Piloting a plane older than two of the three crew on board, a Swiss team shattered Steve Fossett's around-the-world flight record by almost ten hours over the weekend, the first time the record has been set in this weight class with refueling stops. But the pilots didn't just have to negotiate the usual headwinds and bad weather -- their flight was nearly derailed by a volcanic eruption in Iceland that forced them to make an extra refueling stop and add an unexpected 12th leg to their journey.
In 1983, engineers at General Electric experimented with an "unducted fan" engine. Without the external casing, airflow through the blades increased, delivering more power for the same amount of fuel. The thing was loud, but the company pressed on because the trick could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 26 percent. Then fuel prices dropped, gas guzzling became acceptable, and GE mothballed the project. Now that airlines are again conscious of fuel costs and carbon, the idea is back, and new tech is making it feasible.
After cost overruns, a series of delays, and almost a decade of hype, the F-35 Lighting finally performed a vertical landing for the first time. Yesterday at 1 P.M., after descending from a 150-foot-high hover, the test plane touched down on the tarmac at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. This is a significant step forward for the F-35, as its vertical takeoff and landing capability are crucial to the fighter's role as a replacement for the aging Harrier jet.
If there were an award for best DIY hybrid hovercraft-airplane, Rudy Heeman would likely take home the prize. Heeman, who has been building hovercraft in his garage as a hobby for years, commandeered a few items from around the house -- a propane bottle from the backyard grill, some electronic implements from his daughter's toys, the odd part from his wife's car -- to create this hovercraft that actually takes to the skies when he pushes it to speeds over 45 miles per hour.
Mating a rocket with a helicopter sounds improbable, but only until you watch the Dragonfly DF1 take to the skies. DVICE reports that the rocket-powered copter received airworthiness certificates last November, and may go on sale as early as this year.
The copter makes use of tiny hydrogen-peroxide-powered rocket motors on the tips of the blades, which replaces the traditional engine-powered rotor. Large fuel tanks surrounding the pilot allow the Dragonfly to travel at up to 40 mph for 50 minutes.
President Obama likely faces a tough crowd when he attempts to articulate his vision for NASA in Florida next month, but in the meantime the private space industry he's thrown his support behind continues to make strides. Private space tech company SpaceX just completed its first successful test-fire of its Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad, meeting a critical benchmark in its mission to launch cargo and astronauts into orbit.
Scientists half-jokingly call it the "ignorosphere" -- a region about 50-100 kilometers above the Earth that's too high for airplanes, but too low for satellites. "It earned its name because even though the area is valuable to researchers, there has been no easy way to get to it," said Alan Stern, planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. But, Stern says, suborbital flights, like those made by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, go right to the heart of this region, which includes the layer of the Earth's atmosphere that lies above the stratosphere and below the thermosphere.
For all the government conspiracy militia nuts out there, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there is no such thing as silent, stealth black helicopters. The bad news is that, thanks to Eurocopter's noise-canceling Blue Edge rotor blades, there soon will be.
To perfect the vertical and short takeoff and landing ability of the F-35 Lightning II, test pilots have been taking off and landing at progressively shorter distances and slower speeds, building up to the final, true vertical boost. And today, engine manufacturers Pratt and Whitney released video of the slowest, shortest takeoff and landing yet, in which the jet cruises to a stop at 130 knots.