Tag Archives: Boeing

X-37B: Robotic Orbital Spy

This artist's rendition shows the X-37B as it might look like orbiting Earth

Mid 2010 has seen US Air Force to Launch unmanned and reusable X-37B to orbit from Florida. The Boeing X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle is an American unmanned spacecraft. It is operated by the United States Air Force for orbital spaceflight missions intended to demonstrate reusable space technologies. The Air Force has fended off statements calling the X-37B a space weapon, or a space-based drone to be used for spying or delivering weapons from orbit.

X-37B is roughly one fourth the size of the space shuttle. It’s onboard batteries and solar arrays (pictured at left from its NASA days) can keep it operating for up to nine months according to the Air Force. It is similar to the shuttle with payload doors exposing a cargo area, and uses a similar reentry procedure before gliding to a runway. In the case of the X-37B, the vehicle will autonomously return to earth and land itself using an onboard autopilot. The primary landing spot is Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The program was transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004. Since that time the X-37 has become a classified program, raising questions as to whether or not it would become the first operational military space plane. During the 1960s, the Air Force and Boeing conducted research on the X-20 Dyna-Soar space plane.

On 17 November 2006 the U.S. Air Force announced it would develop the X-37B from the NASA X-37A. The Air Force version is designated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). The OTV program builds on industry and government investments by DARPA, NASA and the Air Force. The X-37B effort will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and includes partnerships with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing is the prime contractor for the OTV program. The X-37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the Columbia accident, it was transferred to a Delta II 7920. It was subsequently transferred to a shrouded configuration on the Atlas V following concerns over the unshrouded spacecraft’s aerodynamic properties during launch.

So, what makes this vehicle different fron conventional satellite? To NASA, the X-37 was projected to be an orbital experimental vehicle to be lifted to orbit by the Space Shuttle or a reusable launch vehicle and returned to Earth under its own power. But, Air Force argues that a vehicle such as the X-37 could be a valuable platform for intelligence gathering with the advantage of a satellite’s point of view, but the flexibility of an aircraft that can be launched relatively quickly and maneuvered in orbit much easier than a traditional satellite. The service directly supports the Defense Department’s technology risk-reduction efforts for new satellite systems. By providing an ‘on-orbit laboratory’ test environment, it will prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs.” The X-37 is expected to operate in a velocity range of up to Mach 25 on reentry. Among the technologies to be demonstrated with the X-37 are improved thermal protection systems, avionics, the autonomous guidance system and an advanced airframe. The X-37 has a payload bay available for experiments and other space payloads. It features thermal protection systems that are improved from previous generations of spacecraft.

Is this another ambitious NASA project or SR-71 replacement for intelligence gathering or robotic spy?

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Atlas V, Boeing, DARPA, Drones, Orbital Test Vehicle, Robotic Intelligence, Space Shuttle, SR-71, US Department of Defense

T-129: New Kid in a Block of Attack Helicopters

T-129 Attack Helicopter

Vey recently Turkey has increased its order for the T129 (shown above) attack helicopter to 60 aircraft, with prime contractor Turkish Aerospace Industries to deliver nine newly ordered examples by mid-2012. When I saw this machine first time, it reminded good old Apache. Is this rotorcraft the Apache for third world countries? Well I don’t know, they might look the same, but they are not same. I am writing this post to prove myself wrong. That T-129 is not cheaper Apache, but infact it has or will have its own place in the market of attack helicopters. Before I proceed I must remind you, that it is same 129 whose prototype crashed on the afternoon of 19 March during a test flight. Early indications point to a loss of power to the tail rotor while flying at an elevation of 1,500ft (455m) near Verbania in northern Italy. AgustaWestland is to make two T129 prototypes in Italy, after which manufacture will shift to its Turkish partner TAI. TAI general director Muharrem Dortkasli says the first T129 ATAK will be handed over to the Turkish armed forces in the third quarter of 2013. Turkey will be responsible for international marketing and sales of the design, and industry sources say several countries are already evaluating the product, including Jordan and Pakistan.

The T129 is a formidable, new, highly powerful and capable all-weather day and night multi-role attack helicopter which is being developed in cooperation by AgustaWestland, Aselsan and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) for Turkey and other export markets. It is based upon the AW129 and its predecessor, the battle-proven A129 Mangusta platform. High weapon payload, excellent performance for ‘hot and high’ conditions and range and endurance of up to 3 hours are enabled by state-of-the-art LHTEC-T800 engines, making the T129 a critical multi-role resource for attack and deterrent operations. Low signature and agility ensure maximum stealth, and a significant weapons payload enable the T129 to operate in the most hostile of battlefield environments as well as in confined areas typical of current military scenarios. Latest technology features include Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment which delivers vital survivability tools and integrated mission management utilising an advanced FLIR sighting system, Helmet Mounted Display and Mission computers. High survivability enhanced by ballistic tolerance and crashworthiness is a fundamental design feature. The T129 benefits from the high field supportability necessary for an aircraft needing to operate in remote areas with the minimum logistical support.

Both helciopters resembles closely, however, AH-64’s (shown below) main rotor blade (BERP) is its distinguishing features, Unfortunatly T-129 offers half of Apache’s Maximum Takeoff Weight (with 5,000kg) compared to Apache’s 10,000kg. Another distinguishing feature is T-129’s 5 main rotor blades. The T-129 has several key improvements over the original A129 inline with the requirements of the Turkish Army. he T-129 will carry 12 Roketsan-developed UMTAS anti-tank missiles (Turkish indigenous development similar to Hellfire II) and it will use the more powerful LHTEC T800 (CTS800-4) engine.

Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow

The AH-64 is designed to endure front-line environments and to operate during the day or night and in adverse weather using avionics, such as the Target Acquisition and Designation System, Pilot Night Vision System (TADS/PNVS), passive infrared countermeasures, GPS, and the IHADSS. The AH-64 is adaptable to numerous different roles within its context as Close Combat Attack (CCA), and has a customizable weapons loadout for the role desired.In addition to the 30-mm M230E1 Chain Gun, the Apache carries a range of external stores on its stub-wing pylons, typically a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, and Hydra 70 general-purpose unguided 70 mm (2.76 in) rockets.

Although both helicopters offers a capability to carry sidewinder and AIM-92 Stinger, what is missing from T-129 is Longbow Radar, what I consider a key to Apache operations. The lessons of the Gulf War, and the evolving battlefield air defence threat, created the context in which the digital AH-64D (Longbow Version) Apache was conceived. An optional fit to its baseline configuration is the Longbow weapon system, comprising the Northrop-Grumman (previously Westinghouse) AN/APG-78 Longbow mast mounted Fire Control Radar (FCR), and a Lockheed-Martin AN/APR-48 Radar Frequency Interferometer (RFI) package, both designed for all weather operation through precipitation and battlefield obscurants. The Longbow weapon system supports the AGM-114L active radar guided missile, operating in the same millimetric band as the radar.

T-129 A Kid about to born

The Longbow radar is a very low peak power, millimetric band system, with extremely low sidelobes by virtue of a very large relative antenna size. The low emitted power, extremely narrow pencil beam mainlobe, and undisclosed LPI modulation features provide a system with a range of the order of 10 km in clear conditions, which is near to undetectable by established RWR technology. Only a highly sensitive channelised ESM receiver with a high gain antenna and low noise receivers can reliably detect such a signal, under optimal antenna pointing conditions. The choice of millimetric band means that atmospheric water vapour and oxygen resonance losses rapidly soak up the signal, which is also out of the frequency band coverage of most RWRs. The radar will track up to 128 targets and prioritise the top 16. The radar employs both real beam mapping and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) techniques, to provide the automatic detection, tracking and non-cooperative identification of surface targets, with a secondary capability against low flying aircraft. Target identification algorithms in the radar’s software look at the shape of possible targets, and their Doppler signatures, to identify aircraft, helicopters, SPAAGs, SAM systems, tanks, AFVs, trucks and other wheeled vehicles. The capability exists to identify stationary targets through radar transparent camouflage netting and foliage. Real beam video and synthetic imagery can be displayed.

The provision of a highly automated weapon system with basic sensor fusion is unique at to the Apache Longbow, and provides clearly unprecedented lethality in comparison with helicopters using only thermal imaging sights and laser guided missiles. Such systems are limited to engaging one target at a time, unlike the Apache Longbow which can engage many targets concurrently. Howver I must mention here T-129’s advanced milimeter wave radar, claimed to be similar to Longbow and IAI/ELTA radars. Mast radar, similar to that of Apache Longbow but based on IAI/ELTA’s (Israel) surveillance and targeting radar with SAR and ISAR capability, has been added on the top of the rotor. The radar can identify land and sea targets from at least 30 kilometres. I am unsure about the technical details of T-129 radar, but there is something comparable to Longbow abilities is surprise to me.

Looking at the airbrone FLIR T-129 incorporates ASELFLIR-300T is a multi-sensor electro-optical targeting and surveillance system. ASELFLIR-300T fulfills multiple mission requirements including; Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. Having a flexible hardware and software design architecture, the system can be used on different platforms ranging from rotary, fixed wing and unmanned air vehicles to naval ships. Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. ASELFLIR-300T System includes a High Resolution Infra Red (IR) Camera, a Laser Rangefinder / Designator (LRF/D), a Laser Spot Tracker (LST), a Color TV Camera and a Color Spotter Camera. The system consists of the following Weapons Replaceable Assemblies (WRAs); Turret Unit (TU), Electronics Unit (EU), Hand Control Unit (HCU), Boresight Module (BSM).

Looking at the potential customers for T-129, it may serve well, but offers no near capabilities as Apache. With its enhanced Integrated Aircraft Survivebility Equipment, Adaptable and Asymmertic Weapon Load Capability, the rotorcraft does have a potential to become a successful machine and secure its position among world’s best attack helicopters.

Click Here for brochure of Atak Helicopter.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Agusta Westland, Apache AH-64, ATAK, Attack helicopters, Aviation, Boeing, Current Affairs, Engineering, Flight Global, Global Aviation, Longbow Radar, Milimeter Wave Radar, Pakistan, Paris Art Show, T-129, Turkey, Turkish Aerospace Industries

Saudi Dynamics – Don’t kiss my hand

The price of oil may remain in flux, but the commitment in Riyadh to grow its military power and diversify its supplier network remains constant. Recently Saudi Arabia placed an order worth $29.4 billion 84 new F-15SAs equipped with active electronically scanned array radars and major upgrades to its fleet of 70 F-15Ss. Moreover, Saudi Arabia could acquire more than 150 new helicopters from the USA under acquisitions worth a combined $25.6 billion. Riyadh is aiming for 72 Sikorsky UH-60M (shown below) Black Hawk transports, plus 36 AH-6i light attack helicopters and 36 AH-64D Block III Apache Longbows from Boeing and 12 MD Helicopters MD530s, and 48 UH-60Ls on order.

Looking at current Saudi fleet, it already operates 12 AH-64As, and has a confirmed order for 12 D-model. Latter sale was announced the same day when former deal to buy F-15s was confirmed.

UH-60M Black Hawk

Among the Gulf states, Saudi’s military still stands apart as the only force operating airborne “command ships”. The United Arab Emirates plans to break that monopoly soon, but Riyadh clearly wants to maintain its advantage. Again, Boeing is likely to become the favoured contractor.

Credits: FlightGlobal, Airliners.NET

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Filed under Aviation, Black Hawk, Current Affairs, Engineering, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aviation, Sikorsky

Android: Solution to NextGen IFEC

The aviation community is looking forward to Google’s Android mobile operating system, as a Future for In Flight Entertainment Connectivity (IFEC), in order to develop new and exciting software and applications for airliners.

Thales will get the Android bandwagon rolling with the launch of a new touch passenger media unit (TouchPMU) that is designed to act as a stand-alone media access device as well as a controller for its TopSeries i8000 IFEC system and its new, as-yet-unnamed fourth generation (4G) IFEC system, which will be launched on Qatar Airways’ Boeing 787s before the end of 2011. According to the Flightglobal source, Thales is looking forward to introduce 4g platform, with Android operating system, by 2013, which may equip in later 787 versions. Panasonic, meanwhile, is looking to beat Thales to market by offering a new Android-based IFEC platform before the end of 2011.

Panasonnic has recently launched world’s first application store,which will give software developers the opportunity to see their ideas fly. Implemented in partnership with software developer CoKinetic Systems, the Panasonic Avionics App Store aims to tap into the energy and excitement of the rapidly expanding open platform application developer community.

The App Store will serve as the storefront and aggregation point for existing and future applications for Panasonic IFEC systems. Airlines, through a secure log in, will be able to see apps available, apps under development and access the community of developers should they want their own apps developed. The target date for the Panasonic App Store to open for business is first quarter 2011. Development of the store comes at a time when Panasonic is investing heavily in research and development to potentially use the Android operating system for its next generation IFEC system.

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Filed under Aviation, Current Affairs