Friday, September 29, 2006Ok, now that I've rested up from the Air & Space Technology Exposition in DC, I thought I'd relate some of highlights as I have time. One thing that came out of the expo that may hit the press are comments made by General Ron Keys who is the Air Combat Command Chief for the US Air Force.
According to Keys the Long Range Strike initiative will "probably start out just like a number of of our high end technical programs, it will start as a "Black" program..."
Keys went on to say that the existence of the program and even it's costs will not be kept secret but details of the program's specifications and capabilities will; "...Details of what it is going to look like, how fast it's going to go, how far it is going to go, what it's real capabilities are... I'm not sure we are interested in letting a lot of people know what those will be".
Keys also said that he doesn't think a bomber version of the F-22 would fit the requirements of the Long Range Strike program.
There has been much speculation among enthusiasts that the Long Range Strike aircraft will be hypersonic, but Keys expressed his doubts that by 2018 a hypersonic bomber would be fielded. Instead, Keys suggested that by 2018 we would "take the engines you already have, your aerodynamic capabilities...and you can make the next gen Long Range Strike" aircraft.He also noted that a hypersonic platform could be fielded by 2030 but not by 2018.
* Inside the Air Force
* Eye witness accounts of the statements.
Thursday, September 28, 2006Well, to those of you who check my blog, I apologize for not posting for the last week, but I had to go to the Air & Space Technology Exposition in DC. I had a pretty good time, it was nice being back in the DC area and seeing so many friends.
Out of the 3 day (2.5 actually) conference the most interesting highlights were the following dialogs:
1. Morphing Technologies for Future Aircraft - Anna Maria McGowan, Project Manager, NASA
2. the Future of Air and Space Power by General T. Michael Moseley
3. F-35 and What it Does - Brigadier General Charles R. Davis, Deputy Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Program Office
More later, I'm very tired and slightly inebriated... ;-P
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Yet another UAV is coming out from under wraps, this time from a relatively new company in the UAV field, American Dynamics.
The BattleHog close air support vertical takeoff and landing unmanned vehicle first took flight in January 2005 and has been in development since 2001.
There is apparently some mystery as to how a little known company making high speed marine stabilisation technologies wound up developing such a seemingly formidable ISR/attack platform but all the comapny CEO will say is that they had "investors".
So is the company worth it's salt?
Well it's certainly not a Stavatti clone. For those who don't know the Stavatti story, it's apparently a bogus company that started out as a drum manufacturer and somehow turned into an aerospace company with a web site claiming they had "6th Generation" fighter aircraft designed and ready to be built. Problem is - no one has yet to define what attributes "6th Gen" aircraft would possess. Several years back they also said they had particle beam rifles, etc. Pretty crazy stuff actually, and certainly not realistic... but I digress.
Truth be known these guys at American Dynamics sound like they are "company" owned. They've got flying demonstrators and major financing from ghost investors. Pretty interesting...
Well, back to the BattleHog.
The BattleHog 100X has actually had test flights and was first shown to the public at the recent Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems North America conference in Orlando, FL in late August 2006.
Specs and other info are as follows:
* Currently powered by a Rolls Royce T63-A720 turbine engine but may be revised to a Pratt & Whitney PW206
* FLIR Systems combined infra-red and daylight camera system located in an under fuselage turret
* Miniature synthetic aperture radar
* a modified Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)5 radar
* Narrow band satellite communications links
Armaments:* 2 Lockheed Martin AGM-14K Hellfire missiles
* M134 7.62 calibre minigun
* Hydra-70 folding fin rockets
The BattleHog 350X will be a larger version with a 40 foot wingspan, Weapons load is expected to include carriage of J series guided bombs and the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, carried in internal bays, and a 20mm machine gun.
The BattleHog sounds survivable enough with a carbonfiber and kevlar composites that make it impervious to 7.62mm fire.
Read more at Flight International.
Friday, September 15, 2006
On August 30th history was made in the skies over Edwards AFB by an autonomously programmed F/A-18 and a Boeing 707-300 tanker performing the first-ever autonomous probe-and-drogue airborne refueling operation.
The importance of this development has far reaching implications on the DoD's vision for affordable unmanned global strike, long range strike and persistent ISR & area denial missions.
The GPS based system coupled with an optical recognition and tracking program goes by the name Autonomous Airborne Refueling Demonstration (AARD). This system provides precision positioning enabling an airborne tanker's fuel probe to hit the center of a 32 inch basket dangling in the airstream.
Although this is a DARPA/NASA/AFRL initiative, several other public institutions are involved as well, most notably CalTech and the Israeli Technical Institute, also some programming was done by Smiths Aerospace. The Predator "B" has a new name, now dubbed the USAF's first hunter-killer UAV the MQ-9 will henceforth be known as the "MQ-9 Reaper". The MQ-9 is larger and more powerful than the original Predator "A" MQ-1.
Where the Predator could carry 2 Hellfire missiles the "Reaper" is able to carry 14 Hellfire II anti-armor missiles. It can also deliver a 500 lb JDAM and carries twice the sensor load the Predator "A" carried.
It is also able to stay aloft for 14 hours and cruise above 50,000 feet at 260 knots.The Reaper will provide persistent area denial and quality ISR data thus making it the first UAV that can truly complete the six-stage target cycle of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess, also known as F2T2EA, or, more simply, the “kill chain.”
General Michael Moseley USAF must be pretty proud right about now...
(picture of Reaper taxiing at Creech AFB, NV:
Note the weapon pylons on the wings)
Sunday, September 10, 2006Bill Sweetman is at it again.
In the October 2006 issue of Popular Science Bill Sweetman once again attempts to bring into focus the blurry, hazy world of top secret planes at the Groom Lake facility on the northern Nellis Range, aka "Area 51".
The article is entitled "The Top-Secret Warplanes of Area 51" with the sensationalistic byline; "Stealth jets? Hypersonic bombers? What's really being developed at the military's most famous classified base?"
Sweetman admits that his entire article is but "an educated guess, arrived at by analysis of the available evidence, at the tantalizing designs being cooked up on the sly at Area 51, including a radical special-forces transport, a stealthy UAV, an agile new bomber, and my own white whale—the mythical, hypersonic dragster and presumed source of those faux earthquakes: Aurora."
Ah yes, "Aurora". The wet dream of every Area 51/Military aviation enthusiast the world over. I should have known Bill would still be ranting about Aurora, he wrote a book about it 13 years ago.
Ok, well by now you may gather that I'm not a Sweetman fan, but you would be wrong as I certainly appreciate the research and thought that goes into his theories and conjecture - it is primarily the sensationalism that goes along with his articles that I find distasteful.
You may read my musings and say, "Ok smartass, Do you think the Aurora exists?" and my answer would have to be a qualified "Yes". Of course there is no advanced tech aircraft that goes by the literal name "Aurora", but I do believe that there is an advanced, very high supersonic (but not necessarily hypersonic), ISR platform that succeeded the SR-71.
Is it a pulse detonation engine as some contend? Well it would explain the "donuts on a rope" contrails seen across western US skies, but high winds and turbulence could also explain such contrails. Fact is I don't know.
What I do know is this; there are more instances of people witnessing this "Aurora" and other black aircraft than reaches the media and even the web, as there are military people and civilian workers who have seen them and have been told in no uncertain terms to forget what they saw.
Bill Sweetman, for all the sensationalism that goes along with his articles, presents a very well thought out conjecture in this Pop Sci article and it is certainly worth a read. That said, don't be tempted to go off and believe everything you read on the web regarding the Aurora, other black project aircraft and even the B-2, (no it does not use antigravity).
Some of the best discussions on the web regarding the Aurora and other such aircraft can be found on the "Above Top Secret" website. You will find a rather even blend of conspiracy theorists, realists and debunkers. Go there, enjoy.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
With all this talk about the hypersonic FALCON & RATTLRS programs, let us not forget another program which has been progressing quietly at Boeing's Phantom Works and the Dryden facility.
The Boeing X-37 is planned to be a Mach 25 single stage to orbit space plane, intended to take off and land on a runway and is most likely a candidate for an orbital space plane/bomber. It is a near certainty that advanced propulsion technologies developed for FALCON & RATTLRS may eventually find their way to the X-37 program or an eventual offshoot of the program, although right now the basic "get it off the ground" concept is for a rocket-powered plane.
Historically, the X-37 program was publicly put on hold by NASA in 2004 because the project "no longer fit NASA's long term agenda", and was even seen by the media and industry watchdogs as having ended by proof of extensive layoffs of project personnel.
However, that demise of the X-37 was apparently an incorrect assumption by the media and industry watchers and the X-37 project was actually transferred in the early weeks of 2004 from NASA/USAF and is now alive and well under the exclusive and classified umbrella of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). (Bear in mind, the X-37 project is not a "black" special access program, it is however an acknowledged classified program.)
There are 2 X-37 variants - the atmospheric drop test vehicle and the orbital test vehicle.
The first of which has to date accomplished 7 drop test-flights from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The orbital vehicle is due to undergo tests on a shuttle flight at some as yet unspecified point in time.
The X-37A's "mothership" for atmospheric drop tests is the Scaled Composites "White Knight", carrier of the "SpaceShip One" X-Prize winner. Planning for flight tests started in early 2005 and the X-37 atmospheric test vehicle currently has undergone several flights docked to the "White Knight" mothership as well as one free glide flight.
The first free glide flight took place in April 2006, and was a success but the landing experienced some unpleasant bumpiness which led to the test vehicle running off the runway and damaging the front landing gear.
(Pictured above, the X-37A is docked to the Rutan designed "White Knight")
Current status of either vehicle are unknown but what is known is that there is money being spent on extensive wind tunnel tests under the heading of the X-37 budget.
Saturday, September 02, 2006The US Missile Defense Agency recently conducted a test with the Airborne Laser (ABL). The ground test demonstrated the weapon's ability to track and terget a ballistic missile.
The test involved using a simulated boosting ballistic missile, the lower power illuminator laser tracked the target and with returns from the illuminator, computations were made for atmospheric anomallies that could distort the ABL's performance.
The ABL which is behind original schedule but considered highly worth the effort is now scheduled to be installed on a 747-400 in 2007 and the program's first attempted shootdown should take place in 2008.
LockMart's Skunkworks has successfully demonstrated submunitions dispensing from a supersonic sled test vehicle performed under the US Office of Naval Research's Revolutionary Approach To Time-critical Long-Range Strike (RATTLRS) program. The RATTLRS test vehicle dispensed inactive submunitions while travelling at nearly 1,400 miles per hour (600 meters per second).
RATTLRS R&D is tailored to explore the technology for hypersonic weapons delivery for the USAF's Long Range Strike program.
The tests for RATLLRS are taking place at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, flight tests for the turbine powered Mach 3 + vehicle are set for sometime late in 2007.