2010.10.19 13:53 News
By SAM GROBART | The New York Times | Published: October 12, 2010


Luke Geissbühler has raised the bar in the cool-dad competition.

In August, Mr. Geissbühler, a 40-year-old director and cinematographer, tethered a video camera to a weather balloon and sent both more than 100,000 feet into the stratosphere. The camera safely returned to the ground with the help of a small parachute.

The entire trip took about 90 minutes, but a seven-minute account of the voyage, posted on the video-sharing site Vimeo, has become a viral success, garnering more than one million views since it was first uploaded on Sept. 19. The breathtaking video, with its NASA-like views of the Earth’s curves, has made Mr. Geissbühler the latest in a long line of scrappy, do-it-yourself geek heroes.

A 100,000-FOOT VOYAGE Luke Geissbuhler tethered a video camera to a weather balloon and launched it in August from Newburgh, N.Y. The trip took 90 minutes, and a seven-minute video became a viral success. (Image: Luke Geissbuhler)

The instigator for this particular space program was Mr. Geissbühler’s 7-year-old son, Max, who had made more than a few requests for a handmade spacecraft.

“Our creative process works this way: he asks for the impossible,” Mr. Geissbühler said, “and then I have to tell him why it’s impossible. And then I start to question that. And then I start to investigate that.”

Mr. Geissbühler had already been exposed to the world of weather-balloon enthusiasts who record their flights, thanks to research he had done for a feature film. Intrigued by the possibilities afforded by a growing array of inexpensive personal technology devices, he set out to make his own aircraft, the beginning of an eight-month research and development program in the Geissbühlers’ apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

While being a cinematographer does bring with it a degree of technical skill, Mr. Geissbühler also had help from his brother, Phillip, who is a physicist in Boston.

“I’d ask him questions,” Mr. Geissbühler said, “and he’d come back with more complicated answers to my questions.”

The two worked out issues regarding wind, temperature and the predicted behavior of their aircraft.

The materials used to make the capsule were decidedly off-the-shelf. A Thai-food takeout container served as the fuselage. Spray-on insulation was applied inside the container, and chemical hand-warming packets were inserted to protect the camera and tracking device from sub-zero temperatures.

The recording device used was a GoPro Hero, a small digital video camera that costs less than $300 and is often used in sporting and outdoor pursuits. Also included was a friend’s iPhone, loaded with the free GPS-tracking app InstaMapper, which served as a homing beacon so the capsule could be retrieved after landing.


Building something designed to climb above the cruising altitudes of commercial aircraft, which generally fly between 30,000 and 40,000 feet, also meant that the Geissbühlers’ craft had to adhere to Federal Aviation Administration standards for weather balloons. That meant a payload of less than 4 pounds (in this case, it was a pound and a half), specific density restrictions and an extremely high degree of breakability in case the balloon or capsule came into contact with an aircraft.

Mr. Geissbühler also wanted to launch the balloon far from densely populated areas and heavy air traffic. The town of Newburgh, N.Y., seemed to fit the bill. (Mr. Geissbühler realized only after the fact that Newburgh is home to Stewart International Airport and an Air National Guard base.) Newburgh also had an added benefit.

“There was a party store in town that had a lot of helium,” Mr. Geissbühler said.

With the help of some friends, the Geissbühlers released the balloon in a park in Newburgh at 3 p.m. on a cloudy August day. It climbed at a rate of 25 feet per second, or 17 miles per hour. After 70 minutes, the balloon reached an altitude of around 100,000 feet, at which height the camera was capturing the curvature of the earth and the darkness of the upper atmosphere. Because of the reduced air pressure, the balloon expanded to its maximum diameter of 19 feet and then burst. The camera fell back to Earth at speeds that at times exceeded 150 miles per hour, even with the parachute extended.

The capsule landed in a tree 30 miles north of where it started. It was recovered by the Geissbühlers, who found everything intact.

Mr. Geissbühler said he was surprised by the tremendous response his video has generated.

“I guess people feel really empowered if they can send a takeout container to space,” he said.

Not only has he been praised for his ingenuity, but several commenters on the video site have commended him as a model parent.

“My son and I have always been tinkering, building things,” Mr. Geissbühler said. “He doesn’t know that’s not normal.”
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2010.09.30 15:30 News
By World Nuclear News | Published: September 20, 2010

South Korean Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Kyung-hwan (left) shakes hands with Julio de Vido (right), the Argentine planning minister, after signing a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on nuclear power development. (Image: 지식경제부)

South Korea has made headway into the South American nuclear market following the signing of an agreement to support Argentina's nuclear power program.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in new nuclear projects and life extension of existing plants was signed on 16 September by South Korean knowledge economy minister Choi Kyoung-hwan and Argentinean planning minister Julio de Vido.
 
Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) is actively marketing new nuclear plants and, in December 2009, its APR-1400 design was selected as the basis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) nuclear power program. Soon after the announcement of the UAE contract award was made, the South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy declared that the country had set ambitious export targets of 80 nuclear power reactors by 2030.
 
Argentina's recent MoU signing follows similar agreements with other nations. Nuclear cooperation agreements have been signed with Russia as well as with Canada's AECL, and discussions with reactor vendors from other countries are ongoing.
 
Argentina has two pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) in operation, a Candu-6 at Embalse in Córdoba and a Siemens PHWR at Atucha in Buenos Aires. Construction on a second Siemens PHWR at Atucha began in 1981 and was suspended in 1994. In 2006, the government decided to complete Atucha 2 but delays to the project continue. Recent reports in the Argentine press give an estimated startup date for Atucha 2 of September 2011.
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2010.09.29 02:09 News
By World Nuclear News  Published: August 20, 2010

Dukovany with three of four reactors in operation. (Image: Petr Adamek)

Plans are under consideration for a district heating network for the city of Brno, 40 kilometres from the Dukovany nuclear power plant.
 
Dukovany features four VVER reactors with a total thermal power of 5500 MW. Plant systems convert 1760 MW of this into electricity for transmission over the grid, but some of the leftover heat could in future be piped to homes and businesses.

An environmental impact assessment for plans by plant owner CEZ was put to regional officials at the end of July, which is expected to take up to two years to evaluate. Should it get the go-ahead CEZ would need another two years or more to install the feeder pipeline, which would be more than 40 kilometres long.
 
Benefits for the residents of Brno would come in the shape of reduced emissions and stabilized heating prices. The supply should also be very reliable: There have been no unplanned shutdowns at Dukovany's four reactors in the last ten years.
 
Feasibility studies for a new reactor at Dukovany are expected to be completed this year and CEZ has said it is likely to ask for an environmental assessment when this is completed. The company is also tendering for the construction of two new reactors at its other nuclear power plant, Temelin, where some heat is already sent to a town just five kilometres away.
 
Yet a third new-build project for CEZ concerns the Bohunice power plant in neighbouring Slovakia, where the company has set up a joint venture for new build with the Slovakian state decommissioning company Javys. 
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2010.09.23 16:10 News
By Graham Warwick | AVIATION WEEK  Published: September 21, 2010
In just five years, the aviation industry’s decades-long reliance on petroleum-based fuels has been turned on its head. The future lies in fuels from sources that range from animal fat to microalgae. But with the technology in hand, the question now is whether biofuel producers can raise the investment needed to launch commercial-scale production.

Approval of biofuels for use in aircraft, expected by mid-2011, is a critical step. A standard for jet fuels using synthesized hydrocarbons has already been crafted and the first annex, covering synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) produced via the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process, was approved last year. But a second annex covering bio-SPKsalso called hydrotreated renewable jet fuel (HRJ)is eagerly awaited, as these promise to reduce aviation’s greenhouse-gas emissions (see p. 60).

For an industry that has used one jet fuel for decades, development of the new D7566 specification by standards organization ASTM International has moved surprisingly quickly. But it has not been easy, requiring substantial fuel and engine testing to ensure synthetic kerosenes are truly drop-in replacements for petroleum-based jet fuel.

As expected, the proposal to amend D7566 to include bio-SPKs did not pass a ballot of ASTM members in June. Opponents, mainly the engine manufacturers, argued that more data are needed on different fuels from different manufacturers and more engine testing is required. One reason is that most of the fuel tested came from Honeywell company UOP, which won a Pentagon contract to supply HRJ for qualification testing, says Tim Edwards, who is leading biofuels research at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

After the vote, the Air Force agreed to share fuel to allow additional commercial engine demonstrations. The service is also conducting biofuel tests on military derivatives of commercial engines, which will help with certification. These include flight tests of the F117 derivative of Pratt & Whitney’s PW2000 turbofan on the C-17 airlifter. An aircraft flew in August with all four engines fueled by a 50:50 blend of conventional JP-8 and HRJ from beef tallow.

Data from the additional fuel and engine testing will be presented to ASTM members, and a re-ballot in December is expected to succeed. This should lead to approval early next year of an annex to the D7566 synthetic-fuel standard allowing bio-SPKs to be used in aircraft in blends of up to 50% with conventional jet fuel. This will be a pivotal event, as certification is expected to remove a significant barrier to investment in large-scale facilities to produce HRJ fuels in economic quantities.

“Nothing matters until you get that approval,” says Tom Todaro, chief executive of AltAir Fuels and Sustainable Oils, which produces oil from camelina, a plant that largely does not compete with food crops for land or water. “The problem is the availability of financing, not camelina. We can’t get the money until the fuel is certified,” he says.

AltAir Fuels is the first to license UOP’s process to produce HRJ. The Seattle-based company signed memorandums of understanding with 14 airlines in December to negotiate the purchase of up to 750 million gal. of camelina-derived fuel. This is to be produced at a facility in Anacortes, Wash., and would replace about 10% of the fuel consumed annually at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “Once ASTM approves the fuel, we can begin the permitting process,” he says, adding that construction will take 18 months.

The creation of AltAir illustrates the challenges of starting biofuel production. Sustainable Oils works by signing contracts with farmers to grow camelina that it will buy back at an agreed price. Farmers grow a specific strain of camelina developed by biotechnology company Targeted Growth. Sustainable Oils extracts the oil from camelina seeds, “but we hoped someone else would build the refinery,” says Todaro.

Eventually, to kick-start the market, Sustainable Oils decided to form AltAir as an independent company. The business plan is to build add-on units at traditional refineries. With 100-million-gal. capacity, these bolt-on facilities will each cost “a couple of hundred million dollars” and provide about 10% of the fuel required annually at an average-sized airport, he says.

A different business model is being pursued by St. Paul, Minn.-based JetE, which is proposing to sell small turnkey HRJ plants to farming cooperatives looking to add value to their feedstock. “Ultimately it is all about feedstock, and who controls it? Farmers. We can put them in the business of making fuel,” says Tim Kubista, senior vice president. JetE’s role includes bringing fuel buyers to the table.

JetE has licensed small-scale hydroprocessing technology from Danish company Haldor Topsoe and is offering a 7.5-million-gal.-per-year plant for $40 million and a 30-million-gal. plant for $85-90 million. Kubista is hopeful of a deal by year-end, and says the feedstocks that are economically viable and available in commercial quantities in the U.S. are crude corn oil from ethanol production, soybean oil and tallow.

While the near-term focus is on plant oils and animal fats as feedstocks, aviation is enamored of algae because it promises high-oil yields from small land areas and does not compete with food for land or water. Work is underway scaling up algae production in both open ponds and closed bioreactors, in a bid to drive down costs, but San Francisco-based Solazyme says it is ready to move into commercial-scale oil production using a different algae pathway.

Solazyme has adapted the fermentation process used to produce ethanol, replacing yeast with algae. Sugars produced from a wide range of feedstocks―switchgrass, corn stover, sugar cane, municipal waste and cellulosic biomassare fed to the algae, which convert the sugar to oil. The oil is then extracted from the algae and converted to HRJ using UOP’s process. Solazyme has delivered 1,500 gal. of algal HRJ to the U.S. Navy for engine testing.

The company says it is on track to be cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuel in 18-24 months, targeting $60-80 a barrel. “We should be producing quantities that can fill some demand in the aviation market in the next three years,” says CEO Jonathan Wolfson.

Solazyme is talking to airlines about long-term supply agreements and to refining partners about establishing a supply chain. “We are working with numerous partners to provide a rapid path to commercialization that includes access to feedstock and financing,” he says, noting the addition of U.S. agribusiness Bunge as a strategic investor “is an indicator of how we are thinking about feedstock . . . we are confident that the supply will be there.”

After playing a key role in the rapid progress of biofuels from idea to reality, UOP is turning its attention to new processes and feedstocks.

“We’ve made [bio-SPK] fuels from about 12 different types of natural oils,” says Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of UOP’s renewable energy business. “We are confident we can look at an oil and say what yield of jet fuel you will get from that feedstock.”

UOP’s process “is completely feedstock flexible,” Rekoske says, and can convert any natural oil with hydrocarbon chains of appropriate lengths into jet fuel. “A flexible process allows you to source the cheapest available oil.” The challenge now, he says, is in bringing together three different industries?agriculture, refining and transportation?to reach long-term agreements that will provide the confidence needed to scale up feedstock and fuel production. “That’s the process that is taking time.”

Feedstock flexibility will allow an HRJ fuel producer to switch to a higher-yield feedstock. “If the question is, do you want to invest in growing camelina if you can be supplanted in five years by algae, the answer is long-term agreements with customers and refiners. It’s just negotiation,” says Rekoske. He believes there has been significant progress, with two groups close to definitive supply agreements with airlines.

With approval for bio-SPKs now within sight, interest is shifting to more advanced biofuels, and there is growing excitement?and debate?over which pathways will be next to be approved. “Part of our work is to figure out what is next, what’s the most mature,” says AFRL’s Edwards. “It starts with people sending us fuels. We’re working on different feedstocks, different processes and fully synthetic fuels.”

Much of the work is focused on processes for producing jet fuel from ligno-cellulosic feedstocks such as forest, agricultural and municipal waste, which is available in huge quantities. UOP is working on upgrading pyrolysis oil to liquid fuel. Fast pyrolysis is the rapid decomposition of biomass in the presence of heat and absence of oxygen. The resulting bio-oil can be upgraded to fuel. “We are looking at a variety of different things for next-generation fuels. But there is a tremendous capacity to supply natural oils without going to biomass and other carbon sources,” argues Rekoske.

One of the most promising new pathways, Edwards says, is being called “alcohol oligomerization.” This starts with an alcohol-like ethanol or butanol, removes the oxygen and grows hydrocarbons from the molecules. Gevo, Virent and Swedish Biofuels are among the companies working on this “catalytic renewable jet” pathway. Brazilian biotechnology company Amyris, meanwhile, is pursuing an advanced fermentation process that goes direct from cellulosic biomass to liquid fuel using specially tailored microorganisms.

Richard Altman, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, says the catalytic, fermentation and pyrolysis renewable jet pathways are competing to be the next process approved by ASTM in the 2013 timeframe. ASTM, meanwhile, has formed a task force to look at fully synthetic fuels, called SKAs, for “synthetic kerosene with aromatics.”

Synthetic paraffinic kerosenes are limited to 50% blends by the need for aromatic hydrocarbons found in conventional jet fuel, but synthesized aromatics―or changes to engine seal materials―could allow 100% synthetic fuels. “We are doing a lot of work on fully synthetic fuels,” says Edwards. Honeywell and the FAA are working to determine by 2013-14 the minimum aromatics required in engines, says Rekoske, adding that “100% synthetic is still the goal.”
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2010.09.18 23:43 News
By Boeing | PRNewswire | Published: September 15, 2010
SINGAPORE - The commercial aviation industry will require 466,650 pilots and 596,500 maintenance personnel over the next 20 years to accommodate the strong demand for new and replacement aircraft, according to a crew assessment forecast from Boeing (NYSE: BA). Airlines will need an average of 23,300 new pilots and 30,000 new maintenance personnel per year from 2010 to 2029.

The crew assessment forecast is based on Boeing's Current Market Outlook, widely regarded as the most comprehensive and respected analysis of the commercial aviation market. "When you add up all the numbers, you quickly understand the issues facing this industry," said Roei Ganzarski, chief customer officer, Boeing Training & Flight Services. "Our challenge is adapting our training to engage the future generation of people who will fly and maintain the more than 30,000 airplanes that will be delivered by 2029."

An engineer broscope to PW4000 engine. Changes needed in training methodologies to engage next generation. (Image: Pratt & Whitney)

The largest growth in both pilots and maintenance workers will be in the Asia-Pacific region with a requirement for 180,600 and 220,000 respectively. Within Asia, China will experience the greatest need for pilots and maintenance personnel -- 70,600 and 96,400 respectively.

North America will need 97,350 pilots and 137,000 maintenance workers; Europe will need 94,800 pilots and 122,000 maintenance personnel; Africa will need 13,200 pilots and 15,000 maintenance personnel; the Middle East will need 32,700 pilots and 44,500 maintenance personnel; Latin America will need 37,000 pilots and 44,000 maintenance personnel; and the CIS will need 11,000 pilots and 14,000 maintenance personnel.

"To accommodate this growing demand, it will be vital to match training with the learning styles of students to come," Ganzarski said. During the recent Asia Pacific Aviation Training Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, Ganzarski called for changes to current training methodologies. "As an industry, we need to adapt to the learning styles of tomorrow's technologically savvy pilots and mechanics, and ensuring that training is globally accessible, adaptable to individual needs and competency-based."

Boeing Training & Flight Services provides innovative training products and services to more than 400 customers around the world. Its training and services programs are accepted by more than 100 regulatory agencies worldwide.


Contact:

Samantha Solomon
Flight Services Communications
+1 206-304-8127
Samantha.solomon@boeing.com

Raymond Francis
International Corporate Communications
+65 6883-9809
Raymond.francis@boeing.com
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2010.09.18 15:47 News
By Michael A. Taverna | AVIATION WEEK | Published: September 18, 2010

DigitalGlobe WorldView-2, artist's concept. (Image: Ball Aerospace)

PARIS - Barely days after ordering a new spacecraft for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) EnhancedView initiative, DigitalGlobe says it will lower the altitude of its WorldView-2 spacecraft, launched in 2009, to enhance spacecraft performance.

The move, set for September 2011, will drop the satellite to 680 km. (420 mi.), from 770 km. now. To compensate, engineers will add a few additional ground terminals to the current network of a dozen or so stations, VP for International Strategy Mark Ashwell told a recent remote-sensing forum organized by Euroconsult.

According to Stephen Wood, company VP for U.S. defense sales, the orbital shift will improve spatial resolution to 41 cm. (16 in.) at nadir, versus 46 cm. now, without affecting the satellite’s 7.25-year mission life. A potential second shift to 496 km., contemplated after September 2013, would bring resolution down to 30 cm. Resolution for commercial customers will remain at 50 cm. as prescribed by NGA.

Wood says the changes originated within DigitalGlobe and are motivated by the search for a “new sweet spot” to better meet NGA requirements, not any NGA dissatisfaction with performance. Reaction to the modifications could affect the orbit selected for WorldView-3, which was awarded on Aug. 30 to Ball Aerospace and ITT.

DigitalGlobe and GeoEye were each awarded multibillion-dollar contracts in early August by NGA for imagery, new satellite capacity and additional product/service development under the EnhancedView program.

WorldView-3, due to be launched in 2014, will be built to substantially the same design as WorldView-2, with the same ITT eight-band multispectral imaging system, to minimize risk and ensure timely delivery. Ball and ITT also collaborated on DigitalGlobe’s previous spacecraft, including WorldView-1 and 2.

DigitalGlobe is not saying how much either the space or ground segment expansion will cost, but it plans to lay out $625 million for capital spending through 2014, when WorldView-3 is to be launched, including outlays for the satellite. GeoEye says the government’s contribution for GeoEye-2 will be $337 million, or roughly 40-45% of the $750-$800 million that the satellite is expected by some sources to cost. Neither GeoEye nor DigitalGlobe will divulge satellite prices.
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2010.09.16 13:44 News
By Bill Lorin  FDNNTV | Published: September 15, 2010

Evergreen Unmanned Systems is a division of Oregon's Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. The company makes Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs, which offer video mapping of terrain and a brush fire's direction. The acquisition of information is used to support ground crews and heavier aircraft during wildfires.

Brian Whiteside with Evergreen Unmanned Systems says, "This is one of many UAVs that are out there in the world, but this is one that's probably the most widely used currently. It's in the theater in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has over 150,000 hours on their air frame. So it's something the industry is familiar with and its capabilities are familiar with."

Evergreen UAV on A Launcher. (Image: Evergreen)

As far as its strengths for firefighting, Whiteside says, "You can throw this thing in the air for over 20 hours on 5.4 kilograms of fuel." Any information is beamed back to Evergreen's computer system and can be placed on the internet in real time. Crew can be seen and located on the ground and information sent to them to let them know where a fire is. The system works up to 60 nautical miles.

Whiteside says that with smaller budgets, governments and the military are more interested in hiring services, rather than attempting to buy an entire Unmanned Aircraft System, UAS. It's cheaper to contract a service, and services also update their technology whenever it changes, since they do not have to worry about acquisition cycles.

The Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, is strict with its restrictions, however. Although Whiteside says their conservatism is a good thing, he also hopes they will lift some restrictions and allow Evergreen to help the fire industry.
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2010.09.12 23:55 News
By Michael Yon | MICHAEL YON Online Magazine | Published: August 17, 2009
SANGIN, AFGHANISTAN - The roads are so littered with enemy bombs that nearly all transport and resupply to this base occurs by helicopter. The pilots roar through the darkness, swoop into small bases nestled in the saddle of enemy territory, and quickly rumble off into the night.

A witness must spend only a short time in the darkness to know we are at war. Flares arc into the night, or mortar illumination rounds drift and swing under parachutes, orange and eerily in the distance, casting long, flickering but sharply defined shadows.  The worst that can happen is that you will be caught in an open field, covered by nothing and concealed only by darkness, when the illumination suddenly bathes you in light.  Best is to stay low and freeze and prepare to fire, or in the case of a writer, to stay low and freeze and prepare to watch the firing.

Explosions from unknown causes rumble through the cool nights while above drifts the Milky Way, punctuated by more shooting stars than one can remember. The Afghanistan nights will grant a wish to wish upon a shooting star. And while waiting for the next meteor, the eyes are likely to catch tracer bullets.

A CH-47 helicopter whirls in with a “sling load” of resupplies from Camp Bastion to FOB Jackson in Sangin.

The pilot comes in fast, to the dark landing zone, lighted only by “Cyalumes,” which Americans call “Chemlights.” The sensitive camera and finely engineered glass make the dark landing zone appear far lighter. The apparent brightness of the small Cyalumes provides reference.

A show begins as the helicopter descends under its halo.

The charged helicopter descends into its own dust storm.

Gently releasing the sling load.

The pilot hovers away from the load, pivots and begins to land.

The dust storm ripples and flaps over the medical tents.

Heat causes the engines to glow orange.

Dust begins to clear even before landing. The helicopter, under its own halo, casts a moon shadow.

The halo often disappears when the helicopter ramp touches the ground. Again, the conditions are quite dark, but the excellent camera gear has tiger vision.

The British medical staff treats many wounded Afghans who often show up at the gate. In the photo above, Dr. Rhiannon Dart (right) observes as an Afghan patient is medically evacuated to the trauma center at Camp Bastion. The medics and Dr. Dart are especially respected for the risks they equally share here. The medical staff walks into combat just like the other soldiers-frequently side by side in close combat. Numerous times per week, their battlefield work, often under intense pressure in hot and filthy conditions, is the deciding factor on whether soldiers or civilians survive or die. I asked Dr. Dart if Afghan men have any reservations when being treated by a woman. She answered that when men are seriously wounded-which is about the only time she sees Afghans as patients-they don’t care if she is a man or a woman. During a mission last week, I saw an Afghan soldier walk by with a bandage on his hand. Dr. Dart stopped the soldier, asking him to remove the bandage. Contrary to harboring reservations, the soldier appeared relieved that she wanted-actually sort of politely demanded-to examine his injury.

The ramp lifts in preparation for takeoff and the halo begins to rematerialize before the helicopter lifts into the darkness and disappears. Soldiers call the medevac flights to Camp Bastion, “Nightingales” or “Nightingale flights.” Shortly after sunrise on the morning of 13 August, an element from this unit was ambushed nearby, killing three and wounding two others. Despite the immediate danger, the helicopter came straight onto the battlefield. After the initial ambush, and another successful ambush during the evacuation, the British soldiers did not return to base but continued with the mission. Later that evening they were twice ambushed again, sustaining more fatalities as two interpreters were killed. Soldiers asked me to go on that mission but I was busy assembling this dispatch. One of the killed soldiers, shortly before the mission, had looked over my shoulder as I selected the photos. Captain Mark Hale was killed while aiding a wounded soldier. Mark had particularly liked the next three images:

Night after night, helicopters keep coming. Last month a civilian resupply helicopter had tried to land at this exact spot but was shot down on final approach. Two children on the ground and all persons aboard were killed. The helicopter crews earn much respect.

Sometimes the halos appear like distant galaxies.

In motion, the halos spark, glitter and veritably crackle, but in still photos the halos appear more like intricate orbital bands.

Perhaps like the rings of Saturn.

The halos usually disappear as the rotors change pitch, dust diminishes and the ramp touches the ground. On some nights, on this very same landing zone, no halos form.

Note: By request of the British Army, a handful of these photos were slightly altered to obscure base security measures. The alterations are limited to minimal parts of several photos.

On another night, the helicopters return. The camera is jostled, accidentally creating a double image.

Note: Most photos, such as this one, are unaltered other than normal 'black room' processing.

They keep coming.

What is this halo phenomenon called? None of the American or British helicopter pilots seemed to have a name for the effect. They provide only descriptions and circumscriptions. I asked many people, and finally reached out to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger (one of my “break glass only if” sources whom I ask when other means have failed). Jeff asked pilots, and came back with an excellent description from one pilot:

"Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as materials of dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust. It occurs on the ground as well, but you don't usually see it as much unless the aircraft is landing or taking off. The most common time is when fuel is being pumped. When large tankers are being fueled they must be grounded to prevent static electricity from discharging and creating explosions."

But still no name. How can the helicopter halos, so majestic and indeed dangerous at times, be devoid of a fitting name?

A phenomenon in need of a name. Mark Hale had liked this image and the next.

I spent two weeks searching for a fitting handle but all attempts came to naught.

The halos are different every night. Some nights they are intense, other nights dim, but often there are no halos.

There are explosions and fighting every day and night.

Under the moon.

This time exposure shows where the pilot briefly hovered before dropping in.

Our casualties in this war reached an all-time peak in July 2009 and the heaviest fighting was here in Helmand Province. On 10 July, elsewhere in Helmand, some of America’s finest soldiers were hunting down Taliban.

Members of the U.S. 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment closed space with the enemy, apparently killing at least ten. Corporal Benjamin Kopp was shot and evacuated to Germany, then back to the United States, where he died just over a week later on 18 July. Benjamin was 21 years old and at the very tip of the spear. If not for such men, we would be at the mercy of every demon.

Benjamin Kopp and his comrades were delivering the latest bad news to the sort of people who harbored the terrorists who attack innocent people around the world every day, and who attacked us at home on 9/11. Ranger Kopp was a veteran with three combat tours.  He knew the risks, yet continued to fight.

Benjamin was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quietly attended the funeral, as did my good friend, Colonel Erik Kurilla, the new commander of Ranger Regiment, where Kopp served until America lost one of its finest Sons.

Yet the effect of Corporal Kopp did not end on the battlefields of Afghanistan; he only regrouped and continued to serve. Corporal Kopp had volunteered as an organ donor and his heart was transplanted. Two days after most people would have died, Benjamin Kopp’s heart was transplanted into Judy Meikle. According to the Washington Post, Meikle said, "How can you have a better heart?" said a grateful Judy Meikle, 57, of Winnetka, Ill., who is still recovering from the surgery. "I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me."

Other organs were also donated for other recipients.

Benjamin Kopp’s case is reminiscent of so many others whose names are and faces will forever remain unfamiliar to most of us. The Angels Among Us are nearly always invisible to our eyes until it’s too late to say “thank you,” and “farewell.”

On August 11, I attended a small ceremony for a British soldier from this base in Helmand who was killed in combat the day after Benjamin passed. His name was Joseph Etchells. I was told how Joseph died in a bomb ambush, and that his last request was to be cremated, loaded into a firework, and launched over the park where he used to play as a kid. When Joseph’s last request was explained, I burst out laughing and the British soldier who told me also was laughing. The absurd humor of Joseph’s request was familiar, and it was as though Joseph were standing there with us, laughing away.

Joseph Etchells from 3 Plt, 2 Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was attached to 1 Plt, 2 Rifles

Lieutenant Alan Williamson was “Joey’s” platoon commander here in Sangin. LT Williams said that the other soldiers called him “Etch,” or Joey, and that Etch was born in 1987. He joined the army at age 16, though he could not deploy for combat until he was 18. Etch did a tour in Northern Ireland and three tours in Afghanistan, including 2006 in Now Zad where he endured 107 days of straight combat wherein they fought literally every day. In 2007 Etch deployed to Kabul and then performed “Public Duty” by guarding the Queen outside the palaces.

Lt Williams said that Etch was a, “Young and very keen Section Commander. Most Section Commanders like to be a few men back so they can command without being in immediate danger, but “Etch” refused to be that far back, and was always right behind the [“point man.]  He was an outstanding runner. He left his fiance behind.  He would have been a very young sergeant.  He was an outstanding, outstanding soldier.”

Joseph Etchells and Benjamin Kopp were both Corporals in different armies. Both had served three combat tours. Ben was 21, Etch was 22, and they both fought their last battles in Helmand Province. The names of these British and American warriors are listed consecutively in a roster chronicling our sacrifices in Afghanistan.

Last month there had been a large service here for Etch, but I witnessed a much smaller service where those closer to him came together to pay final respects. This service in Sangin occurred on the same day that a final ceremony was being held back in the United Kingdom. About twenty soldiers attended. The event was quiet and respectful and I wanted to be back in the United Kingdom to salute the rocket launch as it carried away the payload of Joey’s ashes, and exploded over the park. Here in Sangin, the bugler played and his buddies tossed their cap feathers into the Helmand River. The red and white feathers drifted away in the same waters where Etch used to swim after missions, down into the desert. Here they call it the “Dashti Margo,” the Desert of Death.

And so a fitting name had arrived to describe the halo glow we sometimes see in Helmand Province: Kopp-Etchells Effect, for two veteran warriors who died here in Helmand, Ben on the 18th, Joe on the 19th of July in the year 2009. It’s not hard to imagine the two Corporals have already linked up and regrouped, and in sense they have. Knowing combat soldiers, it’s easy to imagine them laughing away at the idea.

The Kopp-Etchells eponym can be seen as a cynosure for the many who have gone before the Corporals, and those who will follow. I had talked to Captain Mark Hale nearly every day for two weeks. Mark liked the name. And then Mark himself was lost on Thursday along with Daniel Wild as they were aiding a wounded Matthew Hatton. I heard very good things about Daniel Wild. They say he was a good and tough soldier. I’d seen Matthew Hatton on the battlefield and felt more confident by his presence. Hatton was a well-respected man. As for Mark Hale, I only knew him for two weeks. Mark will be missed by many people, myself included.

The war goes on and all the fallen soldiers know what we must do. We must keep moving. There will be time in the future to pay proper respects, and to reflect upon their honor. Now is not that time.

While waiting for a helicopter to land, there was activity on the perimeter, and then an unseen hand fired a flare so that we could see who was out there.
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2010.09.10 04:40 News
By Kathy Barnstorff | NASA Langley Research Center | Published: May 28, 2010

An engine first validated in a NASA wind tunnel successfully made the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight to date off the southern California coast on May 26.

The air-breathing scramjet engine, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, burned for more than 200 seconds to accelerate the U.S. Air Force's X-51A vehicle to Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. It broke the previous record for the longest scramjet burn in a flight test, set by NASA's X-43 vehicle.

The SJX61-2 engine that powered the X-51A test vehicle successfully completed ground tests simulating Mach 5 flight conditions at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., in 2008. (Image: NASA)

"This is great news for the hypersonics community," said Jim Pittman, principal investigator for the Hypersonics Project of NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program. "It's also good for NASA's research into flight at Mach 5 or faster. We will receive the X-51 flight data for analysis and comparison to the data we obtained during ground tests at NASA Langley's 8-Foot High Temperature Tunnel and to predictions from our propulsion codes."

Air Force officials called the test -- the first of four planned -- an unqualified success. The flight is considered the first use of a practical hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet in flight.

"We are ecstatic to have accomplished most of our test points on the X-51A's very first hypersonic mission," said program manager Charlie Brink of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. "We equate this leap in engine technology as equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines."

The X-51A launched from Edwards Air Force Base in California, carried aloft under the left wing of an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 Stratofortress. It was released while the B-52 flew at 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. After release, an Army Tactical Missile solid rocket booster accelerated the X-51A to about Mach 4.8 before it and a connecting interstage were jettisoned. The launch and separation were normal, according to Brink.

Once the X-51A was free of its booster and interstage, its SJY61 engine ignited, initially on a mix of ethylene, similar to lighter fluid, and JP-7 jet fuel then exclusively on JP-7 jet fuel. The flight reached an altitude of about 70,000 feet and a peak speed of Mach 5.

Onboard sensors transmitted data to an airborne U.S. Navy P-3, as well was ground systems at Point Mugu, Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force bases in California. The flight was terminated after about 200 seconds of engine operation because of a technical issue. The X-51A was not designed to be recovered for examination, so engineers are busily examining the data to identify the cause of the problem. 

X-51A, artist's concept. (Image: NASA)

Four X-51A cruisers have been built for the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency by industry partners Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, West Palm Beach, Fla., and The Boeing Company, Palmdale, Calif. Brink said the Air Force intends to fly the three remaining X-51A flight test vehicles this fall on virtually identical flight profiles, building knowledge from each successive flight.

"This first flight was the culmination of a six-year effort by a small, but very talented AFRL, DARPA, NASA and industry development team," Brink said. "Now we will go back and really scrutinize our data. No test is perfect, and I'm sure we will find anomalies that we will need to address before the next flight. But anyone will tell you that we learn just as much, if not more, when we encounter a glitch." 

The engine can produce between 400 and 1,000 pounds of thrust. Like a conventional jet engine, the SJY61 is capable of adjusting thrust throughout the X-51's flight envelope. 

Hypersonic flight presents unique technical challenges with heat and pressure, which make conventional turbine engines impractical. Program officials said producing thrust with a scramjet has been compared to lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.
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2010.08.11 00:12 News
This is my street-legal jet car on full afterburner. The car has two engines: the production gasoline engine in the front driving the front wheels and the jet engine in the back. The idea is that you drive around legally on the gasoline engine and when you want to have some fun, you spin up the jet and get on the burner (you can start the jet while driving along on the gasoline engine). The car was built because I wanted the wildest street-legal ride possible. With this project, I was able to use some stuff I learned while getting my fancy engineering degree (I have a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University) to design a street-legal jet car without the distraction of how other people have done it in the past - because no one has. I don't know how fast the car will go and probably never will. The car was built to thrill me, not kill me. That doesn't stop me from the occasional blast on the highway though. 

The car is licensed here in California. In California, new cars have bi-annual smog inspections so if you modify the engine, it is likely to fail the inspection and you won't be able to drive it on the street. There are some exempt engine modifications (ex. after-cat mufflers - big deal) but none that will allow you to add 1350 hp to a new car. 

Car was built to look as if VW delivered the car this way. It handles fine and is safe. I was thinking of putting it into an import car show but the promoter told me that it looked too plain and recommended that I put some decals on it, lower it, and put on some aftermarket wheels. Sure kid, put on some flimsy wheels won't take a curb and don't center on the hubs, lower the car so the tires rub and get cut by the body using springs that bounce me all over the road, and advertise for companies that couldn't engineer themselves out of a paper bag. I would have thought the 14" diameter tailpipe was enough for him but I guess it wasn't. Response from the hot rod magazines has been slow. One editor told me that is because I didn't use anything they advertise. But the response to driving it on the street and going to the hot rod shows (San Francisco Custom Car Show, Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, and the Detroit Autorama) has been fantastic. This car attracts crowds better than any '32 Ford, '69 Camaro, or decaled Honda. 
  
The Beetle was chosen because it looks cool with the jet and it shows it off well. Remember the Hurst wheelstanding Barracuda "Hemi Under Glass"? Well, this is "Jet Under Glass". Air for the jet enters the car through the two side windows and the sunroof. It's a little windy inside but not unbearable. 

The production hatch release switch on the driver's door activates two new latches (one on each side) and the hatch pops open just like a production car. The "hatch not closed" warning light works too. 

Here you can see the split in the tailpipe after a particularily rude burner pop. All fixed and reinforced now. The heat blanket keeps the plastic bumper from melting when the jet is operating. 

The back of the gauge panel was kept open to give the car a techie look. Something to talk about. The car's an engineering device, let's see some engineering thingies. The aluminum panel was designed in SolidWorks and cut out of billet, bead blasted, clear annodized, and then the labels for the switches were milled into the front using a font matching the VW cluster. Little details like the holes having flat sides so the switches don't spin and exactly matching the contour of the dash added time to the project. Several versions were made out of styrofoam first to get the layout and lighting right. From the back, the panel reminds me of the 1970s McLaren CanAm cars. 

The first thing I did when I got the car was to cut the hole in the back for the engine. Made a fancy jig out of a tripod, a rod, and a lawnmower wheel to mark out the cut and went at it with a pneumatic saw. Then finished it off with jeweler's files. No paint required. Didn't even chip. The hole was tricky because it goes through 3 layers (bumper and two layers of metal) and it's a circle projected onto angled surfaces. Just finding the centerline of the car wasn't trivial. Worrying what my neighbors would say if I ruined the back of a brand-new car made me REAL careful. I believe the hole is within 2 mm. 

There are three gauges for the jet: %RPM, Oil Pressure, and Turbine Inlet Temperature. The most important is turbine inlet temperature. If you exceed about 650 degrees C for very long, you damage the engine. This is critical on start-up. You don't want a "hot-start". The throttle for the jet engine is located next to the gear selector. It is a lever and has three buttons: Cool, Big-Fire, and Afterburner. "Cool" leans out the engine and is used to lower the turbine inlet temperature if you get a hot-start. To light big-fire or the afterburner, you hold a button down and 1/2 second later, press the hot-streak button on the floor. Then things happen! Notice the kerosene level gauge in front of the gear selector (jet fuel is mostly kerosene) and the bud vase missing a rose. Where did it go?

Lotsa stuff back here. The force from the jet is tied to the vehicle through sandwich plates inside the car bolted to contoured aluminum billets that were slid into the frame rails. You can see the billet on the left side with a hole in its center, welded to the plate with 4 bolts. Used helium as the inert gas and a lot of current to weld that chunk of aluminum. To return the car to its production height, adjustable spring perches were used. Same spring rate, just corrected the ride height. Drives and handles fine. Kerosene is stored in a custom 14 gallon, baffled, foam-filled kevlar fuel cell in the spare tire well. Two fuel exits in the back: a -12 on the left side and a -10 on the right. The -10 goes to a shutoff, then a Barry Grant pump (one of the few hot rod parts on the car), then up into the car where it sees a filter, a regulator, and an electrical shutoff valve before feeding the engine. The -12 goes into a shutoff, then a 1.5 hp, 11,000 rpm, 24V custom electric pump. Pump is magnesium and can maintain 100 psi at 550 gph. From the pump it goes into the car to a filter, then a large regulator, and then to the afterburner solenoid and the big-fire solenoid (to left of pump and feeding bottom of tailpipe through orange covered hose). Fuel system was tested for flow capability. Above the big pump you can see the relocated gasoline cap actuator and all that black stuff on the right side is the stock fuel evaporative control equipment. All circuits feeding solenoids and pumps have fuses, relays, kick-back diodes to minimize contact arcing, sealed connectors, and use automotive wires of a gauge giving a maximum of 1V drop over the circuit loop. 

The engine is a General Electric Model T58-8F. This is a helicopter turboshaft engine that was converted to a jet engine by some internal modifications and a custom tailpipe. The engine spins up to 26,000 RPM (idle is 13,000 RPM), draws air at 11,000 CFM, and is rated at 1350 hp. It weighs only 300 lbm. It grows as it warms up so the engine mounts have to account for this. The mounts in the front are rubber and the back are sliding mounts on rubber. The structure holding the engine was designed using finite element analysis and is redundant. Strong, damage tolerant, and light. Second battery and fuse/relay panel on the right, halon fire system and 5 gallon dry sump tank on left. 24V starter motor is in the nose of the engine. 700 A of current goes into that motor for 20 seconds during start-up. Due to heat, must limit starts to three in one hour. Big screen is to avoid FOD (foreign object damage). Jet keeps sucking the rose out of the bud vase on the dash! 

A lot of attention to details in the car. Note the aluminum block holding/protecting the halon gas line, pull line, harness to engine, and oil pressure line. Rectangular tank under inlet screen is for various fuel drains. Note temperature gauge and shutoff valve for dry sump tank. 3 gallons of turbine oil at $25/quart (ouch!). Two-stage PPG paint matching exterior of car was used inside the car. It is not easy to paint around a lot of bars, etc while crouched in a car, in your dusty home garage, avoiding drips, and with your wife screaming that the fumes will cause brain damage in the kids. Especially with two-stage where you have multiple coats and critical drying times. Kids passed their grades so I guess damage was minimal, but more importantly, the paint turned out great! 

Street racing action. The other guy wimped out after a few "big-fire" demonstrations. What you see in the picture is about one-twentieth the full size of the fireball. Guy standing beside car had never seen it run before and was smiling ear-to-ear throughout the show. Had I launched, I would have burned him to a crisp. Well, live and learn. 

We get this a lot. A police officer picking at his nose while trying to figure out what to charge me with. Notice the hopeful anticipation of us on the right. We're rooting for him and offer suggestions but unfortunately, the California Department of Motor Vehicles did not anticipate such a vehicle so he's out of luck. Hmmm, the car has two engines making the car a hybrid so maybe we can drive in the commuter lanes along with the Toyota Priuses. 

*** Update 7/18/06 *** You have to give the California Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV) credit for creativity on this one. A DMV insider has disclosed to me that the DMV has made a formal request to a federal agency to rule if my Beetle constitutes a threat to national security based on what could happen if it got into the wrong hands. This raises three questions in my mind: #1 Does this mean I m the right hands? #2 If someone with the name "b_laden13" is the highest eBay bidder for my Beetle can I refuse his offer even if he has the prestigious eBay Red Shooting Star feedback rating (the highest)? #3 Would this affect my eBay rating?

The car was built in this garage. Paint, welding, everything except some mill work. That's me standing beside the engine that is out of the car for some fuel controller work. The orange line is for the afterburner. There's one on the other side too. Here you can make out the four rows of variable inlets/stators at the front of the engine. Their angle changes with engine speed and are used to avoid compressor stall. There are 11 compressor stages and 2 turbine stages. The engine's pressure ratio is 8.3:1. That's how you work on a jet engine. Stick it on its end. Easy to store them that way too. 

Here's my wife's Honda Metropolitan scooter. She wants it to go faster than 40 mph. So I have these two little JFS 100 jet engines and I am thinking how to put them on the scooter. Engines are 50 lbm each so weight is an issue. Will probably use air-start with a carbon fiber tank of compressed air. That saves weight since batteries will then not be needed. 

Looks cool from the top. Will want to make aluminum housings to go over the engines just like on a DC-9. 

Bitchin' from the back too. Should get the scooter going. On one jet engine alone, this engine will get a kart up to 60 mph. Looks like I have a lot of spare wire left over from the Beetle job to do the scooter.


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