Tag Archives: aviation

The big arms bazaar in the desert

In a departure from recent air shows in the region, Dubai 2015 didn’t really have a multi-billion dollar headline announcement from one of the GCC’s major airlines.

More the benefit for the defence journalists present who were delighted that military and civil security deals were the order of the week with Saab, AgustaWestland and Aeroland UAV all featuring heavily.

Not that there weren’t teething problems with the organisation, or location.

Imagine the mild sense of farce as hundreds of exhibitors, journalists and delegates are left queuing around the building as they try to gain entrance on the opening day of the show.

An intricate and fiendish crowd funneling system attempted its own recreation of the Large Hadron Collider by using the disparate tendrils of frustrated humanity as matter for its prism of officialdom, squeezing those present into a single condensed beam of focused anger. A word to the wise for 2017; more staff, more entrances, fewer frayed tempers.View up high

There was some common sense in moving the show from its previous venue to the purpose-build Sheikh Al Maktoum Dubai World Central. More space for one. Room to expand even further the other. The down side to its remoteness means that fierce evening winds blast through the static display, it being the desert and all, and it takes a small era to get there in the first place.

Unless you like the charms of the free zone, baking warehouses and all, there are more picturesque locations to be. The exception to that is if you’re viewing the area from a Chinook 1000ft in the air, in which case it’s great.

So a thumbs up to Dubai then.

And because it’s based (near) the that most vertiginous of metropolises, the evening receptions by all accounts can be pretty decent too. Just ask Katy Perry.

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The never ending story

The poor maritime patrol aircraft has found itself benefiting from a popularity bump in recent days as national media thrash themselves silly over what will and what won’t form part of an expected UK requirement to fill one of the gaps created by the now (in)famous 2010 SDSR.

We can expect to see MPAs putting on a bunch of new outfits and strutting their stuff, parading before a customer probably very keen to make the right call this time around after the unmentionable catalogue of misadventure that was the MRA4 programme.

Some of the MPAs are likely to opt for the classical approach, sporting well-styled turbo-props that hark back to the early days of flight. The comforting thrummm of such aircraft in flight and attached nostalgia could be a pull when it comes to the crunch.

What do we know of the crunch though? Little to nothing.

But we live in the jet age don’t we? Maybe the UK needs a jet, something with two to four engines, a big old payload capability and endurance great enough to fly through a full day-night cycle and really mess with the souls tasked with flying and operating the thing.

For this it’s likely to be down to a fly-by-wire or fly-by-light decision, each located very much at opposite end of the latitudinal poles, thanks to a bit of a shortage of aircraft-manufacturing capability/desire in the UK.

Or maybe the UK could just be done with it and head into the unmanned age, which after all is where it’s at, so say all the people that know far more than this hack. Maybe what the MPA needs is to do is go all ‘Tron’, sleek and post-modern with futuristic gleam, a suitable electro soundtrack thumping in the background as it takes it’s turn on the runway.

Whatever the case, whatever the prevailing fashion, expect it to get a whole lot more contentious before we are all finally put out of our heightened state of suspense.

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UAS legislation: boring, but necessary

Does red tape hold you back or keep everything tied together? That answer to that probably depends on which camp you sit in.

Debating the right and wrongs of this can be saved for another time, rather this missive wants to explore the arguments between the commercial UAS industry looking for speedier integration and national legislative organisations, whose job it is to make sure what flies in the air can do so safely.quadrocopter-394538_1920

Industry feels restricted by what it sees as hoops being put in place by organisations that have been caught on the hop by technology and struggling to keep pace with development.

Counter to that, the powers-that-be have in private, and in some cases public, said that they feel too little attention is being given by manufacturers as to how their systems should work in a 3D, commercial and civil airspace teeming with other forms of (manned) aircraft.

A statement from the US FAA administrator Michael Huerta on Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee (or SACTHUDS, if I’m at liberty to create my own acronym) on UAS operations in civil airspace reiterated their case for careful integration.

Huerta was unequivocal as to where his priorities are, saying: ‘While the FAA is showing the flexibility needed to handle this exciting new arrival to aviation, we remain committed to our number one priority – a safe airspace. We do not want to stifle innovation, but we are never going to compromise on safety.’

Continuing, he stated: plane-330487‘Many UAS users may not be aware that they are operating in shared, and potentially busy, airspace. A pilot in the cockpit knows it. A UAS operator on the ground looking up may not.’

This means a registration process for commercial UAS, a process that in good time (for it will be), will set out what is demanded from operators and their machines.

He also warned ‘rogue’ operators that the FAA will continue efforts to prosecute UAS misuse, issuing the message that owners would ‘operate within the law or we will take action.’

In particular there is some sense of frustration among those looking to operate in environments with, shall we say, more methodical legislative methods, as rivals working in less restrictive theatres steal a fiscal march.

Physics and flying in New Mexico

Lt Col Thorsten Weber didn’t blink from an apparent – albeit perhaps slightly miss-thrown – curveball from one hack (the author perhaps?) who asked if hot weather conditions in New Mexico adversely affected performance from the Tornado’s twin RB 199 turbofans.

Pausing for thought, he delivered an exasperated response. ‘It’s physics!’ he cried.Holloman_AFB_entrance

The commander of the German Air Force (GAF) logistics group at Holloman AFB, found himself in the unenviable position of having to brief a bunch of journalists and show them around the various buildings and facilities that make up the GAF’s Flying Training Center.

Who knew that hundreds of German armed forces personnel and more than a dozen of the Luftwaffe’s Tornado single and twin-seat fast jets are permanently based at Holloman in the hot desert of New Mexico?

Just me then. In any event the visit provided fabulous access to the little enclave nestled deep within the confines of the USAF’s premier UAV training site. It’s the biggest and most significant deployment of German personnel in the US, who have been there since 1999 after moving from RAF Cottesmore (because of the weather, or not, more on that below).

In 2014 the detachment saw 24 pilots graduate, 1,200 inert bombs dropped and 14,500 rounds of ammunition fired.

‘We can’t do this in GermGAF_FTC_building_00774any. [Here] we have 6,000 square miles of airspace, which would cover one or two of the federal German states. There are also low transit times from take-off to exercise area,’ said Weber.

The 15 aircraft aren’t relics from pre-industry either as 85 of the total GAF fleet are undergoing a range of upgrades, particularly in the electronics and displays, with the refitted version gradually replacing their counterparts at Holloman. The wing should be fully up to strength and upgraded by next year.

But what advantages are there in training in hot, dry conditions?

Weber was ready with the answer, saying, ‘This [training] area is similar [in environment] to areas that are causing trouble at the moment.’

Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, the on-base Tornado simulator, sitting like a giant pétanque ball in the middle of an air-conditioned – but humidified – room (it helps the computers), is also due to be upgraded next year by CAE to meet the new Tornado specs.

The training isn’t just in the air, as a small army of technicians and maintenance personnel swarm over parked jets, which sit contentedly waiting in shaded hangars for their next chance to head to the open skies above a New Mexico desert.

The contract for the training programme is due to expire in 2019, which then extends on a year-by-year basis. The upgrades to the GAF’s Tornado fleet will keep it relevant into the next decade.

By which time the author of this piece will have gotten over the embarrassment.DSC00873_GermaAir Force Tornado Simulator at Holloman AFB

The drone derivatives

The proliferation of UAS across the world has seen the platforms reaching into all four corners as capability and capacity increases with each passing unmanned generation. At current estimates, well over 70 countries have their own UAS programmes.

These generationGray Eagles are of course much faster than human ones, which is only natural given the relatives speed advantages (analytical processing and reactions to name but two) machines have over their flesh and blood operators. A scant handful of years marked the time between the MQ-1 and the first flight of the MQ-9 for example, which in turn brought about the MQ-1C a few years later, not-withstanding ongoing MQ-9 Block 5 developments for the US Air Force.

Meanwhile, the Hermes 450 spent a decade or so before deciding to evolve but like the Number 20 bus you wait so long for it to happen, when it does two come along at once, with the WK450 and the 900 popping into existence in the mid-to-late noughties. What is most marked are the levels at which the internal and payload technology has improved in time with slight platform tinkerings.MQ9

Take the venerable 450, whose payloads now boasts EO/IR, SAR/GMTI, comms relay, laser designator and SIGINT capabilities, many of which it didn’t start out with when first taking to the skies back in the late-90s. The same goes for the MQs.

Is all this good news? Well yes it is. It’s not unknown that military programmes run and run, using an original airframe and developing generation after generation of derivatives. One need look no further than the C-130 (first flight in 1954 and dozens of variants and models later still operational) and the CH-47 Chinook, which first took to the air in 1961 and similarly still flying today.

The point is then that while we might hanker for arrowhead shaped delta wings of power zipping through the atmosphere (see Taranis, X-47B), some of the more interesting developments come in the fine-tuning of what already exists.

That is perhaps the truest indication of the level of maturity the (military) unmanned industry can claim.

Down & Out in Le Bourget

The Quill or Capture team always tries to do its best, we really do. But for some reason, covering the annual defence/aerospace show in Paris each year always results in many moments of amusement/disaster.

So, in the tradition of last year’s Eurosatory top ten, we give you the unadulterated truth about the Paris Air Show.

51eme salon international du Bourget. Visite officielle du president de la republique.The François Hollande experience

Chaos hit the Pairs Air Show first thing Monday morning – and before the Quill or Capture team even reached Le Bourget. The roads were manic (validating our excellent decision to walk to the site rather than bus it) with the imminent arrival of the French President, François Hollande.

Whistles were being blown, traffic was being directed – poorly – and the place was a semi car park. The motorcade that arrived was something to behold.

While at the show the madness ensued and one reporter had51eme salon international du Bourget. Visite officielle du president de la republique. the misfortune of being at France’s largest defence company’s pavilion as the president swept in.

Surrounded by a horde of reporters, TV crew, security, and other hangers-on, he entered the pavilion, had a gander at things and was on to the next thing before you could say Watchkeeper. Then everyone relaxed and resumed normal duties. It was quite the experience – oh, and he’s a lot shorter than he appears on TV.

The coffee bomb

One Quill or Capture staff reporter was on video duties for the air show and managed to make it through most of the week without incident, which is surprising for the reporter concerned.

However, a long week running around with camera and tripod eventually took its toll. One of his last tasks of the show was to interview the French Army’s NH90 test pilot. Tired, and a little sweaty, the dishevelled reporter was offered a strong French coffee at the NH Industries’ chalet. It was gladly accepted with the knowledge that it would perk him up for the coming interview.

The young waiter handed over steaming hot coffee in a cup and saucer. With one hand gripping his trusty tripod, the reporter excitedly took the coffee in his spare hand.

But the sunburn, the exhaustion and dehydration had taken over by this point and in an effort to put the saucer down to add some sugar, the whole thing spilled over the drinks 2015-05-20 13.44counter. No part of the counter was spared and even the waiter, in his crisp white shirt, was splashed with coffee. It was at this point the clumsy videographer was escorted outside and, safe to say, was not offered another drink.

Dinner in the dark

An often under-appreciated perk of the industry can be the after-hours dinners, functions and events where the hacks get a chance to meet industry reps on neutral ground and talk shop. This is a time when reservations are made and people behave perhaps more as they might in the real world, rather than keeping professional decorum foremost in the mind.Flir view of paris

Now imagine how free one of the Quill or Capture team felt when combining this with the apparent anonymity of dining in the dark. And you might imagine what drove one redoubtable member of the press corps to recite several verses of Hamlet to an unseen but no less present audience, bringing silence to what was once a noisy arena and now hushed with the solemnity usually reserved for more formal occasions.

Death by parasol

On the final day, the Quill or Capture team made its way back to Le Bourget for a last bit of filming and some schmoozing. While watching the air display and keeping up some social media duties at a company’s media chalet – we won’t name names – life flashed before the eyes of one reporter.

A gust of wind had lifted one of the weighty umbrellas from the main chalet next door into the air, did a summersault in the air and proceeded to land right on top of the unlucky journalist.

The StandOne of the company’s press relations team was at her aid straight away – probably thinking he had just inadvertently sacrificed a reporter to the air show gods. The poor reporter had a bit of a fuzzy sensation, but on reflection can’t be 100 per cent sure that was the knock to the head or the champagne.

The Quill or Capture air show awards

Among the multi-billion dollar orders, new programme launches and innovations on display at the Paris Air Show, for the discerning journalist there were also some important questions to answer.

Which company has the best media chalet, who is providing the best breakfasts and where is the best place to steal a moment with a glass of wine?

So, obviously without wishing to overly trivialise the serious nature of the aerospace industry, ahem, the Quill or Capture hospitality awards go to:

  • Best media chaletAribus Photo Paris Le Bourget

Normally a tough category but made a lot easier this year by the number of companies which stayed away. The Quill or Capture team sampled many chalets during the week but for the sheer ability to always find somewhere quiet to work, the award goes to Thales and its well-catered chalet right on the flight line.

  • Best breakfast

Another one that is normally hotly contested but that saw fewer serious candidates vying for the top spot this year. The runway winner was Bell Helicopter and its bacon and sausage bap, complete with English brown sauce – although this did result in our esteemed editor doing his best Ed Miliband impression during the F_46ff9b62281f91302d6dd0aac2c7547554dc816e5a9b3interview with Bell CEO John Garrison.

  • Best lunch

After a week of rich French food, you start to crave something a little spicy. The organisers of the Singapore Air Show provided the solution in their chalet in the form of an amazing Asian spread. Sometimes noodles are the best answer.

  • Best wine

While we can’t say we sampled every bottle available on ever chalet (hic), the selection at the CAE chalet was ‘pretty impressive’, in the words of Quill or Capture’s resident wine expert. The selection included an amazing Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux, a bottle of which is now securely stashed in the bottom of one editor’s wardrobe.

Looking into the future

Only the weekend stands between us and the Paris Air Show. Whether you are fully prepared or, like some, looking at the Le Bourget site map in dismay, there are a number of future concepts on offer at the show this year.

First, Airbus is bringing out its E-Fan electric operated aircraft after a successful appearance at Farnborough Air Show 2014efan flight.

The company has dubbed the E-Fan the ‘future of air transportation’, claiming the technology has potential to be used in helicopters as well as fixed wing aircraft.

The demonstrator aircraft is going to be followed by production versions, including  a two-seat version, E-Fan 2.0, for basic pilot training, followed by the E-Fan 4.0 for the general aviation market, which will have four seats.

The company has in mind an aircraft with up to 100 seats (will this be the E-fan 100.0?) and there are hopes for the 2.0 to be sold some time in 2017.

Whether we are close to having fully electric powered helicopters or not is up for debate. It certainly is a possibility for manufacturers to keep in mind, and I’m sure somewhere work has already started.  After all, some were sceptical that electric cars would catch on, but they have, kind of, in a hybrid kind of way.

Also, revealed via twitter, MBDA will be showcasing a new missile concept for 2035. The Flexis video shows a particularly futuristic model where the missile is launched from a combat aircraft. Obviously it is then shown blowing stuff up.

It will be interesting to see what the company has in mind for the next 20 years of missile development.

Any details beyond that are yet to be revealed, although the company did hint that the target aircraft in the video was possibly a J-20.

Finally, there’s the Thales Stratobus, something of a cross between a satellite and a drone. Thales says that it could provide a future solution for observation, mapping and telecommunications (both civil and military).stratobus_plateforme_geostationnaire_thales

On-board energy is provided via a solar concentrator inside the balloon and a reversible fuel cell, while the ring around the Sratobus allows it to rotate so that it is always facing the sun.

The airship will operate at an altitude of around 20km and be able to carry a 200kg payload. The company hopes that it will be rolling out the Strotobus towards the end of 2020 – which used to feel pretty far into the future, but it’s only five years away now.

That’s just a titbit of what you’ll come across next week at Paris Air Show. Now all we can do is pray to the aviation gods for good weather and hope to see you there.

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