There’s no more famous road endurance race than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where teams compete to see how far they can drive in a single 24-hour window. The race presents unique challenges not found in other types of racing. While RC airplanes may not have a similar race, [Daniel] a.k.a. [rctestflight] created a similar challenge for himself by attempting to fly an RC airplane non-stop for as long as he could, and a whole host of interesting situations cropped up before and during flight.
In order for an RC plane to fly for an entire day, it essentially needs to be solar powered. A large amount of strategy goes into a design of this sort. For one, the wing shape needs to be efficient in flight but not reduce the amount of area available for solar panels. For another, the start time of the flight needs to be balanced against the position of the sun in the sky. With these variables more or less fixed, [Daniel] began his flight.
It started off well enough, with the plane in an autonomous “return to home” mode which allowed it to continually circle overhead without direct human control. But after taking a break to fly it in FPV mode, [Daniel] noticed that the voltage on his battery was extremely high. It turned out that the solar charge controller wasn’t operating as expected and was shunting a large amount of solar energy directly into the battery. He landed and immediately removed the “spicy pillow” to avoid any sort of nonlinear event. With a new battery in the plane he began the flight again.
Even after all of that, [Daniel] still had some issues stemming from the aerodynamic nature of this plane specifically. There were some issues with wind, and with the flight controller not recognizing the correct “home” position, but all in all it seems like a fun day of flying a plane. If your idea of “fun” is sitting around and occasionally looking up for eight and a half hours. For more of [Daniel]’s long-term autonomous piloting, be sure to take a look at his solar tugboat as well.
Fossil fuels are making news for all the wrong reasons of late. Whether it’s their contribution to global climate change or the fact that the price and supply hinges on violent geopolitics, there are more reasons than ever to shift to cleaner energy sources.
Often, when we think of long-endurance flights, our first thoughts jump to military operations. Big planes with highly-trained crew will fly for long periods, using air-to-air refuelling to stay aloft for extended periods.
However, many of the longest duration flights have been undertaken as entirely civilian operations. The longest of all happened to be undertaken by that most humble of aircraft, the Cessna 172. From December 1958 to February 1959, Bob Timm and John Cook set out to make history. The duo remained aloft for a full 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes,setting a record that stands to this day.
A Test of Endurance
One might expect that such an effort was undertaken to push the envelope or to strike new ground in the world of aerospace engineering. However, the real truth is that Bob Timm was a slot machine mechanic and former bomber pilot who worked at the Hacienda casino in Las Vegas. Proprietor Doc Bailey was always on the hunt for promotional ideas, and Timm pitched his boss that a record attempt in a plane bearing the casino’s branding would be a good way to go. Bailey agreed, and committed $100,000 to the effort.
Modifications to prepare the aircraft for the stunt took the best part of a year. The pint-sized Cessna was fitted with a 95-gallon belly tank, paired with a electric pump that could transfer fuel to the main wing tanks as needed. Special plumbing was also added that would allow the engine oil and filters to be changed while the engine was still running.
Airships. Slow, difficult to land, and highly flammable when they’re full of hydrogen. These days, they’re considered more of a historical curiosity rather than a useful method of transport.
Hybrid Air Vehicles are a UK-based startup working to create a modern take on the airship concept. The goal is to create cleaner air transport for short-hop routes, while also solving many of the issues with the airship concept with a drastic redesign from the ground up. Their vehicle that will do all this goes by the name of Airlander 10. But is it enough to bring airships back to the skies?
A Hybrid Technology
The Airlander 10 is not a lighter-than-air craft like traditional airships. Instead, the vehicle uses the buoyancy from its helium envelope to create only 60-80% of its lift. The rest of the left is generated aerodynamically by air passing over the eliptical shape of the airship’s body. This lift can also be further augmented by two diesel-powered ducted fans on the sides of the airship, which can pivot to assist with takeoff and landing. Two further fixed ducted fans on the rear provide the primary propulsion for the craft.
The hybrid approach brings several benefits over the traditional airship model. Chief among them is that as the Airlander 10 is heavier than air, it need not vent helium throughout flight to avoid becoming positively buoyant as fuel burns off, nor does it need to vent helium to land. However, it still maintains the capability to loiter for incredibly long periods in the sky as it needs to burn very little fuel to stay aloft. Reportedly, it is capable of five days when manned, and even longer durations if operated in an unmanned configuration. Using helium for lift instead of solely relying on engine thrust and wings means that it is much more fuel efficient than traditional fixed-wing airliners. The company’s own estimates suggest the Airlander 10 could slash emissions on short-haul air routes by up to 90%. The gentle take-off and landing characteristics also mean the vehicle doesn’t require traditional airport facilities, making it possible to operate more easily in remote areas, on grass, sand, or even water. Continue reading “Could Airships Make A Comeback With New Hybrid Designs?”→
There are a number of famous (yet fictional) sea monsters in the lakes and oceans around the world, but in the Caspian Sea one turned out to be real. This is where the first vehicles specifically built to take advantage of the ground effect were built by the Soviet Union, and one of the first was known as the Caspian Sea Monster due to the mystery surrounding its discovery. While these unique airplane/boat hybrids were eventually abandoned after several were built for military use, the style of aircraft still has some niche uses and can even be used as a platform for autonomous drones.
This build from [Think Flight] started off as a simple foam model of just such a ground effect vehicle (or “ekranoplan”) in his driveway. With a few test flights the model was refined enough to attach a small propeller and battery. The location of the propeller changed from rear-mounted to front-mounted and then back to rear-mounted for the final version, with each configuration having different advantages and disadvantages. The final model includes an Arudino running an autopilot program called Ardupilot, and with an air speed sensor installed the drone is able to maintain flight in the ground effect and autonomously navigate pre-programmed waypoints around a lake at high speed.
For a Cold War technology that’s been largely abandoned by militaries in favor of other modes of transportation due to its limited use case and extremely narrow flight tolerances, ground effect vehicles are relatively popular as remote controlled vehicles. This RC ekranoplan used the same Ardupilot software but paired with a LIDAR system instead of GPS to navigate its way around its environment.
Jerry Seinfeld launched his career with Bee Movie, an insect-themed animated feature that took the world by storm in 2007. It posed the quandary – that supposedly, according to all known laws of aviation, bees should not be able to fly. Despite this, the bee flies anyway, because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.
The quote isn’t easily attributed to anyone in particular, but is a cautionary tale about making the wrong assumptions in an engineering context. Yes, if you model a bee using the same maths as an airliner, of course you’ll find that it shouldn’t be able to fly. Its tiny wings can’t possibly generate enough lift to get its body off the ground. But that’s because the assumption is an erroneous one – because bees don’t fly in the same way planes do. Bees flap their wings. But that’s just the beginning. The truth is altogether more complex and interesting! Continue reading “Flapping Wings And The Science Of How Bees Can Fly”→
Once upon a time, bailing out of a plane involved popping open the roof or door, and hopping out with your parachute, hoping that you’d maintained enough altitude to slow down before you hit the ground. As flying speeds increased and aircraft designs changed, such escape became largely impossible.
Ejector seats were the solution to this problem, with the first models entering service in the late 1940s. Around this time, the United Kingdom began development of a new fleet of bombers, intended to deliver its nuclear deterrent threat over the coming decades. The Vickers Valiant, the Handley Page Victor, and the Avro Vulcan were all selected to make up the force, entering service in 1955 through 1957 respectively. Each bomber featured ejector seats for the pilot and co-pilot, who sat at the front of the aircraft. The remaining three crew members who sat further back in the fuselage were provided with an escape hatch in the rear section of the aircraft with which to bail out in the event of an emergency.