Three Exciting Aviation Innovations with potential to improve the Environment, Operational Efficiency and/or Safety

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Exciting advancements to an industry are critical to its long term existence. Infusion of new ideas, like the UASs, attracts new entrepreneurs, capital and professionals. These three articles, linked below, are examples of new dimensions which, if successfully tranistioned from concept to reality, could further energize aviation. Each has its challenges, too.

The first is a proposal by NASA to test whether a single seat in the cockpit can meet the safety standards required for this most critical component of an aircraft. The research is driven by the shortage of pilots and by the need to reduce the cost of flying. The NASA contract with Rockwell Collins points to the following parameters:

· crew resource management technology

· physiological monitoring technology

· cognitive science research (in conjunction with the California State University, Long Beach, and the University of Iowa).

· expanding on the company’s prior work pilot evaluation of crew station workload and advanced decision aids, and the development of Live, Virtual Constructive training

The press release mentions that regulatory certification is part of the goals of the program.

What is missing is any specific reference to the NTSB’s and FAA’s recent concerns about deterioration of pilot skills and attention due to automation. The human factor challenge will require considerable proof to satisfy the regulator and the likely opposition by the pilots unions.

The second news item discusses a new aircraft to be powered by “the biggest breakthrough in propulsion since the jet engine”. The innovation here is really cool or more precisely “cooling”- the invention “can cool air entering an engine from 1,000C to -150C in a hundredth of a second without creating icy blockages….This would allow a jet engine to run safely at much higher power than is currently possible without overheating, meaning it could reach speeds of more than 2,000mph.” Basically the Skylar (the top picture; an artist’s conception) would fly in space. As you can tell from the drawing, the airplane/rocket would have no windows.

Here, there is no mention of the possible environmental concerns—what noise is generated by this vehicle or whether a sonic boom is created; any vehicle which reaches space poses other environmental issues to be considered.

The last story about innovation gets some of its genius from looking back in aviation history before the Wright Brothers. Early aeronautical explorers looked to birds for the answer to the mystery of flight. Here a professor at the University of Michigan is morphing the ability of a bird’s wing to be flexible. Dr. Sridhar Kota’s flexible flap is a wing that can be precisely fine-tuned throughout flight. The resulting advantage is the wing can generate less noise, will be more reliable and will cause the plane to consume less fuel. The good doctor summarized the early tests as follows:

The first test flight was on Nov 6. Since then, NASA is conducting flight tests every week and they will continue for another 3 months. The flight tests already conducted to-date included speeds at 0.75 Mach at 20,000 and 40,000 ft altitude and various banking maneuvers up to 1.7G (continuous load) and high dynamic pressures subjecting the FlexFoil control surface to various load conditions. All the tests so far were completely successful – no issues what so ever. Most importantly, yesterday’s flight test subjected the wing to one of the most severe dynamic pressures (384 psf) and no issues at all!”

That’s good news; it will be interesting to see how this concept will be converted to a commercially available model and whether there will be any size limitations.

All these fascinating developments, if successful, could add to the aviation sector.

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