Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider: A Profile

David Pflieger highlights the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider.

Since World War II the United States has maintained air superiority around the globe. The USA has long been the vanguard of military technology. The future of the Air Force’s stealth abilities is embodied in the futuristic B-21, a stealth long-ranger bomber. The B-21 has a longer range, newly developed stealth abilities, and greater endurance than previous similar bombers. The endurance and range of the B-21 allow the bomber to avoid surface to air defense systems and could also facilitate a quick strike anywhere in the world. The bomber’s formal name, “Raider”, was coined collectively by a competition amongst members of the Air Force are their close associates.

After the Air Force revealed the artist rendering of the B-21 bomber the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James mentioned the intention to develop a new long-range, stealth bomber with capabilities to avoid detection. Despite the Air Force’s claims that the new bomber will be near impossible to detect, Russian media reports the United State’s stealth technology is useless when paired against their ground to air defenses. The S-300 and S-400 Russian ground defenses have an excellent reputation around the world. However, the Air Force Secretary insists the B-21 will prove to be superior to Russian defense systems.

The details of the B-21 are not available but nonetheless some details are apparent from the artist rendering of the bomber. The absence of exhaust pipes suggests the Air Force was able to circumvent the release of fumes that can be detected by heat-seeking weapons. Defense firm Northrop Grumman won a contract from the Air Force to engineer the B-21. The long term intention of the B-21 is to replace the late Cold War-era bomber the B-2. The Air Force seeks to begin using the B-21 by the mid-2020s and intends to purchase 20 to 50 B-21s at approximately $550 million. The technology developed for the B-21 is capable of being updated as defense systems around the world upgrade as well. Other details of the B-21 may include the capacity to fly unmanned and to potentially deliver nuclear weapons.

In order to read the full article, written by David Pflieger, make sure to click the link.

Test Flight of A ‘Blind’ Drone

David Pflieger explains the importance of the first test drive of a “blind” drone.

Drones As We Know Them Now
Many of us are familiar with drones hovering over a football game or getting a stunning photoshoot in a national park. These drones usually require a line-of-vision range for the human operator. Others rely on ground-based radar to follow a pre-selected flight pattern. This has been the standard for drone activity since its inception. Change is in the air.

The Blind Drone
A blind drone is one that does not rely on an operator directing them. It also does not depend on ground-based radar. Instead, it uses an onboard program known as a collision-avoidance system. This allows the drone to fly independently. It can avoid obstacles and maintain its programmed route. The potential applications are significant.

Tests in Alaska and Kansas
Testing in Alaska earlier this year involved a blind drone competing with one operated by a human. The goal for each was to fly towards a vehicle and avoid hitting it. The onboard guidance system provided by Iris Automation won over the human-guided drone. This led to further testing in Kansas. In this test, the blind drone had to operate beyond the operator’s line-of-sight. The success of the test led to FAA-approved innovation to permit longer flights. Prior to this, the FAA required drones to utilize either the human controller and their field of vision, or the ground-based radar, which is expensive to install.

In order to read the full article, written by David Pflieger, make sure to click the link.

How Do Airplane Autopilot Systems Work?

David Pflieger explains how autopilot technology works.

The autopilot system of an airplane is an integral part of the machine’s flight control technology. In fact, what most people refer to as the “autopilot system” is technically known as the Automatic Flight Control System, or AFCS for short. The autopilot system is just one component in the collection of systems that comprise the avionics of the airplane. The avionics consist of several components, including:

  • Communication systems which relay messages between the pilot and passengers and from the airplane crew to the radar tower and ground control.
  • Navigation technology which uses global positioning systems (GPS) and satellite technology to make sure the airline properly follows the intended route.
  • Flight control panels and real-time monitoring systems dispersed throughout the airplane’s cockpit.

With the invention of the Automatic Flight Control system, pilots were able to automate many of the more mundane parts of flying an aircraft and became free to focus on higher-level tasks requiring more careful planning and thought. Since the advent of the first airplane autopilot system in 1912, many different AFCS systems have come on to the market over the last century. These are typically named and separated by the aircraft parts which they are able to successful control.

To read the full article, written by David Pflieger, make sure to click the link.

Boeing’s Blunder: Inspectors of the Boeing 737 MAX were Reportedly Unprepared

Dave Pflieger explains whether or not the Boeing 737 MAX’s were improperly inspected.

According to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chairman, an investigation has been launched to evaluate the training of aviation safety inspectors. The inquiry was prompted by claims from whistleblowers that the inspectors were improperly trained, suggesting that some of the inspectors should not have received their certifications. Inspectors responsible for evaluating the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded, have also become a target of this investigation.
The committee started taking whistleblower complaints seriously after the second Boeing 737 MAX crash within a year. The first aircraft crashed in Indonesia this past October, and the second crash occurred in Ethiopia just last month. Together, almost 350 people were killed in the two crashes.
Roger Wicker, a Republican senator, submitted a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, which suggested the organization had early knowledge of the training discrepancies. He wrote that the FAA had received the whistleblower complaints prior to the crash in Indonesia. Concerns over the training and certification of inspectors were raised as early as August of last year.
The letter sent by Senator Wicker didn’t specify who was responsible for employing the inspectors in question. Typically, the FAA is responsible for training and certifying its own inspectors. However, the organization has started outsourcing these responsibilities to Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers. The concern is that the aircraft manufacturers aren’t putting their inspectors through the same rigorous training programs as those used by the FAA.
The letter written by the senator asked a series of questions, which Daniel Elwell, the organization’s administrator, must answer. Previously, the FAA administrator told the senate committee that he welcomed any outside evaluation of the organization’s processes and methods. Although Elwell also said he’s proud of the FAA’s whistleblower program, he stated that he wasn’t aware of any complaints made by employees of the organization.
According to Mr. Wicker, the Flight Standardization Board responsible for evaluating the Boeing 737 MAX was comprised of improperly trained inspectors. The whistleblower reports suggested these inspectors were incapable of determining the required pilot rating, recommending training programs, or ensuring the flight crew was competent to operate the craft.
Last week, Boeing announced plans to reprogram software aboard the 737 MAX. They believe a glitch in the software’s anti-stall system was being triggered by erroneous data collected by the program. The errors in the software may be responsible for the two crashes this year.