Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Space Highlights - September 30, 2015

September 30, 2015

NASA scientists announced this week that orbital instruments have confirmed the existence of liquid water on the surface of modern day Mars.  For the past five years, scientists studying photographic images relayed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have noted the existence of recurring slope lineae (RSL), dark streaks on crater or canyon walls that would appear seasonally, and then disappear.  Recent observations, however, have tied the appearance of the dark streaks to the
detection of spectral lines associated with hydrated perchlorates - which appeared only when the lines were present.  The hydrated perchlorates can only exist in the presence of liquid water, indicating that the dark streaks are formed by briny, subsurface water flows, which then wick to the surface to produce the dark streaks and deposit the hydrated perchlorate salts.

NASA has released a new topographical map of the surface of the asteroid Ceres, including the mysterious bright spots as well as massive mountains.  The maps were collected from images from the Dawn space probe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has reported that studies from images collected by the Rosetta space probe have observed "onion skin" like strata on the surface of comet 67P - which intersect in a way that could only be possible if the comet were composed of two separate bodies that collided to form the comet that exists today.

New images released from the New Horizons space probe include a back-lit image of Pluto - highlighting the dwarf planet's thin atmosphere - as well as images of a "snakeskin" surface of a region on Pluto.

The Sky Muster communications satellite - intended to provide broadband internet services to rural Australia - was launched this past week aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.  The satellite is one of the largest communications satellites ever launched.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wide Body Report - September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015

Cathay Pacific has taken delivery of its 70th Boeing 777 - making it the largest 777 operator in the Far East.

British Airways has unveiled its new cabin design for 1st class passengers in its 787 Dreamliner fleet.

Boeing has completed its expansion for its composite components facility at Salt Lake City, UT as it ramps up production of its 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus has received the front fuselage section for its first A350-1000 prototype.  The -1000 will utilize fuselage components from its smaller -900 cousing (which is now flying), but with a redesigned wing and more seating.  Whereas the -900 model competes with the Boeing 787, the -1000 model is aimed at the Boeing 777 market.

An amateur plane spotter recently released dramatic footage of an Airbus A380 - the world's largest airliner - landing in a heavy crosswind.  Although the airplane was never in any danger, it's always impressive when an airplane this big has to come in at an aggressive angle.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Single Aisle News - September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015

Bombardier officials report that the last flight test needed prior to certification of the C-Series should be completed in November, based on the current pace of the flight test program.  Certification of the new airplane should occur in December.

Despite the upcoming certification of the C-Series, many industry analysts remain skeptical of whether Bombardier will be able to pay down its balance sheet and return to profitability anytime soon.

Plans to expand the London City Airport were dealt a setback, over disputes surrounding competing proposals to expand London's much larger Heathrow Airport, just outside the city.  Although most analysts are confident that proposals to extend the downtown airport's runways will eventually be approved, the delay has raised questions regarding the timing for the introduction of new routes, many of which would center on the availability of new, low-noise jet aircraft such as Bombardier's C-Series.

Embraer has released its new market forecast for China, predicting demand for 1,020 new aircraft in the 70 to 130 seat category during the next 20 years.  Embraer is developing an improved E2 version of its E-Jet aircraft aimed at meeting this demand.  The E-Jet will be competing with the Bombardier C-Series across some of this market space.

Airbus has released the first photographs of its new SHARP (SHort AiRfield Package), aimed at improving the short field capabilities of its A320 NEO family of aicraft.  The SHARP package includes a new Kevlar composite fairing between the wing and fuselage, aimed at improving lift.

Boeing has announced plans to build a new assembly center in China for the 737 MAX, to help it better compete for orders from the Airbus A320 NEO.  The announcement was made during a visit to Boeing's Seattle plant by Chinese President Xi Jinping, at which the sale of an additional 300 Boeing aircraft to China (including 250 Boeing 737 models and 50 wide-body jets) was also announced.  Airbus already has a final assembly plant for the A320 located in China.

Russia's Irkut Corporation has announced a new sales push to market its MC-21 airline in Latin America.  The sales effort is currently centered on potential sales to Brazil.  The MC-21 is aimed at competing with the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320 NEO, and will be powered by a version of the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan(TM) engine that is also offered as an option for the A320 NEO.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: Hypersonic Aerothermodynamics

John J. Bertin
Hypersonic Aerothermodynamics
Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1994
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 4-Stars

As aircraft move deeper into the supersonic realm, many of the assumptions that engineers might have taken for granted at subsonic or even lower supersonic Mach numbers, begin to fall into disarray.  As the air becomes superheated, passing through the high-strength shock waves around the aircraft, reentry vehicle or missile, it begins to deviate more and more from the ideal gas laws that so many of us have come to know and love.  In this high temperature environment, there is no longer a separation between aerodynamics, and thermodynamics.  You cannot model the one without the other.  Even the chemical composition of the air begins to change, as the molecules break-down to become high-temperature plasma.

This book is intended as an introduction to this flight regime, aimed at helping to reorient the engineer into the mathematics and physical modeling that are needed to design high speed aircraft, missiles, or re-entry vehicles.  As such, it forms the foundation for a journey, which for those who must design under these flight conditions, will become a fascinating road with fresh challenges, and new phenomena that were ignored at less strenuous flight conditions.  All told, a great start for further learning.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: Sword of David

Donald J. McCarthy Jr.
The Sword of David: The Israeli Air Force at War
New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 2-Stars

Sword of David is handsomely illustrated, with many full color photographs and beautiful cover artwork. The book traces the history of the Israeli Air Force, touching on key events from 1948, to 1967, and beyond. It provides descriptions of pilots and weaponry, and a smattering of first-hand pilot accounts of events that transpired. The text is smoothly written.

While it does a little of everything, however, Sword of David does none of it in any great depth. The pilot accounts that are included can easily be found elsewhere. The aircraft descriptions are cursory. While it includes key events from many of Israel's wars - including Operation Opera (the raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981) and Orchard (the raid on Syria's nuclear plant in 2007) - it leaves out such essential events as the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and the 1969-70 War of Attrition.  Even the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War are mentioned only in passing.

This is not, therefore, a history book, in the mold of such classics as Ehud Yonay's No Margin for Error, nor an encyclopedia of Israeli aircraft, weapons and their history, as is Bill Norton's Air War on the Edge. It is best described as a "coffee table" book - something handsomely illustrated with short enough articles that a guest could leaf through it while the host checks on the oven. There is a place for such books, but they will always pale when set alongside volumes written on history, or biography, or focused on the aircraft themselves. As a coffee table book, I would rate this a solid four-star success. In a blog that focuses on current events and aviation history, however, it does not fare quite so well.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - September 25, 2015

September 25, 2015

As part of a build-up of Russian forces near the Syrian port city of Latakia, the Russians have deployed four Su-30 air superiority fighters, 12 Su-25 close air support jets, and 12 Su-24 long range strike jets.  The aircraft are part of a 2000-man Russian contingent that has been sent to bolster the Russian-allied government of Bashar al-Assad, which has been fighting a civil war against both insurgents and ISIL for several years.

Russian sources are reporting that the developmental PAK-FA stealth fighter will join regular Russian air force fighters in military maneuvers for the first time in 2016.

Chinese interceptors performed what is being described as an "unsafe" maneuver while intercepting a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft over international waters.  A similar, unsafe intercept resulted in a collision between a Chinese fighter and a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance airplane near Hainan Island in 2001, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the damaged U.S. airplane to make an emergency landing at a Chinese air base.

Chinese officials have revealed that they are nearing productiion for a new short-range heat-seeking missile to equip Chinese fighters.  The PL-10 appears to be intended to give China a high-off-boresight dogfight missile similar in capability to the U.S. AIM-9X.

Lockheed has rolled out the first F-35 fighter destined for Norway.  Norway has an open order for 52 of the fighters.

Speaking at the roll-out for the Norwegian F-35, the program's executive officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan emphasized that there was no aircraft in development anywhere today that would be "seriously competitive" against the F-35 in combat.

USAF officials have emphasized that if there is no budget passed for the 2016 Fiscal Year - forcing the Air Force to operate under a stop-gap spending measure - that the ability of the armed forces to buy new equipment would be capped at the 2015 level.  This would prevent the planned production ramp-up of the F-35.

The USAF has issued an eight-page public affairs document, instructing airmen who are asked questions about the F-35 program to say "positive things" and to "debunk false narratives".

The U.S. government has blocked proposals to share sensitive technologies with Korea as part of an F-35 sale to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).  Lockheed Martin officials had previously agreed to seek U.S. permission to share AESA radar and other technologies as part of the agreement, but these options were later denied after U.S. government review.  The ROKAF has an order for 40 F-35 fighters.  Korea had been seeking the technologies to support its own, proposed KF-X fighter program.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Space Highlights - September 24, 2015

September 24, 2015

North Korea is expected to attempt another satellite launch in coming weeks, to coincide with an upcoming national holiday.  The satellite launches have, to date, failed to deliver a usefull satellite - with three failed launch attempts and a fourth that delivered a tumbling payload into orbit.  The launch attempts are widely interpreted as a cover for the development of ballistic missile technology.

China successfully launched their first Long March 6 (LM6) booster into orbit, carrying some 20 satellites into space.  The 20 micro-satellites were contributed by Chinese universities, and comprise a mix of various research projects.

NASA recently released a nearly edge-on view of Saturns rings from the Cassini space probe, that captures two of the shepherd moons that maintain Saturns rings.  Another newly released Cassini image captures Saturn from its dark side.

The launch date for the next European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Mars has been postponed from January to March 2016, to allow time to replace two sensors associated with the propulsion system of the probe's Schiaparelli lander.  The ESA mission includes the battery-powered Shiaparelli lander, and the Trace Gas Orbiter, which is intended to probe the Martian atmosphere for signs of recent geologic or biologic activity.

NASA has released a new video, compiled from images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, to provide an aerial view of Pluto's surface.

Researchers believe that the reddish color revealed at Charon's northern pole by the New Horizons spacecraft comes from compounds known as tholins, deposited over time from Pluto's atmosphere.  Pluto's thin atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, but also contains small amounts of methane, some amount of which is lost into space over time.  When the methane reaches Pluto's moon, Charon it freezes on contact, due to the much lower temperatures on Charon's surface.  Over time, this methane will interact with cosmic rays and ultraviolet light to produce tholins, giving Charon's polar cap its reddish color.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Wide Body Report - September 22, 2015

September 22, 2015

The burned-out GE90 engine that caught fire on board a 777 in Nevada has been delivered to GE's Evendale facility for tear-down and inspection.  Officials have noted that there was an FAA Airworthiness Directive issued in August 2011 after cracks were detected in a compressor spool of another GE90, but that engine was of a different configuration than the one involved in the most recent incident.

The extended range options afforded by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has allowed airlines to open up new, direct routes, connecting destinations that previously had to rely on intermediate stop-overs between congested hubs to connect them.  In Boston, for example, a dozen new routes have been announced in the past three years, half of them operating the 787 Dreamliner.  Similar increases in destinations have been reported in San Diego, San Jose, and Denver.

Due to slower manufacturing rates, long-time Boeing supplier Triumph has announced it will no longer supply parts for the 747 program.  Boeing will be in-sourcing work for the making of fuselage panels to its Macon, GA plant, and will be putting other Triumph components out for bid.

British Airways has announced a refurbishment plan to extend the life of their 747 fleet.

Vietnam Airlines has received its second Airbus A350 this past weekend.

The first Airbus A350 for TAM Airlines rolled out of the Toulouse paint shop this past week.  TAM is scheduled to be the first airline in America to operate the A350.  The first aircraft are scheduled for delivery in December.

The first Airbus A350 to be operated by a European carrier - Finnair - made its first flight this past week.  Finnair has a total of 19 A350s on order.

Airbus has released the first stastics on its new Beluga XL transport, which will be 4.3 m longer than the A330-200 airframe from which it was derived.  The Beluga will be used to ferry aircraft components between Airbus facilities for final assembly.  A total of five are expected to be built.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Single Aisle News - September 21, 2015

September 21, 2015

Despite a recent bump in stock values as the C-Series nears production, analysts are warning that the sales outlook for the C-Series has become less rosy as cheaper oil prices have made used aircraft more attractive.

Airbus has announced a new short-field enhancement package for its A320 NEO.  The package, which focuses on composite panel modifications of the root fairing, improves lift and short field performance.

Boeing has released more pictures of its first 737 MAX prototype, now under assembly.  Their latest press release emphasizes that the new winglet design seen on the MAX will offer a 1.8% fuel efficiency advantage over the winglets found in previous 737 designs.

Pratt & Whitney has won orders with Sichuan Airlines for the supply of PW1100G engines to equip their A320 NEO aircraft now on order.  Sichuan Airlines has 15 purchased and 9 leased aircraft on order.  This is Pratt & Whitney's first direct sale of its PW1100G engine to a Chinese carrier.  The A320 NEO offers a choice of two engine options: the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G Geared Turbofan(TM) and the CFM International LEAP-1A.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: Practical Intake Aerodynamic Design

E.L. Golsdmith and J. Seddon, Editors
Practical Intake Aerodynamic Design
Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1993
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 4-Stars

Inlet design is no small part of how a jet aircrat either succeeds - or fails - to get the most out of its engine. This is an important element for subsonic operation, and a crucial element in supersonic flight.

As the title suggests, this is not a theoretical treatise, but an effort to assemble a practical guide to inlet design.  This text brings together a series of studies, by a variety of authors in the field, describing how developers quantify and alleviate such problems as inlet flow distortion, boundary layer ingestion, and variable supersonic inlet geometry. Included are empirical tools for providing first order estimates for pressure losses, as well as reviews of more specialized design challenges - such as inlets for STOVL aircraft.

In sum, Practical Intake Aerodynamic Design is an able companion to broader engineering design texts focused on either aircraft design or engine design.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: Hammers - Israel's Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm

Shlomo Aloni and Zvi Avidror
Hammers - Israel's Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron
Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2010
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

This is the story of on of Israel's oldest Air Force squadrons: Squadron 69, the "Hammers".  Israel's 69th Squadron began operations in the 1948 War of Independence, flying B-17 Fortresses - aircraft which they continued to fly into the 1950s.  The squadron was decommissioned, and then reactivated in the latter 1960s, to fly the F-4 Phantom - the cutting edge of Israel's heavy air power at the time.  Finally, the squadron would transition to the F-15I - the Israeli version of the Strike Eagle - in the 1990s.  This is therefore a story that spans between decades, and between generations, covering some of the most tumultuous periods in Israel's history - both then and now.

True to form, Shlomo Aloni delivers the detailed stories and first hand interviews that he is famous for.  In the front line of Israeli air strikes, whether in Egypt, Syria, or in the future, perhaps Iran, the history of the 69th Squadron resonates with the war torn memories of the past half century.  Aloni's co-author for this book, Zvi Avidror was himself a member of the 69th Squadron in its early days, serving as a gunner on the B-17.  The book was therefore able to draw on a wide array of sources to provide a consistent level of coverage for both the early days of operation, flying the B-17, to the later, jet propelled era.

The kind of air-to-ground missions that the Hammers were assigned to were not always the roles that won them accolades in the count of air-to-air kills.  But they were the kind of roles that could make a real difference to the war on the ground.  And they were among the most dangerous.  As one Phantom pilot recalled from the War of Attrition,

"At least on two occasions I remember looking out after the attack and seeing the whole desert firing at us with AAA and SA-7s.  On another mission they launched seven SAMs against our Kurnass during pull up!"

This book therefore bridges that important gap in memory, reminding us of that life and death struggle in each generation that - willingly or not - Israel has been forced to endure.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - September 18, 2015

September 18, 2015

Kuwait has struck a deal for the purchase of 18 Eurofighter Typhoons.  Under the deal brokered by the Italian government, Kuwait will take delivery of 22 single-seat and 6 twin-seat fighters.

The Eurofighter Typhoon successfully fired a Meteor missile for the first time this week, coming one step closer to formally adding the long-range missile to its approved arsenal.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, has called for a plan to permanently base F-22 Raptors in Europe, in light of growing tensions surrounding NATO's eastern frontier.

In response to budget cuts planned for 2016, the Indonesian military has announced that it will make the procurement of Su-35 fighters from Russia a priority as it rearranges its remaining resources.

India is requesting that Indian pilots be permitted to flight test the new PAK-FA fighter, prior to a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December.  India had previously agreed to purchase as many as 250 of the new stealth fighters, but that total is being reassessed in light of increased program costs.

Japan has formally protested the breach of Japanese air space by Russian aircraft.  Four Japanese fighters were scrambled this week to intercept the Russian jet.

An upgraded prototype of China's J-20 stealth fighter has been observed undergoing taxi tests at Chengdu.  Among other differences, the new prototype (the seventh known for the J-20) appears to feature tighter integration between the airframe and the engine nozzle, with more of the nozzle buried inside of the fuselage - in what appears to be an attempt to lower the airplane's radar signature when seen from rear angles.

A report from the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has called into question the validity of the criteria used to declare the F-35B as "operational" by the U.S. Marine Corps.  The report points out that the six F-35Bs used in the "operational tests" conducted by the USMC during May trials, failed to generate the required number of flight hours, as identified by pre-test criteria.

Lockheed Martin has signed an agreement with the Turkish firm Roketsan to assist with integrating the SOM-J air-to-ground missile with the F-35.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Space Highlights - September 17, 2015

September 17, 2015

The world's first all-electric propulsion satellite has now become operational.  Boeing's ABS-3A became operational last week, providing TV, internet and cellular service.  The satellite uses a xenon-ion propulsion system for station keeping in orbit, in place of a conventional chemical propellant.

Boeing reported on Tuesday that it lost a second potential satellite sale due to a lack of available financing.  The U.S. Congress allowed the charter for the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which had previously financed such deals, to expire in June, amid debate over whether the U.S. government should be in the business of guaranteeing Export-Import loans.  Boeing reports that an existing order by Bermuda-based ABS was cancelled over the lack of financing arrangements, and that a potential order by Singapore-based Kacific was put on hold over the lack of low interest loans.

SpaceX expects its Falcon 9 booster to return to service in November with the launch of a communications satellite for SES.  The Falcon 9 has been grounded since a launch failure in June that was attributed to an "overpressure event" in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.

With the successful launch of the Express AM8 communications satellite on September 14th, Russia's commercial satellite bandwidth will have been replenished.  The satellite was launched on a Proton booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the second successful launch since athe failure of a Proton launch in May.

NASA announced on Tuesday that research has confirmed the existence of a global ocean beneath the icy crust of Saturn's moon Enceladus.  The announcement was based on observations from the Cassini probe, taken over several years.  Active geysers had previously been detected at the small moo, but extended observations were required to confirm that the subterranean water source spanned the entire globe.  The findings were based on observations of the wobble of the moon, which confirmed the existence of a liquid interior.

A new type of antenna has been developed that should allow future Mars rovers to communicate directly with Earth, rather than relaying signals to an orbiter for rebroadcast.

NASA's Dawn space probe has sent back new, more detailed images of the mysterious bright spots on the asteroid Ceres.  Ceres is the largest asteroid between Jupiter and Mars.  The composition and origin of the bright spots remains unknown.

The first high-resolution images transmitted back from Pluto by the New Horizons space probe have revealed a startlingly complex surface.  The images appear to show widespread geologic activity, including dunes - blown by an unknown source for wind - and river deltas - where an unknown liquid (possibly liquid nitrogen) has recently flowed across the surface.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wide Body Report - September 16, 2015

September 16, 2015

The investigation continues into the cause of an uncontained engine failure of a GE90 engine on a British Airways 777 airliner, which occurred last week in Las Vegas.  The FAA had issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD Note) four years ago, calling for inspections of certain GE90 engine models, to look for cracks in the engine's turbine airfoils which could cause an "uncontained engine failure and damage to the airplane."  A spokesman for General Electric, however, has reported that the engine involved in the incident - a GE90-85B - was of an older configuration and was not covered by the AD Note.  The most recent engine failure was also reported to have occurred in the HPC (high pressure compressor) section of the engine, rather than in the turbine.  All 172 passengers and crew of the British Airways flight safely evacuated during the recent engine failure in Las Vegas, which showered the airplane and runway with debris.  .

The final commercial flight of the first Boeing 747-400 took place this past week, aboard Delta Air Lines Flight 836 from Honolulu to Atlanta.

Malaysia Airlines has signed an agreement for the lease for four new Airbus A350 aircraft from Air Lease Corporation.  The A350-900s are expected to be delivered by the second quarter of 2018, with an option to lease two more A350-900s and two A330-900 NEO aircraft.

Airbus is nearing regulatory approval for the use of lithium ion batteries for backup and starting power on the A350-900.  Airbus had delayed the incorporation of lithium ion technology on the A350, following a series of battery-related fires aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

A Singapore Airlines A380 reported excessive engine vibration and shut down one of its four engines while en route from Tokyo to Los Angeles.  Singapore Airlines flies Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines aboard its A380 fleet.

Airbus has begun assembly of the engine pylon and center wing box for the first A330 NEO (new engine option) aircraft.  The A330 NEO will be powered by the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Single Aisle News - September 15, 2015

September 15, 2015

After a long slump, Bombardier's stock shares finally rebounded, following news that testing has officially confirmed the new C-Series as the quietest production jetliner in its size class.  Earlier this year, Bombardier announced that the C-Series had surpassed its fuel savings target, with a confirmed range of up to 3300 n (6110 km) - 350 nm (650 km) more than originally advertized.

Bombardier executives report that the C-Series has completed 85% of its certification tests, with over 2400 hours of testing complete, and is on track to certify by year end.  The C-Series is powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1500G Geared Turbofan(TM) engines.

East European low-cost carrier Wizz Air has finalized its previously announced order for 110 Airbus A321 NEO aircraft.  The announcement increases the total NEO order book to more than 4300 firm orders.  Wizz Air had signed a memorandum of understanding for the aircraft at the Paris Air Show in June.  An engine selection for the new aircraft is expected by December 2016.

Airbus has officially opened its first final assembly plant in the United States, located in Mobile, Alabama.  Airbus executives have announced a goal of capturing 50-percent of the U.S. airline market, where the European manufacturer currently controls only a 20-percent market share.  That share is expected to increase to 40-percent, however, once current orders for the new A320 NEO family of aircraft are complete.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: Arab-Israeli Air Wars 1947-82

Shlomo Aloni
Arab-Israeli Air Wars 1947-82
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 3-Stars

The period from 1947 to 1982 was a tumultuous one in the skies over the Middle East.  Israel's Air Force evolved from a ragtag band of foreign volunteers flying whatever piston-powered airplanes they could scrape together, to a jet-powered fighting force that would become world renowned.  Israel's neighbors similarly transformed from the piston-powered era, flying British-supplied Spitfires, to the jet age, flying the latest Soviet-sponsored weapons.  The story of this transformation could fill volumes - and indeed has.

This slim text should be therefore regarded as an introduction, a first glimpse into the many events which transpired during this era.  There is simply not enough space between these slim covers to do justice to the many stories and transformations which took place.  Reading this book, you can sense the many, far bigger, more detailed stories behind these events, struggling to unfold and grow beyond the narrow limitations of these pages.

For those who are new to the history of the Arab-Israeli wars, and the key figures who played a role in these events, this book could become a first introduction, with plenty of photographs and full color illustrations.  Well written, the text provides a glimpse into a much broader tale, with just enough first-hand accounts to whet the appetite for more.  It is still a good book - just limited by the spatial constraints imposed on the author.

For those who are hungry for more details however, I would recommend one of Aloni's many other excellent books on this subject, which focus on different aircraft, different eras, or specific episodes in this much broader history.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: Air War in the Falklands 1982

Christopher Chant
Air War in the Falklands 1982
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

This was the 28th installment in Osprey's long-running series of slim, paperback summaries of the major air wars of the past half century.  True to form, it is filled with photographs and its fair share of aircraft profile views - although with fewer color photographs than some of the other books in this series.

The Falklands War is one of those often forgotten chapters in air warfare that tends to be under-reported in modern literature.  I personally remember vividly the events of those days: the news reports of Argentina's invasion; the resolve of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; the extraordinary long-range bombing sorties carried out by British Vulcan bombers; and of course the loss of the British destroyer Sheffield to an Exocet missile.  I am therefore often surprised to discover that so many of today's youth remain totally ignorant of the Falklands War, or its lessons for modern air combat.

Christopher Chant has assembled the essential details behind the conduct of this air war into a single, small volume.  One of the first things that any reader should be struck with, is that the Argentine Air Force did not give up this fight lightly.  There is a misconception often projected that the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots sustained uncontested air superiority throughout this conflict.  The reality, however, is a little more complicated.

The British had been supplied with all-aspect AIM-9L missiles directly from U.S. stockpiles - correcting for an oversight on the part of the British Ministry of Defense, which had previously elected not to stockpile the new Sidewinder version as a cost cutting measure.  The ability of the newer generation Sidewinder to provide the British fighters with a head-on intercept capability gave the British fighters an enormous tactical advantage.  Despite this advantage, however, the British Harrier fleet was stretched thin to cover such a vast expanse of ocean, and Argentine fighter-bombers succeeded in scoring direct hits on multiple British warships.

Despite heavy losses, the Argentine fighter-bombers kept coming, ultimately sinking the Sheffield (a destroyer), the Ardent (a British frigate), and the Coventry (another destroyer).  Other British warships were also struck, but in a number of instances the Argentine bomb fuses were improperly set and failed to detonate.  Had those bombs gone off as intended, the British losses could have been much higher.

The Falklands War was no stroll in the park.  Despite the advantages in training and equipment that the British armed forces enjoyed, the Falklands were still half a world away, and the Argentine air force put up a stout resistence.  To this day, British sovereignty over the Falklands is still officially contested by the Argentine government.  This is a war with many lessons on the importance, and limitations of carrier-borne air power that will continue to haunt war planners for decades to come.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Review: Israeli F-4 Phantom II Aces

Shlomo Aloni
Israeli F-4 Phantom II Aces
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2004
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

If the Mirage was admired by Israeli pilots for its elegance and beauty, the Phantom was respected for its brute power and impressive bombload.  Throughout the War of Attrition and Yom Kippur War, the F-4 Phantom was the workhorse of the Israeli Air Force.  It was the heavy bomber that carried the warloads to the enemy, and although it may not have been loved by its pilots in the same way that the Mirage had been, it was nonetheless admired for the formidable arsenal that it brought to bear.

The match-up between the Phantom and the MiGs that were flown by the Arab air forces in those days was a classic encounter in dissimilar air combat.  The Israeli pilots knew from experience that the F-4 lacked the tight turn capability of the various MiG models, but made up for it with its exceptional acceleration.  These are the stories of pilots such as Yiftach Spector - who commanded the "orange tail" squadron before and during the Yom Kippur war, and of Asher Snir, who - up until the Yom Kippur War - was Israel's highest scoring ace.

This slim volume contains the kind of interviews and on-the-spot details that we have come to expect from author Shlomo Aloni, as well as plenty of color aircraft profiles.  The text is supplemented by a wide assortment of historic photos, as well as Appendices that list every kill made by an Israeli F-4, which pilot and navigator were responsible for each kill, dates, and weapons used.  In sum, a worthy addition to the history of the F-4 and of Israel's Air Force.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - September 10, 2015

September 10, 2015

The first F-35 to be assembled overseas took flight in Italy this week.  Aircraft AL-1 took to the skies for a 22-minute flight at Italy's Cameri Air Base.

Concerns continue to be raised regarding the ability of the supplier base to support the planned increase in F-35 production over the next three years.  The F-35 is expected to ramp up from some 40 airplanes this year to more than 120 per year three years from now.

French officials are optimistic about the prospects for a sale of Rafale fighters to Malaysia.  Malaysia is currently looking to purchase 18 fighters to replace its MiG-29 fleet.

News sources are suggesting that the final details surrounding France's planned sale of 36 Rafale fighters to India have still not been ironed out, despite a visit to India by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

As part of the F-22's first European deployment, two Raptors were deployed this past week to Estonia to take part in military training maneuvers, providing air cover for A-10 Warthogs.

New details are beginning to emerge surrounding the USAF's LRS-B strategic bomber program.  A winner for the coveted contract is expected to be announced in October, with competing proposals submitted by both Boeing/Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.  The program is expected to cost $41.7 billion over the next ten years - assuming that there are no cost overruns - making it a potential budget-buster for other programs competing for funding during that time period.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Space Highlights - September 9, 2015

September 9, 2015

SpaceX is preparing for the first launch of its Falcon Heavy booster next year.  The first demonstrator launch in spring 2016 is expected to be followed by a launch of a US Air Force satellite a few months later.  The Falcon Heavy is expected to be the largest U.S. launch booster since the Saturn V.

Following its final close-encounter with Saturn's moon, Dione, NASA's Cassini space probe has sent back a stunning edge-on view of Saturn's rings with Dione as seen from a distance, as the probe enters its final months of operation.

Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH are in the early phases of design for a proposed space probe that would explore Titan's seas.  The largest moon of Saturn, Titan is covered in a thick atmosphere, with multiple hydrocarbon seas that were mapped by NASA's Cassini probe using radar imaging.  The proposed probe would include a submarine as well as an orbiter.

NASA developers have come up with a proposal for a new kind of space probe, referred to as the "Hedgehog".  The new concept is aimed at smaller, low-gravity objects, such as comets or asteroids, and would consist of a rover that would hop along the surface.  Two prototypes for the proposed cube-shaped probe have been constructed to test-out the idea.

Researchers pouring through data from the Cassini space probe, have found evidence that one of Saturn's rings has a slightly different structure from its neighbors - as evidenced by different cooling rates as the ring system transitioned through a solar equinox.  The observations suggest that Saturn's A-ring has a higher concentration of ice than its neighbors, indicating either a more recent origin for the A-ring, or that some process has prevented the ice particles from distributing more evenly across the rings.

Combining data from several Mars missions, researchers have concluded that Mars' early atmosphere was likely lost into space - rather than captured in carbonate rocks as had been sometimes suggested.  Surveys by various Mars orbiters, as well as Mars rovers, have found relatively low carbonate concentrations in Martian soil and rocks, indicating that Mars' early atmosphere was not captured by chemical reactions on the surface, but rather escaped into space due to solar wind and the lack of a strong magnetic field on Mars.

China is planning for a first-ever attempt at landing a space probe on the far side of the moon.  Planned for sometime prior to 2020, the Chang'e 4 mission would explore geologic conditions on the moon's far side - the face that's always turned away from the Earth.  China has already sent two lunar orbiters to Earth's nearest neighbor, as well as a small rover.  China's next lunar mission is planned for 2017, and will include a sample-return lander.

Russia has announced plans for a lunar lander, labeled as Luna 25, which would attempt to collect data from the moon's southern polar region.  Targeted for 2024, the probe would attempt to confirm the presence of ice which is suspected to exist in the shadowed interior of craters - where sunlight never reaches.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has begun the process of downloading images from its encounter last month with Pluto.  NASA had initially targeted a sequence of data from the probe's solar wind and and magnetic sensors, before renewing the download of images.  Signals from the probe require some 4.5 hours to reach Earth, downloading at a rate of 1 to 4 kilobits per second.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wide Body Report - September 8, 2015

September 8, 2015

As currently planned, the Boeing 777X will boast a wingspan of 235 ft, 5 in (71.8 m), giving it the largest wingspan of any aircraft built to date - even greater than that of the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380.  To help accommodate this wingspan, the wing tips will need to fold after landing, to allow the airplane to maneuver through existing airports.

Boeing's production line for the 787 Dreamliner has been been running smoother than expected, with the manufacturer now expected to exceed the target for 120 new aircraft deliveries previously projected for 2015.  More importantly, the manufacturer is expected to reach the break-even point on per-aircraft manufacturing costs by year-end, allowing Boeing to begin to recoup its research and development costs for the program.  Previously, each 787 delivered has been delivered at a loss, as the manufacturer worked its way through the production learning curve for the new design.

Air India continues to struggle with technical glitches in its newly delivered 787-8 fleet, including engine troubles, as well as problems with the cooling valves for the AC system, cabin air compressor, battery fire warnings, cracks in the windshield, galley food cooling system, spoiler actuation, and lavatory doors, among others.  Air India has reportedly been cannibalizing parts from one 787 to the next to keep their fleet flying.  Similar problems have been reported by JAL and ANA, although apparently have been less severe, and with less public comment.

Boeing officials have reaffirmed their planned production rate for the 747 airline, despite a 20-month drought in new sales.  The manufacturer currently has only 25 firm orders still to fulfill for its legacy jumbo airliner, after Nippon Cargo Airlines cancelled their order for four 747 freighters.  At current production rates, and without new orders, the 747 production line will shut down within two years.

Airbus has begun machining the first components for its prototype A330 NEO aircraft.  The A330 NEO (new engine option) incorporates a number of refinements over its predecessor, including composite fairings, and a new Rolls-Ryoce Trent 7000 engine - a derivative of the Trent 1000 which powers the larger Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  Airbus has secured orders for 145 A330 NEOs, which is aimed at competing with the smaller models of the 787, while the all-new A350-900 will compete with the larger versions of the 787 Dreamliner.

Emirates has launched non-stop service between Orlando and Dubai this past week, flying an A380 super-jumbo airliner into Florida for the first time.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Single Aisle News - September 7, 2015

September 7, 2015

Mitsubishi Aircraft has set a first-flight date in late October for its prototype Mitsubishi Regional Jet.  Powered by a verson of Pratt & Whitney's Geared Turbofan(TM) engine, the MRJ has secured 223 firm orders to date, most in the United States.

Although Airbus' record sale to IndiGo dominated news reports surrounding sales for Airbus' new A320 NEO in August, Airbus also secured an order for 32 A320 NEO family aircraft to an undisclosed customer, and an order for three corporate-jet versions of the A320 NEO, to yet another undisclosed customer.  The NEO features two, new-generation engine options: the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G Geared Turbofan(TM), and the CFM International LEAP-1A.

Industry analysts are beginning to warn that Boeing will face a production gap in 737 airliners, between the delivery of the final orders for the 737NG models now in production, and ramp-up for the 737 MAX.  One analyst is currently predicting a gap of more than 100 aircraft before the MAX becomes available - or roughly a two- to three-month gap in deliveries.  Part of the issue stems from Boeing plans to ramp-up 737 production from the current 42 aircraft per month to 52 aircraft per month by 2018.

Alaska Airlines' vice-president for planning, John Kirby has revealed that the airline expects to receive its first 737 MAX airplane in late 2017, roughly six months behind the launch customer for the 737 MAX - Southwest Airlines.  The 737 MAX will be powered exclusively by the CFM International LEAP-1B engine.  CFM International was formed out of a partnership between General Electric Aircraft Engines, and France's Snecma.

Chinese officials are reporting that the assembly of the first prototype C919 airline has been progressing much more smoothly than the assembly of the first ARJ21 regional jet only a few years ago.  Whereas the final assembly of the smaller ARJ21 required six months to complete, the C919 is on course to be completed over a 3.5 month period.  The official roll-out for the first C919 prototype is scheduled for October.  The C919 is intended to compete head-to-head with the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320 NEO, and will feature CFM International's LEAP-1C engine.

Embraer is contemplating an increase in its production rate for its E-Jet regional airline to meet increased customer demand.  A total of 92 E-Jets were delivered last year and the company is currently expected to deliver 95-100 this year.  However, production has reached up to 150 aircraft per year in the past, and with a record backlog of 531 aircraft orders the manufacturer is contemplating a ramp-up as it approaches the introduction of the new E2 E-Jet version, which will feature Pratt & Whitney's Geared Turbofan(TM) engine.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: Israeli Mirage and Nesher Aces

Shlomo Aloni
Israeli Mirage and Nesher Aces
Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2004
Category: Israel Air Force - History

Rating: 4-Stars

The Mirage holds a special place for Israeli pilots.  This goes far beyond being the fighter that exemplified Israeli air power during the Six Day War.  More than that, this was the airplane that many of them first fell in love with.  Elegant, compact, it was the ideal stick-and-rudder fighter of its day.  Many of Israel's leading pilots would go on to fly other aircraft successfully in other wars: the F-4 Phantom, the F-15, even the F-16.  But for those pilots who first flew during the 1960s, it was the Mirage that was their undisputed first love.

Shlomo Aloni has made a career out of collecting the stories of Israel's fighter pilots - and this slim volume does not disappoint.  Packed with first-hand accounts, photographs and full color artwork, it is everything that we have come to expect from Aloni and the publishing houses that he frequents.  He caps it off with a series of appendices listing every pilot who made ace in the Mirage or Nesher, and every air-to-air victory scored by the Shahak (Israel's internal name for the Mirage) or Nesher fighter - including dates, and whether it was a cannon or missile kill.  At 96 pages, this slim paperback volume is a worthwhile addition to any Israel Air Force or fighter aviation library.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review: Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion

Philip G. Hill and Carl R. Paterson
Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1970
Category: Aerospace Engineering

Rating: 4-Stars

As its title suggests, Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion tackles the broad subject of modern aerospace propulsion, spanning everything from jet engines, to rocket motors, to the electric thrusters used by spacecraft.  As with any attempt to cover such a broad subject, the book covers its material in general, theoretical terms.

Much like Gas Turbine Theory, Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion provides an introductory, theoretical background without delving into the details necessary for engine design.  First published in 1965, it is still in use in college classrooms today, a testament to its enduring value as an introductory resource.  In my experience, it provides a solid thermodynamic foundation, but leaves its readers hungry for more solid meats.  Much like Gas Turbine Theory, it has served well for this intended purpose.  For those of us intent on delving into the details of propulsion system development and design, however, a more detailed account - such as that supplied by Aircraft Engine Design - will be needed.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lavi Cancellation - And the Passage of Time

A Lavi prototype prepares for flight (Israeli Air Force) 
This past week marked the 28th anniversary of the vote to cancel the Lavi program, in 1987.  In the decades that have followed, the chain of events that led the Lavi program to be launched, and which later led to its cancellation, have become ever more clouded by the passage of time. For both the proponents, and opponents of the program, the events that transpired have become more a subject for myth than a topic of studied consideration.

For my part, I have always considered the value of history to be in the lessons that it holds: the opportunity to allow past experience to inform future decisions. Sadly, too little of this has occurred surrounding a program that was once Israel's largest weapons development effort in the history of the Jewish State.

Whether someone believes that the cancellation was a monumental mistake, or that the program should never have been launched, anyone who genuinely cares about the U.S.-Israel relationship and about Israel's future defensive capabilities owes it to themselves to understand this chain of events, and what it means for the future.

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic to believe it possible, but there is still the chance that the painful lessons of the past can still be absorbed by those of us living today.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fighter Jet Times - September 3, 2015

September 3, 2015

Hill Air Force Base in Utah welcomed its first two F-35A fighters this past week.  A total of seventy two F-35s are eventually expected to be based out of Hill.

The Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation has announced plans to evaluate the F-35A and A-10 Warthog in back-to-back tests to determine how well the F-35 will be able to provide close air support to soldiers on the ground.  The tests are scheduled to take place in 2018.  Critics have complained that the tests will come too late to alter procurement plans for the new aircraft.

Russian officials have declared the AESA radar system for their next-generation T-50 fighter to be "99 percent ready" for serial production.

Reporters who attended this year's MAKS 2015 air show outside of Moscow continue to emphasize the impressive performance put on by the prototype T-50 fighter, in what was otherwise a lackluster air show in terms of international participation.

Four USAF F-22s deployed first to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, before advancing to Lask, Poland to participate in the Raptor's first-ever training exercises to be held in Europe.  The four Raptors involved in the exercise were deployed from Tyndall Air Base in Florida, and include three active duty and one reserve F-22 pilot.

France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Malaysia this week, as part of a tour aimed at promoting additional sales of France's Rafale fighter.  Le Drian also met with officials in India, to help hammer out the final details for India's Rafale contract.

China put a variety of military hardware on parade this week, as part of an annual event commemorating the defeat of Japan in World War II.  Among the weapons on hand was the DF-21D missile, which has been heralded as an anti-aircraft carrier ballistic weapon, as well as a fly-over featuring Chinese J-10 fighter jets.

Media reports have been circulated suggesting that China is attempting to develop a turbofan/ramjet powered aircraft that would outrun the SR-71 spyplane.  The SR-71 was retired from USAF service in 1998.

Accused cyber spy Su Bin, a Chinese national who has permanent resident status in Canada, was ordered to be extradited to the United States by a Canadian court.  Bin is accused of conspiring to hack into computers at U.S. defense contractors to collect sensitive data related to U.S. fighter jet aircraft.  Bin has 30 days to appeal the ruling.