Reducing The Risk Of Flying With Hydrogen Fuels

Flight shaming is the hot new thing where people who take more than a handful of trips on an airplane per year are ridiculed for the environmental impact of their travels. It’s one strategy for making flying more sustainable, but it’s simply not viable for ultimately reducing the carbon impact that the airline industries have on the environment.

Electric planes are an interesting place to look for answers. Though carbon-free long haul travel is possible, it’s not a reality for most situations in which people travel today. Current battery technology can’t get anywhere near the energy density of fossil fuels and larger batteries aren’t an option since every pound matters when designing aircraft.

Even with land travel and electric grids improving in their use of renewables and electric power, aviation tends to be difficult to power with anything other than hydrocarbons. Student engineers in the AeroDelft program in the Netherlands have created Project Phoenix to develop an aircraft powered by a liquid hydrogen fuel cell, producing a primary emission of water vapor. So it is an electric plane, but leverages the energy density of hydrocarbons to get around the battery weight problem.

While the project may seem like an enormous reach peppered with potential safety hazards, redundant safety features are used such as sensors and vents in case of a hydrogen leakage, as well as an electric battery in case of failure. Hydrogen produced three times more energy per unit than kerosene, but is six times the volume in gas form and requires cumbersome compression tanks.

Even though hydrogen fuel only produces water vapor as a byproduct, it can still cause greenhouse effects if it is released too high and creates clouds. The team is exploring storage tanks for slow release of the water vapor at more optimal altitudes. On top of that, most hydrogen is produced using steam methane reforming (SMR), creating up to 150g of greenhouse gases per kWh, and electrolysis tends to be more costly and rarely carbon neutral. Alternatives such as solar power, biofuels, and electric power are looking to make headwind as well, but the technology is still far from perfected.

While it’s difficult to predict the success of the project so early on, the idea of reducing risk in hydrogen fuels may not be limited to a handful of companies for very long.

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Qantas’ Research Flight Travels 115% Of Range With Undercrowded Cabin

Long-haul flights can be a real pain when you’re trying to get around the world. Typically, they’re achieved by including a stop along the way, with the layover forcing passengers to deplane and kill time before continuing the flight. As planes have improved over the years, airlines have begun to introduce more direct flights where possible, negating this frustration.

Australian flag carrier Qantas are at the forefront of this push, recently attempting a direct flight from New York to Sydney. This required careful planning and preparation, and the research flight is intended to be a trial run ahead of future commercial operations. How did they keep the plane — and the passengers — in the air for this extremely long haul? The short answer is that they cheated with no cargo and by pampering their 85% empty passenger cabin. Yet they plan to leverage what they learn to begin operating 10,000+ mile non-stop passenger flights — besting the current record by 10% — as soon as four years from now.
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Monster Bush Plane Is A One-Off Engineering Masterpiece

All of us dream of reaching a point in life where we have the knowledge, skills, energy and resources to pull off builds that match our wildest dreams. [Mike Patey] is living that dream and with a passion for engineering and aviation that is absolutely infectious, he built Draco, the world’s most badass bush plane.

Draco started life as a PZL-104MA Wilga 2000, which already had impressive short take off and landing (STOL) capabilities for a 4 seater. Its original 300 hp Lycoming piston engine failed catastrophically in 2017, very nearly dumping [Mike] in Lake Utah. He decided it was a good excuse to start building his dream plane, and replaced the motor with a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine, putting out a massive 680 hp.

Almost the entire plane was upgraded, and the engineering that went into it is awe-inspiring, especially considering that [Mike] did most of it himself. This includes a redesigned fuel system, enlarged wing and control surfaces, new avionics, oxygen system, upgraded landing gear and an array of lights. The wing tip landing lights are actually from a Boeing 737. [Mike] estimates that the upgrades cost somewhere in the region of a million US dollars. All the highlights of the build is documented in series of videos on [Mike]’s YouTube channel. What we would give for a personal workshop like that…

Try not to let your jaw hit the floor when watching the video after the break.

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Pushing Tin Remotely: The Start Of Flight Control In The Cloud

In a 1999 movie (Pushing Tin), a flight controller is a passenger on a plane and tells the flight attendant that he needs to speak to the person controlling the plane. The flight attendant tells him the pilot is very busy to which the controller responds, “…you really think the pilot is controlling this plane? That would really scare me.” We wonder what that fictional character would think flying into Loveland Colorado. Their Colorado Remote Tower Project. While there’s still a human flight controller, they aren’t physically located at the airport and rely on remote cameras and radar so the controller can be located elsewhere.

The subject airport is the Northern Colorado Regional Airport and is the state’s busiest airport that has no tower. While the concept — generically known as Remote and Virtual Tower or RVT — dates back to 2002, its adoption is only now starting to pick up steam. An airport in Sweden was the first to go live for normal use in April of 2015, but the Colorado installation is the first approved in the United States. If the official site is a little too dry for you, there’s a CBS report with a video that gives you a quick overview of what’s happening. Or dive in with the demonstration video you can see below.

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Aireon Hitchhikes On Iridium To Track Airplanes

SpaceX just concluded 2017 by launching 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. A footnote on the launch was the “hosted payload” on board each of the satellites: a small box of equipment from Aireon. They will track every aircraft around the world in real-time, something that has been technically possible but nobody claimed they could do it economically until now.

Challenge one: avoid adding cost to aircraft. Instead of using expensive satcom or adding dedicated gear, Aireon listen to ADS-B equipment already installed as part of international air traffic control modernization. But since ADS-B was designed for aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ground, Aireon had some challenges to overcome. Like the fact ADS-B antenna is commonly mounted on the belly of an aircraft blocking direct path to satellite.

Challenge two: hear ADS-B everywhere and do it for less. Today we can track aircraft when they are flying over land, but out in the middle of the ocean, there are no receivers in range except possibly other aircraft. Aireon needed a lot of low-orbit satellites to ensure you are in range no matter where you are. Piggybacking on Iridium gives them coverage at a fraction of the cost of building their own satellites.

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Restoring A Retro 747 Control Display Unit

Anyone who’s into retro aviation gear falls in love with those mysterious displays, dials, keypads, banks of knife switches. There’s a lot of sexy in those devices, built with high standards in a time when a lot of it was assembled by hand.

[Jeremy Gilbert] bought a 747-200’s Control Display Unit (CDU)– the interface with the late ’70s in-flight computer–and is bringing it back to life in a project. His goal is to get it to light up and operate just as if it were installed in a 747.

Of particular interest is the display, which turned out to consist of a series of 5×7 matrices (seen on the right) controlled by chips no one uses any more. However, [Jeremy] found a blog post where someone had hacked out Arduino code for a cousin of the chip, saving him a lot of time. However, he’s got a lot more sleuthing yet to do.

If you’re into retro displays, we’ve mentioned a number of good ones, including the legendary Apollo DSKY and an awesome retrocomputer.




Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular Instrumentation For Aircraft

Parts, tools, and components for aviation and aerospace are sold in ‘Aviation Monetary Units’ (AMU). Right now, the conversion factor from USD to AMU is about 1000 to 1. This stuff is expensive, but there is a small portion of the flying community that prides itself on not breaking the bank every time something needs to be replaced. Theses are often the microlight, ultralight, and experimental aircraft enthusiasts. Steam gauges are becoming obsolete and expensive to repair, and you’re not going to throw a 15 AMU Garmin G500 in an ultralight that only costs 10 AMU.

To solve this problem, [Rene] is turning to sensors, displays, and microcontrollers that are cheap and readily available to build modular aviation instruments.

As with all aviation gear, the first question that springs to mind is, ‘what will the FAA think about this?’. [Rene] is in South Africa, so the answer is, ‘nothing’. If a few American pilots decide to build one of these, that’ll fly too; these are instruments designed for non-type-certified aircraft. That’s not to say there are no rules for what goes into these aircraft, but the paperwork is much easier.

Right now, the design goals for [Rene]’s instruments is under 0.1 AMU per module, robust, RF shielded, with engine monitoring, fuel management, heading, air and ground speed, altitude, attitude, and all the other gauges that make flying easy. He’s using a CAN bus for all of these modules, and in the process slowly dragging the state of the art of ultralight aviation into the 1990s. It’s fantastic work, and we can’t wait to see some of these modules in the air.