Posts Tagged ‘Aviation’

Self-Taught Engineer Successfully Flies aboard Steam Rocket

September 21, 2018

And now, before the serious stuff, something completely different, as Monty Python used to say. This is a short video I found on YouTube from the Inside Edition channel. It’s their report on the successful flight of a steam-powered rocket, built and crewed by ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes. Hughes is a limousine driver and a self-taught engineer. His reason for building the vehicle is, er, eccentric: he wanted to see if the Earth was flat.

The video was posted on 18th March 2018, and shows Hughes and his rocket taking off in the Mojave desert in the south-western US. It climbed to an altitude of 1,850 feet before finally returning to Earth, its descent slowed by two parachutes. Hughes had spent ten years building it, and the video shows stills of early versions of the rocket.

Hughes’ landing was rough, however. The video describes it as a crash. A rescue team got him out of the cockpit, but he complained that his back was broken. When the news crew caught him with him to talk, ironically just outside a courthouse where he’d been giving a ticket for speeding, Hughes’ claimed that he might have a compressed vertebra.

The video ends by reassuring its viewers that, yes, the Earth is indeed flat.

I’m actually saluting this bloke, because he’s obviously really clever and has done something I’d love to do myself: build a low power rocket that could hold a man or woman and send them up to a reasonable height. Way back in the 1990s I had a paper printed in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society arguing for the construction and flight of such vehicles as a new leisure industry. I based this on the use of hang-gliders, paragliding and microlight aircraft as hobby aviation. People fly them because they want to enjoy the experience of powered flight, not because they actually want to go from A to B. In the same way, I feel, human-carrying rockets could be built and flown to give ordinary people something of the experience of astronauts going into space aboard real rockets, like the Space Shuttle or the Russian Soyuz craft. But obviously without having to spend millions on a ticket to space.

Steam, or hot water rockets, have been around since the 19th century. The first modern hot water rocket was patented in Britain in 1824 by the American inventor, Jacob Perkins (1766-1849). The American Rocket Research Institute, based in California, and founded in 1943, established a special centre for the research and construction of hot water rockets, the Perkins Centre, named after him. The Institute runs a number of training programmes for students and aspiring rocket engineers. The rockets developed could carry payloads up to 5,000 feet.

After the War, the German rocket scientist, Eugen Sanger, and his wife Irene Sanger-Bredt, carried out research into hot water rockets to see whether they could work assisting heavily loaded aircraft into the air. The main US researcher in the area was Bob Truax.

The rocket engines developed by the RRI ranged from senior student college engineering projects with a thrust of 700 lbs per second to the Thunderbolt II constructed by Truax Engineering, which had a thrust of 16,000 lbs per second.
The photo below shows the STEAM-HI III hot water rocket being installed at the Perkins Safety Test Centre in 1963.

This photo shows Truax Engineering’s Thunderbolt rocket and its static test firing in 1973.

See ‘The Rocket Research Institute, 1943-1993: 50 Years of Rocket Safety, Engineering and Space Education Programs’, George S. James and Charles J. Piper, in Jung, Philippe, ed., History of Rocketry and Astronautics, AAS History Series, Vol. 22; IAA History Symposia, vol. 14 (American Astronautical Society: San Diego 1998), pp. 343-400.

And the Earth is very, very definitely round. As it has been known to be by educated European since the 9th century, and by the Greek astronomers long before that. All that stuff about how people in the Middle Ages believed the world was flat and that if you sailed far enough west you’d fall off was basically invented in the 19th century by Washington Irving. The Church Fathers knew and accepted that it was round. St. Augustine said so in one of his works, and argued that when the Bible spoke of the world as flat, it was an instance of God using the beliefs of the time to make His moral message intelligible to the people then alive.

I’ve no idea where the modern delusion that the world’s flat comes from. Well, actually, I do – it seems to have started a year ago in 2017 with the comments of a rapper on American radio. But before then I thought the idea was very definitely dead and buried. In Britain, the Flat Earth Society had dwindled to a single member. This was actually a physicist, who believed that the Earth was round. He used the Society to argue against dogmatism in science. And I thought he had packed finally packed it in, leaving the number of Flat Earthers in Britain at zero.

Now it seems that there are any number of eccentrics, who believe the world is really flat. They’re completely wrong about that, including Hughes.

But Hughes did something superb in building his own, human-carrying rocket


Lobster Review of Newsletter on Israeli Involvement in Foreign Fascist Politics

March 10, 2018

The Israelis have been allied with some very unpleasant regimes around the world since the 1970s. This started in the 1970s, when the country found itself isolated, and so started to search for new allies in the other pariah states at the time. Which included apartheid South Africa.

I found this review of a newsletter documenting Israel’s support for extreme right-wing regimes, and its involvement in American politics, in Lobster 17, page 21. It runs

Often referred to in other things is Israeli Foreign Affairs – ‘an independent monthly report on Israel’s diplomatic and military activities world wide’.

It is eight pages A4 and though this is not a subject I am interested in, this looks very impressive and is thoroughly documented. September ’88 includes (using IFA’s headlines

* Jerusalem Christian ’embassy’ aids Contras.
* Israeli Help on New South African Aircraft
*Pentagon Sleaze
*Pipeline Sleaze

etc etc. It’s your basic parapolitics methodology (read and collate a hell of a lot) applied to Israel’s foreign policy.

it is one of the tragedies of the post-war years that Israel should now have lined itself up with all the pariah states – perhaps unavoidable fate given the nature of the US administration these past 8 years and Israel’s dependence on the dollar. Headbangers in Washington produce headbangers in Israel? (Or is it the other way around?)

I don’t know if this newsletter is still going, but it might have a web presence, or a cache of old numbers on the net somewhere.

Why I Believe Leaving the EU Will Be Particularly Bad for Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset

February 22, 2016

Since David Cameron raised the issue of the EU referendum last week, there’s been a flood of posts about the subject. I’ve blogged about the dangers to British workers and the middle class if we leave Europe, and the human and workers’ rights legislation contained in the EU constitution and treaties. The Lovely Wibbley Wobbley Old Lady has put up her piece explaining the issues involved in Britain leaving the EU, as have a number of others. In this piece I won’t discuss the general issues, just give some of my thought on why it would be disastrous for Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and areas like them elsewhere in Britain if the country decides to leave.

Firstly, Bristol is a port city. It’s not so much now, after the docks in Bristol have been closed to industry, and the port itself moved to better deep water facilities over in Avonmouth. Nevertheless, a sizable amount of trade goes through port facilities. The EU is Britain’s major trading partner, and my fear is that if Britain leaves Europe, trade will be hit, and the income and jobs generated by that trade will plummet. This will, of course, hit British industry generally, but it’ll also affect the ports as the centres of the import/export trade.

Bristol furthermore has a proud tradition of aerospace research through BAE and Rolls Royce at Filton. Further south in Somerset there is the former Westland helicopter firm, while in the Golden Mile in Gloucestershire there are engineering firms, such as Dowty, that specialise in aircraft instrumentation and control systems. The sheer cost of developing and manufacturing modern high-performance civil and military aircraft means that many of these projects are joint ventures between aviation companies across Europe. Airbus is one of the most obvious examples, as is the Eurofighter. And then, back in the 1970s, there was Concorde, which was a joint project between Britain and France. Hence the name. Parts of the aircraft were built in France, but the wings and a other components were manufactured here in Bristol.

The same is true of space exploration, and the satellites and probes sent up to the High Frontier. Several of these, or parts of them, have also been manufactured by British Aerospace at Filton. I’ve got a feeling the Giotto probe that was sent to investigate Halley’s Comet in 1986 was also partly made in Bristol. Again, like aviation, space travel can be enormously expensive. The costs are literally astronomical. So many of the space projects are joint ventures across Europe, between aerospace firms and contractors in Britain, France and Italy, for example. This was always the case going back to ESRO in the 1950s and ’60s. This was a joint European attempt to create a rocket launcher, involving Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Unfortunately the project collapsed, as the only section of the rocket that actually worked was the British first stage. Nevertheless, the French persevered, and out of its ashes came Ariane, launched from their base in Kourou in French Guyana.

ESA, the European Space Agency, operates under a system of ‘juste retour’. Under this system, the country that supplies the most funding for a particular project, gets most of the contracts to make it. Despite various noises about the importance of space exploration and innovation in science and technology by various administrations over the years, space research by and large has not been well-served by the British government and mandarins at Whitehall. It has a very low priority. Opportunities for British firms to benefit from European space research have been harmed by the British government’s reluctance to spend money in this area. I can remember one of Thatcher’s ministers proudly informing the great British public that they weren’t going to spend money just to put Frenchmen into space. It’s partly because of this attitude that it’s taken so long to put a British astronaut into space with Tim Foale. Those of us of a certain age can remember Helen Sharman’s trip into space with the Russians in the 1980s. This was supposed to be a privately funded joint venture with the Russians. It nearly didn’t happen because the monies that were supposed to come from British capitalism didn’t materialise, and in fact the Soviets took Sharman to the High Frontier largely as a favour.

The aerospace industry in Bristol and the West Country has contracted massively in the past few decades, as the aviation industry throughout Britain has declined along with the rest of our industrial base. I’m very much afraid that if we leave Europe, we will lose out on further commercial aerospace opportunities, and that part of Britain’s scientific, technological and industrial heritage will just die out. We were, for example, invited to take part in the development of Ariane, but the mandarins at Whitehall didn’t want to. Rather than invest in the French rocket, they thought we’d be better off hitching rides with the Americans. The problem with that is that the Americans naturally put their own interests first, and so tended to carry British satellites only when there was a suitable gap in the cargo. It also meant that British satellite launches were limited to the times the Space Shuttle was flying. These were curtailed after the Challenger explosion. If we’d have stuck with the French, we could possibly have had far more success putting our probes into space.

I’m sure there are very many other ways Bristol and the West Country could also be harmed by the decision to leave the EU. It’s just what occurs to me, as someone with an interest in space exploration, from a city that was a centre of the aeroplane, rocket and satellite industries. I also decided to post this, because I know that Bristol’s not unique in its position. There are other working ports and centres of the aerospace industry across the country, that will also suffer if we leave Europe. And so I firmly believe we should remain in.

More on the Coeloptere, the Piasecki Airgeep and the Avrocar

December 29, 2015

Last week I posted up a few pieces on three very unusual aircraft, the French VTOL Coeloptere, the Piasecki airgeep – a type of hovercraft designed in the late 1950s, and the flying saucer-like Avrocar. Here are a few more pictures of them I found in The World’s Strangest Aircraft: A Collection of Weird and Wonderful Flying Machines, by Michael Taylor (New York: Barnes & Noble 2000).

The Avrocar

AVrocar 2

Here’s a video of the Avrocar in flight.

The Avrocar wasn’t the first plane that had a circular design. Almost right at the very beginning of aircraft development in the 20th century inventors were experimenting with circular wing designs. In 1911 Cedric Lee and G. Tilghman Richards in Britain brought out a biplane with annular (ring-shaped) wings. This was unsuccessful, but they continued experimenting, and produced a successful glider. This was another biplane, which shared elements of the earlier plane. The upper wing was semi-circular, while the lower wing was ring-shaped. This flew in 1912. Tests in wind tunnels showed that the aircraft with annular wings were more stable, and needed a shorter wingspan than more conventional designs.

The two then produced a monoplane, whose wings were a 22 ft ring. This seated two people, and was driven by a 80 horsepower Gnome engine. This first flew in 1913. Unfortunately, it proved tail heavy, and stalled during flight. Fortunately, the plane and its pilots were saved from death by being caught on nearby telegraph poles. The plane was salvaged, repaired and suitably modified, and returned to the air. It proved very airworthy, and made a series of flights up to the outbreak of the First World War. The two began work building further annular monoplanes, in 1914, but the design was unpopular didn’t catch on.

Lee and Richards’ Annular Wing Monoplane

Annular Wing Monoplane

The Piasecki Airgeep

Piasecki Airgeep 2

The Coeloptere

This is a cutaway diagram of the structure of the French Coeloptere, another annular wing design which unfortunately proved to be unviable.

Coleoptere Drawing

These are only just four of the many weird aircraft that have been designed over the years. They show the immense inventiveness of the aircraft engineers and pioneering inventors, even if some of them proved unworkable in practice.

The Young Turks on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Space Mission and Return to Earth

December 24, 2015

This is another great piece from The Young Turks. This time, unlike many of the other reports I’ve reblogged from them, covering such iniquitous events and individuals as Donald Trump and so on, it’s actually good news. This is their report on the launch of the private space rocket, Falcon 9, which successfully put a satellite into space. The rocket then returned to Earth, where it can be refuelled and used again on another mission.

Here’s the report:

The Turks’ anchor, Cenk Uygur, reports that this raises hopes that satellites can be put into space much more cheaply. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, originally from South Africa, states that this is part of his ultimate goal to build a city on Mars. He also developed an idea for a rapid transit system in California, which he gave away for others to work on because he and his company didn’t have time to develop it themselves. Uygur makes a joke comparing him to Tony Stark, millionaire inventor and alter ego of Iron Man.

This is great news, as there have been a number of private companies since the 1990s that have been trying to develop low-cost, efficient ways of taking satellites and ultimately humans into space. There’s even a prize of about $100,000 called the X-Prize, offered to the first private spacecraft to do so. Or there was. The prize was based on the early aviation prizes, such as those awarded to great pioneering aviators like Louis Bleriot, Charles Lindbergh, ‘Wrong Way Corrigan’ and Amelia Earhart, or at least their fellows, and which greatly stimulated the development of aircraft technology. The hope behind all this is that one day, costs will be so low that a trip into space will be affordable to most people. At the moment, the only people, who can afford it are multi-millionaires and governments.

This is also possibly one of the few areas where private industry will genuinely be beneficial. Part of the problem developing cheap space travel is that at the moment, space exploration and transport in America is almost totally dominated by NASA. Many space scientists and enthusiasts are frustrated with the agency because it’s part of NASA’s charter that it should be active developing ways to broaden access to space. This goal, however, is very low down in it’s priorities, and there is a feeling that the agency is actively blocking progress in this area. I was at a symposium of space experts and fans at the British Interplanetary Society about a decade and a half ago, where this was discussed by one of the speakers. He believed people should be rightfully angry about it, and should right to the appropriate authorities. NASA is a public corporation, funded by the American taxpayer, and so the American public have a right to see their scientists find ways to get ordinary Americans into space. The various X-Prizes offered by a private foundation are private enterprise’s way of opening up the area to some competition in order to achieve this.

And with the successful return of the Falcon9 rocket, that aim just came a little bit closer.

The Coeloptere – French Experimental Aircraft

December 15, 2015

This is another neat little photo from 1000 Natural Shocks (Warning: over 18 site) of the Coeloptere. This was a French experimental aircraft tested in the 1950s which sadly, didn’t take off. (Yes, bad pun intended!)

Coleoptere Photo

The plane was the idea of the Bureau Technique Zborowski, a design bureau composed of mainly ex-German engineers. The Coleoptere was to be a vertically launched aircraft, consisting of a small fuselage surrounded by a large wing, wrapped around the aircraft in the form of a giant ring. This wing would form a duct for a large propeller or turbine for a jet engine. It was believed that this design would give the plane additional thrust in forward flight, or allow it to become a ramjet and thus allow it to attain hypersonic speeds.

The French aviation development bureau, SNECMA (whose name does intend sound very close to a piece of profanity in Red Dwarf) took over the idea in 1952, and began tests on a variety of adapted planes. These planes were originally remote controlled. The first manned flight in a Coleoptere aircraft was made on 30 March 1957 by Auguste Morel in a tethered CP.400-P2. Untethered test lights began on the 14th May. This led to the development of the P3, which began testing the following year, 1958. This had the air intakes for the jet engine either side of the plane’s nose, which was shaped like that of a jet fighter. Morel was again the test pilot, occupying an ejector seat. From this configuration emerged the CP.450 Coleoptere, which commenced tether flight on the 17th April 1959, and then began flying freely from the 6th May. The French hoped that this would lead to the development of VTOL fighters powered by a modified Pratt & Whitney jet engine, with a ramjet engine housed in the annular wing. On one of the first free test flights, however, Morel was forced to eject, and the programme was subsequently abandoned.

Flying Atar Pic

The Coleoptere, from Bill Gunston: The Development of Jet and Turbine Aero Engines (Patrick Stephen Ltd 1995) 165.