How Efficient Can An Airplane Be? The Celera 500L Sets To Find Out

One of the current hype trends is the supposedly imminent revolution in air transport. So many companies showing digital renderings and mockups to illustrate their own utopic vision for the future, reaching fevered pitch at events like CES 2020. But aviation has a long history of machinery that turned out to be impractical. Wouldn’t it be great if a company focused their resources on building real aircraft and get real data before cranking up their hype machine? The people at Otto Aviation thought so, and their Celera 500L has reportedly taken to the skies.

If you said “Otto who?” you are not alone. The company has zero PR activity to speak of. Limited internet attention started from aviation fans spotting the Celera 500L under construction at its Southern California airfield. Its unusual exterior appearance and proximity to Hollywood made some dismiss it at first as a movie prop. Anyone with a passing interest in aerospace engineering could immediately see aerodynamics was a priority in this design, its long thin unswept glider-like wings implies the goal is fuel efficiency rather than speed. This was confirmed by internet sleuths uncovering patents filed by people associated with the company.

The patents include very lofty fuel efficiency goals, and industry veterans are skeptical. Fuel is a huge factor in aircraft operating costs where small increases in efficiency translate to big dollars over a plane’s lifetime. It’s hard to believe every other plane maker would deliberately leave so much on the table. There must be far more to the 500L inside that teardrop shaped body, with innovations and potentially making some trade-offs no other company has made. We can see two of them from the outside: the 500L traded off some pilot visibility for aerodynamics, and it has very little ground clearance to absorb the impact of less-than-ideal landings.

It’s certainly possible the ideas leading to this plane will fail to pan out in reality like so many ideas before them. Aerospace engineering is a field littered with debris of concepts that looked great on paper but crashed against a hard and unforgiving reality. But at least Otto Aviation is trying something new by building real hardware to get real data, something well worth recognizing in a sea of hyped up fantasy renderings.

[Photo via SoCal Airshow Review]

The Rotodyne Fails To Take Off

Bacon and eggs, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper; some things just go together. You’d think that a mashup of an airplane and a helicopter would be great, right? The Fairey Rotodyne was just such a thing from the late 1950s and while it looked to be the wave of the future, it never took off — at least, not in the business sense at least. [Mustard] has an excellent video about the machine including some flight footage and explains why it failed to take over the aviation market. You can watch the video below.

While it does look like a helicopter mated with an airplane, it’s actually a bit different. The rotor isn’t normally powered at all. However, it does turn in forward flight and generates about half the lift the plane needs. That explains the stubby wings. The topside rotor has small jets at the tips that can be used during vertical take off, landing, and hovering modes.

One of the craft’s four tip jets.

For its time, it was fast and efficient, especially compared to contemporary helicopters. This type of plane was known as an autogyro and actually appeared in the 1930s as a safety mechanism since an autogyro can land in an autorotation mode.

According to the video, the noisy tip jets and production delays killed the beast. There was only one prototype built, but there was something we found very attractive about it. There have been, of course, other autogyros. British, German, Japanese, and Russian military have used autogyros at one time or another. The United States Postal Service was known to employ at least one.

Even today, there are about a thousand autogyros used by different military and police organizations. They are cheaper than a helicopter to buy and fly. Sadly, though, it doesn’t look like autogyros will ever become a common sight. Like an airship, they seem like a callback to an earlier time when you have a chance to spot one.

We are always surprised we don’t see more model autogyros. We wonder how they’d be at cutting down trees.

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Ion Powered Airplane: Not Coming To An Airport Near You

Not that we don’t love Star Trek, but the writers could never decide if ion propulsion was super high tech (Spock’s Brain) or something they used every day (The Menagerie). Regardless, ion propulsion is real and we have it today on more than one spacecraft. However, MIT recently demonstrated an ion-powered airplane. How exciting! An airplane with no moving parts that runs on electricity. Air travel will change forever, right? According to [Real Engineering], ion-propelled (full-sized) aircraft run into problems with the laws of physics. You can see the video explaining that, below.

To understand why, you need to know two things: how ion drive works and how the engines differ when using them in an atmosphere. Let’s start with a space-based ion engine, a topic we’ve covered before. Atoms are turned into ions which are accelerated electrically. So the ion engine is just using electricity to create thrust exhaust instead of burning rocket fuel.

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Adopting An Orphaned Ultralight

Owning and flying your own small airplane offers a nearly unmatched level of freedom and autonomy. Traveling “as the crow flies” without having to deal with traffic on the ground immediately shrinks your world, and makes possible all sorts of trips and adventures. Unfortunately the crippling downsides of plane ownership (storage and maintenance costs, knowledge that you might die in a fiery crash, etc), keeps most of us planted squarely on terra firma.

But not [ITman496]. His dream of owning an ultralight has recently come true, and he’s decided to share his experience with the world. He’s got a long way to go before he slips the surly bonds of Earth, but there’s no better place to start than the beginning. In a recent blog post he documents the process of getting his new toy home, and details some of the work he plans on doing to get it airworthy.

The plane in question is a Mini-MAX that [ITman496] has determined is not only older than he is, but has never flown. It was built by a retired aircraft mechanic who unfortunately had problems with his heart towards the end of assembly. He wisely decided that he should find a safer way to spend his free time than performing solo flights in an experimental aircraft, so he put the plane up for sale.

After a considerable adventure transporting the plane back home, [ITman496] found it was stored in such good condition that the engine started right up. But that doesn’t mean it’s ready for takeoff by any stretch of the imagination. For his own safety, he’s planning on tearing down the entire plane to make sure everything is in good shape and assembled correctly; so at least he’ll only have himself to blame if anything happens when he’s in the air.

One the plane’s structure is sound, he’ll move on to some much needed engine modifications including a way to adjust the air-fuel mixture from inside the cockpit, improvements to the cooling system, and installation of a exhaust system that’s actually intended for the two-stroke engine he has. When that’s done, [ITman496] is going to move onto the real fun stuff: creating his own “glass cockpit”.

For Hackaday readers who don’t spend their time playing make believe in flight simulators, a “glass cockpit” is a general term for using digital displays rather than analog gauges in a vehicle. [ITman496] has already bought two daylight-readable 10.1″ IPS displays which he plans on driving over HDMI with the Raspberry Pi. No word on what his software setup and sensor array will look like, but we’re eager to hear more as the project progresses.

If you’re not lucky enough to find a mostly-complete kit plane nearby on Craigslist, you could always just make your own airplane out of sheets of foam.

Paper Airplane Database Has The Wright Stuff

We’ve always had a fascination with things that fly. Sure, drones are the latest incarnation of that, but there have been RC planes, kites, and all sorts of flying toys and gizmos even before manned flight was possible. Maybe the first model flying machine you had was a paper airplane. There’s some debate, but it appears the Chinese and Japanese made paper airplanes 2,000 years ago. Now there’s a database of paper airplane designs, some familiar and some very cool-looking ones we just might have to try.

If you folded the usual planes in school, you’ll find those here. But you’ll also find exotic designs like the Sea Glider and the UFO. The database lets you select from planes that work better for distance, flight time, acrobatics, or decoration. You can also select the construction difficulty and if you need to make cuts in the paper or not. There are 40 designs in all at the moment. There are step-by-step instructions, printable folding instructions, and even YouTube videos showing how to build the planes.

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Marines 3D-Print Part To Repair Multi-Million Dollar Fighter

The good news: all you need to complete the repair you’re working on is one small part. The bad news: it’s only available in a larger, expensive assembly. The worst news: shipping time is forever. We’ve all been there, and it’s a hard pill to swallow for the DIYer. Seems like a good use case for 3D-printing.

Now imagine you’re a US Marine, and instead of fixing a dishwasher or TV remote, you’ve got a $123 million F-35 fighter in the shop. The part you need is a small plastic bumper for the landing gear door, but it’s only available as part of the whole door assembly, which costs $70,000 taxpayer dollars. And lead time to get it shipped from the States is measured in weeks. Can you even entertain the notion of 3D-printing a replacement? It turns out you can, and it looks like there will be more additive manufacturing to come in Corps repair depots around the world.

Details of the printed part are not forthcoming for obvious reasons, but the part was modeled in Blender and printed in PETG on what appears to be a consumer-grade printer. The part was installed after a quick approval for airworthiness, and the grounded fighter was back in service within days. It’s encouraging that this is not a one-off; other parts have been approved for flight use by the Marines, and a whole catalog of printable parts for ground vehicles is available too. This is the reality that the 3D printing fiction of Lost in Space builds upon.

And who knows? Maybe there are field-printable parts in the disposable drones the Corps is using for standoff resupply missions.

[via 3D-Printing Industry]

Specialized Knife Sharpener From Old Airplane

“Surely sharpening a knife can’t be that hard” one might think, as they destroy the edge on their pocket knife by flailing it wildly against a whetstone of indeterminate grain. In reality, knife sharpening is as nuanced a practice as virtually any other field, and getting a quality finish is much harder than it seems. It also gets increasingly complex with different blades, as [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] shows with is customized knife sharpening jig.

The hardest part in any blade sharpening is getting the proper bevel angle. A heavy angle is good for heavy-duty tools like axes, but for fine work like shaving a more sharp angle is required. Usually, a table-mounted jig is required but due to production constraints, a handheld one was used. It’s made with push rods and a cam follower from an airplane engine (parts are plentiful since this particular engine breaks all the time) and can impart very specific bevel angles on blades. For example, machetes have a heavy angle near the handle but a finer point towards the tip, and this tool helps streamline sharpening many knives quickly.

If you want to try your hand at another project that’s not as straightforward as it might seem, you might want to build a knife from scratch before you make an attempt at a sharpening tool. It’s just as nuanced a process, but with a little practice can be done with only a few tools.

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