Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pratt JT8D-219 Flight Test Program Gets Underway

The Pratt & Whitney 707RE FAA supplemental type certification flight test program for latest version of the popluar JT8D turbofan engine has finally gotten underway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The JT8D-219 engine, a variant of the powerplant used on the MD-80 airliner, has been developed by Pratt in conjunction with Omega Air and Seven-Q-Seven as a re-engining candidate for Boeing 707s and the type's military derivatives. Seven-Q-Seven is a partnership between Dublin-based Omega Aviation and Ed Swearingen and Douglas Jaffe of San Antonio.

Civilian certification of the engine to the 707-series airframe is being accomplished by Mojave's Flight Test Associates (FTA) prior to military certification, which will be conducted by Northrop, according to a Northrop Grumman spokesman. The engine is initially being certificated at a derated thrust of 19,000 pounds, with follow-on certification at 21,000 pounds thrust expected. The FAA has required that the re-engined 707 - dubbed the 707RE - accrue 350 flight hours during this test program.

The testbed aircraft arrived in Mojave in November 2007, to first undergo an extensive inspection, known as a C-check, at FTA prior to initiation of the test program. The current program will eventually result in the issuance of an FAA Supplemental Type Certificate for civilian 707s. While the program was originally conceived by Omega as a cost effective method for updating the remaining civilian-operated 707s (with an original estimate of $16 million for the complete upgrade), it quickly found another application: providing modern, quiet and fuel efficient engines for the USAF E-8C JointSTARS aircraft. Other military 707 variants, such as the KC-135 fleet, have been re-engined with CFM-56 engines, but the 707RE conversion program is being marketed to the military in partnership with Northrop Grumman as a significantly cheaper alternative to the CFM-56-2, by some estimates as much as 50% less.

The initial phase of the flight test program began on August 9, 2001, operating from Seven-Q-Seven's San Antonio Texas operation. After the initial flight tests with a single -219 engine installed on the 707-300 testbed aircraft were completed, three more were installed and the predicted fuel savings were confirmed. In an unusual move, in 2001 Pratt sponsored a series of flights that were part of the flight test program but also took the 707RE on a world tour of airports and air bases to show off the program's advantages. While the -219 idea caught the eye of Northrop Grumman, who held the contract to upgrade the E-8 JointSTARS, a dirth of funding for the engine upgrades put the certification flight test program on hold.

The -219 will result in a 40dB reduction in noise over the existing TF33/JT3D engines, allowing the aircraft to meet current strict European noise standards. Additionally, flight tests have confirmed that the new engines will reduce fuel consumption by up to 22%. Besides direct savings in fuel costs, this feature translates into longer loiter times and improved operational utility for the aircraft. In 2001, Mike Lombard, then a Program Manager at Pratt, said, "We have now flown the JT8D-powered 707 on both the AWACS and JointSTARS mission profiles. We compared it not only to legacy engine data, but also our own performance models created for a JT8D-219 powered 707. The actual engines in flight have met or exceeded the projections of our models [and] provides a significant increase in power and range for the 707 while cutting fuel burn, noise, emissions, operating and maintenance costs. It fits neatly into any space where an existing TF33 resides, so there is virtually no aircraft modification required with re-engining. "

The engine modernization is being offered as an integrated "propulsion pod system" or PPS, in which the engines will be provided on a operational lease basis by Pratt, inlet and thrust reversers are being provided by Goodrich, and cowling is manufactured by Nordam.

For the JointSTARS, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force selected the -219 over competing engines as a "best-value source selection" after an open competition in 2002. It was hoped that the program could be initiated in 2003, but funding for the testing and upgrade program was not forthcoming. Finally, in the FY2006 budget, $12.5 million was allocated, starting the program rolling, and in June, 2008, it was announced that the USAF had awarded the team a $210 million contract to proceed with the E-8C project, with re-engining to begin in 2010.

In 2001, Europe's EADS partnered with Northrop Grumman, Pratt and Seven Q Seven to propose re-engining NATO's 17 E-3 AWACS and three Trainer Cargo Aircraft with the -219s. However, a Pratt spokesperson said that they currently have no plans to certify the engine for the AWACS aircraft.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Coasties Stop In for Lunch

In the leisure and sport aviation world, a "$100 hamburger" refers to the practice of flying to a different airport than your home for lunch. . .in other words, a justification to hop into your single engine toy and go fly. So when this U.S. Coast Guard HC-130H from Sacramento stopped in at lunchtime on Thursday and parked at Mojave's Voyager Restaurant (a long way from any coast), it got me wondering: with four engines, was this a $400 hamburger?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to Tow a WhiteKnightTwo

When unveiling WhiteKnightTwo, both Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson hailed its "open architecture" - the big empty space in the middle - which makes it multiple-mission role possible. But it also makes the plane, well, ungainly. The chore of ground handling such an unusually shaped plane is a challenge. WK2's designers elected to use a rather large aluminum A-frame towbar hooked to the main landing gear, with steering provided by two nose walkers (would their job titles be "guidance counselors"?). Virgin Galactic has released several media images, taken the evening before the big rollout, which show just how this is done. Also included by VG is a great photo (left) of Burt and Sir Richard taking a walk around the finished product.

Source: VG Press Page

(Fine print note: These are media release images, and VG presumably retains copyright, so the Creative Commons provisions don't apply to these.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

PDE Long-EZ on Display at USAF Musem

A friend of mine has passed along a couple of photos of the PDE Long-EZ, named Borealis, which is now on display at the Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB. Nice to see yet another product of Mojave honored at a major museum!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rocket Racer Returns to Mojave

The Bridenstine DKNY Rocket Racer, as it is known for now, has returned to Mojave from a very successful public debut at AirVenture 2008 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. While the rocket plane moves quite quickly through the air, going across country is a much slower affair, on the back of a flatbed trailer.

For the Oshkosh debut, the Rocket Racer displayed the logos of Bridenstine Racing, including their primary team sponsor DKNY Men. Bridenstine was the first of six teams to have signed on with the Rocket Racing League, according to League CEO Granger Whitelaw, and this was the first Racer, so it was natural that the logos and the plane were matched up for the debut. Both Whitelaw and team owner Jim Bridenstine, however, indicated that this does not indicate that this will be the teams actual aircraft. However, Bridenstine praised the XCOR Aerospace team, saying that they did "a tremendous job" in preparing the aircraft and engine for the demonstration flights. Three flawless flights were flown before hundreds of thousands gathered at the Oshkosh show, with pilot Rick Searfoss putting the plane through its aerobatic paces.

The XCOR team will now continue flight testing the engine, seeking to improve its performance for the next exhibition venue, the Reno National Air Races during the second week of September. Meanwhile the competing engine builder, Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwall, Texas, has been cleared by the FAA to begin flight testing their engine and airframe combination, according to an FAA official. It is hoped that this plane will be ready for Reno as well; if so, RRL has said that they would like to hold exhibition races between the two aircraft, with the Armadillo aircraft wearing the logos of the Santa Fe Racing team. A sponsor for that team has not been announced yet.

The RRL teams will be able to choose from two airframe/engine combinations, each of which has certain advantages and disadvantages, according to Bridenstine. The XCOR kerosene/LOX engine is matched with a Velocity SE, which is a smaller, lighter aircraft, but also which has fixed landing gear. Because the engine incorporates XCOR's proprietary pump system, the kerosene fuel does not have to be pressurized, eliminating the need for an extra tank. The XCOR engine is also either on or it is off, there is no throttling or modulating the thrust, so in a race format, the engine would be fired for a short time and then the plane would glide

The Armadillo engine, which burns ethanol and LOX, is matched with the Velocity XL, which is a somewhat larger and heavier aircraft, but which also has retractable landing gear. The Armadillo system requires that the fuel be pressurized, resulting in the need for a belly tank to be mounted under the fuselage, according to one account (photos of the test aircraft don't show this, however). The Armadillo engine has a range of thrust settings, so the approach during the race will be different.

Once both the XCOR and Armadillo systems have completed the flight test phase, the teams will be able to choose which one they want, and will then "buy" the aircraft and engines from the League, which has taken the unusual step of buying Velocity Aircraft Company, the builder of the airframes, in order to ensure the supply

RRL is modeling their formats on NASCAR and other auto racing leagues, where the differences in engine and car brands is almost as important to the fans as the drivers' abilities. However, according to Bridenstine, "it's the pilots who win and lose races." He said that because the planes have different thrust, different weights, different drag, the pilots' strategies will also be different, with the key being how the pilot "manages energy states". The result, he said, will be a dramatic race with a lot of passing. "You won't really know who's going to win until the very end."

The viewing audience will watch the race from aircraft-mounted cameras, and an RRL-patented technology will project computer animated "gates" on the screen through which the planes must fly. Whitelaw said that the technology, which he likened to the artificial yellow first-down line seen in NFL broadcasts, is seen by the league as a "branding differentiator". Because of it, the viewer will have an entertainment medium which combines the look of a video game with a live experience, or as Whitelaw described it, "a living, breathing video game." Bridenstine echoed the sentiment: "People will be surprised at how fun it is to watch."

All images except the plane on the flatbed are courtesy of Bridenstine Racing. From top to bottom: 1) The Rocket Racer arrives back at Mojave. 2) Dazzling the fans at Oshkosh. 3) Bridenstine DKNY logos. 4) RRL CEO Granger Whitelaw and Jim Bridenstine at Oshkosh. 5) Jim Bridenstine meets the fans.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Final F-117A Leaves Palmdale

Just after 10:00 am today, the last F-117A, aircraft #831, took off from Palmdale's Runway 25 three days ahead of schedule. After a couple of low passes over Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, 831 left the Antelope Valley for the last time, enroute to Tonopah, Nevada, and its place in history as the last Nighthawk to fly. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Last F-117s Cruise Mojave Desert Skies

What was possibly the last ever formation flight of Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawks took place this afternoon from Palmdale's Air Force Plant 42. After the Air Force formally retired the F-117 in ceremonies at Palmdale and Holloman AFB on April 22, 2008, four of the stealth fighters were kept flying as testbeds by the Air Force's 410th Flight Test Squadron, and by August, only two of the planes remained. According to a Lockheed Martin spokesperson, one is to be flown to storage at Tonopah tomorrow, and the final aircraft will leave on the type's last flight on Thursday, August 14.

With the closing of this chapter in aviation and flight test history, the 410th FLTS has also been inactivated, with closing ceremonies held at Plant 42 on August 1st. While LM built and maintained the flight test aircraft assigned to Palmdale, the 410th performed the actual flight test activities, over a period of 27 years and more than 8,000 of flight hours. Lt. Col. Dwayne Opella, commander of the 410th, said at the ceremony, "I wish we would have stayed open longer, but it is time to go." There are no farewell celebrations planned for the last flight.

For more information on the 410th, see the USAF news story "410th FLTS 'Baja Scorpions' closes historic chapter".

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Planes of Mojave: Catbird

While most of the gathered media at the White Knight Two rollout ceremony were focused on Eve and the space ship hidden under the black drape, quietly hanging high overhead and mostly unnoticed by the crowd was a small plane that, in its time, set new standards for efficiency and set two world records which stand to this day.

The Scaled Composites Model 81 Catbird is a high-efficiency five-seat single-engine all-composite general aviation aircraft designed by Burt Rutan while Scaled was owned by Beechcraft. The idea was to develop a new 5-seat aircraft which could replace the venerable Bonanza. Its design is unusual in that it incorporates both a canard and a traditional tail-mounted horizontal stabilizer. When Beechcraft sold the company back to Rutan in partnership with the Wyman-Gordon Company, Rutan also acquired a number of the designs, including the Model 81.

The aircraft, flown by Mike Melvill, won the 1988 California CAFE 400 race in which aircraft compete for performance efficiency, as measured by fuel consumption, speed and payload. Piloted by Dick Rutan, it subsequently won the 1993 CAFE Challenge with a record score and a speed of 210.73 mph, fuel consumption of 20.15 mpg and a payload of 976.63 pounds.

Catbird also set two world records, still stand. The first was in Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) class C-1b (land planes with takeoff weight of between 500 and 1000 kg) over a 2,000 km closed course. For this record, set at Mojave and piloted by Dick Rutan, a speed of 401.46 km/hr was achieved (the FAI recorded the record in km/hr...for us old-school, non-metric types, that's 249.45 mph or 216.61 kts). The second record was set in FAI class C-1c, for aircraft between 1000 and 1750 kg takeoff weight, over the same course but piloted by Melvill, at a speed of 413.78 km/hr (257.11 mph, 223.26 kts). The plane also served as Burt's personal plane until he dreamed up an even better one, the Boomerang. (And yes, I inverted the image on the left so that you could actually read it....)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Only in Mojave: Parallel Parking a MiG

Mojave is known for its strange-and-unusual, so once a month we'll be featuring a less serious photo which you'd expect to find no where else but here.

Only in Mojave . . . can you be driving down one of the main streets in town (in this case, K Street), and find an ex-East German MiG-21 parallel parked in a residential neighborhood!

Actually, here's what happened: every year, the town holds its "Gold Rush Days" celebration, complete with parade (this was a big gold and silver mining center in the early 1900s). In 2005, the honorary Grand Marshal for the parade was Mojave Airport legend Dan Sabovich, who rode on the tug pulling the MiG, which at the time belonged to Mojave warbird collector Al Hansen.