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:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Boeing 787 Wing Flex Animation

After reading Guy Norris' great article on the Boeing 787's wing flex, I thought it would be interesting to animate the three graphics he posted.

Here, we see the 787 wing in three stages - at rest, at a normal 1g load during cruise flight, and at the ultimate load, just before failure:

It's interesting to note that in normal cruise flight, the wing flex is such that the wingtips are above the top of the fuselage.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Bicycle Wheel Design Not So New

Fast Company Magazine recently featured an interesting new bicycle wheel design by Ron Arad. It utilizes 18 individual strips of steel bent in such a way that shock is absorbed, providing a smooth ride:

It's an interesting design, to be sure. And it sure seemed familiar to me. But I couldn't quite remember what bicycle company had explored the idea previously.

Then it occurred to wasn't a bicycle company that pioneered the use of bent strips of metal as a shock-absorbing wheel technology at all. It was an aircraft parts manufacturer in the 1910s and 1920s. Here is their design:

The Atlas Wheel design never took off. Whether it was due to technical shortcomings or business circumstances is beyond me. But it's interesting to see such an old design philosophy resurrected today. I wish Ron the best of luck with his bicycle application.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Fans Work at the FAA

...judging by the newest arrival fixes in Charleston, SC:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cessna Citation Commuter Turboprop Concept

A strange thing often occurs when scouring the web for a specific piece of information. That which one seeks remains forever hidden, while new and unrelated discoveries are made.

Some time ago, I made such a discovery. While searching for photos of the elusive Citation turboprop pusher...

...I ran across files describing an even more bizarre variation on the Citation - a 19-passenger commuter turboprop variant. Enjoy...and click the images for larger versions:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reno Crash - Further Investigation

I've received several emails and comments about the likelihood of a trim tab failure causing the recent crash at Reno. Among them was this:

"I was part of the pit crew. Jimmy was a close personal freind. I've owned Race 9 (Cloudancer) since April'10. It is common practice for air racers to zero the elevator and rudder tabs so there is less drag and less chance of setting up a buzz. I know this sounds strange, but when they are in the valley of speed it takes both hands pushing forward on the stick. And when you are turning especially pylon 7 and 8 where you need 5 to 7g's to make the corner and not bust the spectator deadline you relax the forward pressure so you dont have to pull so hard. 

If you had forward trim set in the act(tab up for down elevator) the forces on the tab would be tremendous while turning. The aircraft pitched up nearly vertical but climbed very little maybe a 100 Feet, this was accompanied by a very loud whump or a burrump sound. The aircraft slowed tremendously. Pictures show a large buckle in the right side of the fuselage, this probably tripped the tailwheel uplock cable and extended the tailwheel. The inboard 2/3's of the trimtab then seperated. Just a comment about bob hannah's tab failure, he said that when he came to he was looking at his feet"

The last comment was in reference to an incident with "Voodoo" several years ago. He lost a trim tab on the course, blacked out during a 10G pull-up and woke up to find himself at 9000 feet

And about that extended tail wheel, clearly visible in a photo shot a second or two before impact - a P-51 checklist emergency gear procedure on Aerofiles sheds some light on how extreme G-forces indeed could have extended the tail wheel:

"If there is any doubt about the tail wheel being down, dive the plane a short distance and pull out with enough acceleration to down the tail wheel."

Here's hoping for a future with the air races, but without accidents like this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reno Crash - Trim Tab to Blame?

It is, of course, very early to speculate on the cause of the tragic crash at Reno. A disciplined examination of photos, however, reveals a possible clue.

This photo was shot by Tim O'Brien of the AP and Grass Valley Union just a moment before the crash. A sharp-eyed Russell Farris spotted an elevator trim tab that is either missing or severely deflected. If the trim tab was deflected downward at such an angle, the elevator would have been forced upward with a great deal of force. This would severely pitch the nose upward, likely with enough force to overpower even the strongest pilot.

In such a scenario, the pilot would push forward on the control stick with all his might to arrest the pitch rate. If he was unable to do so, the nose would continue to pitch further and further upward until airframe failure or ground contact occurs.

It's important to bear in mind that at the speed he was flying today, a relatively small control surface deflection would have resulted in an abrupt and extreme load factor ("G-force") on the pilot, making recovery that much more difficult.

Here's hoping the reaction of the public and media doesn't put an end to the Reno Air Races. You can bet that none of today's victims would have wanted that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet MAX

Yep, it's official - the new 737s will be known as the Boeing 737 MAX 7, 737 MAX 8, and 737 MAX 9.

More renderings available at the official 737 MAX site.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PZL M-15 Belphegor

The old-school Lockheed engineers designed and built the SR-71 using slide rules. They were second only to the Belphegor engineers, who used witchcraft and dark forces.

The Belphegor has long been my favorite aircraft. It kills me that there are none in the US, and it kills me that not a single one is flying. It is beyond any common logic how one could opt to restore, fly, and maintain something as trite and mundane as a T-6, T-33, or L-29 when cold-war-era jet-powered Polish biplane crop dusters are there for the taking in eastern Europe and Russia.

Were I to win the lottery, I would acquire and restore one to be used as an Oshkosh partymobile. I would install amphibious floats to further enhance it's massive ramp presence and to enable operation from lakes that would otherwise remain tranquil and serene. The chemical hoppers would be converted into refrigerated beer storage tanks for the aforementioned Oshkosh trips. Skis would be installed for the annual Skiplane Fly-in and Chili Dump up at Pioneer Field:

Although the temptation to paint it an ominous matte black with mysterious red symbols would be nearly irresistible, I would likely paint it in accurate original colors:

Alas, I do not possess the necessary funding to transform such dreams into reality. Instead, my current budget can only sustain the acquisition of an authentic flight manual and control yoke. If anyone can track these items down or acquire them for me, I will gladly pay a fair price. Just contact me at the above link.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Vintage Bellanca Crashes in Stoughton, WI

A Bellanca 14-13 Cruisair Senior has crashed in Stoughton, WI. The classic aircraft, manufactured in 1946, had been on display in Oshkosh for the 2011 Airventure fly-in:

The aircraft is registered to Richard Cross of Brewster, Minnesota. WKOW of Madison reported that a father and son from Minnesota were on board. The father was reportedly taken to UW hospital via ambulance, and the son was taken via Medflight.

Here is a photo of the aircraft (N74260) as it appeared last Friday at Oshkosh:

Here's hoping father and son make a full recovery soon. And here's hoping the media keep in mind that for every general aviation accident, there are tens of thousands of automobile accidents.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jet-Powered Aerostar Debuts

Seems people just can't resist modifying the Piper Aerostar. The last couple of years, we've seen the Speedstar single-engine turboprop development at Oshkosh:

And now, it seems a twin-jet version has arrived. Here's video of it's first flight:

And here's a shot of it on display at Oshkosh:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

American is Getting A320s...and an Opportunity to Evolve the Livery

It was announced a few hours ago that American Airlines is ordering at least 260 A320-series aircraft. Deliveries will begin in 2013. Now more than ever, the airline should be thinking hard about updating it's livery.

Here is an examples of how the present livery will look on an Airbus fleet:

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Design © mikephotos
Template © mikephotos

It's not that the current livery is bad or outdated from a design's that a livery based on polished aluminum is most suited to aircraft that are built primarily from that material. As more aircraft types integrate composite materials in their construction, the attractiveness of polished aluminum quickly becomes overshadowed by the painted gray composite panels surrounding it.

This much is certain - American's livery is changing whether they want it to or not. If they continue to do nothing, it will continue to evolve into a drab and unattractive mishmash of various dull gray and white paints. If, however, they become proactive and update their livery now, they will strengthen their brand in both the short and long term.

There's no shortage of opportunity, American. The time is right to evolve the brand. Eagle's E-jets are already a nightmare of painted whites and grays with no visible aluminum whatsoever...let's make sure that look doesn't continue to infest the mainline brand.

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Design © Almaden
Template © Almaden

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Design © Ryan Powers
Template © Ryan Powers

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Design © Yves Mayer
Template © Yves Mayer

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Design © Yves Mayer
Template © Yves Mayer

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Design © Ryan Powers
Template © Ryan Powers

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Design © R P Abraham
Template © R P Abraham

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gulfstream Declares War on Aircraft Recognition

In what appears to be an outright declaration of war on consistency and straightforward aircraft recognition, Gulfstream has yet again renamed the IAI Galaxy. In an attempt to enhance "cultural sensitivity", and despite remaining unchanged, the G250 will henceforth be known as the G280:

Although no mechanical modifications have been mentioned, weight and balance restrictions are sure to be introduced as the dataplate continues to grow and shift the CG rearward:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cockpit Photography

Photographing cockpits and instrument panels can be pretty challenging. All too often, the light coming through the windows is overpowering, and the top half of the image becomes blown-out, like this:

I was sure this shot was going to be rejected by the screeners, but perhaps because they understand the challenges in shooting cockpits, they accepted it into the database. The shot has always bothered me, though, since everything above and to the side of the glareshield is invisible. I would have greatly preferred to frame the panel with a blue sky background.

So, for a subsequent photo shoot, I decided to try a different technique. 

This time, rather than expose the shot for the panel, I exposed it for the sky and scenery beyond. I did this by setting my camera to 'Auto', aiming it through the front windscreen just above the panel, depressing the shutter release halfway, and making a note of the suggested shutter and aperture settings.

Then, switching to 'Manual', I duplicated those suggested settings.

At this point, if I were to snap a shot of the panel, the sky/scenery beyond would look great, but the panel itself would be far too dark. So I activated the flash to illuminate the panel.

Here, we see the Waco RPT cockpit using my old technique:

...and here, we see the same view using the new technique:

A big improvement, to be sure. And I was using only the basic, built-in flash on the D90. A nice ring flash would make an even bigger difference.

Monday, July 11, 2011

New USAF Designation - Cirrus T-53A

Heads up, NIFA competitors...there's a new USAF aircraft to study. The Cirrus T-53A:

As Flying Magazine reports, the USAF Academy will start taking delivery of 25 aircraft this summer, and deliveries will continue through 2012.