SR-71 Blackbird

us_flag (Text and photos: NASA courtesy)

Two SR-71 aircraft were used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed, high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft were based at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. They have been loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world’s fastest and highest-flying production aircraft.

SR-71 flying over snowy mountains

The aircraft can fly more than 2200 miles per hour (Mach 3+ or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. This operating environment makes the aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas – aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies and sonic boom characterization.

Data from the SR-71 high-speed research program may be used to aid designers of future supersonic/hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems, including a high-speed civil transport. The SR-71 program at Dryden was part of NASA’s overall high-speed aeronautical research program, and projects involve other NASA research centers, other government agencies, universities and commercial firms.

Research at Mach 3

One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air-data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data such as angle of attack and sideslip normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the air stream or from tubes with flush openings on an aircraft’s outer skin. The flights provided information on the presence of atmospheric particles at altitudes of 80,000 feet and above where future hypersonic aircraft will be operating. The system used six sheets of laser light projected from the bottom of the « A » model. As microscopic-size atmospheric particles passed between the two beams, direction and speed were measured and processed into standard speed and attitude references. An earlier laser air data collection system was successfully tested at Dryden on an F-l04 testbed.

The first of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., was flown in March 1993. From the nosebay of the aircraft, an upward-looking ultraviolet video camera studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. The SR-71 has also been used in a project for researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) who were investigating the use of charged chlorine atoms to protect and rebuild the ozone layer.

Front view of parked SR-71

In addition to observing celestial objects in the various wavelengths, future missions could include « downward » looking instruments to study rocket engine exhaust plumes, volcano plumes and the Earth’s atmosphere, as part of the scientific effort to reduce pollution and protect the ozone layer.

The SR-71, operating as a testbed, also has been used to assist in the development of a commercial satellite-based, instant wireless personal comunications network, called the IRIDIUM system, under NASA’s commercialization assistance program. The IRIDIUM system was being developed by Motorola’s Satellite Communications Division. During the development tests, the SR-71 acted as a « surrogate satellite » for transmitters and receivers on the ground. The SR-71 also has been used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic boom overpressures that are heard on the ground much like sharp thunderclaps when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from the study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the « peak » of sonic booms and minimize the startle affect they produce on the ground.

Instruments at precise locations on the ground record the sonic booms as the aircraft passes overhead at known altitudes and speeds. An F-16XL aircraft was also used in the study. It was flown behind the SR-71, probing the near-field shockwave while instrumentation recorded the pressures and other atmospheric parameters.

SR-71 takeoff

In November 1998 the SR-71 completed the NASA/Lockheed Martin Linear Aerospike SR-71 experiment (LASRE). LASRE was a small, half-span model of a lifting body with eight thrust cells of an aerospike engine, mounted on the back of an SR-71 aircraft and operating like a kind of « flying wind tunnel. » During seven flights, the experiment gained information that may help Lockheed Martin predict how operation of aerospike engines at altitude will affect vehicle aerodynamics of a future reusable launch vehicle.

Dryden’s Mach 3 History

Dryden has a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12 aircraft were flown at the facility between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12s were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft.

Research information from the YF-12 program was used to validate analytical theories and wind-tunnel test techniques to help improve the design and performance of future military and civil aircraft. The American supersonic transport project of the late 1960s and early 1970s would have benefited greatly from YF-12 research data. The aircraft were a YF-12A (tail #935) and a YF-12C (tail #937). Tail number 937 was actually an SR-71 that was called a YF-12C for security reasons. These aircraft logged a combined total of 242 flights during the program. A third aircraft, a YF-12A (tail #936), was flown by Air Force crews early in the program. It was lost because of an inflight fire in June l971. The crew was not hurt.

SR-71 flying at sunset

The YF-12s were used for a wide range of experiments and research. Among the areas investigated were aerodynamic loads, aerodynamic drag and skin friction, heat transfer, thermal stresses, airframe and propulsion system interactions, inlet control systems, high-altitude turbulence, boundary layer flow, landing gear dynamics, measurement of engine effluents for pollution studies, noise measurements and evaluation of a maintenance monitoring and recording system. On many YF-12 flights medical researchers obtained information on the physiological and biomedical aspects of crews flying at sustained high speeds.

From February 1972 until July 1973, a YF-12A was used for heat loads testing in Dryden’s High Temperature Loads Laboratory (now the Thermostructures Research Facility). The data helped improve theoretical prediction methods and computer models of that era dealing with structural loads, materials and heat distribution at up to 800 degrees (F), the same surface temperatures reached during sustained speeds of Mach 3.

SR-71 Specifications and Performance

The SR-71 was designed and built by the Lockheed Skunk Works, now the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. SR-71s are powered by two Pratt and Whitney J-58 axial-flow turbojets with afterburners, each producing 32,500 pounds of thrust. Studies have shown that less than 20 percent of the total thrust used to fly at Mach 3 is produced by the basic engine itself. The balance of the total thrust is produced by the unique design of the engine inlet and « moveable spike » system at the front of the engine nacelles and by the ejector nozzles at the exhaust which burn air compressed in the engine bypass system.

Speed of the aircraft is announced as Mach 3.2 – more than 2000 miles per hour (3218.68 kilometers per hour). They have an unrefueled range of more than 2000 miles (3218.68 kilometers) and fly at altitudes of over 85,000 feet (25908 meters).

As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees (F). The aircraft are 107.4 feet (32.73 meters) long, have a wing span of 55.6 feet (16.94 meters, and are l8.5 feet (5.63 meters) high (ground to the top of the rudders when parked). Gross takeoff weight is about 140,000 pounds (52253.83 kilograms), including a fuel weight of 80,000 pounds (29859.33 kilograms).

The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces above each engine nacelle, ailerons on the outer wings and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles.

SR-71 3-view drawing

The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 64-17980, manufactured in July 1967, and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 64-17956, manufactured in September 1965. From 1991 through 1994, Dryden also had another « A » model, NASA 832, military serial 64-17971, manufactured in October 1966. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995.

The SR-71 last flight took place in October 1999.

Development History

The SR-71 was designed by a team of Lockheed personnel led by Clarence « Kelly » Johnson, at that time vice president of the Lockheed’s Advanced Development Company, commonly known as the « Skunk Works. »

The basic design of the SR-71 and YF-12 aircraft originated in secrecy in the late l950s with the aircraft designation of A-11. Its existence was publicly announced by President Lyndon Johnson on Feb. 29, 1964, when he announced that an A-11 had flown at sustained speeds of over 2000 miles per hour during tests at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Development of the SR-71s from the A-11 design, as strategic reconnaissance aircraft, began in February 1963. First flight of an SR-71 was on Dec. 22, 1964.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/FactSheets/FS-030-DFRC.html

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Charles « Chuck » YEAGER – 65 years ago !

THE RIGHT STUFF  / L’ETOFFE des HEROS

Supersonic aircraft X-1 in flight
Photo: NASA

Captain Charles « Chuck » YEAGER broke the sound barrier with the help of his friend Jack RIDLEY on a 14th of October 1947 – He did it 61 years ago!

Brigadier General Charles Chuck Yeager next to his X-1 aircraft

(U. S. Air Force illustration/Mike Carabajal)

Supersonic aircraft X-1
Photo: NASA

Supersonic aircraft X-1 pre-flight inspection

Photo: U.S.Air Force Link

XLR-11 ROCKET POWERED AIRCRAFT

Birth of Manned Rocket Research Airplanes: 1946 to 1975

The first reliable, effective rocket engine that would provide boost for experimental research aircraft was produced by four members of the American Rocket Society (ARS) who combined forces to form Reaction Motors Incorporated (RMI) (Rockaway, New Jersey) for developing the Experimental Liquid Rocket (XLR-11) rocket motor. The XLR-11 engine had four separate rocket chambers. Each chamber provided 1500 lb of rated thrust and could be operated independently as a means of throttling thrust in quarters, up to 6000 pounds. The XLR-11 possessed remarkable longevity, powering an impressive fleet of rocket aircraft for more than a quarter of a century (1946 to 1975). This fleet of vehicles were the first rocket aircraft devoted solely to high performance experimental flight research. They were not constrained by military or commercial demands and ranged from being the first to break the sound barrier (XS-1), to the first to reach Mach 2.0 (D-558-II [fig. 5]), to the first to exceed the X-2 Mach 3.2 record (X-15 with two XLR-11 engines).

D-558-II airplane on Rogers lakebed

Figure 5. The D-558-II airplane on Rogers lakebed.

The X-1E – Early Development of Energy Management

Design efforts to extend aircraft performance produced increased wing loadings, W/S, and decreased lift-to-drag ratios, L/D. These design changes were beneficial in reducing drag to achieve supersonic and hypersonic speeds, but were also detrimental in that they reduced the area of the maneuvering footprint and presented difficulties in the approach and landing.

As L/D values decreased, the glide slope angle and the rate of descent increased, making it more difficult for pilots to estimate distances and times required for acceptable landings. The X-1E (fig. 6) was modified with a low-aspect-ratio wing having a thickness-to-chord ratio of four percent – the only aircraft of the X-1/D-558 series to have sufficiently low L/D values to require unique energy management techniques. This X-1E was the first to experiment with approach patterns designed to give
the pilot more time in the traffic pattern to manage energy.

The landing pattern was approached in a conventional manner except that altitudes and speeds were somewhat higher than for
powered aircraft. The initial reference point was established at 12,000 ft (mean sea level) on a downwind heading (180 deg remaining to turn). The downwind leg was offset some four miles from the centerline of the landing runway. On downwind, abeam the touchdown point, landing gear and partial flaps were deployed at a speed of 240 knots. Full flaps were usually deployed on the final approach. At the initial reference point the pilot had almost three minutes until touchdown – additional time for handling increased speeds and sink rates.7,8

X-1 supersonic aircraft on Lakebed

Figure 6. The X-1E airplane on Rogers lakebed.

X-1E supersonic aircraft under B-29 Mothership

Secret declassified USAF pilot Charles Chuck Yeager after breaking the sound barrier on X-1

Report from www.archives.gov

X-1 supersonic aircraft instrument panel

(Text from the NASA at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/home/index.html)

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YVES Fusionman ROSSY, the FIRST Aviation History PIONEER of the 21st CENTURY

Yves Fusion Man Rossy smiling portrait

A few days after he succeeded in crossing the Channel, I thought it was time to show who and what gave Yves Rossy the incentive to perform such breathtaking feats. Let’s have a look at this hero’s career.

When he was a child, he said « When I am older, I will be pilots » – with an S ! This became his motto from the day he got unable to go down from a tree by himself. The child has now become « Fusionman ». In order to understand what motivated this pilot, watch and listen to Yves Rossy’s comments (in French) on the video below:

As he explained, Yves Rossy has always admired the first pioneers. Every attempt used to end by death or breakthrough. Yves Rossy has now become « Fusionman », the first man flushed in a jet-engine-propelled wing, flying as if he were Icarus.

Yves Rossy was born on the 27th of August 1959 in Neufchatel – Switzerland. Both gazing skywards, and having his feet firmly planted on the ground, he was taught technical education and passed a mechanics baccalauréat. Natural-born sportsman, he has practised everything that glides, slides, or flies – surfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, skysurfing, parachuting, aerobatics, motorcycling, rafting, hang-gliding, etc. Flying with a jet-powered wing is the crowning of a 30-year career and numerous stunts, feats, and premieres.

FIGHTER PILOT

Certainly one of the most intense periods in his career. Yves Rossy flew the supersonic Mirage III for 15 years. During this period, he flew some historical aircraft such as the Hunter or the Venom, one of the first English jet-engine fighters. He got the idea of going round Switzerland throughout several activities within a day. He carried out this feat on the 3rd of July 1991. During his trip, he flew a DC-9, went motorcycling, skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, paragliding, mountain-biking, bungee-jumping, he flew a helicopter, went skydiving, rafting, hydrospeeding, canoeing, drove a sportscar, went hang-gliding, horse-riding, barefooting, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and finally speedboating – that’s enough… 25 vehicles were used this day along 1,000 km for 15 hours and a half! Yves Rossy is a Swiss Air Force retiree, and keeps flying the two-seater Hunter belonging to the association Amici del Hunter. He works as a captain at Swiss Airlines, and his spare-time is dedicated to his passion. He has been supported since February 2007 by Jean-Claude BIVER, HUBLOT watches’ CEO.

HE FANCIES DOING WHAT NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE

Yves Rossy is used to venturing off the beaten tracks. He devotes all his hobbies to flight in all its forms. He multiplies the tests on contrivances that change with the passing experiments. An inflatable wing made him get over the 12-kilometer distance between the two shores of Lake Geneva. Many stunts were reported such as hang-gliding over the huge Geneva spray to surf on top of it, then land on the lake to grab a waterskiing handle, and get to the shore without getting wet! Another feat – he skydived on a disk over the Matterhorn. As Yves Rossy whished to get beyond his feats and dreams, he wanted to fly with as little instrumentation as possible – like a bird with the ability to move and steer into space, he got the idea of adding scale model jet engines under a wing.

JET-POWERED WING

The first attempt occurred in March, 2003. The German Jet-Cat company supplied the engines which were added under an inflatable wing, but this trial was a failure for lacking of rigidity. He developed a rigid spreadable carbon wing built-up at ACT Composites’ in 2004. It made an indifferent start. He spun and had to drop his wing at Al-Ain airshow. The wing parachute tore, and the device was damaged. From that time, the pilot worked hard to improve the spreading of the wing and aerodynamics at the wing tips in order to provide more stability. He achieved two flights with a two-jet-engine-propelled wing in 2005. He had a narrow shave a month later: an uncontrollable sway led him to drop his wing which crashed. After a long year and two extra jet engines added, the wing became more secure. As a matter of fact, the 5’40 » over Bex – Switzerland – came up as an awaken dream for this pioneer. Since then, Yves Rossy has relentlessly been training to optimize his wing. Yves was compelled again to drop his prototype wing while in a new test flight in April 2007. The wing was seriously damaged and took a few months to be repaired. In the aftermath of this failure, Yves Rossy decided to build up a new, more reliable, higher-performance wing. Since early 2008, his wings have become more and more sophisticated.

Finally, Yves « Fusionman » « Rocketman » « Jetman » Rossy found his place in Aviation History on the 26th of September 2008, having joined Calais – France – to Dover – England. Congratulations to Yves Rossy and thanks to MEDIA IMPACT and its staff which supplied me with materials and information to write a post about Yves Rossy.

Please visit their website at: http://www.jetman.com/

Pilot Yves Rossy flying his wing


WING SPECIFICATION SHEET

  • Wingspan: 2.50 m.
  • Central part span: 1.80 m.
  • Length of a spreadable part: 35 cm.
  • Spreading device: by gas-spring completed in half a second.
  • Weight with fuel and smoke-emission device: 55 kg.
  • Dry weight: 30 kg.
  • 4 self-started Jet-Cat P200 jet-engines (thrust: 22 kg each) – stabilized in slow-running in 25 seconds.
  • Fuel: mixed with kerosene and 5% turbine oil for lubrication
  • Rating speed: 200 km/h
  • Climb-out speed: 180 km/h (330 m/min)
  • Sink rate: 300 km/h
  • Flight endurance: 10 minutes
  • Parachute: « Parachutes de France – Legend R »
  • Canopy: PD Spectra 230
  • Harness: dropped with an automatic engine-shut-off system and, an automatic parachute opening system for proper recovery.
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Why not fly NUCLEAR AIRCRAFT ?

I was reading a gripping blog in French called “Objets du ciel » (broken link) when I bumped into an amazing article written by Carl Conrad. I first thought that this post was unbelievable. I daresay that all the articles he writes are amazing. I am going to report hereafter what I have read about this topic – nuclear-powered aircraft – from different sources, but Carl Conrad’s article is the one that inspired me most.

Convair NB-36H X-6

© Photo: National museum of the USAF

As a major oil crisis is looming, airlines are cancelling some less financially viable air links of theirs. The future of aviation as we currently know it, seems to be in jeopardy. Nothing seems to be used as a substitute for any current kind of energy, not even electricity. What about nuclear-powered engines?

Nowadays, nobody would bear any nuclear-powered test flights. However those tests did occur within a USAF-carried-out weapons system (WS 125-A) nuclear-powered bomber aircraft programme. Those tests were performed with a 1,000-kilowatt-nuclear jet engine airborne on a Convair NB-36H. This aircraft named « The Crusader », took-off 47 times during the 50s. The engine was not used for propelling. It only worked at an altitude which was deemed sensible. Those tests allowed to assess the nuclear engine drive performance. Every flight would involve troops deployment in the area to prevent as soon as possible from any accident fallout spreading. The aircraft was modified in order to enhance the five crew member’s safety. The USAF considered the concept not realistic and gave the programme up in late 1956.

However, this technology might be coming back to fly some drones for long-lasting flights. People might be relunctant to see nuclear-powered drones taking-off and flying past over their heads. Who knows? Maybe some day.

Another project to mention: Project Orion should have become a 4,000-ton, long-range spacecraft powered by controlled nuclear pulses, or explosions. For this purpose, a small test vehicle was built. It was dubbed « Hot Rod », and was conventional-explosive-powered craft. Finally, Orion was cancelled in 1965 because it would not have been politically correct and because of technical challenges.

I have not found a piece of information about nuclear-powered craft after the year 2004. By the way, if someone knows further information about nuclear-powered aircraft, they will be welcome if they want to add some comments.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Span: 230 ft. 0 in.
Length: 162 ft. 1 in. (as B-36H, the NB-36H was slightly shorter)
Height: 46 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 357,500 lbs. (max. gross weight)
Armament: None
Engines: Six Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 radials of 3,800 hp each (takeoff power) and four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets of 5,200 lbs. thrust each
Crew: Five ( pilot, copilot, flight engineer and two nuclear engineers)

PERFORMANCE:
Maximum speed: Approx. 420 mph at 47,000 ft.
Cruising speed: 235 mph
Service ceiling: Approx. 47,000 ft.

Sources:
http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

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NASA OBLIQUE WING CONCEPT

NASA Dryden flight

A program conducted between 1979 and 1982 at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., successfully demonstrated an aircraft wing that could be pivoted obliquely from zero to 60 degrees during flight. The unique wing was demonstrated on a small, subsonic jet-powered research aircraft called the AD-1 (Ames Dryden -1). The aircraft was flown 79 times during the research program, which evaluated the basic pivot-wing concept and gathered information on handling qualities and aerodynamics at various speeds and degrees of pivot.

The oblique wing concept originated with Robert T. Jones, an aeronautical

engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Analytical and wind tunnel studies Jones initiated at Ames indicated that a transport-size oblique-wing aircraft, flying at speeds up to Mach 1.4 (1.4 times the speed of sound), would have substantially better aerodynamic performance than aircraft with more conventional wings. At high speeds, both subsonic and supersonic, the wing would be pivoted at up to 60 degrees to the aircraft’s fuselage for better high-speed performance. The studies showed these angles would decrease aerodynamic drag, permitting increased speed and longer range with the same fuel expenditure. At lower speeds, during takeoffs and landings, the wing would be perpendicular to the fuselage like a conventional wing to provide maximum lift and control qualities. As the aircraft gained speed, the wing would be pivoted to increase the oblique angle, thereby reducing the drag and decreasing fuel consumption. The wing could only be swept in one direction, with the right wingtip moving forward.

The AD-1 aircraft was delivered to Dryden in February 1979. The Ames Industrial Co., Bohemia, N.Y., constructed it, under a $240,000 fixed-price contract. NASA specified the overall vehicle design using a geometric configuration studied by the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company, Seattle, Wash. The Rutan Aircraft Factory, Mojave, Calif., provided the detailed design and load analysis for the intentionally low-speed, low-cost airplane. The low speed and cost of course limited the complexity of the vehicle and the scope of its technical objectives.

NASA AD-1 X-plane

Piloting the aircraft on its first flight Dec. 21, 1979, was NASA research pilot Thomas C. McMurtry, who was also the pilot on the final flight Aug. 7, 1982. Powered by two small turbojet engines, each producing 220 pounds of static thrust at sea level, the aircraft was limited for reasons of safety to a speed of about 170 mph. The AD-1 was 38.8 feet in length and had a wingspan of 32.3 feet unswept. It was constructed of plastic reinforced with fiberglass, in a sandwich with the skin separated by a rigid foam core. It had a gross weight of 2,145 pounds, and an empty weight of 1,450 pounds. A fixed tricycle landing gear, mounted close to the fuselage to lessen aerodynamic drag, gave the aircraft a very « squatty » appearance on the ground. It was only 6.75 feet high. The wing was pivoted by an electrically driven gear mechanism located inside the fuselage, just forward of the engines.

Read full article on the NASA (www.nasa.gov) website: NASA Dryden Past Projects: AD-1 Oblique Wing – updated August 12, 2009

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