A new type of aircraft on the drawing board

Hummingbird wing – future of flight (1:43)

Dec 7 – Robotic hummingbird wings may hold secrets to a new family of aircraft, capable of hovering steadily even in high winds. Scientists from New Mexico State University say experiments reveal promising results.

Manoush Zomorodi reports.

Video View video here

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

December 17: General Interest
1903 : First airplane flies

Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its inaugural flight.

Orville and Wilbur Wright grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and developed an interest in aviation after learning of the glider flights of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s. Unlike their older brothers, Orville and Wilbur did not attend college, but they possessed extraordinary technical ability and a sophisticated approach to solving problems in mechanical design. They built printing presses and in 1892 opened a bicycle sales and repair shop. Soon, they were building their own bicycles, and this experience, combined with profits from their various businesses, allowed them to pursue actively their dream of building the world’s first airplane.

After exhaustively researching other engineers’ efforts to build a heavier-than-air, controlled aircraft, the Wright brothers wrote the U.S. Weather Bureau inquiring about a suitable place to conduct glider tests. They settled on Kitty Hawk, an isolated village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which offered steady winds and sand dunes from which to glide and land softly. Their first glider, tested in 1900, performed poorly, but a new design, tested in 1901, was more successful. Later that year, they built a wind tunnel where they tested nearly 200 wings and airframes of different shapes and designs. The brothers’ systematic experimentations paid off–they flew hundreds of successful flights in their 1902 glider at Kill Devils Hills near Kitty Hawk. Their biplane glider featured a steering system, based on a movable rudder, that solved the problem of controlled flight. They were now ready for powered flight.

In Dayton, they designed a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine with the assistance of machinist Charles Taylor and built a new aircraft to house it. They transported their aircraft in pieces to Kitty Hawk in the autumn of 1903, assembled it, made a few further tests, and on December 14 Orville made the first attempt at powered flight. The engine stalled during take-off and the plane was damaged, and they spent three days repairing it. Then at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, in front of five witnesses, the aircraft ran down a monorail track and into the air, staying aloft for 12 seconds and flying 120 feet. The modern aviation age was born. Three more tests were made that day, with Wilbur and Orville alternately flying the airplane. Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds.

During the next few years, the Wright brothers further developed their airplanes but kept a low profile about their successes in order to secure patents and contracts for their flying machines. By 1905, their aircraft could perform complex maneuvers and remain aloft for up to 39 minutes at a time. In 1908, they traveled to France and made their first public flights, arousing widespread public excitement. In 1909, the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps purchased a specially constructed plane, and the brothers founded the Wright Company to build and market their aircraft. Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912; Orville lived until 1948.

The historic Wright brothers’ aircraft of 1903 is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sourced & published  by Henry Sapiecha

In April scientists at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put out a call seeking designs for a tactical flying car under its Transformer (TX) program. One of the first to respond is AVX Aircraft Company – its AVX Aircraft that can be manually driven on the ground like an SUV and also boasts Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability.

The stated objective of the TX program is to “demonstrate a four person flyable/roadable vehicle that will provide the warfighter with terrain-independent mobility. This presents unprecedented capability to avoid traditional and asymmetrical threats while avoiding road obstructions.” The TX will be designed to enhance future operations with use in strike and raid, intervention, interdiction, insurgency/counterinsurgency, reconnaissance, medical evacuation and logistical supply.

The Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) from DARPA called for a design that:

  • could be manually driven on the ground like an SUV
  • rapidly configures between ground and flight configuration
  • has Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability
  • has a cruise speed equivalent to a light aircraft
  • has automated takeoff/landing flight control.

AVX met these performance requirements with its AVX TX design that has:

  • 1,040 lb payload
  • 250 nautical mile range on one tank of fuel
  • 10,000 ft mean sea level altitude at max gross weight
  • 80mph on road speed, 30mph rough terrain speed
  • 140mph flying speed
  • converts from road to flight mode in 60 seconds

AVX says its TX will also have intuitive controls that will provide non-pilot operator control and navigation systems that are intuitive enough to facilitate the transition from road to flight operations. The vehicle’s dual ducted fans will provide propulsion both on the ground and in the air.

Additionally the AVX (TX) can be quickly converted to medivac with a vehicle operator, medical attendant and littered patient. It can also be converted to a resupply vehicle and can move 12,50 lbs as an unmanned vehicle using a sling or 1,000 lbs as a manned vehicle with the same 250 nm range.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Robots clear bombs the

wireless way


Dr Jun Jo controls his robots with his mobile phone (Image: Griffith University)

A robot controlled by wireless technology could be used to control bomb disposal and security reconnaissance vehicles, its Australian creator says.

Dr Jun Jo, a senior lecturer at Griffith University, created the prototype of a ‘bomb removal car’ with postgraduate students.

The robotic car is controlled by Bluetooth wireless networking technology, which potentially allows an operator to stay at a safe distance while sending the vehicle into a hazardous situation.

A video camera mounted onto the front of the robot streams images back to the operator.

The operator can then direct the robot to a particular location, identify a suspicious package and scoop it up with an in-built shovel.

“Through a camera I can see what the robot sees and with Bluetooth I can control it within 100 metres,” says Jo.

At 20 centimetres long, the robotic vehicle is about the size of a child’s model car.

“It looks like a toy at this stage, but I want to build a larger one,” he says.

Linking technology

Bluetooth networking is commonly used to link computers and mobiles to peripheral devices. But Jo says there are also many potential applications for Bluetooth and robotics, not just in dangerous situations.

“I am looking at applications in both the security industry and in entertainment,” says Jo, who also runs the university’s robotics and games research laboratory.

“Robotics and games share many qualities in their control methods and algorithms,” he says. “I feel in the near future there will be more
applications for robots in the games industry.”

Robotic football, for example, is a concept that enthusiasts already explore using teams of four-legged players: Sony Aibo robot dogs.

Meanwhile, mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson is exploring using Bluetooth applications for fun, such as a tiny toy car that can be controlled easily by mobile phone.

Recently the company also unveiled a remote-controlled digital camera on wheels called ROB-1. The camera can be steered from a mobile and sends a video stream back to handset, so the owner can decide what pictures to shoot.

Problems with video


There are limitations to the quality of video people can expect from Bluetooth, says Jo.

“One of the drawbacks of Bluetooth is that it is a medium transmission speed. It’s not bad for five frames per second, which would allow you to work out where an object is.”

Jo’s prototype is based on Bluetooth for now, but could be adapted to other current or future networking standards.

“At the moment Bluetooth is one of the most advanced mobile networking technologies, but others will come in time and they could be easily added to such a system,” he says.


The robotic car could be expanded to work with Australia’s 3G or GPRS mobile data networks, which he says could make control possible from distant locations.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009


Flying robots may be the new


Flying robot

Flying robots, like this fictional robotic dragonfly, could bypass radar to deliver explosives or bioweapons, experts say (Image: iStockphoto)

It may sound like science fiction, but flying robots could make suicide bombers and hijackers redundant, experts say.

The technology for remote-controlled light aircraft is now highly advanced, widely available, and experts say virtually unstoppable.

Models with a wingspan of 5 metres, capable of carrying up to 50 kilograms, remain undetectable by radar.

And thanks to satellite positioning systems, they can now be programmed to hit targets some distance away within a few metres of their target.

Security services the world over have been considering the problem for several years, but no one has yet come up with a solution.

“We are observing an increasing threat from such things as remote-controlled aircraft used as small flying bombs against soft targets,” the head of the Canadian secret services, Michel Gauthier, said at a conference in Calgary recently.

According to Gauthier, “ultra-light aircraft, powered hang gliders or powered paragliders have also been purchased by terrorist groups to circumvent ground-based countermeasures”.

Defence on alert


On 1 May the US website Defensetech published an article by military technology specialist David Hambling, entitled “Terrorists’ unmanned air force”.

“While billions have been spent on ballistic missile defense, little attention has been given to the more imminent threat posed by unmanned air vehicles in the hands of terrorists or rogue states,” writes Hambling.

Armed militant groups have already tried to use unmanned aircraft, according to a number of studies by institutions including the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, and the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow.

In August 2002, for example, the Colombian military reported finding nine small remote-controlled planes at a base it had taken from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

On 11 April 2005 the Lebanese Shiite militia group, Hezbollah, flew a pilotless drone over Israeli territory, on what it called a surveillance mission.

The Israeli military confirmed this and responded by flying warplanes over southern Lebanon.

Easy to buy or make

Remote-control planes are not hard to get hold of, according to Jean-Christian Delessert, who runs a specialist model aeroplane shop near Geneva.

“Putting together a large-scale model is not difficult. All you need is a few materials and a decent electronics technician,” he says.

In his view, “if terrorists get hold of that, it will be impossible to do anything about it. We did some tests with a friend who works at a military radar base: they never detected us … If the radar picks anything up, it thinks it is a flock of birds and automatically wipes it.”

Japanese company Yamaha, meanwhile, has produced a 95 kilogram robot helicopter that is 3.6 metres long and has a 256 cc engine.

It flies close to the ground at about 20 kilometres per hour and is already on the market.

Bruce Simpson, an engineer from New Zealand, managed to produce an even more dangerous contraption in his own garage: a mini-cruise missile.

He made it out of readily available materials at a cost of less than US$5000 (about A$6500).

According to Simpson’s website, the New Zealand authorities forced him to shut down the project, though only once he had already finished making the missile, under pressure from the US.

Take them seriously


Dr Eugene Miasnikov, of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow, says these kinds of threats must be taken more seriously.

“To many people UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] may seem too exotic, demanding substantial efforts and cost compared with the methods terrorists frequently use,” he says.

“But science and technology is developing so fast that we often fail to recognise how much the world has changed.”

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009


Banned toiletries could make



Bomb-making ingredients could be hidden in small bottles and carried on planes. Alternatively, toiletries themselves could be used to make explosives (Image: iStockphoto)

Hair gels and lotions may have been banned from carry-on luggage as they could be assembled on board a plane to make a bomb, a US criminologist says.

Professor Alfred Blumstein from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who helped write a government report on threats to airlines from explosives, was speaking after UK police say they had foiled a plot to blow up aircraft flying to the US.

This prompted authorities to ban liquids, including drinks, hair gels and lotions, from carry-on baggage.

“My hunch is that the reason they are prohibiting this stuff is that it does obviously have the potential of being assembled on board so that it doesn’t look like a bomb going through the x-ray machine,” says Blumstein.

Such mundane items as nail polish remover, disinfectants and hair colouring contain chemicals that can be combined to make an explosion and are not detectable by “sniffing” machines, which detect plastic explosives but are not used with all baggage.

Explosive ingredients can be concealed in bottles or other innocent-looking containers that would pass through x-ray machines.

That does not mean they are easy to make into bombs, cautioned Dr Neal Langerman, a San Diego consultant who is former chair of the American Chemical Society‘s Division of Chemical Health and Safety.

“Many of the ingredients like acetone are household chemicals,” Langerman says.

But some kind of expertise is usually needed to buy peroxide that is concentrated enough to work in an explosive, he says.

Bombers who attacked London Underground trains and a bus in July 2005 used homemade peroxide-based explosives carried in backpacks.

On-board explosives

People have tried several times to use such easily concealed explosives on aircraft.

UK-born Richard Reid was tackled by passengers in December 2001 while trying to detonate explosives stuffed in his shoes in an aircraft lavatory.

In 1994, Islamic fundamentalists set off liquid explosives on a Japan-bound Philippine Airlines plane, killing a Japanese passenger and injuring 10 others.

Dr Mark Ensalaco, an international terrorism expert at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says Thursday’s foiled operation appears to be identical to the Japan attack.

I stress identical with the explosives in liquids

Sourced and published by Henry Sap[iecha 13th MAY 2009


Airport sniffer dogs safe from


Heathrow Airport

The terrorism alert caused chaos at Heathrow Airport last week. But could new security technology prevent a repeat performance? (Image: Reuters/Toby Melville)

News Analysis No matter how sophisticated airport security technology becomes, it will probably never remove the need for sniffer dogs and bag searches, experts say.

The alleged foiled terrorist plot that affected flights between the UK and US last week has led to calls for newer, smarter security technology.

Devices on the horizon include insect-based sensors, wallpaper that sniffs out explosives as you walk past and smart closed-circuit TV that can pick a suspect out from a crowd or tell if you’ve left a bomb under a seat.

But Martin Cebis, whose company will present its all-in-one chemical sensing and surveillance system at an international military technology conference in the US next week, says would-be terrorists will probably always be one step ahead of technology.

“Ultimately you’re dealing with human ingenuity [and] you’re fighting a moving target and need to be able to adapt,” says Cebis, chief executive officer of Western Australia’s Embedded Technologies.

“I think you’ll still need searching and those kinds of things to occur.”

Cebis is also among a number of speakers who will brief security advisors and researchers in Canberra on the latest developments today.

Chemical sensing

One of the emerging areas of security, particularly in light of the alleged plot to carry liquid explosives onto planes, is in chemical sensing.

Associate Professor Adam McCluskey of the University of Newcastle is an Australian researcher developing chemical sensors based on drug design technology.

The sensors are can be “screen printed” onto fabrics, paper, plastics and even wallpaper.

“It’s basically a synthetic antibody,” he says.

“We’re applying drug design technology to generate polymeric scaffolds that specifically recognise the shape and electronics of the targeted molecule.”

The technique has been used to identify cocaine and heroin and is being developed to pick up chemicals like TNT and triacetone triperoxide, the chemical used in last year’s London Underground bombings.

“Instead of metal detectors we would have a bank of these sensors sucking the vapours off as you walk through,” he says.

He says while sniffer dogs will still be able to go places electronic noses can’t, sensing technology will be better able to detect specific substances.


Dr Michael Borgas, is an atmospheric scientist at CSIRO, which is developing an electronic nose to detect chemicals.

He says the future of airport chemical sensing lies in miniaturised devices.

Researchers at CSIRO are also looking to insects like fruit flies for inspiration.

“If you can understand how insects sense and act upon various volatile chemicals you’d hopefully be able to mimic that with electronic devices,” he says.

“What you want is a hand-held device that can suck in tiny bits of air and detect the molecules that are in that air. In airports you’d just stick it in a [passenger’s] bag.”

Smart surveillance

Cebis says it will take more than high-tech chemical sensors, no matter how sensitive and discriminating they are.

“It’s fine to have sensors all over the place but you’ve got to be able to make intelligent decisions,” he says.

“The research challenge is to make cheap, sensitive, ubiquitous sensors coupled with smart surveillance technology.”

Cebis says closed-circuit TV will eventually be replaced by “smart” digital video technology that uses biometric identification and motion recognition to hone in on specific individuals and behaviour.

“They look at a scene and if there’s no motion they don’t film anything,” he says.

“Or a person may wander into a scene, deposit something and then move away. The fact that something was moving and now isn’t [will be picked up].”

Ting Shan of National ICT Australia (NICTA) will outline advances in face recognition technology at a security technology conference in Canberra next week.

Shan says new face recognition algorithms have been developed by NICTA and University of Queensland that aren’t befuddled by lighting, expression or angle of the face.

“It can synthesise a realistic frontal face image,” he says.

Impact of a new security environment


Borgas says while the events in the UK have highlighted advances in security technology, he doubts they will be implemented overnight.

McCluskey hopes it will give governments an impetus to provide the research and development funds to allow some of the more promising ideas to bear fruit.

“Sometimes it takes an event of this nature to provide a significantly high profile and the government willing to take a chance on the technology,” he says.

Cebis say all the technology in the world will never completely replace the most humble of checks.

“But whether they need to be as intrusive and time consuming as they currently are depends on the technology,” he says.


Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

Imax 3-D camera to film Hubble mission


WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it will join the Imax Corp. and Warner Bros. Pictures to film the upcoming Hubble Space Telescope mission in 3-D.

The Imax cameras will be used to document what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration calls one of its most complex space shuttle operations — the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The cameras will launch aboard space shuttle Atlantis, which is scheduled to lift off May 11,” NASA said. “Astronauts will use the cameras to film five spacewalks needed to repair and upgrade Hubble.

Officials said the footage will be used in the movie “Hubble 3D” that is scheduled for release in the spring of 2010.

The Atlantis’ crew has been trained to operate the cameras, one of which will be mounted outside the crew cabin in the shuttle’s cargo bay to capture images of the historic final servicing mission. The commander and pilot will double as filmmakers as two teams of spacewalking astronauts “perform some of the most challenging work ever undertaken in space as they replace and refurbish many of the telescope’s precision instruments,” the space agency said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 11th May 2009

April 16, 1972

Apollo 16 departs for moon


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From Cape Canaveral, Florida, Apollo 16, the fifth of six U.S. lunar landing missions, is successfully launched on its 238,000-mile journey to the moon. On April 20, astronauts John W. Young and Charles M. Duke descended to the lunar surface from Apollo 16, which remained in orbit around the moon with a third astronaut, Thomas K. Mattingly, in command. Young and Duke remained on the moon for nearly three days, and spent more than 20 hours exploring the surface of Earth’s only satellite. The two astronauts used the Lunar Rover vehicle to collect more than 200 pounds of rock before returning to Apollo 16 on April 23. Four days later, the three astronauts returned to Earth, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 16th April 2009

Delphi’s Thermal Face



As convenient as facial recognition sounds, it faces a few hurdles: Glasses, facial hair and even lighting changes can throw off software’s ability to identify a user. To crack that problem, Riad Hammoud, a research with Kokomo, Ind.-based Delphi Electronics and Safety, is working on facial identification technology that goes beneath the skin. Using infrared cameras and thermal scans, Hammoud’s prototypes identify faces using their bone and vein structures, deleting the effects of lighting or obstructions.


Delphi, which works with automakers including Pontiac and Chevrolet, may soon bring that authentication method to cars.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 16th April 2009