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Comment "Plane Airbus Did Not Want To Build" (Score 5, Insightful) 135

Does any manufacturer really want to design new planes? The engineers do, it's their job & mostly their passion but the shareholders won't want to if they don't have to. Every time you design a new aircraft you commit to billions of investment and lots of risk, both financial and technical.

The saying I was most often quoted in my aerospace degree "How do you make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune and invest in aerospace".

The best that you'll probably get is that once it becomes clear that a planned development needs to start that the shareholders decide to go all-out for it, and the rest of the company commit to it 100%.

Comment Re:Engines at Rolls Royce (Score 1) 213

And yes the engine should be able to contain a broken blade

Slight correction: the engine should be able to contain a failed fan blade. A turbine disc (or the one third disc pieces it breaks into), which is what failed on the flight here, acts like god's own laser beam and is not containable and so the aircraft will always have to be designed to tolerate that type of failure as it duly did. In fact the regulations require uncontained fan blade failures to be checked as well, even though they shouldn't happen.

The Internet

Why Are We So Rude Online? 341

kodiaktau writes "An article in the WSJ discusses why internet users are more rude online than they are in person. The story discusses some of the possible reasons. For example, a study found that browsing Facebook tends to lower people's self control. An MIT professor says people posting on the internet have lowered inhibitions because there is no formal social interaction. Another theory is that communicating through a phone or other device feels like communicating with a 'toy,' which dehumanizes the conversation. Of course, a rude conversation has never happened on Slashdot in the last 15 years."

Comment Cool Natural Materials... (Score 3, Insightful) 144

Lots of natural materials exhibit really interesting properties, sometimes at odds with the way we'd expect such materials to react. For example crustacean shells are ceramic but quite tough because of the layering of the ceramic with small amounts of organic binder material which causes any fractures to be diverted before they spread though the bulk of the material.

Many natural materials exhibit high levels of hierarchy like this and it's one of the many reasons why natural structures and materials are way cooler than most of the things that we make, with the possible exception of aerogel. One of the most interesting hierarchical structures is Euplectella Aspergillum (Venus' flower basket), its structure is really complex. I can easily see this being an aerospace material in 10 years...

Comment Re:The problem. (Score 5, Informative) 140

The Busemann biplane came up when we did supersonic aero in University back in '98 or '99 and it was always stated to be an impractical wing design because, at the supersonic zero boom/zero wave drag condition, it couldn't produce lift; this doesn't stop it being useful for other things like shells etc. where you don't mind zero supersonic lift if you can get low drag

The diagrams in the article seem to look like that condition in supersonic flow where the "inner" surfaces interfere favourably with each other to cancel wave drag and have the upper and lower surfaces with no incidence to the flow so they produce no shock waves.

Supersonically it should still produce lift quite happily if you angle it so there is incidence to the flow but I think that it should then produce wave drag and booms... For example I can't see from the article how, in a lifting condition, the shock wave from the compression of the supersonic flow on the undersurface (which produces the compression & higher pressure that helps lift the wing) could be cancelled out without having another wing underneath that; then you have the same problem with the undersurface of that wing & then you're in a "it's wings all the way down" problem.

Conventional 'low boom' solutions (like the Gulfstream/NASA "quiet spike") all tend to shape the nose of the aircraft to reduce the suddenness of the pressure increase across the shock wave but they aren't able to eliminate it...

It could be that they've found a case where they can get low wave drag/boom while still producing some lift and also getting decent subsonic lift/drag - that would be really interesting...

Comment Re:Nothing will change. (Score 1) 415

Take seatbelts - the oft-given example - if I don't buckle up I might die in a crash but it doesn't harm anyone else.

Incorrect. You are now a 180Lbs loose object in the car. Where your children were safely buckled, your dead body bounced to the back seat and injured them. Or you're a 450Lbs object wedged behind the steering wheel... This is slashdot after all.

Seeing as we were talking about the UK we can also talk about the fact that increased injuries of loose drivers/passengers if they don't manage to die will affect others by the increased cost and use of resources in the NHS.

Comment Re:So, just plastics and lube then? (Score 2, Informative) 152

I'm not sure trains are a good model either; Diesel-electric trains are effective because the torque you need for starting & driving a train doesn't easily come from a diesel motor without lots of gearing and clutches that are complex, inefficient and potentially unreliable.

Electric motors can give you all the torque you want from a standing start and so they make it easier to use diesels, avoiding the need to electrify your rail network (partly the reason Britain went with Diesel-electric trains in the '50s - they didn't have the capital to electrify).

With aircraft it's less clear where the advantage is going to come from since the kerosene motor + generator combination (and its associated losses) in an aircraft isn't solving a clear problem like lack of torque in a train and power requirements with lots of peaks and troughs as in a car.

However, a big advantage (from an environmental point of view) could be the ability to take electrical power for flight - once you have this you can gradually feed in alternative or low carbon energy into your mix. This type of aircraft could be a first step in that direction.

Comment Re:Can it fit into most airport's taxiways and gat (Score 1) 459

It's not beyond current capability even in civil aviation, in fact Boeing offered a folding wing option for the 777 but (so far) no-one's bought it.

This is partly due to lack of driver (gates at airports were either wide enough or made wide enough) but also because any driver to wing folding's got to be pretty strong to overcome the weight penalty

If you were to see a _big_ increase in span for aircraft of these capacities I'd imagine that folding wings might become more popular...

Comment Re:Slower than current aircraft (Score 2, Informative) 459

You're correct that drag has a large influence, engines have a part to play also.
Turbofans have a 'bucket' speed where their efficiency (specific fuel consumption or the fuel they burn per second per pound of thrust) is best*
The result is that, when the aerodynamics and engine efficiency are combined, there will be a best efficiency speed (best range speed) that's not far below the theoretical 'design' speed. However many airlines fly faster than this, depending on their balance of fixed vs. hourly costs.
Generally you can get higher efficiency by flying slower but you have to make changes to the aircraft, as seen here where much of the efficiency probably comes from the lower lift dependent drag that you can get from the larger spans of these aircraft. They probably get quite a lot of gain from engine improvements also, perhaps half.

*all bets are off with open-rotor or propellor engines, broadly these like to fly slower overall and you lose efficiency steadily the faster you fly.


Astronomers Discover the Coolest Known Sub-Stellar Body 60

Hugh Pickens writes "Science Daily reports that using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, astronomers have discovered what may be the coolest sub-stellar body ever found outside our own solar system. Too small to be stars and with insufficient mass to maintain hydrogen-burning nuclear fusion reactions in their cores, 'brown dwarfs' have masses smaller than stars but larger than gas giant planets like Jupiter, with an upper limit in between 75 and 80 Jupiter masses. 'This looks like the fourth time in three years that the UKIRT has made a record breaking discovery of the coolest known brown dwarf, with an estimated temperature not far above 200 degrees Celsius,' says Dr. Philip Lucas at the University of Hertfordshire. Due to their low temperature these objects are very faint in visible light, and are detected by their glow at infrared wavelengths. The object known as SDSS1416+13B is in a wide orbit around a somewhat brighter and warmer brown dwarf, SDSS1416+13A, and the pair is located between 15 and 50 light years from the solar system, which is quite close in astronomical terms."

Comment Requirements (Score 2) 364

The issue of requirements is one that I've always found interesting.

There always seems to be an assumption that customers know how to write requirements. Personally (from the position of a hobby coder who needs to use the services of professionals to get real applications written) I've always found it difficult to write intelligent requirements.

Don't get me wrong, I know that this is my fault, but I find that I need assistance from people who actually understand the ways that things _could_ be done and know the implications of the things that may be asked for. I always prefer to plan for a significant activity just to find out what I should be asking for. Motivation of the people who I ask for advice is important. If I (or the company I work for) pays the developer I know I can expect that they want to get the best results for the company as a whole.

I work in the aircraft industry and I've seen enough poorly chosen requirements for aircraft to know that this isn't a solely IT issue...

Comment Re:IT Are Like Janitors (Score 1) 364

The problem with your comparison of Janitors and IT works is visual. If the Janitors are all laid off, it is noticeable (trash cans overflow, dust begins to settle, glass becomes smudgy, etc), whereas if the IT department is laid off, much of their work may go unnoticed immediately. People tend to ignore IT until something breaks.

Comment Re:FTL information (Score 1) 236

No, it doesn't work that way, thats a typical misunderstanding of the way it works because you're confusing observations from your perspective with reality.

The dot isn't moving at all, and you wouldn't actually have a dot painted on the surface of the moon. From your perspective on Earth it may appear that way, but appearances are often deceiving.

What you end up with is something that would resemble a dimmer (than the dot would be if stationary) line or blur on the surface of the moon, spread out over vast distances, that would appear to the observer on the Earth as though it was moving faster than it actually is. When the reflection of the light from the laser returned to your eye, the line would appear as a dot again, all due to perspective of the viewer.

Comment Re:Holy shit, it's a proto-Firefly! (Score 1) 156

The engines-on-the-side configuration is a way to try to deal with engine weight changes. Huge trim issues arise if your engine isn't as light (or heavy) as you think it will be.

Spaceplanes with engines at the back face a real struggle with balance if _anything_ changes in the engines - they tend to be very heavy compared to anything else in the 'dry' structure of the vehicle and a small error either way can leave you with depleted uranium bulkheads to pull your CG back if it's too late in the development programme to change the configuration.

You really can't get away with stuff like that since single-stage-to-orbit is _really_ hard to do.

Couple that with the big aerodynamic centre changes that you tend to get over such a large flight regime and you may end up with a lot of mass budget being taken up by control surfaces.

I understood from a couple of lecturers at Uni and past co-workers that this would have been one of the really big problems that HOTOL would have had to deal with had it not been cancelled... (which project Alan Bond of Reaction Engines was also involved in)

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