The B-2 Bomber: Those Who Forget History Are Doomed To Reverse Engineer It

The Drive had an interesting post recently, about someone noticed a procurement from the U. S. Air Force to reverse engineer the B-2 bomber’s Load Heat Exchanger (whatever that is). You’d think if the Air Force wanted to reverse engineer something, they’d be looking at another country’s aircraft. What can this mean?

Presumably, the original plans for the system have been lost, or maybe the company who made them is long gone and the tooling to create new ones along with it. Then again, maybe the assembly needs parts that you can no longer get. The Drive has another interesting speculation: perhaps the plans were so secret that were accidentally destroyed.

You don’t hear much about the B-2. There are only 20 left of the 21 built, at least that we know about. Original plans in the 1980s called for 132, but the end of the Cold War spelled the end for the stealth bomber. They get an overhaul every nine years. The Drive also speculates that this may be part of the Air Force’s desire to digitize spare parts and use 3D printing, but — honestly — it doesn’t sound that way to us. Especially since the fleet will retire no later than 2032, so whatever is replaced is only needed for a decade.

If you think you want to have a go, here’s the help wanted ad from the Air Force. If you read the text, it’s pretty clear they have some defective units that need replacement and it sounds like no one knows how to do it with existing materials. Not many of us get to design things that are still working nearly three decades later. Keeping a supply of parts and even know-how for something built in the 1990s isn’t trivial. Something to think about if you design something with a long service life.

The B-2 is a stealth bomber and while one did crash, it wasn’t shot down. The F-117A — the stealth fighter — was shot down against all odds, though. While the B-2 appears to be quite a plane, we prefer our bombers a little bit older. Still, you might enjoy the video below about the B-2’s chief engineer, although he doesn’t mention the Load Heat Exchanger.

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The US Air Force Wants Your 3D Scanner Ideas

One key piece of technology from Star Trek is the replicator, a machine that 3D prints up almost anything using some hazily-defined high technology. You have to wonder though, how did the patterns for Earl Grey tea or a spare part for a shuttlecraft intercooler come to exist in the first place. Maybe someone designed them, or perhaps they scanned the real articles. The US Air Force is betting on the latter, and they’ve asked for white papers and proposals for innovative methods to scan objects for 3D printing.

It isn’t surprising military planners would like to have effective 3D printing. After all, you can’t carry every spare part you might need into a theater of operation. Not to mention spares for your friends in joint operations or for enemy gear you might happen to capture. Having a truck that could turn out whatever your troops need is an attractive proposition. Continue reading “The US Air Force Wants Your 3D Scanner Ideas”

The United States Air Force Would Like You To Hack Into Their Satellite

The Air Force is again holding its annual “Space Security Challenge” where they invite you to hack into a satellite to test their cybersecurity measures. There are actually two events. In the first one, $150,000 is up for grabs in ten prizes and the final event offers a $100,000 purse divided among the three top participants (first place takes $50,000).

Before you get too excited, you or your team has to first qualify online. The qualification event will be over two days starting May 22. The qualifying event is set up a bit like the TV show Jeopardy. There is a board with categories. When a team solves a challenge in a category it receives a flag that is worth points as well as getting to unlock the next challenge. Once a challenge is unlocked however, any team could potentially work on it. There are more rules, but that’s the gist of it. At the end of the event, the judges will contact the top 10 teams who will then each have to submit a technical paper.

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US Air Force Says They’re Developing An Open Source Jet Engine; We Say Show Us The Design

The economies of scale generally dictate that anything produced in large enough numbers will eventually become cheap. But despite the fact that a few thousand of them are tearing across the sky above our heads at any given moment, turbine jet engines are still expensive to produce compared to other forms of propulsion. The United States Air Force Research Laboratory is hoping to change that by developing their own in-house, open source turbine engine that they believe could reduce costs by as much as 75%.

The Responsive Open Source Engine (ROSE) is designed to be cheap enough that it can be disposable, which has obvious military applications for the Air Force such as small jet-powered drones or even missiles. But even for the pacifists in the audience, it’s hard not to get excited about the idea of a low-cost open source turbine. Obviously an engine this small would have limited use to commercial aviation, but hackers and makers have always been obsessed with small jet engines, and getting one fired up and self-sustaining has traditionally been something of a badge of honor.

Since ROSE has been developed in-house by the Air Force, they have complete ownership of the engine’s intellectual property. This allows them to license the design to manufacturers for actual production rather than buying an existing engine from a single manufacturer and paying whatever their asking price is. The Air Force will be able to shop ROSE around to potential venders and get the best price for fabrication. Depending on how complex the engine is to manufacture, even smaller firms could get in on the action. The hope is that this competition will serve to not only improve the design, but also to keep costs down.

We know what you’re thinking. Where is the design, and what license is it released under? Unfortunately, that aspect of ROSE seems unclear. The engine is still in development so the Air Force isn’t ready to show off the design. But even when it’s complete, we’re fairly skeptical about who will actually have access to it. Open Source is in the name of the project and to live up to that the design needs to be available to the general public. From a purely tactical standpoint keeping the design of a cheap and reliable jet engine away from potential enemy states would seem to be a logical precaution, but is at cross purposes to what Open Source means. Don’t expect to be seeing it on GitHub anytime soon. Nuclear reactors are still fair game, though.

[Thanks to Polymath99 for the tip.]

Ham Radio Company Wins Big

It is sort of the American dream: start a company in your garage and have it get crazy big. After all, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and even Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard did it. Seems hard to do these days, though. However, one ham radio company that has been pushing the edge of software defined radio appears to be well on the way to becoming more than its roots. FlexRadio has teamed with Raytheon to undertake a major project for the United States Air Force.

The Air Force has given Raytheon and FlexRadio $36 million to develop an HF radio based on the existing SmartSDR/Flex-6000. ARRL news reports quote FlexRadio’s CEO as saying that the investment in the military radios will pay dividends to the firm’s ham radio customers.

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Rebuilding An Extremely Rare Twin Mustang Fighter

Towards the end of the Second World War, as the United States considered their options for a possible invasion of Japan, there was demand for a new fighter that could escort long range bombers on missions which could see them travel more than 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) without refueling. In response, North American Aviation created the F-82, which essentially took two of their immensely successful P-51 fighters and combined them on the same wing. The resulting plane, of which only 272 were built, ultimately set the world record for longest nonstop flight of a propeller-driven fighter at 8,129 km (5,051 mi) and ended up being the last piston engine fighter ordered by the United States Air Force.

Today, only five of these “Twin Mustangs” are known to exist. One of those, a prototype XP-82 variant, is currently in the final stages of an epic decade-long rebuilding process directed by warbird restoration expert [Tom Reilly]. At the end of this painstaking restoration, which makes use of not only original hardware but many newly produced components built with modern technology such as CNC milling and 3D printing, the vintage fighter will become the only flyable F-82 in the world.

CNC milled replacement brake caliper

The project provides a fascinating look at what it takes to not only return a 70+ year old ultra-rare aircraft to fully functional status, but do it in a responsible and historically accurate way. With only four other intact F-82’s in the world, replacement parts are obviously an exceptional rarity. The original parts used to rebuild this particular aircraft were sourced from literally all over the planet, piece by piece, in a process that started before [Tom] even purchased the plane itself.

In a way, the search for parts was aided by the unusual nature of the F-82, which has the outward appearance of being two standard P-51 fighters, but in fact utilizes a vast number of modified components. [Tom] would keep an eye out for parts being sold on the open market which their owners mysteriously discovered wouldn’t fit on a standard P-51. In some cases these “defective” P-51 parts ended up being intended for the Twin Mustang project, and would get added to the collection of parts that would eventually go into the XP-82 restoration.

For the parts that [Tom] couldn’t find, modern manufacturing techniques were sometimes called in. The twin layout of the aircraft meant the team occasionally had one component but was missing its counterpart. In these cases, the original component could be carefully measured and then recreated with either a CNC mill or 3D printed to be used as a die for pressing the parts out of metal. In this way the team was able to reap the benefits of modern production methods while still maintaining historical accuracy; important on an aircraft where even the colors of the wires used in the original electrical system have been researched and faithfully recreated.

We’ve seen plenty of restorations here at Hackaday, but they tend to be of the vintage computer and occasionally Power Wheels variety. It’s interesting to see that the same sort of techniques we apply to our small scale projects are used by the pros to preserve pieces of history for future generations.

[Thanks to Daniel for the tip.]

U.S Air Force Is Going To Get Hacked

[HackerOne] has announced that US Dept of Defense (DoD) has decided to run their biggest bug bounty program ever, Hack the Air force.

You may remember last year there was the Hack the Pentagon bug bounty program, Well this year on the coattails of last year’s success the DoD has decided to run an even bigger program this year: Hack The Air force. Anyone from “The Five Eyes” countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and of course the United States) can take part. This is a change in format from the Pentagon challenge which was only open to U.S citizens and paid out a total of around $75,000 in bug bounties.

Now obviously there are rules. You can’t just hack The Air Force no matter how much you want “All their base are belong to you”. The DoD want computer hackers to find bugs in their public facing web services and are not so much interested in you penetration testing their weapons systems or any other critical infrastructure. Try that and you may end up with a lovely never-ending tour of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.