aircraft. It had two seats. The passenger seat was intended to serve as a baggage area when only the pilot was aboard. The engine is a Lycoming IO-360. It makes about 215 hp and has a custom, "one-off" McCauley constant-speed prop. Long-range cruise (55% power) reportedly resulted in 200 mph and 40 mpg. Normal cruise (75% power) was said to be 250-255 mph and about 23-24 mpg.

For the airframe, A.J. utilized techniques developed by the Germans in WWII. It consists of bulkheads spanned by balsa and foam. The wing is one piece, designed to be easily replaced with an updated version that contained retractable gear. The updated version was, to my knowledge, never manufactured or mounted. The wing pictured uses a NACA 64212 airfoil, 12% thick, with a constant section and a .5 taper ratio with no twist. The lack of twist produced undesirable stall characteristics, so A.J. added stall strips and rigged the ailerons up a quarter of an inch, providing an effective twist.

The airplane has a T-tail that also uses NACA sections - 9% for the horizontal, and 12% for the vertical. The tailwheel is a Henry Haigh locking version mounted on a Wittman-type tapered rod spring.

The AJ-2 is now registered to an individual in rural Wisconsin. An individual I hope to meet. With any luck, the AJ-2 will receive the full photo shoot it deserves.

In the meantime, I continue to scour the web for additional photos of the aircraft. Here are my latest finds: