This Hurricane Uses A Novel Technique

You’ve probably heard of the brave pilots, the so-called ‘few’, that took to the air in their Supermarine Spitfires and saved the day during the Battle of Britain. It’s a story that contains a lot of truth, but as is so often the case, it masks a story with a bit more complexity. Those pilots did scramble across the airfields of Southern England back in the summer of 1940, but more of them went into battle behind the controls of a Hawker Hurricane than its more glamorous stablemate.

The Hurricane might have been eclipsed by the Spitfire in the public’s eye, but not for [Marius Taciuc], who’s made a fully-functional RC model of one. Normally that wouldn’t be worthy of our attention, but in this case he’s employed a rather fascinating construction technique. He’s recreated the doped-fabric skin of the original by 3D-printing the frame of the aircraft and covering it in heat-shrink film, making this a very rare bird indeed.

The video below takes us through the steps including the development of the frame in a CAD package based on a tracing of a 2D aircraft picture, fitting the film, and finally attempts at flight that are unfortunately foiled by inappropriate wheel choice. But the short flight and crash does demonstrate that this construction method is durable, which leads on to our interest in it. While it evidently makes a functional aircraft, there are other applications that could benefit from such a lightweight and strong combination of materials.

[Marius] actually created a model of the somewhat more photogenic Spitfire using a similar technique, though as far as we can tell, that one has remained grounded. Incidentally, these pages have been previously graced by Hurricanes of the non-PLA variety. Continue reading “This Hurricane Uses A Novel Technique”

Hackaday Links: September 1, 2019

The sun may be spotless, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing interesting things. A geomagnetic storm is predicted for this weekend, potentially giving those at latitudes where the Northern Lights are not common a chance to see a cosmic light show. According to SpaceWeather.com, a coronal hole, a gap in the sun’s atmosphere that can let the solar wind escape, is about to line up with Earth. The last time this hole was on the Earth-facing side of the sun, the resultant storm gave aurora as far south as Colorado. So if you’re in any of the northern tier states, you might want to find somewhere with dark skies and a good view to the north this weekend.

It’s not only space weather that’s in the news, but weather-weather too. Hurricane Dorian will probably make landfall as a Category 4 storm, probably along Florida’s Atlantic coast, and probably in the middle of the night on Monday. That’s a lot of uncertainty, but one thing’s for sure: amateur radio operators will be getting into the action. The Hurricane Watch Net will activate their net for Dorian on Saturday afternoon at 5:00 PM Eastern time, ready to take reports from stations in the affected area. Not a ham? You can still listen to the live feed once the net activates.

Hams aren’t the only ones getting geared up for Dorian, though. Weather satellite enthusiasts are pointing their SDRs at the sky and grabbing some terrifyingly beautiful pictures of Dorian as it winds up. Some of the downloaded images are spectacular, and if you’ve got an SDR dongle and a couple of pieces of coat hanger wire, you too can spy on Dorian from any number of satellites.

Speaking of which, over on r/RTLSDR, someone has done a little data mining and shown that NOAA 15 is still very much alive. u/amdorj plotted the scan motor current draw and found that it steadily decreased over time, possibly indicating that the bearings aren’t as worn as previously thought. We recently covered the story of the plucky satellite that’s almost two decades past its best-by date; here’s hoping our report on its death was greatly exaggerated.

In one of the weirder bits of marketing we’ve seen lately, NASA decided to name a rock on Mars after septuagenarian rockers The Rolling Stones. The golf ball size rock was blasted about a meter across the Martian landscape when the Mars InSight lander touched down in 2018, leaving a small scar in the dust. The stone had obviously rolled, so phone calls were made and one thing led to another, and before you know it, Robert Downey Jr. is making the announcement before a Stones concert at the Rose Bowl, right in JPL’s backyard. There’s even a cute animation to go along with it. It’s a nice piece of marketing, but it’s not the first time the Stones have been somewhat awkwardly linked to the technology world. We dare you not to cringe.

We’ll finish up today with something not related to space. As Al Williams recently covered, for about fifty bucks you can now score a vector network analyzer (VNA) that will do all sorts of neat RF tricks. The NanoVNA sounds like a great buy for anyone doing RF work, but its low price point and open-source nature mean people are finding all kinds of nifty uses for it. One is measuring the length of coax cables with time-domain reflectometry, or TDR. Phasing antenna arrays? the NanoVNA sounds like the perfect tool for the job.

Construction Cranes Versus Hurricanes

When engineers are designing buildings, bridges, or other large construction projects, a lot of thought is given to the environment. Some of these considerations might seem obvious, like designing a skyscraper in San Francisco to tolerate earthquakes, building a stadium in New York City to hold up not only its own weight but the weight of several feet of snow on the roof, or constructing bridges in any coastal area to be able to tolerate salt spray. Not everything is this straightforward, though. Not only do the structures themselves have to tolerate the environmental conditions they are in, but the equipment that is used to build them must tolerate these conditions as well, specifically the large cranes that are often semi-permanently attached to their construction sites.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this in recent memory was during Typhoon Manghut as it hit Hong Kong. There were several large construction cranes that didn’t fare too well with the high winds. At least one toppled as a result and catching the free-spinning of another on video is more than enough to make you gasp. Other videos of construction cranes surfaced from this typhoon showing some concerning, but surprisingly well-designed, emergency operation of the same type of crane.

Continue reading “Construction Cranes Versus Hurricanes”

Hurricane Simulator Buoys Research

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, 38,000 gallons of seawater is worth an un-quantifiable amount of knowledge about hurricanes. At the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, [Brian Haus] and his colleagues study hurricanes using a simulator–an enclosed glass tank about the size of a lap-swimming pool. With the flip of a switch, a 1700 hp fan can create winds up to 200 miles per hour—stronger than a baseline category 5 hurricane.

Although there’s currently no cure for hurricanes, understanding how they work goes a long way in forecasting their intensity. Scientists know that hurricanes are fueled by the ocean’s warmth, but there’s still plenty of mystery to them. By studying what happens where the wind meets the water, they think they’ll figure out how surface factors like sea spray and bubbles affect a storm’s intensity and drag coefficient. Surf the break to catch the wave tank in action.

Until there’s a cure for hurricanes, we’ll just have to live with them and engineer our structures to withstand them.

Continue reading “Hurricane Simulator Buoys Research”

Modernizing Puerto Rico’s Grid

After two massive hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico three months ago, the island was left with extensive damage to its electrical infrastructure. Part of the problem was that the infrastructure was woefully inadequate to withstand a hurricane impact at all. It is possible to harden buildings and infrastructure against extreme weather, and a new plan to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid will address many of these changes that, frankly, should have been made long ago.

Among the upgrades to the power distribution system are improvements to SCADA systems. SCADA allows for remote monitoring and control of substations, switchgear, and other equipment which minimizes the need for crews to investigate problems and improves reliability. SCADA can also be used for automation on a large scale, in addition to the installation of other autonomous equipment meant to isolate faults and restore power quickly. The grid will get physical upgrades as well, including equipment like poles, wire, and substations that are designed and installed to a more rigorous standard in order to make them more wind- and flood-tolerant. Additional infrastructure will be placed underground as well, and a more aggressive tree trimming program will be put in place.

The plan also calls for some 21st-century improvements as well, including the implementation of “micro grids”. These micro grids reduce the power system’s reliance on centralized power plants by placing small generation facilities (generators, rooftop solar, etc) in critical areas, like at hospitals. Micro grids can also be used in remote areas to improve reliability where it is often impractical or uneconomical to service.

While hurricanes are inevitable in certain parts of the world, the damage that they cause is often exacerbated by poor design and bad planning. Especially in the mysterious world of power generation and distribution, a robust infrastructure is extremely important for the health, safety, and well-being of the people who rely on it. Hopefully these steps will improve Puerto Rico’s situation, especially since this won’t be the last time a major storm impacts the island.

Power Through A Hurricane

When living in an area that is prone to natural disasters, it’s helpful to keep something on hand for backup power. While a large number of people chose to use generators, they are often unreliable (or poorly maintained), noisy, produce dangerous carbon monoxide, or run on a fuel supply that might not be available indefinitely. For truly reliable backup power, [Jay] has turned to a battery bank to ride through multi-day power outages.

While the setup doesn’t run his whole house, it isn’t intended to. One of the most critical things to power is the refrigerator, so this build focuses on keeping all of his food properly stored through the power outage. During the days following Hurricane Irma, the system could run the refrigerator for 10-11 hours, and the thermal insulation could keep everything cold or frozen overnight. Rather than using solar panels to charge the batteries, the system instead gets energy from the massive battery of his electric vehicle. [Jay] was out of power for 64 hours, and this system worked for him (and at a better cost) than a generator would have.

With the impact of major storms on many areas this year, we’ve been seeing a lot of interesting ways that people deal with living in areas impacted by these disasters. Besides riding through power outages, we’ve also seen the AARL step in to help, and also taken a look at how robust building codes in these areas help mitigate property damage in the first place.