Spaceship Two Does the Wobble Dance

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Here’s a video of a recent test flight of Spaceship Two, which by this time next year could be offering rides into space to the public. (Got $200,00 I could borrow? I’m good for it. I promise.) The amazing thing about this video isn’t the test flight per se; it’s the mode of reentry. Watch it, and you’ll see the spaceship raising its tail feathers and bobbing like a badminton shuttlecock—intentionally!

I’m going to try to tweak this so that it’ll fit on my page here. But if you want to read it with some explanation, view it here, again courtesy of the Bad Astronomy blog.

Book Takes Wing, and So Do We

I’m typing this at 32,000 feet out of Charlotte, North Carolina over a beautiful cloud deck en route to Miami. (Oops, we just flew back into the clouds! Later: a stunning sunset above the cloud deck, just as we started our descent toward Miami. Layered clouds against a crimson horizon band.)

The last few days have been insane, but I’m about to rest. Aside from the usual trip prep, I was busy getting one last book up at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. This is a new one, in a way—an omnibus collection of the first three Chaos books. Called simply The Chaos Chronicles: Books 1-3, it’s got a gorgeous new cover by Pat Ryan. I enjoy omnibus collections myself—I’ve just finished reading through a series of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan omnibuses that I bought from Baen Webscription. So I thought, why not make an omnibus of the Chaos  books myself, and maybe give the publishers a hint by example? Here it is:

Chaos Omnibus at Kindle | Nook | Smashword

I got that up just in time to see it go live before dropping everything for the trip. No time to make formal announcements—so this will be my first, whenever I have time to get online and post it.  (That would be at my brother’s house in Florida.)

Starting this evening, we’re with family, and kicking back a little. I hope Chuck’s hot tub is still working! 

Human-Powered Ornithopter

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Flap those wings! On some airline flights, I’ve felt that it might be necessary to help by doing that. So does Pearls Before Swine:

Pearls Before Swine

But here’s something real.  A team of University of Toronto students kept a human-powered ornithopter (wing-flapping aircraft) aloft for a short flight after being towed up to takeoff speed by a car.  Just a first step, but a beautiful first step!

More Flying Subs

I can’t decide whether I’d rather have a flying car or a flying submarine. Both seem right up my alley. Last week’s New Scientist has another article about progress toward a flying sub. (I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find my own post on the subject!) Some of the possibilities being considered: use of jet turbines both for air and underwater propulsion (the underwater use being powered by electric motors, rather than jet combustion), the use of air/hydrofoils for both flight and forced submersion. Of course, the work at this point is being pursued on behalf of the military, but I’m rooting for a civilian version, too. I’d link to the article, but most of it is behind a paywall for subscribers, unfortunately. 

All this puts me in mind of Tom Swift, Jr.’s diving seacopter, from the juvenile novel of 1956. That handy invention used an atomic-powered central rotor in the middle of a flying saucer. To fly, it spun to force air downward. To submerge, it reversed to force water upward. I wonder if the folks at DARPA have given any thought to hiring Tom. Here’s what the Ocean Arrow looked like…

Flying Car-a-chute

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What better way to start the holiday weekend (or end it, since I forgot to post this after I wrote it) than to see a flying car fly! This I-TEC Maverick Sport Model is different from the Transition and the Switchblade that I’ve written about before. It’s more like a car/ultralight. Drive it like an open jeep, then pop a chute, start up the propeller, and take off in just 250 feet. Awesome. 

Read about it and see the video here.  (Warning–the video starts with a lot of superfluous racing around like a dune buggy, so you might want to fast-forward to the flying part.)

Those Crazy Guys and Their Flying Machines

While we’re waiting for the “roadable” airplane, the Transition, to come down to our price range—not to mention fly (but they did get it off the ground, in the first short flight test!)—check out this baby: a flying motorcycle called the Switchblade:

Switchblade flying motorcycle

That’s for me! You betcha! According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, “Samson Motorworks has been working on a flying motorcycle, the Switchblade, for two and a half years. The three-wheel motorcycle’s design features three lifting surfaces, like the Piaggio Avanti, and side-by-side seating for two people… The wings will fold beneath the motorcycle’s body… Cameras will provide visibility to the rear, and an optional ballistic parachute will be offered.”

Oh man, I can’t wait. (It hasn’t flown yet, either, but it will. It will.) Buy a lot of those books from me, people—okay? A lot of books!

While we’re waiting, here’s a picture of the Transition in its first leap into the air.

Transition flight test

“Up in the sky, rocketing past
Higher than high, faster than fast,
Out into space, into the sun
Look at her go when we give her the gun.”
—Space Academy Cadet Corps song,
from Tom Corbett, Space Cadet

President Obama!

What more can I say? It was a wonderful and moving inauguration—all those people, as far as the eye could see!—and I came away from watching it with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, buoyed and encouraged and hopeful as I have not been for many years. I did not know until I heard it on the radio later that survivors of the Tuskegee Airmen were present to share the moment. That seemed perfect.

The president has his work cut out for him, and we have ours cut out for us as well. May God bless us all, but especially our new leaders, all of them.

I wish I were there for the party!

Baby, Let Me Fly My Car!

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Some of us still haven’t given up on a combination airplane/car, and some of us (fortunately) are aeronautical engineers from MIT. Carl and Anna Dietrich, cofounders of Terrafugia, Inc. (“Flee from Earth”) in eastern Massachusetts, are building such a craft now, and they hope to fly it by the end of the year and be selling them in another year. You can read the Boston Globe article here and see more video and read more about it on the company website.

Terrafugia Transition, a “roadable airplane”

Personally, I think they need a snappier name for the airplane than the “Transition,” and probably a cooler name for the company, too. But if I had a couple hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, you can betcha’ I’d have my deposit down by this time tomorrow!

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…” —John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

More Flying Stories

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I love flying stories, don’t you? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how much I’d like to get back to flying, if only I had the time and the money. Well, someday. Meanwhile, though, here are a couple of items that crossed my path recently.

Remember those personal flyers that populated science fiction for decades, and seemed inevitable that we would all own? George Jetson had one, why not us, right? Well, NASA is sponsoring research on it. Here’s a glimpse of our future Personal Air Vehicles.

Those personal aircraft, of course, will be very sedate and safe. (Heh-heh, we hope.) Here are a few videos and image collections of flying experiences that are anything but:

  • Video of an amazing landing of an F-15 in what any sane person would call an unflyable condition. Note: you need to get past the first couple of minutes before it really gets interesting at the end. Do watch it to the end. (Are we sure it wasn’t Starbuck flying this thing?)
  • Photos of planes landing at the old Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong
  • A very brief video of a 747 landing in a crosswind at Kai Tak
  • You want crosswind landings? Here are some Boeing test pilots landing 777s and 747s in high crosswind tests. I’ve lost track of the original email that had supporting details, but apparently they do these tests at an out of the way place in South America, where they not only get nasty crosswinds, but it won’t be so embarrassing if they bend some airplanes!

Now that’s flying.

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” —David Lloyd George

Electric Airplane (How Long Is Your Extension Cord?)

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Although I have a private pilot’s license, it’s been some years since I’ve had enough coinola in the bank to do anything with it. (The most I ever managed to do was rent a plane once in a while to go for a local pleasure flight. Or, more frequently, rent a plane to go up and do some practice touch-and-go landings. Still, I always loved it.)

I think all the time about taking it up again sometime. But one thing that’s always bothered me is the additional air pollution you create when you go up in a small plane. It’s not like they’re awful—but they don’t have catalytic converters to clean up the exhaust, and for that matter, most of them burn leaded fuel. (Necessary to keep the cylinders cool.)

So I was cheered today when I got my email newsletter from AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), which had a news item titled: “Environmentally Friendly Aircraft To Take Flight This Year.” It seems Boeing is working on a fuel-cell powered airplane! Here’s an excerpt:

An emission-free experimental aircraft, powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight lithium-ion batteries, could take flight this year. Boeing researchers and industry partners in Europe announced the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project on March 27. The aircraft is currently undergoing systems integration testing to prepare for ground and flight testing. The aircraft uses a proton exchange membrane fuel cell, which converts hydrogen directly into electricity and heat without combustion, and lithium-ion batters to power an electric motor with a conventional propeller. The fuel cell will provide all of the cruise-flight power, while the batteries will power takeoff and climb phases of flight. Francisco Escarti, managing director of Boeing Research and Technology–Europe, said that the fuel cell and batteries likely won’t power a commercial passenger airliner, but that “demonstrations like this help pave the way for potentially using this technology in small manned and unmanned air vehicles.”

Now, that’s the airplane I want to win in a sweepstakes!

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