Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lavi - The Controversy Continues 30 Years Later

Even now, decades after the fact, the controversy surrounding the cancellation of the Lavi program remains unresolved, as evidenced by two recent columns on the subject published in Israel's Haaretz.

The first, from former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, outlines three lies that were used by the opponents of the airplane to convince Israel's Cabinet to cancel the program in August of 1987.[1] The three lies were:

  • The unit price of the airplane was quoted on the basis of 80 aircraft, rather than on a larger production run of 200 aircraft - which would have been better aligned with the number of warplanes that the IDF actually intended to purchase over the next two decades.
  • The Cabinet was informed that Israel's air force instead planned to purchase the Advanced Tactical Fighter (which later became the F-22) from the United States, which was then under development - despite the fact that the U.S. had not offered the airplane for sale to Israel or to any other nation, and had no intention of doing so.
  • The Cabinet was misled regarding the number of engineers and technicians that would be laid off in the event of a vote to cancel the program, with an array of theoretical development programs proposed which never materialized and which were never proposed again.

As many of us are aware, Dr. Arens was among the Lavi program's most vocal champions within the Israeli government.

The second article published in Haaretz was a rebuttal from Kobi Richter, who headed the Weapons Department division for Israel's air force from 1983 to 1986.[2] Kobi Richter outlines his reasons for opposing the Lavi development program, mostly surrounding the eventual cost of procuring and maintaining a small fleet of unique Israeli-built warplanes. Nowhere, however, does Kobi Richter refute any of the three points made by Dr. Arens regarding how the Israeli Cabinet was misled in order to secure a vote in favor of cancelling the program.

Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the Lavi is likely to remain indefinitely, with supporters and opponents of the program unconvinced by the arguments from the other side.

[1] Moshe Arens, "The Three Lies That Shot Down the Lavi, the World's Greatest Israeli Fighter Aircraft," Haaretz (Sept 28, 2017).
[2] Kobi Richter, "I Opposed Building Israeli Fighter Jet Based on the Truth," Haaretz (Oct 2, 2017).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Space Highlights - July 3, 2017

July 3, 2017

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has launched 10 communications satellites for Iridium Communications from Vandenberg AFB in California.  Shortly thereafter, in a separate launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, another SpaceX Falcon 9 booster placed a Bulgarian communications satellite into orbit.

An ISRO PSLV rocket successfully placed 31 satellites into orbit, including the Cartosat-2 Earth observation satellite and 30 smaller satellites from 14 countries.

An Ariane 5 rocket placed two geosynchronous communications satellites into orbit, marking the 80th consecutive successful launch for the Ariane 5 booster.  The two satellites comprised the Indian-built GSAT 17, and the European Hellas-Sat 3/Inmarsat S EAN spacecraft.

China successfully launched an X-ray telescope into orbit aboard a Long March 4B rocket.  The Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope is intended to search for evidence of black holes.

The smallest experimental satellite yet built was recently launched into space from NASA's Wallop Island facility.  The microsatellite, which weighed in at 64 g, was designed by a student in India.

An upper stage booster malfunction has left the Chinasat-9A communications satellite in a lower-than-planned orbit.  This was the first failure involving a Long March 3B rocket since 2009.  The satellite is reportedly healthy, but will not be able to fulfill its planned role from its current, low earth orbit.

Upgraded software recently uploaded to Curiosity will allow NASA's Mars rover greater autonomy to identify targets for investigation.  The new AI software is being tested as a means to reduce idle time between when the rover initially surveys an area, and when human controllers on Earth can relay radio signals directing the rover to further investigate specific features.

NASA has released new images of sunrise on Saturn, as well as of Saturn's moon Iapetus, captured by the Cassini spacecraft as it winds down its mission to the ringed planet.  Cassini recently marked the 13-year anniversary of its arrival at Saturn.

NASA's Juno spacecraft has now completed five up-close passes of Jupiter, mapping atmospheric conditions at the gas giant.

A new study claims that a survey of the orbital patterns of four newly discovered Kuiper belt objects suggests that previous claims that orbital distributions in the outer solar system were indicative of a previously unidentified, Neptune-sized "Planet Nine" may have been premature.  However, the team which assembled the original "Planet Nine" study have countered that three of the four new objects actually do bolster the case for a ninth planet - and that only one of the newly discovered objects does not.

A separate study of inner-Kuiper belt objects has suggested that another candidate planet my exist in the outer solar system: pointing to a much smaller, Mars-sized planet as being responsible for the orbital inclination of these inner Kuiper belt objects.  The proposed new object would be much smaller than the Neptune-sized "Planet Nine" that was first proposed in 2016, and would also lie much closer to the sun - close to the orbit of Pluto.

A new theory for the behavior of dark matter suggests that part of the reason that it may be so difficult to detect is that it behaves differently at different scales - forming a "superfluid" or Bose-Einstein condensate at a galactic level, but acting like a low-density gas or vapor when viewed from an inter-galactic scale.

A separate study has also attempted to resolve the differences in observed dark matter distributions and behavior at the galactic level - as compared to the intergalactic scale - by conducting a series of numerical simulations to pinpoint the dark matter characteristics that best match all observed phenomena.

Wide Body Report - July 2, 2017

July 2, 2017

Qatar Airways expects to receive its first A350-1000 later this year.  Qatar is the launch customer for the stretched version of the A350.

Airbus has rolled out plans for a revised wing-tip for the A380 superjumbo, aimed at enhancing the airplane's fuel efficiency.  A prototype was rolled-out at this year's Paris Air Show.

Boeing has announced its first layoffs at its South Carolina factory which produces the 787 Dreamliner.  Fewer than 200 workers are expected to be let go, through a combination of voluntary and involuntary separation packages.

Israel's El Al firmed up orders for three Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  The orders were part of a purchase originally announced in 2015, but not finalized until now.

Lessor AirCap has placed orders for 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Ethiopian Airlines has announced a commitment for two Boeing 777 freighters.  The order was previously announced as being made by an unidentified customer.

Iran Air expects to receive its first Boeing 777-300ER in April of 2018.

Single Aisle News - June 30, 2017

June 30, 2017

Bombardier is evaluating whether to update its official specification for the C-Series aircraft, to reflect better than expected fuel efficiency, as reported by operators Swiss and airBaltic.

Bombardier officials expect to receive additional C-Series orders by year-end, but announced no new aircraft orders during the Paris Air Show.

Embraer announced a total of 30 orders and commitments for its E-Jet E2 family of aircraft during this year's Paris Air Show.  This included firm orders for 10 E195-E2s from an undisclosed customer (with purchase rights on another 10 aircraft), and a commitment to purchase 20 E190-E2s from a second undisclosed customer (with purchase rights for another 20 aircraft).  Embraer also announced sales for 8 current-generation E-Jet aircraft.

Embraer has officially increased the MTOW (maximum take-off weight) for its E195-E2 aircraft now in flight test, and has improved the short-field performance numbers for its E190-E2 model, also in flight test.

This year's Paris Air Show marked the debut for the Bombardier E195-E2, KC-390 and Legacy 450 aircraft - all on display for the first time in Paris.

Observers at Paris noted the muted tones to the first appearance of Japan's Mitsubishi Regional Jet at the Air Show.  Customer deliveries for the MRJ have already been delayed five times, dampening interest in the airplane.

China Development Bank announced an order for 45 Airbus A320 NEO family aircraft during this year's Paris Air Show.

Lessor GECAS placed an order for 100 Airbus A320 NEO family aircraft during this year's Paris Air Show.  The GECAS aircraft will be powered by CFM Internaional LEAP-1A engines.  CFM is a 50-percent partnership between GE Aviation and France's Snecma.

UK's low-cost carrier EasyJet took delivery of its first A320 NEO, out of a standing order for 130 aircraft.  EasyJet's aircraft will be powered by the CFM International LEAP-1A.

Spain's Iberia announced an order for 20 new Airbus A320 NEO aircraft.  The aircraft will be powered by CFM International LEAP-1A engines.

Air Lease Corp ordered an additional 12 Airbus A321 NEOs during this year's Paris Air Show.  No engine selection was announced, although Air Lease Corp. has historically split its engine orders between the CFM LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines.

Boeing rolled-out its new 737 MAX-10 model at this year's Paris Airshow, with orders and commitments from more than 10 customers, totaling over 240 aircraft.  Customers included 50 aircraft for Lion Air Group, 40 for India's SpiceJet, 20 for GECAS, 18 for Germany's TUI Group, 20 for Tibet Financial Leasing, and 10 each for China's CDB Aviation and BOC Aviation.  Some of these orders, however, were Boeing 737 MAX-8 or -9 orders that were converted to the 737 MAX-10.

Boeing also announced a contract for 125 Boeing 737 MAX-8 aircraft, signed with an unidentified customer.  The 737 MAX is powered exclusively by the CFM International LEAP-1B engine.

Taken together, the orders total from Boeing surpassed that of Airbus at this year's Paris Air Show by twice the total order value, taken at list prices.

Boeing confirmed at the Paris Air Show that it is in the concept design stage for a new single-aisle airliner to replace its out-of-production 757.  The new airplane has been widely labeled as the 797, although design details remain sparse.

China's Comac announced a deal to sell 30 C919 aircraft to China's Everbright Financial Leasing.

Russia's Irkut MC-21 prototype has completed two more flights this past week, including the first flight where the landing gear was retracted.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wide Body Report - June 14, 2017

June 14, 2017

Boeing's 777 celebrated 23 years of flight this past week.

El Al Israel Airlines expects to receive the first of 16 Boeing 787s that are currently on order this August.

Airbus has rolled out its first A350-900 in Delta Airlines livery.  The airplane is expected to enter service in October.

The first Airbus A350-1000 is expected to be delivered to Qatar Airways by the end of this year.

Airbus is examining the possibility of incorporating wing tip extensions onto the A380 superjumbo aircraft.

Russian officials have announced that they intend to develop a new jet engine of their own, the PD-35, to power the C929 mid-size airliner that was recently launched as a joint program with China.  Many industry sources expect export copies of the airplane, however, to feature more fuel-efficient Western jet engines.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Single Aisle News - June 13, 2017

June 13, 2017

The U.S. International Trade Commission has concluded that subsidies provided to Bombardier may have injured U.S. industry, a ruling that allows for a formal U.S. government investigation to proceed.

Bombardier expects to celebrate the C-Series' first year in service at this year's Paris Air Show, with plans to display an airBaltic CS300 aircraft.

Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency has granted type validation to Airbus for the A320 NEO and A321 NEO aircraft.  The ruling clears the way for Russian airlines to operate the airplanes.

Boeing has concluded a deal with Iran for the delivery of 30 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, with options for up to 30 more.

Boeing officials continue to gradually divulge details surrounding the proposed 757 replacement aircraft that the manufacturer is contemplating as its next, new program.  Labeled by many as the 797, speculation is mounting regarding whether anything official will be announced at this year's Paris Air Show.

Following a wave of public outcry, American Airlines has backed away from plans to introduce a new, dense seating arrangment on the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes that it currently has on order.

Russian news outlets have already begun to plug Russia's Irkut MC-21 airline - which has performed a single flight test to date - ahead of the upcoming Paris Air Show.

China's Everbright Financial Leasing has signed an agreement for the purchase of 30 Comac C919 aircraft.  The order brings the total backlog for the C919 to some 600 aircraft - virtually all of them sold to state-operated airlines or lessors.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fighter Jet Times - June 12, 2017

June 12, 2017

The USAF has temporarily grounded F-35 flights at Luke Air Force Base following pilot reports of hypoxia-like symptoms.  Similar problems with the air system on the F-22 led to the fleet being grounded for four months in 2011.

Japan rolled-out the first locally assembled F-35A at its Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plant.

The head of Airbus' military aircraft division has called upon France to join in the development of a new stealth fighter program being proposed by Germany and Spain as an eventual replacement for the Eurofighter Typhoon.  The New Generation Weapon System (NGWS) is a proposed 6th generation fighter aircraft that would be part of the proposed Future Combat Air System, which would also include unmanned air vehicles and space-based sensors.  In previous decades, France has resisted joining pan-European fighter development efforts, choosing for example to forge their own aircraft - the Dassault Rafale - rather than take part in the development of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The Russian Air Force expects to take delivery of two additional PAK-FA stealth fighter prototypes in 2017.

The Pentagon is reporting that China is equipping three of its man-made island in the South China Sea to support fighter jet operations over the disputed waterways.

Russian fighters intercepted a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber in international air space over the Baltic Sea, as the U.S. and Russia resume many of their Cold War military exercises.

Israel has formally submitted its order for an additional 17 F-35 fighters, bringing Israel's total order for the new stealth aircraft to 50 examples.  The planned order increase was announced in November 2016, but contract details continued to be worked out in the months that followed.