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The Pentagon's Supersonic, Shape-Shifting Assassin 489

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the this-switchblade-illegal-to-carry-also dept.
grammar fascist writes "CNN reports that Northrop Grumman is under contract to build a new supersonic, shape-shifting bomber by 2020. The main innovation is in its single, rotating wing. From the article: '[It] will cruise with its 200-foot-long wing perpendicular to its engines like a normal airplane. But just before the craft breaks the sound barrier, its single wing will swivel around 60 degrees (hence the name) so that one end points forward and the other back. This oblique configuration redistributes the shock waves that pile up in front of a plane at Mach speeds and cause drag. When the Switchblade returns to subsonic speeds, the wing will rotate back to perpendicular.'"
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The Pentagon's Supersonic, Shape-Shifting Assassin

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  • Shape shifting? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MustardMan (52102) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:34PM (#15597568)
    So, having one part of the plane change its angle is now shape shifting? WOW. My laptop is a shapeshifter, because the lid opens. My car must be a shape shifter too, the sunroof can take several positions!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:50PM (#15597641)
      Try opening your laptop at Mach 2.
    • Your absolutely right.

      It's really more like a Transformer!
    • "So, having one part of the plane change its angle is now shape shifting?"

      No. Rotating the wings so that the entire shape of the plane makes it a shape shifter. This one goes from looking like a plane to looking like a knife, as opposed ot F-14 that just changes to look more like a dart.

      Though I agree with your underwhelmment over the name and the description, cripes, your examples suck. Understand what you're poo-poo'ing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:35PM (#15597573)
    Go America! Fuck Yeah!

  • One word (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PingXao (153057) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:39PM (#15597590)
    Waste
  • by Anonymous Coward
    takes on a whole new meaning here...
    • I think when this monster comes screaming in at several times the speed of sound, scattering thousands of pounds of explosives behind it in an orgy of death and destruction, "Silent" is probably not the adjective that the survivors (if any) will use to describe it.
  • What a great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _pi-away (308135) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:47PM (#15597625) Homepage
    Practical and affordable too I bet. Who cares how many kids can't read?
    • Re:What a great idea (Score:2, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222)
      Last time I checked, the US literacy rate was 99%. Our neighbor to the north - spending considerably less on it's military - has something like 97%. So much for that correlation. I think it's safe to say that the US military budget would not go towards education in any case.

      Do all hippies think that we don't need a military?

      • Re:What a great idea (Score:5, Informative)

        by someonewhois (808065) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:21PM (#15597740) Homepage
        While I don't disagree with your point, I'd like to point out that Canada's literacy rate is 99% [cia.gov], not 97.
      • Last time I checked, the US literacy rate was 99%.

        How many of those are functionally illiterate [wikipedia.org], though? I've heard figures as high as 30% for the States.
      • However, if the interest charged on student loans went to education instead of defense R&D, we might have more money for schools.

        Also, while literacy rate is high, the rate of people who graduate high school and cannot locate europe or australia on a map is staggering.

        And that's "literate," not "able to read things beyond the tabloids and actually enrich their lives through it"
      • Oh, I'm all for a good military, but is there never a limit to what the military really needs? The Air Force already has a long-range strategic bomber (the B-52), a supersonic bomber (the B-1) and a hideously expensive stealth bomber (the B-2). No other country in the world has an arsenal like this, so do we really need a supersonic stealth bomber that's going to cost the taxpayer untold billions of dollars? If we're so desperate to get along with our neighbors (Europe, India, China), why do we have to keep
      • Re:What a great idea (Score:4, Informative)

        by AhtirTano (638534) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:52PM (#15597860)
        Last time I checked, the US literacy rate was 99%. Our neighbor to the north - spending considerably less on it's military - has something like 97%. So much for that correlation.

        According to the Human Development Reports [undp.org], the US and Canada are basically tied on the educational front. Both have such high literacy rates that they don't bother to collect detailed national statistics, so UNESCO gives both a 99% rate. On the other hand, Canada's life expectancy from birth is 80.0 years, and the US's is 77.4 years.

        I think it's safe to say that the US military budget would not go towards education in any case.

        Agreed. That doesn't mean it shouldn't go there though. Or, why not put it towards healthcare and get our life expectancy rates up?

        Do all hippies think that we don't need a military?

        Can't speak for hippies, having not talked to many in my life; but some of us regular people think we could reduce spending to a mere $100 billion, spend the other $400 billion on health, education, infrastructure, etc., and still have more than enough power to defend our country from anyone else in the world. We outspend the next 20 countries combined---we don't need to spend that much.

        • Re:What a great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MightyYar (622222)
          Thank you for being rational :) And this after my inciteful hippy remark :)

          I disagree with you on most of your points, however.

          First, I think our military might be sized right, but also might be underfunded. Why? We can barely keep an occupying force together in one country of 24 million. Imagine if there was another flash-point somewhere? Shouldn't we have a standing force large enough to handle that? Maybe not, but I think it's not an unreasonable discussion to have. Someone else earlier in the thread s

        • Re:What a great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

          by c6gunner (950153)
          We outspend the next 20 countries combined---we don't need to spend that much.

          The absolute numbers don't mean much. Compare spending as a percentage of GDP and picture's a bit diferent.

          Or, if you want, compare total dolars spent on education in other countries to how much is spent in the US. I gaurantee that the US outspends all of them on that front too, and by a large margin.

          "we don't need to spend that much" becomes mantra after a while, and then you end up gutting the military the way it happ
          • by AhtirTano (638534)

            Percentage of GDP is not a better metric for military spending. The US can get more firepower for 4% of GDP than Tahiti can get for 50%. In armed conflict, it is absolute firepower that matters, not firepower as a percentage of GDP.

            Or, if you want, compare total dolars spent on education in other countries to how much is spent in the US. I gaurantee that the US outspends all of them on that front too, and by a large margin.

            In this case, the percentage matters more than absolute dollars. Education is s

        • Re:What a great idea (Score:5, Interesting)

          by poofyhairguy82 (635386) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @06:11PM (#15598125) Journal
          some of us regular people think we could reduce spending to a mere $100 billion, spend the other $400 billion on health, education, infrastructure, etc., and still have more than enough power to defend our country from anyone else in the world. We outspend the next 20 countries combined---we don't need to spend that much.

          Then regular people like yourself need to open their eyes.

          We could spend much less than we do now and defend our nation from any "real" threat- that is true- but most of our military spending is not to defend us from threats. The U.S. spends so much on the armed forces for the same reason that at one point the U.S.S.R had enough nukes to destroy the entire planet a few times over- we want to make the idea of (a major nation) going against us in any significant way (as in more than "we don't support what you are doing") a horrifying thought. We want to have so much power that the rest of the world is FORCED to follow our lead or pay the price for getting in front.

          China and India have over a billion people each. The economic force of such numbers mean that realistically THEY should be the superpowers, not us. But they (in my lifetime) will not dare challenge the authority of the U.S. because they know that we have a millitary that can take them back to the stone ages if they cross us. Because of our military, we get access to cheaper and more resources than they do (Iraq oil anyone?) Because of our military, we will stay on top of the world long after when we should no longer be.

          There is also that whole "military spending leads to domestic jobs" thing as well.

          • by AhtirTano (638534) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @07:18PM (#15598349)
            The U.S. spends so much on the armed forces for the same reason that at one point the U.S.S.R had enough nukes to destroy the entire planet a few times over- we want to make the idea of (a major nation) going against us in any significant way (as in more than "we don't support what you are doing") a horrifying thought. We want to have so much power that the rest of the world is FORCED to follow our lead or pay the price for getting in front.

            Of course that's why we spend so much. But some of us don't think we should bully the rest of the world into following our lead. I don't really care what another country does, as long as they don't actively seek to harm our country. Deterant is good enough, and we can achieve that without spending $500 Billion.

            There is also that whole "military spending leads to domestic jobs" thing as well.

            Which is a toothless argument, because almost any field we spend $500 Billion on can generate domestic jobs.

            • print this out (Score:4, Insightful)

              by misanthrope101 (253915) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:27AM (#15600621)
              Which is a toothless argument, because almost any field we spend $500 Billion on can generate domestic jobs.
              Yes, but to spend $500 billion on the military and thus create jobs is sound fiscal policy. To spend $500 billion on any other programs of any kind and thus create an equal number of jobs is to perpetuate the welfare state, which is socialism.

              Similarly, to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq is an appropriate use of US tax money. However, to rebuild any infrastructure in the US would be socialism.

              Similarly, we have a responsibility to free the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's tyranny because those people deserve human rights and we have a leadership role when it comes to human rights in the world. However, we can inprison them indefinitely without trial, and interrogate them with what would be considered torture in the US, because they are not Americans, and it's not the responsibility of the US government to secure human rights for non-Americans.

              Keep going over those basic arguments until you've memorized them. It might help to print them out and carry them around with you, in case you don't have 24/7 access to Fox News.

          • by SewersOfRivendell (646620) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:05PM (#15598717)

            We want to have so much power that the rest of the world is FORCED to follow our lead or pay the price for getting in front.


            I agree. Our military spending prevented 9/11 from happening. And boy, did we whip bin Laden's ass for even thinking about it! We put his shrunken head on the Washington Monument! Let that shit be a lesson to all you terrorisms!

            Put another way: You think Bush dropping his pants and waving his tiny little nuclear warhead around is going to scare the religious jihadists? We're talking RELIGIOUS WINGNUT SUICIDE BOMBERS here. They don't care what happens to the rest of the world after they leave it. They think, for whatever reason, that they're doing the work of their god. Imagine if Hannity had an army of fervent followers who would be willing and eager to literally die for him.


            China and India have over a billion people each. The economic force of such numbers mean that realistically THEY should be the superpowers, not us. But they (in my lifetime) will not dare challenge the authority of the U.S. because they know that we have a millitary that can take them back to the stone ages if they cross us. Because of our military, we get access to cheaper and more resources than they do (Iraq oil anyone?) Because of our military, we will stay on top of the world long after when we should no longer be.


            Put down the crack pipe and the Tiger Balm, Rush. Who do you think is buying the debt that is used to pay for our military misadventures? I can't believe it's not ... CHINA! Yes!

            Newsflash, O'Falafel: Thanks to the Bush Administration's wanton spending spree, China could crash our economy into a zillion little shards . They have a strong economic incentive not to do that, but they could if they so chose. Bush and Cheney have given them that power over us.
          • We want to have so much power that the rest of the world is FORCED to follow our lead or pay the price for getting in front.

            Such arrogance might explain why global sympathy for the US isn't too high, no?
          • by lavaface (685630) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:06AM (#15599605) Homepage
            We want to have so much power that the rest of the world is FORCED to follow our lead or pay the price for getting in front.

            So basically, you're saying that the US is a greedy bully. Look, I appreciate the advances that military spending has given the general population (DARPA, avionics, TANG) but this is ridiculous. It is this attitude that imperils our safety more than anything. Guerilla techniques render much of our military infrastructure obsolete. Do you think the Chinese don't realize this? I expect since this thread seems to be moderated by the pro-war crowd, this comment will be below the threshhold. It's too bad, because I happen to be right.

            BTW, I'm American. I just happen to have a strong grasp of history.

      • Re:What a great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jeremi (14640)
        Do all hippies think that we don't need a military?

        Yes, because hippies are merely a convenient straw-man caricature for you to mock. So they'll believe any dumb-ass thing you want them to in order to make you look like you're winning the argument.

        I'm not a hippie myself though, so my view is that we do need a military: one about one tenth the size of what we have now. The reason our military keeps growing year and year and STILL can't keep up with our demands on it is that it generates its own demand:

    • The US already spends more on education per student than essentially any other industrialized nation. If there is a problem with education, it is not in how much money is spent. What you said makes a trite soundbite, but neither identifies a real problem nor suggests a useful solution.

      Contrary to popular belief, the Americans spend a lot more on public education (~$600B) than on defense. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP is at historical lows and declining even with the military misadventures (3.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:08PM (#15597903) Journal
      Funny, I thought we already had freely-provided education. Hm, I guess we should throw MORE money at it, I'm *sure* that will solve everything.
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:55PM (#15597653) Homepage Journal
    This was known in 1951 [aerodyn.org]:
    The first to prove that such a wing has minimum wave drag was R.T. Jones (1951). More recently, inviscid CFD calculations proved that the best performances are obtained with a wing of aspect-ratio 10:1 with a cruise CL=0.068. The best yaw angle would be 68 degrees, and the wing would have the flying operation shown in Fig. 1 below.
  • by n76lima (455808) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:57PM (#15597660)
    I recall seeing a NASA test plane with a swiveling wing at the EAA OSHKOSH airshow back in the early 80's. It was one place, jet powered, and was flown in the airshow with the wing rotated to a fairly steep angle several times. It was a proof of concept to explore control issues and to prove that the wing need not be swept BACK on both sides to improve aerodynamics at high speeds. They referred to is as the AD-1", an oblique wing aircraft [fi.edu].

    --
    We don't need no stinkin' sig!
    • by TopSpin (753) * on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:04PM (#15597680) Journal
      Here is a link [nasa.gov] to the NASA page on the AD-1

    • You beat me to Googling this earlier attempt, but what you get from actually RTFA is that they metion this 1979 atempt and it involed none other than Burt Ratan! (SpaceShip One fame)

      The 1979 attempt was hard and unintuitive to control, but the drone attempt will not rely on ingrained pilot intincts and automatically control the pitch over that happens when say you nose the plane up.
    • by Geoduck_87 (984798) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:11PM (#15597920)
      The control issues were also the subject of a well-regarded Ph.D. Thesis at Stanford in the early 1990's. The original NASA aircraft had the axis of wing rotation vertical in level, forward flight. The pivot joint was at the wingspan centerline.

      The conclusions of the Ph.D. thesis was that one gets a much more controllable AD-1 if one modifies the wing / fuselage configuration as follows:

      1. Tilt the pivot axis a few degrees away from the side of the aircraft that has the forward sweep of the wing.

      2. The wing needs to be mounted a few percent off its centerline (that's right, an asymmetric configuration).

      3. A couple other conclusions that I can not recall (anhedral / dihedral; spanwise changing airfoil; etc)?.

      Note: This was an analysis of the AD-1. The fuselage / wing interactions drove quite a bit of the specific stability / control based modifications. If one has a different fuselage (for example, the illustration in the CNN article), the specifics will change.

  • So how is this any better than the swing-wing designs of the F-14 and Tornado? I thought the consensus was that moving wings were a Bad Idea?

    • by HotBlackDessiato (842220) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:47PM (#15597841)
      I thought the consensus was that moving wings were a Bad Idea?
      As long as they remain attached somehow.
    • For one thing, it's a much simpler mechanism. As other posters have said, maintenance on the F-14 and like aircraft is very high. Traditional swing wings have two points of rotation which must be synchronized, whereas this has only one (that probably cuts the weight of the mechanism in half, too). It's probably stealthier, too, since the wing doesn't retract into a big groove in the side of the fuselage.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In Firefox's Live Bookmark feed, the title says "The Pentagon's Supersonic, Shape-Shifting Ass ..."
  • by sbaker (47485) * on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:35PM (#15597786) Homepage
    Hmmm - NASA had one of those flying back in 1982!

    http://www.time.com/time/archive/printout/0,23657, 949473,00.html [time.com]
  • X-Wing [starwars.com]?!
  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:40PM (#15597806) Homepage
    Funny, I don't recall ever seeing such an inflammatory title on a /. story in years. Just because the plane is a bomber? Come on now, the technology is cool, even if this is a bit outdated (I've got a swing-wing Estes rocket from when I was a kid, sitting on the shelf right over my desk, for crying out loud...). No need to make a political statement like this - let's keep the discussion a bit more civil, please.
  • Maybe not a waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Screwy1138 (976897) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:44PM (#15597829)
    While projects like this can easily be seen as waste, they do a couple things.
    This money goes to create hi tech jobs, rewarding people for getting engineering/science/sometimes computing degrees, potentially supporting universities themselves.
    These projects generate knowledge by testing out technologies and supporting businesses or universities that sponsor research.

    In my opinion, this is not waste, even if the end product never comes to be.

    Certainly, this can only go so far, you wouldn't want all your money going to high tech / low success projects, but it is reasonable to have money going towards these things.
  • by RemovableBait (885871) * <slashdot@@@blockavoid...co...uk> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @04:45PM (#15597831) Homepage
    It might be just me with my widescreen, but the RSS dropdown thingy definitely said;

    The Pentagon's Supersonic, Shape-Shifting Ass...


    Somehow, I find my browser's interpretation more fitting...
  • Having perused the posts that have been made so far, I'm a bit surprised that everyone is concentrating on the aerospace engineering aspects of the plane. To me, the more interesting facet of this is the idea of having a huge supersonic aircraft loaded with cruise missles and potentially nuclear weapons with no one in the cockpit.

    I wish articles like this would focus more on the communications, AI, and general catasrophe-tolerance of the systems that go into a craft like this. There have to be some intere
  • So, it's a swing wing with 1 pivot - 1 wing forward, the other back?

    I recall reading about this design in an aircraft book that was published in the late 70s (the F16 was mentioned in it was the brand new mass-production USAF fighter).

    Forget the name of the book unfortunately...

  • Because massive sideway forces that can't possibly be balanced over the whole length of the wing, and asymmetrically applied lifting forces ARE COOL, especially on a plane that has to cover great distances and carry heavy bombs. I have a better idea -- why don't they just fly a bomber sideways?

    I am sure, a giant boomerang version of this is in the works, too.
  • by Elegor (866572) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @05:27PM (#15597971)
    This seems more like the kind of thing that should be developed under a cloak of secrecy at Area 51. My guess is that it's seen as an outside shot by DARPA, and the $10.3m pocket change they're throwing at it convinces me even more that they're just using this as "gosh ain't we high-tech and futuristic" publicity (or propaganda if you'd rather) blurb.

    What seals it though is the 1950's Buck Rogers shiny treatment. Any self-respecting supersonic bomber has to have a mat-black paint job, surely?
  • Barnes Wallis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GrahamCox (741991) on Monday June 26, 2006 @06:48AM (#15604494) Homepage
    People are saying this isn't new, it was tested by NASA in the 1980s following research in the 1970s. Well, IIRC, It was Barnes Wallis who developed this concept for supersonic aircraft in the 1950s. He was British, which I guess is why you 'mericans pathologically overlook his work. In fact if it wasn't for the Brits handing over all their supersonic research as part of a post-war deal (fair enough I guess, we needed your money to rebuild our country and the rest of Europe), you probably would have been beaten to the punch for breaking the sound barrier in the first place.

    Mind you, BW was against the TSR-2 and so lent a lot of clout the US argument against that effort, so he's got some brownie points against him in my book. But that's an argument for another day.

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